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Sound safety
Date:5/12/2011

This release is also available in Chinese on EurekAlert! Chinese.

Engineers investigating "listener fatigue"-- the discomfort and pain some people experience while using in-ear headphones, hearing aids, and other devices that seal the ear canal from external sound -- have found not only what they believe is the cause, but also a potential solution.

In two separate papers and a presentation at the 130th Audio Engineering Society convention in London on May 14th, 2011, Stephen Ambrose, Robert Schulein and Samuel Gido of Asius Technologies of Longmont, Colo., describe how sealing a speaker in the ear canal dramatically boosts sound pressures and how a modified ear-tip can help alleviate, or even eliminate, that effect.

"We tried for years to turn down the volume but still experienced audio fatigue, even at the lowest levels we could get by with on stage," says Ambrose, who has been leading the development of in-ear monitors for more than 35 years as a musician and audio engineer for leading artists and film studios. "The fatigue couldn't simply be 'fixed in the [audio] mix' because it now appears to be a physiological phenomenon," he adds. "It wasn't a problem with electronics, but rather mechanics."

Using physical and computational models, the researchers show that sound waves entering a sealed ear canal create an oscillating pressure chamber that can produce a potentially dramatic boost in sound pressure levels.

Data from the models coupled with laboratory observations suggest that the boost triggers the acoustic reflex, a defense mechanism in the ear that dampens the transfer of sound energy from the eardrum to the cochlea by as much as 50 decibels, but does not protect the ear drum from the excessive shaking.

"Paradoxically, the protective reflex make
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Contact: Josh Chamot
jchamot@nsf.gov
703-292-7730
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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