Loud Music: EU Treating the Symptoms, Not the Disease

I see on the BBC that the European Union nanny-state wants to limit the volume levels of portable music players so as to protect the hearing of today’s youth. This is slightly embarrassing, as they already passed just such a law several years ago, and now apparently feel the need to be even more restrictive.

Aside from my philosophical objections to this sort of busy-body protect-you-from-yourself nannying, I believe that the whole idea is fundamentally flawed and even, dare I say, retarded? Yes, I think I dare…

Here’s the thing: the current limit in force on these devices is, I believe, 10 milliwatts per channel. With a really inefficient pair of headphones, that’s barely adequate, even for quiet listening environments. With an incredibly efficient pair of in-ear monitors (IEMs), you can quite easily cause permanent damage if you crank the volume up to eleven. (Some SkullCandy earbuds/IEMs are rated in excess of 100dB at one milliwatt!) For most run-of-the-mill headphones, a 10mW limit is just acceptable, but demonstrably subpar.

Now, the EU apparently is upset that under some circumstances, you can probably get 120dB of noise – probably at fairly high frequencies, I might add – out of a really efficient pair of IEMs – with your mandated 10mW power. 120dB is loud. Like, jet takeoff, loud. Permanent hearing-loss, loud.

So, now, some busy-bodies who obviously know nothing about science, electronics, or audio want to limit the volume of portable music players to 85dB.

This cannot be done, because sound pressure is dependent on headphone size and efficiency, rather than, you know, something you can control on the player’s end, like (milii)wattage. The only way to do this is, in fact, is to require that headphones sold in the EU don’t exceed a certain sound pressure level at, you know, 10mW per channel… and then ban headphone amplifiers, for good measure. I cannot fathom this ever happening, but this is the European Union, after all, where there is nothing so patently retarded it can’t be enacted into law.

The fundamental problem – which I don’t deny – is that people are damaging their hearing by listening to loud music. To a large extent, this would appear to be because of environmental factors – most people do not want to listen to loud music, per se – but they have to turn it up to hear it over the noise of the bus or train or whatever. Environmental noise – noise pollution, if you will – is a huge problem in any reasonably populated area.

Given how much the EU nanny state loves it’s quality-of-life and “human rights” issues, I can’t fathom why they’re trying to tackle the symptom – people turning their headphones up to dangerous levels – rather than the disease. Would anyone really complain if the EU required, say, noise-emission standards for all new-built vehicles after, oh, 2015? And an outright flat-rate requirement for all vehicles on the roads after, oh, 2018? Oh, the motorcyclists and street racers would probably bitch, but screw ’em. If the ambient engine noise on the buses wasn’t, you know, 70dB, and they weren’t rattling themselves half to death at every pothole, people wouldn’t have to turn their iPods up to, you know, 90dB just to hear their music.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on December 15th, 2009| Comments Off on Loud Music: EU Treating the Symptoms, Not the Disease

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