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headphones vs IEMs and hearing damage potential
BearcatSandor
post Apr 1 2011, 00:29
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Folks,

I'm about to get a pair of headphones (if they are ever back in stock), but i would consider IEMs instead (looking to do some studio work eventually and also use pleasure).

Is there any truth to the idea that IEMs will damage your hearing more readily than headphones if the volume is too high? I'd swear i'd read something about the IEMs being directly coupled to your ear canal setting up more harmful frequencies or something like that. I'd swear it was here on this board too but i can't find it.

Thanks,

Bearcat


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DVDdoug
post Apr 1 2011, 01:05
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I doubt you'll damage your hearing at moderate listening levels. Maybe IEMs can generally play louder than headphones???

Most headphones can go loud enough to damage your hearing too (depending on what you are driving them with). The manufacturers want to make sure that headphones/IEMs can handle peaks without distorting or burning-out, and that means you can use them at ear-damaaging levels. (As you may know, the output (voltage?) from portable devices and laptops may be regulated by your particular government.)


For personal listening, people I suspect most people who think about hearing damage are probably listening at safe levels. It's a little like driving too fast... If you are a cautious driver and you're worried about speeding, you are probably safe. If you just like to drive fast & listen loud, you might be taking chances.

If you're playing in a band, you might be concerned about hearing damage, but still let things get out of control.
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andy o
post Apr 1 2011, 03:40
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In my experience, IEMs are generally more sensitive, especially the expensive ones. I have used Shure E4, E500 and SE420, Westone UM2 and Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5EB and all of them are loud. The E500 and UM2 couldn't be used on my iPod Classic without an attenuator, or I would hear the hiss).

On the other hand, just use an attenuator if you hear noise. Also, since most of these are very good noise isolators, you don't need to turn up the volume that much, so I think it's the opposite. Generally speaking, noise-isolating IEMs can save you some hearing damage.
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probedb
post Apr 1 2011, 08:36
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As andy o says, IEMs actually do the opposite. They're very good at noise isolation so you find yourself listening at much lower volume levels than you would with just cheap ipod type phones. My UM2s are great smile.gif

I guess because the drivers are that much closer to your ear drum and can be in quite a sealed environment they have the potential to damage your hearing more? I could be wrong though.
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DonP
post Apr 1 2011, 11:39
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I can think of 2 scenarios where IEM's would be more harmful.

1) When playing through another appliance (car stereo, etc) you typically have the volume all the way up to get "line level" and you forget to turn it down before switching back to earphone, you get a big blast.

2) Compared to phones with less isolation, you can play IEM's louder before people around you comment on the volume.
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dhromed
post Apr 1 2011, 11:52
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QUOTE (probedb @ Apr 1 2011, 08:36) *
As andy o says, IEMs actually do the opposite. They're very good at noise isolation so you find yourself listening at much lower volume levels than you would with just cheap ipod type phones. My UM2s are great smile.gif


QUOTE
2) Compared to phones with less isolation, you can play IEM's louder before people around you comment on the volume.


Young folks in the bus seem to suggest otherwise. dry.gif


I mean that seriously. Annoyance always comes from those who wear earbuds. I also see a good number of people with bigger headphones, but they're always completely silent.

This post has been edited by dhromed: Apr 1 2011, 11:55
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probedb
post Apr 1 2011, 12:06
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QUOTE (DonP @ Apr 1 2011, 11:39) *
2) Compared to phones with less isolation, you can play IEM's louder before people around you comment on the volume.


My ears would be bleeding before anyone else could hear my IEMs wink.gif

Earbuds != IEMs before anyone starts moaning about them on buses etc.

This post has been edited by probedb: Apr 1 2011, 12:07
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andy o
post Apr 1 2011, 12:26
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Yeah, forget ear damage. If you're playing a UM2 or any other similar IEM at levels that will annoy other people, your brain is already fried!

Also, about this:
QUOTE (dhromed @ Apr 1 2011, 02:52) *
I also see a good number of people with bigger headphones, but they're always completely silent.

