In the past two decades our audio world has been quietly changing. Like it or not PCM digital is here to stay. Vinyl (LP) has never made it back to the main stream (by the way, I love vinyl). Ironically, LP system costs just keep shooting up (i.e, $20,000 cartridges). Both SACD and DVD audio are history. Server music is on the rise.
Baby boomers are entering their “golden age”. Younger generations are into MP3 and countless computer related solutions. My observation is that the majority of high end audio customers are boomers. When boomers were younger, it was the golden age of the hi-end industry and enthusiasm was at an all time high. There were no, or much fewer computer distractions. Boomers love this high-end toy then, still loving it today. Perhaps they’ll continue to love till deaf or dead do part.
There is no secret that aging has a direct impact to hearing. As aging proceeds, sooner or later all golden ears will turn rusty, or to dust. No human on earth can be like Moses in the Bible. He lived to one hundred twenty with perfect hearing and eye vision (according to the scriptures).
This article is about how to preserve and use your golden ears for as long as possible. Actually, this article will apply to the younger generation as well. Just as we go to the gym for the purpose of better health, our ears are no different. They too need exercise to keep in shape.
Interestingly enough, your ears may not be the most important part of the listening system.
It is your cumulative listening experience, passion of the music and personal knowledge of sound quality that really matters. Thus this is more about your brain — the human A/V computer.
Your ears are mechanical devices, your brain is an electronic system that consists of a signal converter, pre-amp, spectrum analyzer, spatial processor etc.
I have watched people who do occasional machining not wear ear protectors. When asked, they will say “its all right I am used to it”, or “my ear has already been damaged, it doesn’t matter anymore” etc. Of course all that is not true. The fact is that as long as they can hear my question, they have the hearing. What they are doing is just abusing it.
A relative of mine had been fighting in the Vietnam war back in the 60′s and 70′s. He shot many thousands of rounds of machine gun bullets without wearing any ear protection. He damaged his hearing to a certain degree no doubt. Once we met, I invited him to enjoy my hi-end audio system and he said: “no, my ears are broken. Music sounds bad to me”. When he finally sat down and listened, he was shocked saying: ” wow, I can see the piano and the guy is so good…”.
See, “broken ears” can enjoy high quality music system too. Or shall I say high quality audio can be enjoyed and appreciated by any of us, even to those with damaged hearing.
When we are aging, our hearing system (both ear and brain) are deteriorating. To extend listening capability is to protect and not to damage your hearing any further.
Many golden age or near golden age people believed that they can take more abuses from noise because their ears are not so good anymore, or they are just tough guys — a big mistake! What they need is to take care of their hearing even more. If you have a bad knee, would you run because it is not so good anymore? You want to save what you still have left, right?
I am sure many have experienced an occasional ear ringing. These are short term ones, lasting from ten some seconds to a minute or two. When it happens, it rings a single tone at around 600 -800 Hz. Then a momentary loss of full hearing, kind of muted on the affected ear. It will be slowly recovered though.
According to doctors, this is a sign of losing one hearing nerve. Imagine we have a high end audio cable in our hearing system. If one strand broke and we still have many left. When more and more of that keeps happening, we will end up having a weaker cable to transfer the audio.
I believe that is why most people at an older age can not take very loud levels of music or noise, much unlike when they were younger. This is because loud sounds may overloaded their “input stage” too much. If forced to listen high level sound, it may cause ear ringing, or the music becoming flat. Do this — try listening to a section of loud pop such as Michael Jackson’s BAD. Before this, play a beautiful violin, or female voice solo. Get a taste of it. Then play the BAD at loud level. Upon finishing, immediately jump back to audition either the violin or female solo. You would likely find that they are not as live, beautiful and engaging anymore. The loss of depth, 3D, dynamic scale, contrast, delicacy and even loudness are un mistakable.
Anyway, if you take a break, even as short as a twenty seconds break after the Jackson track the goodness of those solo performances will be recovered. The effect was due to loud music temporarily causing some lost of hearing. Younger people recover faster – like a couple seconds.
A simple and interesting self test you can do in any quiet place. Take two US quarter coins in your hands. Best is coins issued in 80′s because they seem to ring better. Use both middle fingers to support the bottom of the two coins. Make sure that contact points are as small as possible and keep the coins in balance (this take some practice). Try carefully brushing the edge of the coins together very lightly to create a ringing tone. Do not “hit” the edges too hard, only lightly touch them from edge to edge. Do it as subtley as possible.
If you can hear the clear and lasting ringing tone, you can hear about 10 kHz and you are in the group of golden ears. If you can not hear them at all, don’t get too frustrated. You still can enjoy music. What you’ve lost perhaps is a few more dB of high frequency. Not that you have lost them totally.
Let’s protect our ears. Put in a first line of protection. Buy a set of “musician ear plug” . Choose the -6dB type and wear it in a noisy environment. This ear plug allows listening to conversation without any problem. It is not strong enough to protect you from table saw work or exceptionally loud noise environments. Believe it or not, I even used it at some classical concerts when the symphony orchestra gets to a full climax – like some portions of the Rite of Spring. Using it daily may force you put more effort into listening, but that is a good “work out” for your hearing system.
Avoid exposing yourself in loud noisy environments too long as mentioned (wear ear plug in airplanes and loud concerts). Do physical exercise. Get the benefit of cardio workout to bring oxygen to nurture your listening system. Enjoy music as many times in the day as you can and truly focusing on listening. Do not take it as background music because when you are not paying attention, you are not excising your “listening computer”.
Try to get as much excitement as possible from your music collection (no MP3 please. FM radio ok). Excitement can simulate your listening system. Help achieve a good tune up of your golden ears, even beneficial to a better health.
By all means, the most essential rule to maintain your listening is good health. This is true to all life enjoyments as well. Try to get a clean bill of health. Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, cholesterol and improper blood sugar level etc., are factors that lead to rapid aging, countless disease such as stroke, heart attack and cancers.
Both our vision and hearing nerves’ well being are dependent on oxygen support. Those bad factors mentioned will likely damage, or block your micro blood supply vein, putting your precious hearing at great risk. You are responsible to your own well being so be a “good manager” and control your health condition, or the aging process will speed up.
Don’t be lazy. Get up and walk after an hour of listening to music, or computer work. Never count on prescriptions medicines to buy you out. I know a long time, very passionate and dedicated audiophile friend who has a pre-diabetic condition and high blood fat issue. He suffered a sudden loss of hearing while driving. He lost not only substantial high frequency hearing, but also many dB of mid to lower frequencies level plus a bad ear ringing problem – at the age of early fifty. That was painful enough to force him give up his life time love of high end audio all together.
Let’s pray this would never happen to us.