Quick review: Volume Control by David Owen

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by earnmyturns, Dec 26, 2019.

  1. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World is IMHO a must-read for anyone who cares about listening to music well into old age (good Fresh Air interview on that link too). David Owen is a New Yorker writer in his mid-60s who has started to feel some hearing impairment and tinnitus. This book tells his journey researching what is known about hearing, hearing loss, hearing aids (including some new less expensive and more customer-friendly digital alternatives), deafness, hearing loss prevention. He interviews many experts as well as people with different hearing impairments. The key lesson is that hearing is much more fragile than we think. In particular, one big surprise for me, is that damage from loud sounds can be triggered by relatively brief exposures but only becomes evident decades later. That is because the main cause is not as previously believed the loss of hair cells in the cochlea, but instead the shrinking of synapses downstream from the hair cells, a degenerative process that can keep going on even if the original damaging stimulus is removed. The hearing loss may not be detected for a long time because standard tests use pure sine tones, while the growing nerve damage affects first the perception of complex sound scenes with many different frequencies. A typical hearing loss of that type is difficulty in understanding conversations with multiple speakers well before the standard hearing tests find anything. The book concludes with some interesting suggestions for hearing protection beyond drugstore earplugs that I will be looking into.

    Incidentally, those findings about the limitations of standard pure-tone hearing tests might be relevant to the evergreen debate of "objectivists" vs "subjectivists." Much of what is measured in audio are responses to pure tones or other low-information waveforms (like square or triangle waves) , while our hearing is after much subtler correlations across the audible time-frequency range. No surprise then that trained listeners can find distinctions that the standard audio measurements overlook.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  2. Josh83

    Josh83 Friend

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    Thanks for the recommendation. I just bought it. According to normal hearing tests, I still have hearing in the 90th+ percentile, but I very much wish I could go back in time and wear proper protection at many concerts and countless practices with my (gawdawful) high school rock band.

    The sooner young men, in particular, who take care of their ears are praised, rather than called “pussies,” the better. Good on any academics and journalists trying to get the word out.
     
  3. redrich2000

    redrich2000 Facebook Friend

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    Oof, Dinosaur Jr and MBV anyone?
     
  4. Josh83

    Josh83 Friend

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    I saw DJ in a small club in Ann Arbor. Thankfully by that time I was smart enough to wear ear protection at shows.
     
  5. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    I am only now reaping the full reward for many years at speed on a motorcycle without hearing protection.
     
  6. will_f

    will_f Friend

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    Fascinating. Wish I had read this book 40 years ago. That said, I probably wouldn’t have considered it important then (who would want to live past 30? That’s so old!)
     
  7. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Mine was a Norton 850. Still miss that scooter, though I no longer ride. Picked up the book, a good introductory work with a very important message.
     
  8. Hammy

    Hammy Friend

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    Does the book suggest being born with better genetics for hearing and not getting mumps in 3rd grade and not getting any ear infections? Cause that would certainly pertain to me.

    My local library has this book. I'll pick it up when I get back home.
     
  9. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    That was a problem for me even in my twenties. Imagine trying to talk to a woman at a party: impossible.

    I wonder if mumps/measles affected my hearing. No evidence; probably wouldn't even have thought about it if they weren't so much in the news these days, although I did actually know someone who was deafened by measles.

    There was loud music at home; there were rock concerts --- although I only recall one or two that left me with ringing ears. I was never a really-loud listener. But I have only myself to blame for thinking that dropping steel plates on the warehouse pile made a great noise! I was an idiot. Health-&-Safety was not so much the thing in those days, and sadly, nobody knew to tell me to stop it.

    There is a good fictionalised account of age-related high-frequency hearing loss: Deaf Sentence by David Lodge. But I don't know how much those who are not already sufferers can relate.
     
  10. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    The book does not discuss genetics that I recall. It does discuss repeated ear infections as a major cause of partial or total hearing loss.
     

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