Did you know, that if you are purchasing a personal music player in an EU country the ability to increase the volume will have been artificially limited? By this, I mean limited by software/firmware rather than by the ability of the electronics.
This is because the manufacturers of such devices are complying with the ‘European Commission / EU law’.
However, I only found out about this because I was disappointed with the volume of my Sansa mp3 player. My older one was much louder and when researching a solution I came across information about unofficial firmware, which I did not want to use but then I found this a solution offered by Sansa which was very helpful and did the trick. http://kb.sandisk.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/7890/~/sansa-player-volume-is-too-low
It did also offer the following warning. Due to EU regulations, the volume output of a portable audio device MUST be limited to 85dB.
So what’s the problem?
Firstly, I was not aware of this limitation so I put the blame on Sansa for making a lousy player; it turns out that the player was good but the software was altered thanks to an EU regulation. To be fair it probably was somewhere in the manual, but I for one rarely read an operating manual. Who does?
The other problem is that I can’t find any legislative documentation, regulation or law in regard to this matter. There is this page
That seems to be it. Or is it just me that can’t find this?
So you want to go deaf? Pardon?
No, that would be awful but I am sure that imposing a volume cap on manufacturers (if indeed they have) is not the answer. If they have not imposed this, why are the likes of Sansa stealthily making my mp3 player useless to me?
It is for your own good. Why so objectionable?
While it can’t be argued that the intention to protect our hearing is a good one, I don’t believe this is the right way to do it.
While they are being very scientific in Brussels, I know a thing or two about the audio I am hearing.
- It’s loud enough
- It’s not loud enough
The reality for me
I am an avid listener of mainstream music, classical music and audiobooks.
I am listening to mainstream modern music. It is great, no problem at all with a volume cap. This type of music is produced to be at its maximum loudness; hence I don’t need to crank up the volume too far.
I am listening to some soothing, quiet classical music. I have the volume maxed and it is not loud enough. This is because some music is extremely dynamic with very quiet parts and some loud parts. The problem is the quiet bits; they are often too quiet with the volume cap. Yes, the last 30 seconds of the piece is of moderate volume but the rest is ruined by the cap.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I have a love-hate affair with Audible. Some of their books are really badly optimized when it comes to loudness. Due to the annoying DRM Audible use in their files, I can’t process the file to improve the volume optimization. They request that the narrator normalize the audio, but for reasons I won’t go into in this article, this is not enough to optimize the volume. So the result often is DRM + EU volume capping = Can’t hear it.
Also, connecting my mp3 player to my surround sound system via the audio input produces a feeble unimpressive sound.
Thankfully, I found out why and fixed the problem, but I can tell you, I was close to disowning Sansa because of the EU.
Why volume capping is a waste of time. In my opinion!
- Damage to hearing is not caused by listening to loud music … It is caused by listening to music that is too loud for too long. Most people have listened to music that is too loud for a few hours and not suffered permanent ear damage.
- The generation that this restriction is aimed at, the young that listen to heavily produced pop music, will find a way around the setting. Possibly with unofficial firmware :/
- While I am sure that the European Commission will / have researched this scientifically I am not convinced they understand the impact in the real world and people’s listening habits.
- Understanding decibels is not for the fainthearted, it is too complicated – In my (admittedly) limited understanding of decibels mathematical relationships, I understand it in practical terms and use it daily for audio metering purposes. Most people don’t work in audio and have no concept of dB
Also, the dB device value is relative to many other factors, including: –
- The content being listened to – its dynamic nature i.e. loud rock or quiet classical.
- Type of headphones used – i.e. closed-cup headphones, noise rejecting headphones, earbud headphones etc.
- The rated OHM’s of the headphones – whether any headphone splitter is used.
- Listening environment – Moderate background noise can make some content such as audiobooks impossible to hear.
- Period of exposure, quite simply how long and how often you listen to material exceeding 85dB.
What would I propose?
I propose that the European Commission make the manufacturers responsible for educating the users. There is a number of ways that this could be done, off the top of my head, via the device, upon registration, via the website to unlock your device etc.
Done well, and with all of the relevant information, this could be engaging, interesting and educational.
Personally, I am listening to some trance music at home while writing this. My phone sound level app is saying that the average level has been 57dB. But I confess to having a peak outburst earlier for about 20 minutes. I measured an average of 87 Decibels for a short time when I lowered the volume, to an average of 80dB and then back to 57dB.
Yes, I may be a bit of a geek, but I understand the safe limits and take responsibility for my own ear health as it is important to me. There is nothing special about this, somebody could be educated on these matters quite easily.
I am warned about the perils of drinking too much on the side of my beer can. This means I can decide how many units to drink based on the information that I am given. There are warnings on many alcohol labels here in the UK by the Drinkaware Trust (www.drinkaware.co.uk), a national charity providing consumer information about alcohol, and one of the three following messages as a heading: “Know Your Limits,” “Enjoy Responsibly,” or “Drink Responsibly.”
Although we know that too much alcohol is bad for our health the European Commission would not pass legislation to cap the amount of beer you can drink in a pub. Can you imagine a law that imposes your night out to 1.5 pints of beer!? Haha.
So, EU, why ruin our music tech with a meaningless volume cap? Just imposing a cap of 85dB without understanding user habits is not helpful.
Why not educate people and trust them to make an informed decision. Please educate people to “Listen Responsibly” and leave our players without functional limitations.