Audiologist Fligor is skeptical that volume-limiting technologies alone can really solve the problem. Eighty-five dB is “not some magic number above which you’re at risk, below which you are not,” he says, and he points out that length of exposure is a critical factor. (A self-confessed enjoyer of loud music, Fligor listens at 89 dB for up to 90 minutes a day, a volume and duration he has calculated will not damage his hearing.) Fligor would ideally like digital players to track loudness over time so that users could see if their cumulative exposure was putting them at risk. “It’s not that the devices don’t have the computing capacity to do this; it’s just that there’s no real outcry to do it,” he says. “And why would the manufacturer put something in there that might open them up to litigation?”
Dwyer agrees that duration is important. dB Logic considered creating a product that tracked exposure time as well as limited sound levels, he says. “But it was just too complicated” for wearers to use the information properly, so they opted for the simplicity of a preset volume limit.
In the absence of such exposure-monitoring technology, Fligor recommends sound-isolation headphones that reduce background noise, thereby naturally prompting wearers to listen at lower volumes. (Dwyer says that while dB Logic’s over-the-ear headphones don’t provide much isolation, its in-ear headphones do, especially compared with the earbuds that come with iPods and iPhones.) Still, says Fligor, “if a person chooses to use [volume-limited] headphones over [non-limited headphones], I would say that’s a reasonable decision, as long as it is an informed one.”