How to protect your hearing if you are a dj

Is it possible to protect your hearing if you are a DJ or a musician? What sound pressure levels are harmful?

Very often musicians and DJs suffer from tinnitus or ringing in the ears due to the high sound pressures they often undergo. Is it possible to protect yourself?


  1. The hearing problems of DJs and musicians
  2. Symptoms that indicate that you have suffered hearing damage
  3. Risk factors for audiological trauma
  4. Famous cases of artists who have suffered hearing damage
  5. At what volumes is it not recommended to listen to music?
  6. How can I protect my hearing?
  7. The different hearing protection devices
  8. how to use the ear plugs in a dj set: Pete Tong’s & Carl Cox’s advices
  9. Conclusions

What are the main hearing problems?

Professional musicians are at high risk of developing hearing loss and other audiological symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (extreme, often painful oversensitivity to sound.)

According to an Italian study, over 35% of professional musicians have hearing loss; over 25% suffer from tinnitus; while hyperacusis is present in over 20% of cases analysed.

Most common symptoms: tinnitus and hyperacusis

People who work in the music industry are nearly twice as likely to develop tinnitus as people who work in the office, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Manchester.

The researchers compared the levels of hearing difficulty and the presence of tinnitus in people working in noisy, high-risk businesses, such as construction, agriculture, and the music industry, versus people working in finance, an industry typically considered low-risk for hearing loss.

Acoustic trauma and hearing fatigue

Chronic acoustic trauma is a decrease in hearing caused by prolonged exposure to high intensity noise (e.g. industrial noise).

Occupational hearing loss is the result of prolonged exposure over time to noises with an intensity greater than 85 dB of SEL (equivalent daily Sound Exposure Level, or the weighted average of the noise to which the worker is exposed during the 8 hours of a work shift).

Temporary auditory fatigue is the term for the temporary increase in the hearing threshold caused by exposure to intense sounds (Temporary Threshold Shift: TTS). It reaches its maximum 2 minutes after the end of acoustic stimulation. The threshold usually normalises within 16 hours (the normal rest period for a worker).

If recovery does not occur after 16 hours, this would be called pathological auditory fatigue (Permanent Threshold Shift: PTS).

In the event of trauma, the most affected frequencies are in the range between 3000 and 6000 Hz.

Risk factors for acoustic trauma

The risk of developing acoustic trauma and permanent damage to hearing rises with the increase in noise intensity and the duration of exposure; in fact, 10% of workers exposed to sound pressure levels between 85 – 90 dB manifest hearing loss and tinnitus.

Among the main risk factors for tinnitus are hearing loss and aging.

The high prevalence of hearing loss amongst professional musicians may explain the onset of tinnitus.

Those who expose themselves to high sound pressure levels cannot ignore the importance of protecting their hearing to prevent acoustic traumas that often cause irreparable damage.

Famous cases of artists who have suffered hearing damage

There are many famous musicians who have developed chronic tinnitus having not used hearing protection in the past, including Chris Martin of Coldplay, Ozzy Osbourne and the Gallagher brothers of Oasis.

But classical musicians are also at risk: violinist Chris Goldscheider won a lawsuit against the Royal Opera House because in 2012 he had to abandon rehearsals of the opera “La Valkyrie” by Wagner, due to hearing damage.

When is it necessary to wear protective equipment for your earing?

Font: Grubb, Teryl & Delaney, David & Bowerman, William. (2007). Investigating Potential Effects of Heli-Skiing on Golden Eagles in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

It is essential to protect our hearing from volumes that are too high; the scientific community agrees that it is necessary to protect ourselves when there is continuous exposure to sound pressure levels above 85 db.

  • Sound pressure levels higher than 85 dB: that is the noise of a large truck passing by. They are harmful following prolonged exposure.
  • Sound pressure levels higher than 110 dB. They are harmful even after minutes of exposure and can cause irreversible damage.
  • Sound pressure levels equal to or greater than 120 dB. They are harmful even immediately and can cause irreversible damage.

The average sound pressure levels in the rehearsal room and during live events are between 110 and 130 dB.

