I've been working in the industry for almost six years. I've come across all types of engineers and a majority of them have a hard time hearing. Recently I've been wondering why this is the case? How is an industry full of sound professionals lacking in good hearing? Another curious phenomenon that I've come across is DJs. DJ's have the worst hearing because they stand in a club all day sometimes with a speaker pointed directly at them and for some reason, they can still get a crowd dancing by their mixing skills.

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    I went to see three movies last week, one was a fictive documentary and two were action movies. I've seen all three in different cinemas. The two action movies (Priest and Detective Dee) were loud, so loud in fact that in one case -- Priest -- I might have spent 15 minutes with my fingers stuck in my ears. Commented May 15, 2011 at 19:09
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    I cannot stand going to the movies anymore. They crank the volume so loud to the point of pain and it's disappointing, because I don't remember it being that loud 5-10 years ago. It's definitely killed the movie going experience for me. As far as going to bars, I usually bring some earplugs with me just in case there's a house band playing or the music is being obnoxiously blared from the speakers. Commented May 15, 2011 at 21:16
  • I've also got two pairs of earplugs in my wallet without which I never leave the house. One I use for myself, the other is for whoever is around me and I can convince to wear them. They're always fresh ones btw ;) Commented May 15, 2011 at 21:45
  • Same here Justin. I always take a pair of earplugs with me if I'm going somewhere loud (Cinema, Club etc.) Commented May 16, 2011 at 0:53

14 Answers 14


I strongly believe that the quality of your hearing has little bearing on your work. Our active/critical listening skills are in our brain, not our ears. It's important to take care of your ears, but your critical listening and creativity are much more important than your ability to pick out a 17k tone (and hopefully you'd have measures in place to make sure you pick up any unwelcome high frequencies).

IMHO, the majority of our audience care a lot more about emotional content than audiophile quality.

  • Agreed. Technical pedantry is such a downer.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:33

That's why I've pretty much quit drinking, smoking, and going to bars of any kind. People are inconsiderate and extremely noisy to begin with, let alone when they're drunk. It's a little too much for me to take most of the time.

There's almost nothing out there that is damaging to the ears that isn't the product of human creation. So, unless you're willing to go out of your way to avoid it (i.e. stop leaving the house) it's something you'll just have to reconcile yourself to.


Two things to take with you to a dub stage: an SPL meter & ear plugs!


I have a pair of ear plugs which I carry all around except for the times I really need them. But the alternative I found is pretty accessible and easy to acquire. Whenever I step into an ear killing environment, I head straight for the toilet first, grab some toilet paper, wet em, and stuff them in my ears. Works well for the blasting music, but people have to speak a little louder. Doesn't really matter I reckon since they would have to speak up even if I didn't block my ears.

On another note, I recently took up some drumming lessons and my friend who was coaching me was a little concerned at how soft I played. She told me it was rare for anyone wanting to learn drums to hit them so softly, but I replied that I couldn't hit them any louder cos it was hurting my ears. Hahaha... played much better after I put on the earplugs. That was a first for her.

  • Get yourself a pair of "Thai Sticks." They're composed of a bunch of little stick wrapped together. They end up being the same weight, but because they bend a little, don't make anywhere near as much noise. Still waaaay too loud, but better for the people without plugs in.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:46
  • Very nice tip on the straight-to-the-restroom approach, Tak.
    – lucafusi
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 6:07
  • @g.a.harry did a googled for "Thai Sticks" and found something else entirely that'll probably still reduce the noise if taken enough. Hahaha... I'll keep those sticks in mind for when I get a drum kit. For now, I'll just whack my pads and that doesn't produce much of a sound at all!
    – user6513
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 12:05
  • I'll second the wet Toilet Paper... after years in bands, and trying all sorts of plugs (including some sem- custom ones) I've found that the old TP still has the best SPL reduction and a fairly even frequency drop. Of course, when the sound guy has the system set to "stun" like the guy with the band I saw the other night, they don't do much...
    – Sonsey
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 16:26

I have slight tinnitus (almost pure sine tone around 8k) around 4-6dB above my minimum sensitivity threshold from noisy rehearsal rooms and such when I was too daft to know better. I've tested and had tested my hearing response, which is still pretty good (range/weighting & sensitivity). At low levels the HF drone I hear cuts through a bit, but I barely consciously notice it any more. The most negative effect was on confidence, after paranoia about it getting worse and affecting my ability to work with detailed sound effectively. Eventually I figured it's about using what you have effectively...for DJs where you're working off crowd reactions, as long as their hearing's "functional" it can work. Since I got tinnitus (5 years ago) I've assiduously worn earplugs when necessary and it hasn't gotten worse (or noticeably affected my ability to work), so, err, rock on. And wear earplugs, our health system can only stockpile so many hearing aids...

  • My situation is very similar. The tone is up at about 14k so it's a bit more difficult to ignore, but my spectrum response is still almost perfect up to about 17.8k or so. Custom musicians' plugs have been a lifesaver as far as that goes.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:27

For me it was being a naive teenager in a rockband and one a-hole of a music teacher that make sure that us noise people practiced in the most inappropriate room (all concrete) in the school. No earplugs and little sense, but working in clubs mixing in my 20's didn't help the issue either. Training about noise and earring damage needs to be done early on and anyone that put someone into danger knowingly should be charged or fined or something.

I always carry earplugs in my wallet now, and generally avoid working in loud environments, I also don't go out to concerts anymore (except in a very blue moon).

