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Best Threads: Free Hearing Damage?

From the PSW R/E/P recording forum, considering a generous offer for new control room monitors and excessive sound pressure levels...

Editor’s Note: Here’s an interesting thread from the PSW R/E/P recording forum. It’s lightly edited for grammar and formatting. Enjoy.

Posted by Dan
I’m an audio professional specializing in mixing and production. I have a medium sized room (23 x 12) and I’m currently monitoring with a pair of ATC SCM25a’s. I love them.

Recently I had a hugely successful client/friend of mine offer to buy me a new pair of monitors for the express purpose of listening loud. Really loud. I’ve watched him crank the bigs to the max at a few top-notch studios in LA, so I know he really enjoys punishing his eardrums.

My initial thought was a pair of Barefoot MiniMain 12’s. Seem like they would really fit the bill and work in a near field setting as well. However, the artist is in a bit of a rush to get something in place and the MM12’s won’t be available for a month. By then he’ll be on tour and likely not interested in buying me 20k worth of speakers.

That led me to the ATC 150’s as I can get my hands on them much quicker. As well as an offer from my studio designer friend to come to town and help me tune things eventually.

Here’s is my concern. With the size of the 150’s, it won’t be practical to also use the 25’s. Suddenly I’ll be mixing on mid fields in a room that is likely somewhat too small for them. And that scares me. A lot. I’ve been mixing on near fields for many years and mixing is my bread and butter.

At this point, I won’t be looking this gift horse in the mouth, so I’m wondering if anyone has any exp mixing on mid fields in a less than huge room and how that’s gone for them. Or exp with the 150’s in particular and whether they will accomplish the mission for the client of basically taking off his head with immersive sound.

Thanks all!

Reply by Tim
Your client may want to monitor at ear-bleed levels, but do you?

If you have a system that you currently like and know well, why would you want to compromise that to satisfy one client to the potential detriment of all of your other clients?

I’d be more tempted to get a kick-ass headphone rig that can do the punishing levels just for him…

Reply by Jim
I’d do as I’ve always done, walk out of the room during abusive SPL’s. The client is happy, your ears live to listen another day.

Reply by Tim
I agree that the speakers in and of themselves wouldn’t be a detriment. My point was that you are contemplating a significant change to an established and known monitoring environment, which would take time to learn. I’d suggest that the duration of the learning curve would be longer than your successful client’s session before he goes out on tour…so the next client…or two, or three, or more…is put in the unfortunate position of you not being completely “in tune” with your room…to their detriment. Possibly.

As to Jim’s point…that is indeed valid, until the point where the client wants you in the room with them to make changes at the ear bleed level.

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The loudness war doesn’t exist solely in the music industry. I have heard of film mixers stopping playback during mix sessions of loud movies after a certain period in order to protect their ears. It annoys the directors, but the director is in that mix room for a week or so every two years, whereas the mixers are in there every day, and those guys have every right to protect the only asset they have.

If your client wants you in the room during ear bleeding playback, I still think the brutal headphones option is a valid approach.

Reply by Jim
If a client insists on damaging your hearing, insist on ear protection. I wouldn’t go shooting without ear protection, a high SPL monitor system over 8 hours can be just as damaging. No client could pay me enough to damage my ears.

Reply by Fletcher
We always did guitar overdubs in the control room at “blistering levels.” The guitar players loved it because with the right lighting we could make it feel like a “stage” experience and got some amazing performances that way.

However, while the guitar player often liked it 112-118 in the control room — me? Not so much. We had large boxes of the E-A-R [squishy little yellow] earplugs so everyone else in the control room wasn’t going to get injured. I also had a set of 28db “gunshot protectors” [the ones they use at target ranges] for me and the assistant. The “gunshot protectors” are great in that application as they’re easy to get on and off your head when you need to communicate with the guitar player [and can be conveniently stored on your thigh].

Reply by Dean
When the ear is subjected to extremely loud sounds it causes the two main muscles (the stapedius muscle and the tensor tympani muscle) in your middle ear to contract. This not only lowers the sound level reaching your cochlea but also drastically limits the frequency sensitivity of your hearing.

Long story short… using hearing protection will actually make your hearing more accurate by allowing those muscles to stay more relaxed. It also lowers the possibility of damaging the three ossicles bones in your middle ear. If you use the same type of hearing protection over time your brain will adjust to compensate for the effect they have on your perception of sound.

If you must subject yourself to damaging SPL’s for your client’s sake, get yourself to a doctor and get fitted for prescription earplugs. Wear them until you get used to what they’re doing to the sound.

Once the tiny hairs in the cochlea are damaged they are gone forever. Google some pictures. It’s gross. It looks like a shriveled up nasty mess. If the ossicles bones are damaged, you’re also pretty much screwed. You’ve invested too much time, money and talent into your craft to put yourself in that kind of peril.

However, I’m not a doctor… I just play one on TV.


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