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It’s Too Loud!!!

Date Published: June 06, 2014

Did you know that every unprotected snare hit causes permanent damage to your hearing? If we take a typical 3 and half minute pop track, assuming its in 4/4 at 120BPM, that is 210 snare hits! Noise exposure effects all contemporary musicians, but none more then drummers. My name is Steven Reinhardt, and I am the Principal Clinician at Ears to You as well as an endorsed drummer with Sonor and Ufip. As a diagnostic Audiometrist, I deal with hearing loss on a daily basis; we test hearing, recommend rehabilitation devices such as hearing aids as well as recommend appropriate protection for preventative measures. Being a drummer and Audiometrist has enabled me to have a unique perspective to recommend the appropriate products for preservation of our ears and best hearing solutions for stage and rehearsal. As a fellow drummer, I know the trials and tribulations faced in order to achieve optimum monitoring to hear adequately when rehearsing, recording and performing, and its under these circumstances that the bulk of hearing damage occurs. In last edition we touched on the anatomical structure of the ear, and that when the ear is exposed to loud noise, a shift occurs in threshold. This shift is temporary at first, but when repeated frequently it leaves the ear permanently impaired. This damage is known as noise induced hearing loss; it doesn’t initially show up, but later on in life will eventuate in high frequency deficiency requiring the employment of hearing aids. This article will address two primary concepts; what can be done to better protect our best asset, our ears, and what new technology is available to assist us to both hear and prevent hearing impairment? Lets start off with a recap on the varying types of ear protection:

Foam Plugs

Foam plugs are a great starting point in protecting the ears. However, as a musician, one may find that foam plugs do not provide adequate clarity whilst performing. Foam plugs are great for watching gigs/performances and are disposable. These plugs typically provide 10-20dB of attenuation.

ETY Plugs

ETY plugs are one step up from foam plugs in terms of protection. ETY plugs are reusable and provide better attenuation than foam plugs for performances as they provide a ‘flatter’ more balanced sound. These plugs generally provide 12dB of attenuation, however they still lack the clarity provided by custom moulded musician plugs.

Musician Plugs

plugs Musician plugs are a custom moulded solution that are made by trained audiologists/audiometrists and require an ear impression be taken. The impression will need to be quite deep as it needs to “clear the second bend in the canal”. This enables the plug to be more secure and will send the filtered sound directly to the ear drum providing enhanced clarity. They have a much longer lifespan than either the ETY or foam plugs. Typically they replicate the natural response of the ear but at a softer and safer level. The results are due to the diaphragm and specialised attenuators. When these plugs are used, the musician will find the sound to be clear but not harmful. It typically removes harmful cymbal wash but still allows clear stick definition whilst maintaining a good kick feel and tom sound. The snare typically has a full mid crack. On Stage musician plugs provide good clarity and actually help to hear rather than hinder, especially when using foldback speakers, as it removes the distorted sound that is often produced.

In Ear Monitors

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In ear monitoring or IEM is the best method to hear what you are doing as a musician in a live circumstance (performance, rehearsal or recordings) and protect the ears at the same time. An IEM is simply an ear plug with high fidelity speakers inbuilt into the plug, and they have a cable with a 3.5mm stereo jack on the end. They can attenuate up to 35dB of external noise and generate crystal clear audio at soft levels. An IEM is utilised as part of a system typically used with a wireless battery pack receiver that plugs into a transmitter at the front of house PA. In order for it to work it just needs to be able to plug into the mix. IEM’s often remove the need for foldback wedges as the sound is directed into the individual’s ears without distortion, and at soft levels. As a result IEM’s provide the same audio clarity as when in a recording studio without the excessive damage. A common misconception is that pubs cannot handle IEM’s, however this is not the case. I personally use them at every show at which I play, from Soundwave Music Festival to the Bald Faced Stag and smaller venues! It provides a consistency to the mix and high levels of protection. It is for these reasons that most major touring acts use them in their live performances. The benefit extends far beyond the live realm, whereby for practice one can use in ear monitors with mp3 players and plug straight in, thus enabling you to play along with your favourite songs at a less harmful level and improved clarity whilst attenuating the extraneous noise. In ear monitors are quite expensive initially; however the long term benefits of IEM’s far exceeds their cost.

New Technology

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The single biggest development to hearing protection and reproduction of sound was the introduction of the Sensaphonics 3d Active Ambient IEM system.

Introduced in 2006, the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient IEM System was developed in response to the single biggest complaint that musicians have about in-ear monitoring: the inability to hear ambient sound due to the isolating fit of IEMs.
The latest version, being the Sensaphonics 3D AARO, incorporates further advances to improve the quality of hearing for musicians. These improvements include an Ambience Output jack, Bass Boost switch, and secure quadaxial cable connectors. It remains the only active ambient IEM system on the market (U.S. patent #8,160,261), which allows artists to hear everything they want; both their monitor mix and stage ambience, with both earphones securely in place.
To achieve this, Sensaphonics embedded a binaural microphone system within the earpieces. These custom-tuned microphones capture ambient sound with full, natural tone and accurate “3D” spatial location, adjustable to the musician’s preferred volume level.
The Sensaphonics active ambient approach is sonically superior, more technologically advanced and, from a hearing perspective, can be used more safely than any passive ambience system. Passive systems access ambient sound by drilling holes (“ports”) in the earpieces, offering little if any control and compromising the primary benefit of in-ear monitoring: isolation from unwanted sound.
The 3D Active Ambient presents the monitor mix in its full, accurate glory through custom-fit soft silicone earphones with proprietary Sensaphonics drivers. A beltpack mixer allows the user to control the level of ambience added to the monitor mix while also providing easy access to full ambient sound, as if wearing no earpieces at all. With the 3D, artists gain the control, fidelity and hearing health advantages of full isolation while retaining full audio access to the ambient sound around them. It’s a revolutionary combination of innovative technologies and insightful design with extraordinary versatility.

As you can see the need to protect your ears is so important, and the appropriate protection is critical in preventing severe permanent damage from occurring. To order a set of 3d Active Ambient Monitors or any should you have any queries regarding appropriate ear protection please feel free to contact myself at Ears to You on (02) 7900 5551 or info@earstoyou.com.au