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ear issues

Member for

21 years 3 months
Thought I'd direct this question to the mastering community as you are likely to have the most experienced (and dare I say it...oldest!)ears.

I'm a 28-year old musician/engineer, but have already got a mild case of tinnitus, as well as a bit of what I believe is called hypersensitivity.

A very general question- if you've been doing sound engineering for a long time, are your ears still ok, and if not, how so and how do you deal with it?

Thanks in advance!


Member for

19 years

cjenrick Sat, 01/25/2003 - 13:33
Back in 1975 while on a drunken camping trip with guns ( a bad combination ) , we were gettin a little crazy. I shot my friend's 44 magnum backwards, over my left shoulder. The cylinder was about a half a foot away from my ear. My left ear still rings today, and the freq. response is starting to drop as I get older. Also, I notice that if I crank the car stereo, I keep on having to increase the volume to keep the same listening level. So I try to set the volume and leave it there. Especially on the headphones at home.

Member for

18 years 11 months

Sebatron Sat, 01/25/2003 - 19:33
yeah the ears man.....take good care of 'em
I believe the brain can help you out.

When i get ringing i don't think about it.Let it ring out,don't get too worried otherwise you'll think it's there all the time.I think of it like a gut good food ,don't eat too much.
It mostly happens after a loud long session although it came out of the blue the other day but i just don't want to think about it.I'll get paranoid. ;)

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Sat, 01/25/2003 - 20:33
I don’t believe that a person who has a hearing loss can be a mastering engineer. Three things it takes to be a mastering engineer is good hearing, quality equipment and a good listening environment. With mastering, the critical work is done with your ears. There is no substitute or work around. You have to have better than average hearing. This is a job for the few talented individuals who have “golden ears”.

Entering my fifties this has become an issue for me also. The two most important things is to keep your sessions down to 8 hours max and never monitor at more than 85 or 90 dB when mixing If a client is the type to insist on hearing playback loud, keep a set of earplugs handy and use them. I usually make a big show of this. This usually impresses the client, giving them a sense that I have better hearing than them and by showing them I value it. This lends an amount of credibility with them to my choices when mixing. It makes them feel that I can hear things they can’t. While I don’t actually ever say this to them if they get that impression I don’t discourage it. 8 hours is about max for me in a session. Some can handle a little longer but my expierence has shown me that most work done in a session after 6 or 8 hours is usually redone the next session. Fatuge is a major factor both in mixing and performing.

Having someone you trust listen to your work is always a good backstop. Have a mastering engineer take a squint at your stuff after you've finished. If you are expieriencing a sever loss you need to get someone else to record for you. It's possible to produce with a hearing loss, but not to record or mix. You don't let blind people drive, don't let deaf people mix! Brian Wilson was only deaf in one ear and when he was still mixing, mono was the order of the day. Now that he is working in stereo and surround formats, he has an engineer on hand to assist him in his work.... Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

Member for

20 years 9 months

realdynamix Sat, 01/25/2003 - 23:12
:d: Not everyone can be a mastering engineer, good hearing or not, but I think a skilled mastering person could still master well, despite some hearing problems. How do I know this? Because I know a few good mastering engineer's that do have some losses.

If it is generalized sensitivity loss, they may use louder working levels. If it is "boiler makers notch" then the brain makes up for that and fills the gap. If it is tinitis (sp), then care must be taken on fades and low level noises that fall into the masking range, maybe somewhere 40db and below, or around the range of ambient noise levels, studio etc.

If you take a sonogram (sp), make sure that the operator does not cut corners, then take another. Unlike some mandatory test, this is for you. Listen very carefully for the glintest start of a tone, this will make you test very accurate. Some operators make the successive tones rise quickly, so your response time is important. The very 1/30th of a second you hear it press the button.
All that said, If Franky Valley (sp) can sing like he has with his hearing loss, then a skilled mastering engineer can enjoy working even with some losses. Always protect your ears whenever possible, and take breaks, and don't monitor to loud, and work to long at a time.
Sorry for the babble.