Can't it just be that these people (which I assume, like most other places are a minority compared to earphone users) stand out to you both because you see them more rarely and their headphones are more conspicuous. Unless they're wearing earphones and they're being loud. Seems more likely confirmation bias.

But in any case, big headphones that have a good seal (passive noise isolation) also should be better. It's just that I don't think any of them has such good isolation as the IEMs. My comment was about the isolation more than the size of the phones.
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andy o
post Apr 1 2011, 12:39
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QUOTE (probedb @ Mar 31 2011, 23:36) *
I guess because the drivers are that much closer to your ear drum and can be in quite a sealed environment they have the potential to damage your hearing more? I could be wrong though.

By no means I'm an expert on this, I'm just using common sense in matter that I don't think requires much else. But, such theoretical added pressure would be perceived as higher volume sound, thus defeating the point, no?
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stephan_g
post Apr 1 2011, 13:41
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Apr 1 2011, 11:52) *
QUOTE
2) Compared to phones with less isolation, you can play IEM's louder before people around you comment on the volume.


Young folks in the bus seem to suggest otherwise. <_<


I mean that seriously. Annoyance always comes from those who wear earbuds. I also see a good number of people with bigger headphones, but they're always completely silent.

Well... earbuds are no IEMs. They are rather open affairs nesting just outside the ear canal. Most people don't even bother the use the little foam pads, which makes them sound worse and leak even more. Not to mention the kind of sound level needed to drown out external noises in public transport. These are positively dangerous.

Eurocracy could have mandated that players must ship with earphones that do offer sound isolation rather than explicitly demanding sound pressure limits (which make no sense in practice, given how much headphone sensitivity levels vary); now that would have been good for something at least.

With in-ears and IEMs, the only danger is the usual one when you plug up your ear canals - bacteria levels.


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db1989
post Apr 1 2011, 14:07
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Apr 1 2011, 11:52) *
QUOTE
2) Compared to phones with less isolation, you can play IEM's louder before people around you comment on the volume.


Young folks in the bus seem to suggest otherwise. dry.gif


I mean that seriously. Annoyance always comes from those who wear earbuds. I also see a good number of people with bigger headphones, but they're always completely silent.
Lucky for you! People with buds (and, less likely, IEMs) can reach offensive volumes, no doubt, but in my experience the noisy ones are usually wearing headphones.
Besides, don't them darned delinquents prefer to disturb public transport by means of phone speakers nowadays?

This post has been edited by dv1989: Apr 1 2011, 14:08
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BearcatSandor
post Apr 1 2011, 17:22
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Yanno, i think stephan_g was kidding but it does make me think of another point. I already have a problem with earwax build up. Would IEMs exacerbate that problem?

I'm leaning more and more towards headphones (fischer audio f-003s) rather than IEMs. So far the ones i've tried were uncomfortable after a time. That said i've only tried cheap ones (bottom rung Ultimate Ears). I'm willing to sacrifice my hair style for the headphones i think :")


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andy o
post Apr 1 2011, 21:33
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By far the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5EB are the worst IEMs I've tried regarding comfort. I don't know if UE have gotten much better about it. The most comfortable, the Westone UM2 because the cable is so light and thin. The Shure ones have a heavy, thick and stiff cable, but most of them are modular, which is cool cause I can connect another cable (like one with inline volume or mic) to them without ending up with a 2-meter connection.

This post has been edited by andy o: Apr 1 2011, 21:35
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 5 2011, 13:32
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QUOTE (probedb @ Apr 1 2011, 03:36) *
As andy o says, IEMs actually do the opposite. They're very good at noise isolation so you find yourself listening at much lower volume levels than you would with just cheap ipod type phones. My UM2s are great smile.gif

I guess because the drivers are that much closer to your ear drum and can be in quite a sealed environment they have the potential to damage your hearing more? I could be wrong though.


I think that both of your points are very relevant.

It seems like IEMs can create the perception of bass that is heard by the ears that goes deeper than any other. Of course that's offset by the lack of the full-body effect of bass.

