iPod, Volume Limiting, and Constant Phantom Ringing Noises.

Recently, Apple released a software update for the latest iPods that adds password protected settings to limit the volume of the output. Whether or not this has anything to do with a rather stupid lawsuit, I have no idea. The stupidity of the lawsuit is obvious and is not the point of this.

This is a feature I’m looking forward to using.

I often find myself listening to music on an airplane. Usually, I’m using a very good set of relatively efficient headphones. Efficient? Yes — some headphones are much more effective at turning electricity into sounds than others (which is why the lawsuit is stupid).

Now airplanes tend to lay down a fairly loud noise floor. The instinct is turn up my headphones — which are relatively open because my ears freak out with closed air ‘phones.

A few times prior to any kind of volume limiting, I walked out of a plain with my ears ringing even though I didn’t think I had been listening to music that loudly. The noise floor got me. It is impossible to tell how absolutely loud something is in relation to a relatively loud noise floor.

So, the volume limiting is actually quite useful. I can set the maximum volume of my iPod to something loud, but not too loud, in a quiet room, then not have to worry about ripping my ear drums out when trying to listen to music in an otherwise fairly loud environment.

I can also hand the iPod to my five year old son with the controls enabled such that he feels in command without having to worry about him destroying his ears.

And because the limit is variable, I can easily set it depending on what headphones I happen to be carting with me.

(I can’t do the ear buds because my ears turn red, swell, and become painfully itchy…. and I really don’t like the noise canceling things due to bulk and general squishing-my-ears feeling that leads to the red/swell//itch thing.)

11 Responses to “iPod, Volume Limiting, and Constant Phantom Ringing Noises.”

  1. ssp says:

    Yup, sounds like a neat feature. A shame that it’s only for the latest and greatest models. I’d quite like having it as well.

    Last year I was on a small and rather loud plane and ended up having the iPod maxed out. And even with the lower European volume maximum my ears hurt a bit after just an hour.

  2. Bob Frank says:

    FWIW: I have a pair of Sennheiser noise canceling headphones. They’re relatively light and fairly open. I also use them in the office all the time. The first time I put them on I was surprised how much noise the office makes even if no one else is around (ventilation, ect.)

    amazon link to headphones

  3. John C. Randolph says:

    I use a set of Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones, and they’re amazing. The first time I used them on a plane, they cancelled the engine noise, which I was expecting, but better still, there was a kid in the row in front of me crying through most of the flight, and I could tell because I could see him. I had to flip the switch a few times just to be sure, but sure enough, he was howling, and the phones were damping it.


  4. Your Attorney says:

    I don’t see why the lawsuit is stupid.

    The sound volume limitation is a requirement in Europe.

    As you don’t hide who your employer is, it’s at least easy to understand that you are not objective when it comes to Apple.

  5. bbum says:

    Heh. That’s pretty funny.

    I don’t hide the fact that I am an employee of Apple. Hell, I announced that very fact on my weblog when I was hired.

    The lawsuit is stupid. I would say it was stupid if it were brought against any manufacturer of electronics. The reason why it is stupid is obvious — headphones have different levels of efficiency. To put it plainly, you can take two different headphones, set an iPod (or any other device) to any given volume level, and the headphones will have two completely different volume levels when plugged in.

    To repeat and in even more simplistic terms: Headphone A may be deafeningly loud at a volume level of 8 while headphone B is barely audible at a volume level of 8.

    Now, if Apple hardwired the ear buds into the iPod such that it were impossible to change headphones, then it would be a different situation. Not very different — pretty much every audio device sold can damage your hearing if you turn it up loud enough.

  6. Charles says:

    People have no self control, and want to be saved from themselves. It’s like an old joke:

    Patient: Doctor, Doctor, my ears hurt when I play my iPod on 10!
    Doctor: Well, then don’t do that!

    I’m so deaf from tinnitus (not caused by loud music, but by ear disease) and the standard earbuds are so unresponsive that I play my iPod on about 9. But I just got the Etymotic ER6i in-ear phones, and I can hear much more clearly, now I can listen to my iPod on about 4 or 5. I haven’t quite gotten used to the deep in-ear insertion, I’m thinking of having the custom ear molds made for a custom fit, maybe that will be more comfortable.

  7. John C. Randolph says:


    Since you purport to be an attorney yourself, perhaps you’re not objective when it comes to recognizing sutpidity, particularly in litigation.

    Fucking ambulance-chasers.


  8. Your Attorney says:

    o I don’t have any trouble recognizing stupidity. Converting a NSImage to monochrome using the NSReadPixel API can be seen as a good example of it.

    o Young people loosing their hearing capacity because of loud music (concert, walkman) is a medical known fact. If you think people are clever enough not to listen to music at the maximum volume, then you should get out and wonder why in public transportation, you don’t need an iPod because you can hear the guy-next-seat iPod (or any other MP3 player) loud and clear.

    Moreover, since the limitation has been introduced, then probably, this was not a stupid case. Sometimes, some good things are coming out of stupid ideas.

    To end my “stupid” post, stupid comparison:

    Known fact: guns when used can kill people

    Hypothesis: you must be really stupid to shoot someone.

    Observed results: People die from shooting every year.

    Question: would trying to prevent selling guns to the public be a stupid idea?

  9. bbum says:

    I completely agree that people listen to music way too loudly. I was one of those people at one time. Fortunately, I stopped before I did severe damage, but my ears are not at 100%.

    That doesn’t make the lawsuit any less stupid. Portable CD players are far more popular than the iPod (for now 🙂 and, by simple math, one would expect portable CD players to be a far larger cause of hearing damage than iPods. As well, different headphones have different gains/efficiency. Volume level 8 on one headphone may be barely a whisper while it may be ear damaging with another set of headphones.

    Hell, lawnmowers cause hearing damage, too. Maybe we should ban lawnmowers?

    Your gun analogy is tragically flawed. There is no correlation between # of guns own and # of people killed by guns. About the only correlation between guns and gun related shootings seems to be related to cultural issues. If you have a culture that either glorifies brandishing a gun or a society where power is measured by amount of firepower, you have gun related deaths.

    Laws enacted to protect people too stupid to protect themselves are inherently stupid.

  10. Pierce Wetter says:

    I use etymotic earphones after trying them at WWDC a couple of years ago.

    They’re kind of like earplugs with speakers in them.

    Check ’em out.

  11. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » iPod can protect hearing, too! says:

    […] The trick is to set the volume limiter to a reasonable level in a quiet room and then not worry about blowing out your ears when in noisy environment like on a tractor or in an airplane. […]

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