Member for

20 years 5 months

audiowkstation Sun, 01/26/2003 - 04:40
Beware; this is a long book I am going to type. I want to share a small portion of my studies in this. Please use this info and mention my name if you are going to paste it somewhere.

This will be kind of long winded but I will share my thoughts of this very interesting topic. I have made this an ongoing research project that I have documentation from my hearing situations now for close to 30 years.

Some subtopics of this are:

Noise exposure.
Tinnitus, and its' effects.
Ear/Brain relationship.
Fletcher/Munson curves
Ear Maintenance.
Brain Maintenance.

Lets start with noise exposure.

Akin to the suns rays when sunbathing, noise exposure charts by OSHA and other European and World communities (DIN) have been in place for many decades. These charts are available on the web by doing a search in Noise exposure. The charts represent steady state noise spread around frequencies of 100hZ to 10KhZ.

In theory, 10 seconds of 120 dB is no worse than 4 hours of 90dB. A single shot from a Glock model 22 at arms length is around 148dB and to get this at 90dB in exposure would take over a week! Never should anyone involved in audio, fire a weapon (percussive) without hearing protection. To my knowledge, this very fast burst of raw energy is the most damaging to the system. When I refer to the "system" I am speaking of Ear/Brain.

People are different. Very different and no two perceptions are identical.

This brings us around to ageing.

As we age, our higher frequencies and the ability to perceive them are diminished. In fact, I have compiled a chart for myself but most 40 year olds simply cannot hear above 15K. The highest steady state frequency I was ever able to hear was when I was 14 years old and that was 23,600hZ. It took over 100dB for it to be audible even then. It is my understanding that as the frequency range closes in, and the perception of low level sounds decrease, so does the pain threshold decrease. Ever been told by an old person that something you were playing was "too loud" and to "tone it down"? Of course so, it hurts their ears! It is painful! Suppose you could only hear to 5KhZ (Paul Klipsch 3 years before he passed away could not hear anything above 2K and drew me a hand written chart. He was 95 then) and this is the reason that it is painful. All the information is saturated in a narrow band like a beam of light. A narrow laser will burn a hole just like a narrow beam of sunlight and a magnifying glass. The brain is making up for the tympanic membrane and hair follicles (sensors) inability to move back and forth at those high speeds due to ageing and the natural resonant frequency of the ear canal (2750hZ +/-10%) is bombarding the senior citizens with screaming sounds. I have done a number of test on many people and this is the conclusions I have reached in this.

Tinnitus is the "ringing of the ears" It comes in many forms.

Steady state tone, buzzing, the sound of Crickets, one steady state tone very loud in one ear all of a sudden with very long fade, multiple tones, and the sound of a horizontal oscillator mixed with square waves (very high pitch with a buzz) and it be perceived in one ear, the other ear, or both ears. The perception of it can hover from around 20 to 30dB and as high as 70dB(!) steady state and after a seriously loud sound, tinnitus can actually be perceived up toward 100dB(!!). Tinnitus simply does these things, as it is natural.

It masks low-level sounds.
It interferes with the ability to hear high frequencies.
It is an irritant.
It can cause insomnia.
It has no known immediate cure.

Everyone whether they realize it or not has some form of tinnitus, even if it is inaudible. It only gets worse as we age but we learn to get use to it and work around it. The only known cures (not a cure but a way to contain it) is through therapy using very low level mixed frequencies at random with headphones in the 15 to 20db range. Others are simply to stay away from noise for prolonged periods of time.

Tinnitus is basically the brain re-adjusting its "equalizer" using test tones to gather a new relationship with the ears and how they perceive sound. The funny thing, in all the medical monies spent, this is the definition I came up with about 20 years ago and it has not be recognized to my knowledge. Not by the Journals of Medicine I am aware of.

