EU wants safe volume settings on portable music players

The European Commission has ordered all makers of portable music players to add a default volume setting of around 80 decibels (dB) and a health warning to all new devices within the next two years.

The EC s also calling on standards bodies to change industrywide technical safety standards for mobile devices to include the 80 dB default setting. The current maximum volume level permitted for portable devices of 100 dB in the European Union remains unchanged, the commission said in a statement.

An estimated 10% of music player owners in Europe (up to 25 million people) risk going deaf by listening to music at volumes of up to 120 dB -- roughly the volume of a jet airliner taking off -- for an hour or more each day on a regular basis, consumer rights Commissioner Meglana Kuneva said in a press conference today.

You can safely listen to music at 80 dB for up to 40 hours a week without harming your ears, a study conducted for the commission concluded. Eighty dB is roughly the volume of road traffic.

"It's easy to push up the volume on your MP3 player to damagingly loud levels, especially on busy streets or public transport," Kuneva said, adding that young people especially "have no idea they can be putting their hearing at risk."

The new standard default setting on devices won't prevent users from overriding the default settings and pumping up the volume, but there will be clear warnings so they know the risks they are taking, Kuneva said.

The industry said it supported the move but it warned the commission not to try to prescribe universal volume levels for all users. It urged the commission and standardization bodies to match the wishes of users with safety considerations when they set the default level.

Bridget Cosgrave, director general of the trade group Digital Europe, said music players are only one part of the problem of hearing loss, but the industry would cooperate in the European initiative, "to best serve consumer interests."

Digital Europe called for global harmonization of the standards to be applied in Europe. "Unharmonized requirements would undermine credibility and confuse users, potentially exposing themselves to inappropriate volume of noise," the trade group said in a statement.

It also warned the commission against setting "overly stringent regulations," pointing out that this would drive sales of products to countries with more relaxed regulation. Kuneva warned companies that she won't tolerate their failure to observe the new standards.

"Regardless how big the company, no matter how reputable, I will take action," the commissioner said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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