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Safe Volume for Headphones & How to Tell If They’re Too Loud

Last updated: 55 mins ago
6 min read

In this guide, you’ll learn what is a safe volume for headphones and how to tell if your headphones are too loud.

Don’t suffer from hearing loss because you didn’t know how to set the right volume.

See the headphone decibels chart below.

Man listening to headphones on street

As you probably already know, listening to loud music can cause noise-induced hearing loss. There is evidence that some hearing loss is caused by listening to headphones. This study found hearing loss in those who listen to headphones.

But the only reason listening to headphones can be dangerous is excessive volume and extended listening time.

When you set the right volume level, headphones are perfectly safe.

Let’s find out what that means below.

CONTENTS (click to show more)

    How Loud Is Too Loud for Headphones?

    US government agencies CDC NIOSH and OSHA recommend to limit 8-hour noise exposure to 85 dB. That’s equal to roughly 60-65% in average headphone volume. See the headphone decibel chart further below.

    Noise exposure above 85 dB or longer than 8 hours is considered dangerous.

    How loud can headphones get?

    Most headphones reach 100 dB – 105 dB at max loudness, considerably over the recommended limit.

    Headphones and earbuds sometimes advertise the sound level they are capable of reaching. Take it with a grain of salt. Don’t rely on headphones to keep your volume safe. Some are able to go far higher than what is safe.

    Concerts don't use safe volume, they're too loud.
    Concerts are loud and if you’re close to speakers you’ll be exposed to 100 dB which can soon lead to hearing loss.

    But first, let’s answer more questions:

    Which type of headphones is louder?

    Earbuds sit in the ear canal and their proximity to the eardrum makes them a particular threat. Other types of headphones like the best bone conduction headphones and open-back headphones put less pressure on the ears, but the voulme shouldn’t be high to stay safe.

    How sound travels through our ears

    We hear sounds by the vibration of the eardrum. This vibration then runs to the cochlea via tiny bones in our ear. The cochlea has thousands of hairs within it to sense sound. The vibrations move them. Eventually, if the sound is too loud, they lose sensitivity. Loud noises cause the hairs to bend, and lead to hearing loss.

    source: Audicus.com

    Sometimes, hearing loss is temporary. Cells can recover, but not always. If they are damaged permanently, they will no longer play a part in your hearing. There is no cure for it, either.

    Your hearing health should be a priority as you can’t repair it.

    In the short term, listening loudly won’t cause instant damage. Though, over time, it can cause hearing loss and you won’t even notice it.

    What is Safe Volume for Headphones?

    As established before, by CDC and OSHA, safe volume for headphones when listening up to 8 hours is under 85 decibels.

    But how long can you listen if you max out the headphone volume?

    Or what’s the recommended volume limit if you want to listen to headphones for the whole day?

    We’ve created a decibel chart for headphones with NIOSH – CDC recommended duration limit and a rough guide on volume %.

    The headphone decibel chart:

    Noise exposureDuration limitVolume %
    in headphones
    105 dBA4min 43s100%
    100 dBA15min90%
    95 dBA47min 37s80-85%
    93 dBA1h 16min75-80%
    90 dBA2h 31min70-75%
    88 dBA4h65-70%
    85 dBA8h60-65%
    81 dBA20h 10min55-60%
    80 dBA25h 24minUnder 55%
    Source: NIOSH – CDC

    The volume % guidelines are based on our measurements of AirPods 3 and AirPods Max loudness. The data is relevant for headphones in general as they fall in the range.

    But expect a 2 – 4 dB difference from model to model, so use the guidelines with that in mind.

    For more tips see our headphone safety guide.

    Ways to Check If Your Headphones Are Too Loud

    Sound Meter measurement app

    The best way to check if your headphones are too loud is with a sound level metter app on your smartphone.

    Now, specialized measuring equipment that we use for testing is more accurate, but most people don’t have access to it.

    So, the next best thing is to use a dedicated app.

    Search for “sound level meter” on your app store or use the most popular apps for Android and iPhone below.

    iPhone: Decibel X:dB Sound Level Meter

    Android: Sound Meter

    Windows: Decibel Meter

    To measure how loud your headphones are, turn on the music on your headphones, get the smartphone with the app ready, and get the phone’s microphone as close to the headphones as possible.

    Keep in mind, the measurements will not be 100% accurate. Consider a discrepancy of a few dB. So, always keep the volume lower instead of the limit.

    How to check the decibles of headphones without an app

    You can guess how many decibels your music is by comparing it to known sound. But this is far less accurate and should serve as a general guide.

