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So... how should I set my equalizer levels to minimize hearing loss?

From here:

SETTING SAFE HEADPHONE VOLUME LEVELS

Fletcher-Munson Loudness Curves

The Fletcher-Munson loudness curves (shown above) indicate that low-level listening may not be as satisfying because perception of loudness is not linear, but is dependent on frequency and volume. The curves are flattest when the SPL is at the threshold of pain. Tone controls can rebalance sound to have the same pleasing amplitude spectrum at lower listening levels. The most accurate loudness compensation would dynamically adjust to both frequency and volume. Such dynamic filters are not widely available to consumers. Still, a small amount of equalization (treble and bass boost) can restore naturalness to the sound of headphones, so that listening at safe levels is appealing (or at least, not unappealing).

The table in figure 1 lists the maximum safe exposure times at various noise levels, but headphones do not come with built-in SPL meters to help the listener determine whether the volume is too high. Also, audio professionals may need to set the gain of the headphone amplifier high to hear low-level details clearly, but then are overwhelmed when the music swells or explodes in crescendos. Therefore, methods for setting safe headphone volume levels depend on how the headphones are being used.

  • I use my headphones in my room, where the background noise isn't really that high.
  • I mostly listen to metal/rock and classical music.
  • I use Vista's built-in Loudness Equalization (default parameters).
  • I use Vista's built-in Bass Boost and Low Frequency Protection (80Hz, +6dB).
  • I am going to be using Songbird to play my music.
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This may sound really obvious, but the main constraint will be how you like your music to sound. If you try to drop a particular frequency range it will change how the music sounds. For example if you roll off the high frequencies it will start to sound like you are muffling the music with cotton wool. Possibly not the effect you want, so the simplest way to protect your ears is simply to turn down the volume.

Listening through headphones in a quiet room at low volume, however, the thing you will lose from rock and metal is some of the bass response, which is probably why you have your bass boosted, but taking it up too high could damage your ears.

If you find your ears ringing after listening then it is much too loud, but you can cause damage well before you get to this level, so the best solution is:

Don't try to do anything clever with the EQ, just turn the volume down

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I agree. Also, you will find that if you start listening at a lower level your ears will adjust so you can hear better at a lower volume. – Friend Of George Jan 23 '12 at 14:23
    
This. Also good headphones / speakers sound great at low volume. If you think you need to crank the volume to get good sound, consider getting better equipment. – ObscureRobot Jan 24 '12 at 21:12

Well when I searched for "setting safe volume with headphones" I found this article:http://headphonesaddict.com/safe-headphone-use/ It's probably very similar but it has some good pointers.

Generally it depends on what kind of headphones you are using and where you're using them.

The longer you listen to headphones loudly, more hearing damage will usually occur, so the louder the music, the shorter the time when it's still safe. There is a table in the source link I posted above.

For home use, you can easily enjoy open-back headphones (which leak sound in and out) without cranking the volume too high. If you can carry a conversation with another person while wearing open-back headphones on a quiet environment like home, you have a safe volume level for long term listening.

For public, street use when high environment noise is present, you want to get good noise isolating or noise cancelling headphones. Earbuds are known for having great passive noise isolation so I use those. Some of the background noise will get isolated so you don't have to turn up the volume too high.

In any case, when I experience slight ringing in the ears after using headphones, I know I have listened too loudly. Then I just adjust the volume accordingly the next time.

It might not be as fun to listen at low volumes, but it's better than getting deaf I guess.

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