Volume restricted over-ear vs. in-ear headphones

Redlands College recommends students use volume restricted over-the-ear headphones.

In-ear headphones

Most in-ear headphones easily allow levels up to and exceeding 100dB. Any noise intensity over 90 dB has specific time limits for exposure before irreversible damage is done to the cochlear. As a general guide, if you are using standard headphones/inserts and you cannot hear someone speaking at a normal conversational level (at a distance of about 1m) then the intensity level is usually above 90dB.
As children's ear canals are different (smaller in size and are closer to the eardrum) the amount of amplification can be altered by up to 9 dB, raising the intensity of the sound from one similar to the noise output of a vacuum cleaner to that of a motorcycle engine.
At these higher levels of exposure to noise damage can occur after only 15mins of exposure.

Volume restricted Over-ear headphones

Most of the noise-restricted headphones limit the maximum intensity level to 89 dB, which is a safe level and can be used for an extended period. At this level kids can easily hear what is happening around them and also normal conversational levels with the headphones on their ears.


Further Information

Noise exposure is a function of loudness and time so if you wish to reduce your exposure you must firstly reduce the volume or loudness and then the time. Noise exposure is cumulative over your lifetime, meaning that every over exposure adds up – just like too much UV-radiation or exposure to the sun.
The national standard for noise exposure is 85 dB over an 8-hour period, but for every 3 dB increase in level, the resulting time of allowable exposure should be halved. For example at 88 dB the allowable exposure is cut to 4 hours; at 91 dB it is 2 hours; at 94 dB it is 1 hour and so on.

To find out more

  • The National Acoustics Laboratories:  Know Your Noise.  This website includes useful resources such as a Noise Risk Calculator, an on-line hearing check and a Decibel Database. It was developed for young Australians to know if they have dangerous listening habits, enabling them to calculate how much noise they have consumed after they have been clubbing or to music concerts or other noisy events.  

  • The Australian National Acoustic Laboratory: http://www.nal.gov.au/



Thank you to Renee Fiteni-Souter, Audiologist at the Mater Health Services for her knowledge and input in writing this page.
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