Engineers all have it. If they don't, they will. For some reason, me personally, I actually become more aware of ultra high frequencies after a 12 to 14 hour marathon mastering session. It is my hearing in this and like the others said, it is not recommended to sit with the speakers that long but some of my finest work happens during the 12 to 16 hour span. That is when I am most acute and tuned in. No explanation for that…. but I can hear a solid 18KHZ after 12 hours of mastering where 16K is very difficult for me during hour one. Perhaps my brain kicks into "overdrive" to preserve itself. Who knows...

Ear/Brain relationship.

I touched on some of this above but first of all it is a system that works together. If I put an earplug into my right ear only, tinnitus in the left ear will actually rise!. Try the experiment. The brain is interconnected left to right and there is cross talk being used. IF I am on the phone more than 30 mins. and do not change "ears" it takes another 10 to 15 mins. for the equalization between right and left to appear normal. I never allow unequal pressures in my ears to occur for any length of time. I want to keep them balanced from left to right. The system is totally dependant on the other. If one has a problem, the other will try to compensate. That simple. Tinnitus is a "repair mechanism".

Fletcher/Munson curves of equal perceived loudness at different levels (circa 1930)

Our "system" has various frequency response curves based on loudness. I doubt if anyone can hear 20hZ at 35dB but almost everyone can hear 3K at 35dB. Lowest and highest frequencies require substantial power to be heard or sensed. As loudness increases, the "system" has a flatter frequency response. Do a search for Fletcher/Munson equal loudness response curves.


Training your system is probably the most important thing you can do and it takes daily or weekly therapy. To train properly, take 4 different instruments and level them. One at a time, bring each one down to where you barely can hear it at all in the mix. See where this threshold is. IS it masked at 20dB down, 30dB down, 10, 5 dB down? As you train, this threshold becomes wider. It is possible to be able to perceive an entire instrument at 25 to 35 dB under the dominant one. This training is for the sake of achieving proper balance. This takes time and practice.
Once you do this for about a year and see this spread occurring, you will never hear music the same again. Recommended practice for all mastering engineers IMHO. You will be able to hear very deep into a mix and be able to know the difference of a single or even a half a dB. It makes everything much better and when you get 43 like me, you need to do this often and practice. I listen to music over 60 hrs a week intensely. It is important to keep your edge. Other training exercises include noise masking with pink and white noise and listening to main speakers with an unplugged set of closed headphones. The brain will compensate over time.


Have your hearing checked regularly by a licensed audiologist. Keep the graphs and see if you actually can stay consistent over a decade. A sign wave generator can be important too, but you have to work in the 10/20/30dB levels and really, at my age, the threshold is 25 to 30 and on some tests (like 500) 32 to 34. Knowing what your ears are deficeient in, also helps you translate your work "better". No one has flat frequency response at 55dB and no one listens that low anyway. There is "no" full range with anything, under 60db.

Ear Maintenance. Above in training is the brain maintenance, a liscensed physician should perform the ear maintenance at least once a year and better each 6 months and this is professional ear cleaning. How many engineers have spent thousands on equipment and will not spend the $200 it takes to get your ears cleaned? The only problem with professional ear cleaning is it takes about 48 hrs for the brain to re-equalize, and then you go back to training. Any engineer that does not have their ears professionally cleaned regularly is not taking their job seriously at all and it is simply a hobby to them. Do this, do it now! You will be amazed at all the stuff that came out the first time I did it. It was like having a brand new set of ears. You will hear "everything" better.

Drugs, alcohol, and aspirin.


POT, jane, weed, cannabas, sack, number, grass, joint, blunt. You know, the green green grass of home.

Use of pot increases the brains ability to pick up on what the ears are sending it. Many fold. Unfortunately, to stay high long enough for this to be of any use would be spell disaster as far as professionalism goes. Those who stay stoned claim their work is killer and it probably is to another stoner. Since a majority of people you are presenting your work to do not stay stoned, why bother? It is artificial, serves no apparent use as intonation and dynamics are also artificially distorted. Try tuning a bass by ear after 3 joints. Not easy folks! you have to have a tuner!

