Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

MP3 players face noise limits recommended by EU

Scientific experts say the maximum setting should be 85 decibels

The European Commission is calling for a suggested maximum volume to be set on MP3 players, to protect users' hearing.

The commission wants all MP3 players sold in the EU, including iPods, to share the same volume limits.

This follows a report last year warning that up to 10m people in the EU face permanent hearing loss from listening to loud music for prolonged periods.

EU experts want the default maximum setting to be 85 decibels, according to BBC One's Politics Show.

Users would be able to override this setting to reach a top limit of 100 decibels.

In January, a two-month consultation of all EU standardisation bodies will begin on these proposals, with a final agreement expected in the spring.

Some personal players examined in testing facilities have been found to reach 120 decibels, the equivalent of a jet taking off, and no safety default level currently applies, although manufacturers are obliged to print information about risks in the instruction manuals.

Record player

Research has suggested that deafness amongst younger people is on the rise because of people's personal listening habits.

Modern personal players are seen as more dangerous than stationary players or old-fashioned cassette or disk players because they can store hours of music and are often listened to while in traffic with the volume very high to drown out outside noise.

Dr Robin Yeoh, an audiology consultant at the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, said: "More and more young people are referred to me by their GPs with tinnitus or hearing loss as a direct result to exposure to loud music.

"It's the sort of damage that in the old days would have come from industrial noise.

"The damage is permanent and will often play havoc with their employment opportunities and their personal lives."

'Personal choice'

DigitalEurope, the Brussels-based body representing the industry, agrees safety must be improved.

But according to their spokesman Tony Graziano, "the solution must lie in a balance between safety and enjoyment of the product by the consumer".

"Eighty five decibels would not be appropriate because noise coming from traffic, engines and so on would obliterate the sound," he said.

Conservative MEP Martin Callanan, who sits on the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, said: "Kids have always listened to their music loud and this is not going to stop them."

He added: "You have to educate them to the risks but ultimately you have to allow personal responsibility and personal choice."

The Politics Show broadcasts at 1200 GMT on BBC One and for seven days after on the BBC iPlayer

Here's a selection of some of the comments BBC News readers have sent to us about this story.

e-mail sent in by reader

I think that is a very good idea, this would help teens a lot as they would protect them from hearing loud music. Hope this becomes a law here in the US .
John Estrada Serpa, York, Pennsylvania, USA

e-mail sent in by reader

My MP3 player can get very loud, and like those very unfortunate people, i'm left with loud intrusive tinnitus. Due to my own neglect, I now struggle to sleep every night, and silence is a dream now.

I am always telling my younger sister to turn down her mp3 player, she listens to it very loud, like I used to.
Aron Roy, Utah

e-mail sent in by reader

The quality of headphones plays a huge part in this and not just the volume capability of the player itself. Typically the headphones that come as standard are cheap low quality that do not fit the ears correctly.

Consumers then have to increase volumes on the player to replicate what the track should sound like and drown out background noise. Noise cancelling headphones clearly help here and the manufacturers should invest a little more here.

This will not only help the issue in question but will promote the overall quality of the product being provided in the form of the sound quality.
Mark Redfern, Shepperton, Middlesex

e-mail sent in by reader

I believe that the reason people listen to their music so loud is because of the outside noise. If a player has an artificial limit for volume levels, it should also have quality noise-cancelling headphones.

I myself don't listen to music that requires loud volume, but it does disturb me when I can hear lyrics coming from somebody's headphones on the other end of the bus.
Shoji Hitachi, Finland

e-mail sent in by reader

I am in favour of maximum noise limits for the user, but feel much more strongly about noise leakage, which is a real annoyance, especially on trains and buses.

It should be illegal to manufacture earphones which leak noise to annoy other people. Lots do not do this, why are any allowed to?
Stephen , Norwich UK

e-mail sent in by reader

This is ridiculous. People should be able to play their music at whatever volume they want, and it is up to them to deal with the consequences of playing it too loud.
Izaac Solts, Leeds

e-mail sent in by reader

I have a conductive hearing loss at the age of 25 years. This is from a natural condition that I have developed rather than a loss from noise etc. However I now wear hearing aids as my loss is around 60db in both ears, however the way the hearing aids are I can't put mp3 player headphones in my ears with them in. So when listening to music I take them out and listen with them.

If my MP3 player was limited to 85 db and I can't hear noise below 60db then I would only be able to hear noise at the equivalent to 25db. This wouldn't allow me normal enjoyment. I would then have to fork out more money to buy an amp, which wouldn't be portable enough to take my mp3 player out with me.

If the EU imposes these limits it would be indirect discrimination towards those with a hearing loss. Those with normal hearing should no the risks. They listen to their music loud by choice. Living in this nanny EU state is taking away our own freedom.

What do you think? In considering my case, would this be worth while? Are the EU going to buy me an amp once MP3 players are restricted to 100db?
Steven Bailey, Manchester

e-mail sent in by reader

In my opinion, the problem lies in a complete lack of noise rejection from the earpieces. If noise from outside were to be mitigated, then users wouldn't feel the need to turn the volume up so high. Closed back headphones are excellent at this.
Dave, Cornwall

e-mail sent in by reader

I purchased a pair if in ear headphones which act like an ear plug, the result is I can play my music much quieter as background noise is blocked.
Mr Ralph Jolly, Oxford

e-mail sent in by reader

I travel on the London Underground every day and quite often I get someone sat next to me with their iPod that it's painful for me to listen to and that can't be good for their hearing. I certainly wouldn't ask them to turn it down, you never know how they are going to react!
Paul Balaam, London

e-mail sent in by reader

My ears were starting to hurt so I bought a pair of noise cancelling headphones which make a massive difference to the volume that you need to listen to music at, especially in traffic.
Sarah, Ireland

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