Both in the workplace (through the use of noisy machines) and in our private lives we often deal with too many “decibels” (during concerts and festivals, in the cinema). With the new generation of (digital) music players, we also ourselves sometimes set the volume a bit too high.

With the new generation of personal music players (digital), one can listen to music at very high sound levels, without any loss in sound quality. Thanks to the longer life of batteries, these music players can be taken everywhere: on the train or during a walk. Then we would like the sound to dominate the ambient noise. In these circumstances we are not always aware of the sound level being too high, because the ears adapt to the noise without giving a pain signal. Nowadays personal music players can produce sound up to 120 dB(A), which is comparable to the noise within the area of an ascending aircraft. It is a sound level which lies far above the safe limit for our ears.

That is why some people listen to music at a dangerously high volume, and this whether or not during several hours per day. According to the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks(SCENIHR) 5 to 10 percent of the users of personal music players risk suffering from permanent hearing loss, if they continue to listen in such an intensive way to music during a period of 5 years.

This is the reason why Europe wants to tighten the noise standards for music players. It concerns all music players for individual use, such as MP3 players and music players integrated in mobile phones or smart phones.

Which norm will be applicable?

In 2009 the European Commission has granted a mandate to the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation CENELEC (French: Comité Européen de Normalisation Électrotechnique) for developing a technical standard for these devices, in accordance with the criteria specified by the Commission (Decree 2009/490/EC). Concretely speaking, according to the provisions of this decree, the duration of the exposure to a sound level of 80 dB(A) must be limited to 40 hours per week, and at 89 dB(A) to 5 hours per week. For other sound levels a linear interpolation or extrapolation must be applied.

Where are we now?

CENELEC has started executing the mandate. In 2011 part of the standardisation work has been finalised with the approval of amendment A12 on the standards EN 60950 and 60065, which relate to MP3 players.

Through this amendment, a limit of 85 dB(A) was set at the average sound level. CENELEC considers the limit of 85 dB(A) safe in all circumstances. The user retains the possibility to raise the sound level to a maximum of 100 dB(A). In this case the user is warned about the risks involved, by means of a warning after every 20 hours of listening time.

The amendment of the standards EN 60950 and 60065 applies since the 24th of January 2013. From this date, all personal music players which are introduced on the European market (including our country), must be manufactured in accordance with these changed standards.

Currently CENELEC focuses on a further elaboration of noise standards, taking into account the criteria of the Decree 2009/490/EC. The work of the European Commission and of the normalisation institutes is followed by the FPS Economy, within the framework of the surveillance of the quality and safety of products.

What can you do yourself?

Grant your ears the necessary rest, because the longer you listen to loud music, the greater the risk of hearing damage. Therefore, do not listen any longer than 1 hour per day to music with your MP3 player. And in doing so, pay attention to the sound volume: do not set it higher than 60% of the maximum level. It is also better to use a suitable head phone, that is to say one with “shells” which you wear over your ears. The small ear plugs which are usually provided as a standard with MP3 players, and which you stick into your ears, are closer to your eardrum, as a consequence of which they get no less than 7 to 9 dB(A) extra to be processed. A head phone which you wear over your ears, also better protects the noise from outside, so that you have the natural inclination to lower the volume of your MP3 player. So, double profit for your ears!