The ears seem to be far less likely to be damaged by very low frequencies. You don't want to know about the LF SPLs you subject yourself to when you ride a motorcycle or in a convertible with the top down or in a car with the windows open at 60 MPH and above. 120 dB +, but less noticeable and less painful because the ear's LF response rolls off very fast. Yet, our ears don't seem to suffer much from the experience.
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antz
post Apr 5 2011, 14:21
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I'll add a +1 to the IEMs being less likely to damage hearing - providing common sense prevails. As others have said, you tend to use a lower volume since they have good sound isolation when fitted properly. The potential for damage is there, irrespective of IEM/earbud/headphone type.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 5 2011, 15:15
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QUOTE (andy o @ Apr 1 2011, 16:33) *
By far the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5EB are the worst IEMs I've tried regarding comfort. I don't know if UE have gotten much better about it. The most comfortable, the Westone UM2 because the cable is so light and thin. The Shure ones have a heavy, thick and stiff cable, but most of them are modular, which is cool cause I can connect another cable (like one with inline volume or mic) to them without ending up with a 2-meter connection.


I wonder why the comfort of IEMs is said to vary so much when their basic construction seems to be pretty similar.

Basically, there is a tube that sticks into the ear canal and there is a packet of foam and rubber things that you select from to shim the tube out so that it is more-or-less sealed into the ear canal.

It is said that for maximum comfort one has a shim molded to suit the contour of the inside of the ear canal and this seems to make sense.

Given that the shape of the inside of the pinnae and the ear canal varies so much among individuals, what general statements can reasonably be made?

Does the skill with which one picks out shims relate?
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Soap
post Apr 5 2011, 15:27
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There is great variation amongst all the major variables in the fit equation to be found in the marketplace:

The diameter and length of the fixed (rigid) tube which enters the ear (influencing directly the level of compression achieved by the foam and rubber things)
The size and shape of the main body of the earphone (influencing where the outer-ear is touched and with what force)
The angle between the two
The angle and location at which the wires leave the main body, influencing how they feel wrapped around the back of one's outer ear.
The stiffness (or lack thereof) of said wires.

I think it is no wonder the comfort varies so much. Their basic construction is only similar in the same way a bat and a bird are similar. Multiple solutions to the same problem often resemble each other when looked at from afar, but can have vastly important distinctions when looked at up close.

This post has been edited by Soap: Apr 5 2011, 15:31


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andy o
post Apr 5 2011, 17:20
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Exactly. I'll add to the comfort criterion how the wire/cable hangs, how light/heavy it is and how flexible/stiff it is, hence my comment on those. The UE IEMs at that time (don't know if still) had a specially stiff part of the cable which preserved its shape by a metal wire, that went around the ear.

The UE Super.fi 5EB failed in pretty much all the criteria listed. If you see a picture of it you'll probably understand.

The tube is thicker as Soap said, and that makes for a stiffer fit cause the rubber or foam surrounding it is thinner. Also, since Shure and Westone can use their tips interchangeably, there is more variety, and you can get comfortable ones. I used to use my Westone UM2 with the black Shure foam tips. The foam tips that come with the UE were rough and stiff.

This post has been edited by andy o: Apr 5 2011, 17:22
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probedb
post Apr 6 2011, 10:10
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QUOTE (andy o @ Apr 5 2011, 17:20) *
I used to use my Westone UM2 with the black Shure foam tips.


This is the combo I currently use and it works very well although I could do with the foam being a little tighter further in my ear canal. Custom molds when I have the cash I think.
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andy o
post Apr 6 2011, 11:49
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There's a longer version of the Comply tips. Personally I found those (the short ones) to be more comfortable than the black Shure foams, but they degrade very quickly and are too expensive.
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probedb
post Apr 6 2011, 12:20
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QUOTE (andy o @ Apr 6 2011, 11:49) *
There's a longer version of the Comply tips. Personally I found those (the short ones) to be more comfortable than the black Shure foams, but they degrade very quickly and are too expensive.


Cheers, I think I'm going to go with some custom molds, there are a few companies in the UK who do them now instead of paying Westones Euro dealers extortionate prices.
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