Protecting Your Ears – Start Now!

Back in issue 5 of Sick Drummer Magazine, we interviewed Paul, a staff member at Ultimate Ears. Let this interview be the thing that starts you on your way to protecting your ears! 

SDM: Can you tell us a little about the history of Ultimate Ears?
Paul: Ultimate Ears was founded by Mindy Harvey and Jerry Harvey in 1995, when Jerry was a sound engineer for Van Halen.  When drummer Alex Van Halen complained about the nightly blasting he got from clumsy on-stage monitors, Jerry and Mindy worked to develop noise-reducing in-ear monitors, launching Ultimate Ears to the front lines of producers for custom monitors for high profile musicians.  Jerry focused on perfecting the ear pieces while Mindy acted as liaison between the company and celebrities, simultaneously handling operations.  Jerry left Ultimate Ears in 2007 to start the company JH Audio, and Mindy entered into retirement shortly after Logitech's acquisition of Ultimate Ears in August of 2008.
SDM: Your company offers different types of earphones, for different situations.  Can you briefly describe the differences in the four available in your custom series?
1. The most premium sound from Ultimate Ears is found in the UE 11 Pro, which combines a quad-armature speaker configuration with a three-way crossover to define and detail low, mid, and high frequencies.  Simply, this is the clearest, purest sound ever achieved by an earphone, and provides the ability to hear your favorite songs like never before.  A two-driver subwoofer addresses the inadequacy of bass frequencies to stand up to brighter mids and highs, and eliminates the muddy bass frequency that is often the bane of other monitoring systems.
2. With three speakers in each ear for studio-quality fidelity, the UE 10 Pro features a low end that is tight but not overstated, a dynamic mid range and crystal clear highs.
3. Ideal for live performances, the UE 7 Pro offers the most headroom of any professional earpiece on the market, and features a two-way crossover design of a single high driver and dual low drivers.  The UE 7 Pro has an optional ambient feature that allows stage bleed while controlling the isolation effect as well.
4. One low-frequency and one high-frequency speaker in each ear piece of the UE 5 Pro provide detail and clarity that makes prior listening experiences seem anemic by comparison.  Also, the UE 5 Pro is available with an optional ambient feature to allow for stage bleed while controlling the isolation effect.
SDM: How does one go about finding a pair that fits correctly?  What is a "good fit" and what is a waste of time?  What is your process for ensuring this?
Paul: To ensure that one's custom in-ear monitors fit properly, we have our clients visit a qualified audiologist for a mold to be taken of the inner ears.  A quick, painless process results in an exact impression of the inner ears.  These impressions are sent to our lab technicians, where we can create a monitor that is tailored to fit the clients' ears perfectly.
Our consumer line of earphones features various ear tips in multiple sizes so users can find the pair that fits them best.  A good fit should result in a tight seal in the ear to isolate the sounds of music from outside noises and distractions.
SDM: What kinds of long term damage to the ear can be prevented by using this type of earphone?
Paul: The cochlea is a chamber in the inner ear filled with fluid, and is lined with thousands of tiny hair cells that, when agitated by sound, send electrical impulses to the brain, which interprets these as sound.  When exposed to loud or prolonged noise, these hair cells get damaged and the transmission of sound is permanently altered.  Damage to the ear drum can also occur, and prolonged exposure to noise can cause fatigue and irritability.  It also has negative effects on other parts of the human body.
SDM: Aside from using an earphone/monitor, what else can touring musicians do to protect their ears?
Paul: Avoid exposure to loud and prolonged noise whenever possible.  Turn down the volume whenever possible, and have your ears checked regularly by a professional.  Musician plugs are a wise and valuable investment.  These plugs are custom fit just like our in-ear monitors and have built in filters that lower the decibel levels but let some ambient sound in.  Ultimate Ears sells musician plugs regularly along with our custom in-ear monitors to our customers.
SDM: To give our readers an idea of what damaging volume is, what are some familiar sounds that compare to that of damaging musical frequencies?
Paul: Knowing precisely when ears are being damaged is determined by both the amount of noise and length of time one is exposed to the noise.  Noise is measured in decibels or dBs.  The higher the decibel the louder the noise, and the shorter the period of time one should be exposed to the noise.  Sound levels higher than 80 dBs are considered potentially hazardous.  Following are some common, average decibel levels a person can be exposed to everyday (note where rock music falls):
150 dB = rock music peak
140 dB = firearms, air raid siren, jet engine
130 dB = jackhammer
120 dB = jet plane take-off, amplified rock music at 4-6 ft., car stereo, band practice
110 dB = rock music, model airplane
106 dB = bass drum rolls
100 dB = snowmobile, chain saw, pneumatic drill
90 dB = lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic, subway
80 dB = alarm clock, busy street
70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner
60 dB = conversation, dishwasher
50 dB = moderate rainfall
40 dB = quiet room
30 dB = whisper, quiet library