Tagged: music

Ear Buds, Not Ear Enemies

November 19th, 2012 in Current Issue, Fall 2012, Life & Physical Sciences 0 comments

A closer look at which earphones are better for listeners.

Illustration by Evan Caughey

Illustration by Evan Caughey

How many times have you been in the library, on the T, or at the gym and received angry looks from the people closest to you because they can hear the music through your headphones? While listening to your favorite playlist may be the most enjoyable way to pass time, it not fun for your ears or those around you.

Our ears and the auditory system are delicate structures. The ear is set up in three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is the visible lobe into which we place our ear buds. The middle ear is the ear canal, an air-filled pathway that transports sound to the inner ear. The inner ear has two components, one of which has an air medium, and the other, a fluid medium. The goal of the inner ear is to transduce the sound waves into physical fluid waves in order to generate the sensation of sound. Music travels through the ear canal as sound waves and is then transformed into physical waves once it enters the fluid-filled inner ear.1 The waves of fluid move the sensory receptors of the ears, which are known as hair cells. Hair cells are cylindrical cells that sway and bend in sync with the movement of the fluid in the inner ear; their position determines whether or not a signal is sent to the brain to alert it to sound.1 Like the hairs on your head, hair cells are easily broken. If the waves are too strong or intense, (like from very loud music), the hair cells can be permanently damaged. Unlike the hairs on your head, they do not grow back.1 As the number of hair cells decrease, so does your ability to hear.

It is important to protect our auditory systems. A high functioning auditory system allows us to truly appreciate every note of a song, hear a friend calling our name down the street, or hear a car honk so we know not to cross the street.

There are many ways we can protect our ears, and one of the easiest and most practical ways is picking the right pair of headphones. There is much debate about which type is best: – “in-ear” headphones, such as iPod ear buds, or “on-ear” headphones, such as Beatz by Dr. Dre.2 Currently, many suggest that “on-ear” headphones are better for your hearing because they allow for the passage of more air, but a definitive winner has yet to be chosen. While some may be far beyond the price range of a college student, such as the Boise Noise Cancelling headphones, there are many affordable options.3

  • AKG K 311 Powerful Bass Performance, 19.95 – affordable and uses a semi –open design that allows air flow to add comfort and prevent damage by allowing for more external environmental sounds to also be let in.3
  • Logitech UE 350, 59.99 – automatically dampens sound without losing quality.4
  • Beyer Dynamic DTX300p, 64.00 – an on-ear design that keeps the sound from building up too much in the ear canal.3

However, no matter the headphones you have, it is important to remember to keep the volume down. This is for both the sake of your ear and to make sure the lady sitting across from you does not start screaming, which would also be bad for your hearing.


12012. Auditory System. Science Daily, Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/a/auditory_system.htmGrobart, Sam (2011, 12 21).

2Better Ways to Wire Your Ears for Music. The New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/technology/personaltech/do-some-research-to-improve-the-music-to-your-ears.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

32012, 01 20. Which Headphones Should I Use? Deafness Research UK, Retrieved from http://www.deafnessresearch.org.uk/content/your-hearing/looking-after-your-hearing/which-headphones-should-i-use/

4Shortsleeve, Cassie (2012, 12 10). The Coolest New Headphones. Men’s Health, Retrieved from http://news.menshealth.com/best-headphones/2012/09/10/

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