Alcohol also changes the judgment perception of the "system". Mistakes that would be passed off after 3 beers are in your face when sober. It is not a good mix while working and it is to be used during leisure. A single beer can change my perception enough to make mistakes that are clear later.

Aspirin, caffeine, tobacco

Although, you do not hear this mentioned, 2 aspirin tablets,(375mg each) causes "MY" tinnitus to raise a perceived 10dB. It has to do with blood pressure and I can assure you this is very true. First smoke of the day does as well. Caffeine causes a rise in blood pressure, and this also has similar effects. Usually strong coffee, mountain dew, or other sodas such as jolt cola and strong green tea.

That is a mini, paperback on my experience, I hope it proves helpful!

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Sun, 01/26/2003 - 06:07
“Mr. Bill”,
Most excellent! I agree with the aspirin! :D
Seriously, aspirin overdose causes ringing in the ears.
I have to agree with every point. Very nice work Bill, Thanks, Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

Member for

20 years 5 months

audiowkstation Sun, 01/26/2003 - 10:22
Tommy P.

Great work that needs to be published and researched by the scientific community.
I consider myself a scientist and as soon as anyone wants to take me up on it, I am game. I certainly am not making any finacial rewards at all in mastering and have lowered my rates 97% below what I did for labels. The sooner I can get out of this mastering racket toward greener pastures and a hope of retirement (as Rick Said) the better.

Hard to compete with folks ruining the art when your heart is not in it. Crunching a mix to 2dB dynamics is not my idea of art at all. It is button pushing and greed. I have no time for that and it seems that is what sells.

Pass it along, I need a ticket out , really..or some work.

Member for

20 years 5 months

audiowkstation Sun, 01/26/2003 - 10:51
3 years for a Doctorate, and this is what I will base my Thesis on but then I also need one more year of graduate school first. It will be in the field of Physics. One day I hope to finish up but it will be written beforehand and it is an on going process that will never be fully realized until I have tested myself to about 85 years (should I live that long), an obvious impossibility from this vantage point.
I appreciate the kind words.

Member for

19 years 8 months

Alécio Costa Sun, 01/26/2003 - 17:12
great job my friend!
I go to my otorrino doctor every day. I have been doing the same audiometry test with the same specialist. If I do the test early at morning, the results are much better.
Once I was so crazy about "clean hearing" that I arived at the docto´r place with cotton on both ears. And I felt that it happened what Bill just said... My internal equalizer was being recompensated. The mids were quite hight..

Comparing 1996/2002 charts, some frequencies were somehow better and some dropped a little. very amazing... seems the lows were better...


Member for

19 years 10 months

Don Grossinger Mon, 01/27/2003 - 06:42
I can only agree with what Bill is saying. That's why I try to start my sessions early, around 10 AM. I tell my clients who are night owls that my ears are at their freshest early & they benefit from the early start time. I try to keep my sessions at less than 6 hours to reduce the fatigue factor. I will not stand in the room for playback at very loud levels, I just give my clients a "limit" and sometimes wait outside the door till they are done listening.

Mastering sessions should be run with the monitor level at one point only- steady state- thru the session. As stated above, the ear hears differently at different levels which will throw off how your EQ settings are done. Review later after all basic work is done at other levels, mark your monitor level position on the knob & try to keep it consistant during the session.

Once hearing goes away, it does not return.

Member for

19 years

cjenrick Tue, 01/28/2003 - 20:44
Great post Bill ! Thanks! One thing I would like to say on the ear/brain thing is that the ear is only the transducer. It is the brain/mind/spirit that takes the signal from the transducer and makes it into something we enjoy. Well, most of us. We have many cultures of people here at work. It is really interesting how some people who did not grow up in America just get minimal enjoyment from music that really rocks me. I will put on Statesboro Blues by the Allman Bros. for example, and they just don't get it! Can you imagine? I could go on and on about this with other examples but my main point is even though you may have some hearing impairment, it doesen't mean that you won't know when something grooves or not. I like to call it musical soul. When you go to a concert, you can see that some members of the audience were born with more musical soul than others. Do you know what I mean?