    Here are some examples of sounds in nature and their decibels:

    • A wristwatch is at around 20 dB.
    • The sound of a soft whisper is about 30 dB.
    • The volume of normal conversation is about 60 decibels.
    • An alarm clock sits at around 80 dB, though this can be misleading as alarm clocks are sudden, so they feel louder.
    • Heavy traffic in a city is around 80 dB level too.
    • On the other extremes, firearms are at about 150 dB.

    Want more?

    The table below shows other daily loud noises and the decibel levels they reach:

    Signs that your headphones are too loud

    As it’s hard to get exact decibel readings, you might rely on certain signs that your volume has crept up too loud.

    The most obvious sign that your headphones or earbuds are too loud is noticeable hearing damage.

    • Ear ringing after listening to headphones
    • Muffled voices and struggling to hear people in a conversation
    • Noticeable hearing regresion on one side

    When you crank up the volume, you might even get a slightly painful reaction to the volume. That’s your ears telling you to lower it.

    If you are using your headphones to drown out other sounds, you are overloading your ears. Try noise-cancelling headphones, which cancel out the unwanted noise, so you can listen at a lower volume.

    Also check:

    Arm headphone volume test

    If you’re listening to your music around other people, they shouldn’t be able to hear it. Set it to a comfortable level, and then put the headphones on. Ask others nearby if they can hear the sound bleeding out.

    The only time sound leakage is okay is with open-back headphones.

    There is a simple test you can carry out if you’re not around others. Set the headphones at the volume you normally would listen at. Then hold them in your hands at arm’s length away from you. If you can still hear the audio clearly, it’s too loud.

    Make sure the place you do this is away from loud sounds, so you have a fair test. This isn’t a scientific method, but it is a good way to see if decibel levels are under limits.

    When to Seek Medical Attention

    If you experience:

    • sudden hearing loss that lasts more than a few seconds
    • intense pain in one or both ears
    • ringing that doesn’t go away (tinnitus)
    • drainage or seeping coming from the ear

    In all these cases, seek medical help immediately to avoid and possibly remedy the problem.

    Whats is Safe Headphone Volume for Kids

    According to World Health Organization (WHO) a safe headphone volume for kids is under 75 decibels. WHO also recommends children listen to a personal audio devices under 40 hours per week.

    More and more children are using headphones with tablets and smartphones. Monitoring your kid’s headphones is vital as they won’t be able to spot the signs of hearing loss on their own.

    Children are still developing, and hearing loss occurs at lower decibels than in adults.

    Kid with headphones
    Kids should use special headphones with volume limiters to protect their hearing.

    Shorter exposure to louder sound is fine, but prolonged use should be monitored by parents.

    If you let your kid watch a 1h 30min cartoon with headphones, keep the volume under 85 dB preferably under 80 dB.

    Loud music is more damaging to children’s hearing than adults. If you notice them listening to headphones loudly, then explain that it isn’t good for them.

    How to ensure safe listening for kids?

    Get headphones with a volume limiter.

    A volume limiter protects your kid’s ears by limiting the headphones’ max volume. So, even if they crank up the volume to 100% it will not reach dangerous levels.

    But not all kids headphones have effective volume limiters. We tested dozens of headphones for kids and made a guide on which ones are the best:

    FAQs

    What is safe volume for headphones?

    Safe volume in headphones is 75-80% of max volume (93 dB) for 1 hour, 60-65% (85 dB) for 8 hours, or under 55% for 24 hours of listening.

    Is 80% volume safe?

    80% volume in headphones is around 95-93 dB which is safe for 45 min to 1h 15min of listening.

    Is it ok to put headphones on max volume?

    It’s okay to put headphones on max volume but only for under 5 minutes according to NIOSH – CDC recommendations. Most headphones reach 105 dB of loudness which can be harmful after 5 minutes of listening.

    Is 70 dB too loud for headphones?

    70 dB is not loud for headphones as that is under the recommended 24-h limits of NIOSH – CDC & OSHA. At 70 dB you can safely listen to headphones for the whole day.

    Conclusion

    The truth is, as long as you know the basics of responsible listening, you don’t need to worry. Just be aware prolonged exposure to higher volumes is damaging.

    If you’re listening to music for many hours at a time or work in an environment where it’s loud, be aware that your ears need a little break to recover.

    And when you feel you need some loud music to get your rocks off, keep it to a couple of minutes. 10 to 15 minutes of your favorite songs at high volume should be enough to get your rocks off.

    Occasional exposure to loud sounds probably won’t do you any damage. Just make sure you aren’t constantly putting pressure on your ears and causing long-term issues. Your ears are sensitive and precious. Be sure to look after them.