Audio pros often make statements such as: “My ears arefine,” “My ears are shot” or “I don't want toknow what my hearing is like.” The conventional method ofdetermining the truth about such statements is to take a hearing test.Unfortunately, most standard hearing exams require both an office visitto an audiologist or physician and the ability to directly confront thefear of the unknown. For most musicians and sound pros, a trip to thedentist is preferable. Also, standard hearing tests typically onlymeasure octave bands in the 125 to 8,000Hz speech range.
The EarQ Hearing Analyzer is a personal hearing self-testapplication that functions on most desktop and laptop PCs. The softwareships with a pager-sized calibrator that is used before each test toset the computer's headphone output via a 1kHz tone and a three-LED“stoplight” arrangement.
A $199 package is supplied with Sennheiser's TEC Award-winning HD280 Pro headphones (reviewed in Mix, November 2002), which arecomfortable and rugged, while providing the high isolation helpful forhearing exams (and live gigs). Other supported models include Sony MDR7506 (same as the V6), Sennheiser HD 25 SP, Beyerdynamic DT 770,Audio-Technica ATH-M40fs and several by Koss. The software andcalibrator alone are $99, so the Sennheiser bundle is a good value.
A third method is using EarQ with in-ear monitors (IEMs), and filesare also included to calibrate it to several popular models, such asthe Shure E-1 and E-5, Sensaphonic ProPhonic 2000, Future Sonics Earsand Etymotic ER-4 and ER-6.
The testing window has 16 faders that represent frequencies from 63to 20k Hz. Below 2k, they're at octave intervals; above 3k, they'respaced at ⅓-octave intervals, providing greater resolution wherehearing is most often impaired. Minimum audibility self-testing isperformed one ear at a time by pushing each fader until itsintermittent, slightly warbled tone is barely heard. Results are thenconverted to a hearing-response audiogram, which compares them to thoseof young adults with normal hearing. These can be saved and easilycompared to previous tests. The Audiogram window also has an option forsuggested EQ settings, recommending slight boosts depending on themeasured deficiencies, with different settings for listening levels ofvery soft (65 dB), comfortable (80 dB) or comfortably loud (95 dB).However, only the last is meaningful for most audio professionals.
The entire process takes less than 15 minutes. Because it's aself-test, a degree of honesty is required for meaningful results: Youcan easily convince yourself you heard a tone that you'd like to beable to hear.
Making tests over several days, it's clear that hearing abilitychanges, depending on factors such as exposure, stress, medication andrest. Results obtained following a good night's sleep are better thanafter a long day of loud music or travel. In fact, this temporarythreshold shift is the very mechanism by which hearing loss occurs overtime, and EarQ's ability to monitor this makes it an excellent tool forhearing conservation. EarQ can't replace a visit to the audiologist,but it's relatively simple to make before-and-after comparisons of yourhearing levels at rock concerts or studio sessions.
EarQ was initially conceived as a means to identify tweaks tocontrol room monitors that would provide better studio results forolder or abused ears, because the lack of certain frequencies tends tomake an engineer push them in the mix. It's also an invaluable tool formonitor engineers who are responsible for mixing IEMs. Though manyperformers (or engineers) may not want a hearing test, offering itdemonstrates professional responsibility.
EarQ's EQ suggestions can also provide a guide to tweak individualmix EQ so that compensation can be made with console-output EQ,outboard graphics or with the EQ on the more sophisticated masteringprocessors used as safety limiters with better IEM rigs. Investigatingmix or “mastering” EQ with individual musicians may providethem with an improved performing experience, as well as showing themyou care about their hearing. More importantly, EarQ lets users checktheir own hearing on the road daily and in privacy to monitor thetemporary threshold shifts that can turn into hearing loss overtime.
The average 40-year-old has already lost some high-frequencyhearing, so it's no surprise that the typical result of two decades inthe music business is a permanent notch in the highs. That the EarQsoftware may recommend a boost of a few dB at those frequencies shouldnot be surprising. Though exaggerated losses cannot be compensated forby large-frequency boosts, the careful monitoring of personal hearingcan allow professionals to mitigate further damage, while helpingimprove their listening experience.
Set your browser to www.earq.net for an uncalibrated, simple 4-banddemo of the EarQ software. When was the last time your hearingwas checked?
EarQ Technologies, Box 6654, San Rafael, CA 94903; 415/479-7339; fax415/329-3303; www.earq.net.
Want to try a quick hearing test online? DownloadEarQ's limited frequency range demo.