Our relationship with loud music and earplugs: It’s complicated

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Why do we seem to love loud music? Whatever the reason, it has progressed to most parts of our everyday lives, no matter what we are doing. From driving to relaxing at home or even exercising, loud music blares at us through speakers or headphones. Demographic differences seem to hold no significance in this global spectacle, which has reached a point where we look back and find old music inferior just since it isn’t as loud.

Simply put, loud music seems to make us feel good. Sound is nothing but a change in atmospheric pressure, and when your brain can feel this changes through your ears as well as your body, you feel good (as compared to using our ears alone at low volumes). There is an undeniable sense of stimulation and excitement that we feel in a nightclub when the bass pounds through us; the fact that many are trying to block their ears is another matter totally. Research has also shown that loud music above 90dBSPL can encourage the release of hormones, which make us feel good.

Essentially, it is a form of escapism – it helps us re-mould our surroundings or tune certain unfavourable things out by replacing it by familiar stimuli from the senses (the music we love). This gives us energy to attack our task vigorously, and that has inevitably led to loud music dominating the typical gym’s sound space. However, it is not that simple – loud music can also have negative effects on us, of which hearing loss is the biggest issue.

Music is getting so loud that in many typically-visited places, it is played loud enough to permanently damage our ears within hours at the latest without use of earplugs. Such hearing loss creeps up very slowly and is therefore hard to discern but can be crippling once it’s effects come into full bloom. In addition to this, loud music can also lead to intense discomfort due to its harsh imposition on the senses – it doesn’t help that human ears are actively working all the time, even during sleep.

The loudness wars that have dominated the recording industry over the last two decades are a direct result of our seeming love for loud music – records have progressively been getting louder and louder over time to make an impact on the listener, sacrificing quality and dynamic range in the process. We are at a point where albums do not sell due to them being so loud and having a lack of dynamic range rather than the music not being good, even if it is Metallica (Death Magnetic).

Sure, it may feel good to turn it up; however, remember what your ears are being subjected to. Being in love with loud music is walking on thin ice.

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