The Who's Pete Townshend sees trouble in iPod land

  A few months ago I registered my disgust that products such as MP3 players and iPods offer little in the way of features that would protect the hearing of young users. Kids who don't believe they will pay later for listening loud now should go to the Web site of Pete Townshend, of the rock band The Who. In a diary entry on his Web Site, The Who's Pete Townshend blames his hearing loss on time spent using headphones.

"If you use an iPod or anything like it, or your child uses one, you MAY be OK. ... But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead," he says.

Right on.

An entire generation of children has these devices glued to their ears, yet the consumer electronics industry appears to have done little to publicize the risks or provide features that could save hearing. I had suggested in a recent blog that manufacturers include a "child safety" safe listening mode that keeps volume from exceeding safe levels. They should also provide safe volume level markings on volume controls and include display indicators during play that alert the user when listening levels exceed what is considered safe. You would think in this litigious society that manufacturers should also include literature on safe listening practices, including how to determine safe volume levels when using earphones and the maximum acceptable listening time before taking a break. Perhaps they don't bother because hearing loss is an injury that creeps up gradually over many years. By the time today's children start to notice that they can't hear as well anymore they will be adults. This situation will only change when consumers demand safer products - or lawmakers mandate them.

The other day I visited Sony's Web site and discovered a feature called the Automatic Volume Limiter System, or AVLS, on one of its music player models. Initially I was excited to see that someone was paying attention to the hearing issue. Then I read the feature description: "Maintains volume output at levels below distortion threshold for cleaner sound reproduction." Your child may go deaf listening to Sony's portable music players, but at least you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that they never had to experience distortion as they cranked up the volume.

Townshend's generation didn't die before it got old - it just went deaf. Now my daughter wants an iPod and I am loathe to give her one. Most of us are not a good judge of what volume level is considered too loud. Will her generation fare any better?

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