  • Agreed - from what I've seen, hearing health is often ignored, not taken seriously, or not even considered by people, especially early on. Commented May 16, 2011 at 3:47

Musician's earplugs are a godsend. Pricey compared to foamies, but a lifelong investment in your perception and continuing career (not to mention getting to hear the shows you attend in a more accurate way than with over-the-counter plugs).

That said, I only know a few colleagues who own them, and can't believe DJs or any other high-SPL professionals can get by without them. Hard to imagine a lot of those guys being performant after a few years of sledgehammering their ears in clubs. I've worked with guys who have incredible talent and nearly-flawless hearing, but whose sensitivity to highs has decreased a bit despite their best efforts. It could just be due to the inevitable effects of age, but all the more reason to do everything we can to preserve what we've got.


For what it's worth I've found that less coffee and less booze (.. unfortunately) results in less ringing for me. I got quite paranoid for a while when I moved to the suburbs, because it's dead quiet and all of a sudden my ears were keeping me awake at night! I'd read nightmare stories about things like Menieres and figured I was going down that path.

Alas! less rum.. less beans.. no tinnitus.


You're right. I have found the same thing to be true. I am very protective of my ears and what I expose them too. (Maybe to a point of annoying my wife.) I know a lot of guys who blare their music at dbs that would I would never think of, or go to car races and other sporting events where you know it's going to be loud. You only get one shot with your ears and if you're going to make money with them you are choosing that lifestyle.

Ear plugs are good to keep on you.


Does Tinnitus severely affect youability to mix or design and has the ringing ever gone away

  • From what I understand there are a few different grades ranging from "deaf by sound" to "did the neighbours leave the TV on again?" Mine's been going about 3 or 4 years now and hasn't even begun to fade. Hasn't affected my ability to mix or work, though I do find that my ears tend to get tired a tiny bit faster than some of my friends.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:31
  • Generally no if you have had it for a while then you compensate for it naturally. As @G.A.Harry said, you do get tired a bit faster with it though.
    – Bruce
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 3:43

When I was 14 I damaged my ears for the first time with my first walkman, I then started playing in a rock band. 7-8 years later I was at a concert which was so loud, it gave me tinnitus for a month, a year later I had a similar experience.

Then I started protecting my ears, as I was getting scared of losing my hearing and as I was starting to work professionally with sound. I kept on playing in a rock band for 7-8 more years, but I was careful about wearing earplugs at rehearsals and concerts, so it didn't get any worse.

Now I am 38 years old and my hearing is still damaged from the early, wild years, but it is not so bad, it doesn't affect my ability to work. My "professional hearing" has gotten a lot better over the years through experience.

When I am working as a re-recording mixer, it occasionally gets very loud in the dubbing theatre, but I never wear earplugs. But then I am not working on big Hollywood blockbusting action movies, the films I get are more arty and not necessarily so loud. But there may be gunshots or explosions and loud action scenes, and those scenes have to be loud. So after working on a loud scene, I do feel quite tired, so that is usually a good time for a coffee break.

I only rarely go to concerts or clubs, because I like to stay home with my kids instead. But occasionally I go, and if it gets loud, I enjoy it a lot, and I use earplugs if it is too loud for my ears. But I just love the physical feeling you get from very loud music. It instantly puts a smile on my face!

I listen to music and podcasts on my iPhone almost every day, while cycling to work or when I'm out running. Sometimes I play quite loud. I know it may be dangerous for my hearing if I overdo it, but I can't seem to live without it. I just like the emotional rush from being engulfed by music. It inspires me to make better sound for the films I work on.

I love sound, and I also love loud sounds. I need them in my life just like need my coffee to be strong.


I was at an AES meeting a year or so ago concerned with archiving, maintaining and restoring old analog masters (specifically The Beatles). The guy giving the presentation played a recording (and showed us the waveform) of a track that had a problem 12Khz noise running through it. He played a before and after and asked if anyone could hear the difference. Only two guys out of maybe two hundred audio professionals could hear the 12K and they were the youngest people in the room.


I would expect that almost everyone who works with audio has some form of hearing damage.

Here is a list of time taken to receive a dose equivalent to the upper exposure action value in the UK (85 dB).

85 dB = 8 hours 95 dB = 45 minutes 100 dB = 15 minutes 105 dB = 5 minutes 110 dB = under 2 minutes 115 dB = under 30 seconds

I know have spectrafoo running with a calibrated mic when I am working to keep track on what I am exposing everyone to.

There are simple wall signs that illuminate when you reach a specified limit, but I have yet to come across one in any studio. There is even a cool personal system that includes ear plugs that you can carry with you.


Unfortunately for most of us in the industry, by the time we realise this is not just a hobby but something we want to do for a living, we have already suffered some degree of hearing damage. Part of the problem is also that, because the hearing loss is gradual and our ears are so good at compensating, we have usually suffered noticeable damage by the time we realise.

It is usually only at this point that we discover that our hearing loss is irreversible and the only compensation is by use of a hearing aid. The upside is that, because our ears are so adaptable, we can usually carry on with our chosen career. We learn to put measures in place to compensate for our shortcomings.

Some recommended measures: 1) Ultrasone headphones for monitoring purposes 2) A set of Etymotic musicians earplugs for the studio 3) A set of Etymotic EB15 earplugs to carry with you - just in case

I have recently started to notice some damage myself. While my hearing is still fair, I am starting to struggle to hone in on a specific sound source (e.g. a voice in a crowd). Like everyone else, I'm kicking myself now that I didn't take more care 20 years ago.

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