By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Turn it down, John

Everyone on my mother’s side of the family eventually loses some of his or her hearing. I’m not quite 50, but it’s already happening to me. Add to that the fact that I played bass guitar in a band when I was a teenager, and have listened to a lot of loud music over the years (still do), and there you have it: partial hearing loss caused by genes and knowingly questionable behavior on my part. (I say “questionable” rather than “stupid” because I’d probably make the same trade again.)

Enter one John Kiel Patterson of Louisiana, who is suing Apple because he can turn his iPod up wicked loud. Reports the Associated Press:

Patterson does not know if the device has damaged his hearing, said his attorney, Steve W. Berman, of Seattle. But that’s beside the point of the lawsuit, which takes issue with the potential the iPod has to cause irreparable hearing loss, Berman said.

“He’s bought a product which is not safe to use as currently sold on the market,” Berman said. “He’s paying for a product that’s defective, and the law is pretty clear that if someone sold you a defective product they have a duty to repair it.”

Normally I think of the phrase “tort reform” as nothing more than a cynical slogan wielded by lawyer-bashing politicians. But this is ludicrous. Didn’t Patterson ever listen to what his mother told him?

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  1. Anonymous

    I have an iRiver player, not an iPod. One of the features is you can download firmware updates, including versions from Europe and Korea without DRM protection/support. Interestingly, the only difference between the Korean and European firmware is that the EU firmware limits the volume. Apparently their law already covers hearing loss liability.

  2. Anonymous

    I have sensitive ears, and my solution (in addition to not cranking it up–duh!) was to replace the earbuds with a more conventional headphones setup. Philips has a nice pair available. That way, the headphone speaker isn’t crammed into your ear canal.

  3. Anonymous

    What was the name of your band?

  4. DougH

    What’s interesting (not from the tort perspective, but the hearing perspective), is that Pete Townshend recently came out about his own hearing loss.Years ago, he revealed he had tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the years, that he and most observers attributed to The Who’s record-setting loud concerts over the years. Now, he is convinced that “Earphones do the most damage.” His rational for that statement is in the post, along with a caution for iPod users. As for the lawsuit, it seems ludicrous– but if the publicity gets people to turn down the volume to save their ears, perhaps it not such a bad idea, win or lose.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    I always thought most of Pete Townshend’s hearing loss came from the time that Keith Moon blew up his drum set on stage.

  6. Anonymous

    Townsend denies that the explosion did any damage, but it had to.Re: ear buds. I use them at work for several hours a day and never notice any ill effects. I don’t jam them down into my ear canal, I kind of hang them on the ridge of my ear lobes. I keep the volume low enough that I can hear conversations and ambient noise. When you set the volume lower than seems right, you adjust and can hear. Try turning your car stereo down a few clicks to test this.

  7. DougH

    Supposedly the exploding drum kit hearing loss was temporary, but who really knows? P.S.– You can see that incident in the opening scene of “The Kids Are Alright.” Some of the surprised looks at the severity of the drum kit explosion (like Townshend’s and Tommy Smothers’) were probably not acting.

  8. Anonymous

    Joni Mitchell also has some hearing loss and attributes it to years of loud headphones in the studio.

  9. Anonymous

    To accelerate the process, just take up scuba diving. That does a job on your ears too. We dive around Cape Ann. Join us, and you’ll be deaf as a haddock in no time!

  10. Aaron Read

    What amazes me is how people just keep looking for ways to crank their iPod louder rather than addressing the root of the problem: lousy headphones.I’m not exactly an acoustic engineer, but I am an audio editor, and I work in an audio studio all day. I have my iPod and I love it…I’ll take the crunchy-sounding MP3’s to distract me on my long T commute any day. But I’d be damned if I was gonna listen on those piss-poor-sounding (and uncomfortable) headphones that came with it.I figured I was splurging for the iPod in the first place, so I splurged a little more and got some Bose headphones; the kind with the noise-cancelling technology. WOW! What a difference…I can leave my iPod’s volume at about 50% and hear my music just fine even as the Orange Line rumbles through the tunnels. And they’re so comfy I can wear ’em for hours without problems. Can’t afford the Bose? No worries, there are several cheaper models that also do noise-cancelling in the less-than-$50 range…I tried a set I got for $30 from Staples. Are they as comfortable? No, but they’re fine for an hour or so. Are they as effective as the Bose? No, but they were effective enough that I could listen fine with the iPod at 75% volume. Do they sound as good? No, but I’d guesstimate they were about 85% as good…not too shabby considering it was about one tenth the price. Sure beats going deaf, ya know?

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