How to protect your hearing

When it comes to hearing protection, there is no single solution: it is specific to each individual case.

Singers, for example, find out for themselves what the right compromise is between volume sufficient to be ‘carried away by the music,’ and safeguarding their hearing. Fortunately, hearing protection technology has developed a lot in recent years, so now we can maintain balanced sounds even at low volumes.

Remember this rule: the best protection is the one we use regularly; regardless of method or format.

To give you an overview of the different approaches to hearing protection, we have decided to collate all the products and related methodologies used in the field, including the ‘custom-made’ alternatives that are made to measure. You will also discover how in-ear monitors are also ideal for protecting hearing.

Different types of protections for your hearing

The foam earplug

Earplugs are certainly the most common way to protect your hearing during rehearsals and concerts.

They are generally made of soft material and there are several varieties, the most common being the classic foam type sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, generally used while sleeping.

However, they are not suitable for musicians and singers because although they protect the eardrum and make everything quieter, they cut higher frequencies and distort the sound.

Protections for children 

For the sake of completeness, we will also point out this type of over-the-ear “headphone” style protectors, ideal for blocking the maximum number of decibels (for small children and noisy percussionists).

Ear protection filters

What are slightly better than pharmacy earplugs are filter earplugs (such as the Alpine Music Safe Pros). They are slightly more comfortable, although they are not custom made.

This type of hearing protection is slightly better than foam plugs, being equipped with switchable, music-optimised filters that provide attenuation ranging from 14 to 16 dB.

Custom made earplugs

Certainly, tailor-made products can offer even better hearing protection.

This type of device is produced in vulcanized silicone or acrylic and can be equipped with filters for a reduction of 9, 15 and 25 dB to be inserted in a custom mould of the ear canals, which must be made in advance and tailored to the wearer.

The volume attenuation occurs uniformly in the frequency range from 125 to 8000 Hz.

This way, the entire sound spectrum is evenly kept at a lower volume, so they are ideal for musicians, DJs and singers because they combine comfort and optimal fit with a well-calibrated and uniform sound.

In-ear monitors

Earphones or in-ear monitors are hearing protection devices that contain a small speaker and driver inside.

The main advantage of in-ear monitors (IEMs) is that the music volume is adjustable whilst ambient noise can be reduced by up to 26 dB.

This solution allows you to protect your hearing from the often-excessive volume of classic stage monitors.

However, it is essential that the eartips are made to measure and that the ‘modelling’ process is done while the temporomandibular joint is moving in order to make the mould as dynamic as possible.

This is essential because the extension moves constantly as you sing or talk and consequently the space in the ear canal changes constantly. If the mould is made whilst static, it will not fit properly and may fall out whilst singing or talking.

However, there are also in-ear monitors equipped with a malleable, mouldable foam eartip, these products are certainly cheaper but less flexible.

CAUTION: Poor quality earphones or volumes that are too high can still damage your hearing.

To protect against sound engineer errors and other volume spikes, you can set a limiter for the earphones between the bodypack and the in-ear monitors

Pete Tong’s advice

As suggested by our teacher Pete Tong, it is essential during a mix to flip constantly between the CUE and MASTER sources in your headphone channel (keeping the volume of the headphones at a not excessive level), in order to keep the volume of the monitors at a safe level for our hearing. At the same time, however, this allows him to feel the vibration of the low frequencies, so as not to become separated from the dancefloor and feel his own emotions.

Carl Cox’s advice

Our teacher Carl Cox suggests lowering the monitor volume onstage, because he likes to hear exactly what the guests are hearing on the track; for this reason, he does not use in-ear monitors or ear plugs whilst performing. However, he does wear them while he is not playing in order to preserve his hearing, given the power of the festival sound systems where he often plays or is a guest.


However, our teachers agree: personalised hearing protection takes some getting used to, usually 1 or 2 weeks.

In this test phase it is also possible to decide if further adjustments are necessary (often small holes are needed) to counteract the so-called ‘occlusion effect,’ obstruction of the sound waves, in order to find the right filter gradation.

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