Safe listening and measuring headphone loudness

As I get older, my hearing is getting both worse (I’m not very reliable at anything over 10k), and more sensitive (my ears get tired after shorter sessions at lower volumes). So I’m trying to cut out my habit of just cranking up the cans to hear more detail when mixing. I want to keep things limited to a “safe” level instead.

The thing is, I have no idea how to measure the absolute loudness of the sound coming out of my headphones after going through a mixer, amp, and whatever else in between. I was thinking about getting a decibel meter but then I heard this was not very accurate for headphones. I guess you can’t just sandwich it between the cups and hope for the best? :wink:

And most of the stuff I can find on the internet is inane, saying things like "keep the volume knob below 10 o’clock” like that means anything.

So I’m at a bit of a loss. Anyone have similar concerns or possible solutions?

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Same! I do everything on headphones. Mix as low as you can with short duration checks here and there at slightly louder volumes. That’s what I do. I’m keen to hear what others say.

What I have done for years is always use my headphones at what my computer calls “29%” It’s an arbitrarily decided number, but I’ve stuck to it for 4 or so years at this point. At this point I’m used to it enough that I can usually tell when the volume accidentally got bumped a bit low or high. No way of knowing for certain if my 29% is actually a safe volume, but I -think- it is. :crossed_fingers:

For what it’s worth, when I’ve had friends listen to something through the cans they always ask me to turn it up, which is a good sign? :man_shrugging:

I usually have to turn it up past 29% for Youtube though, dunno why it’s always quieter, and on Soundcloud I had to turn their little volume slider down a bit because it was too hot for my ears.

Not sure if this is really helpful, but it’s been my experience so far.

Edit: The 29% is somewhat arbitrarily chosen, but I do know what feels too loud, and 29% does not. :man_shrugging:

Edit 2: I’ve always been interested in this same idea, of whether it’s really a safe volume or not, so I’m interested to see what the rest of y’all say.

Two things: I’ve learned that my mixes turn out better when I mix with the volume really low; I think the best and easiest thing to do is just set a timer and take silence breaks every hour for 10 minutes. Thing 2.5, I also try not just let things loop over and over while I think or make changes. Hit that stop button!


Excellent advice. Thats what I do. Regular breaks. 15 mins per hour. Keep a timer. Be vigilant.

Personally, I dont use headphones.

I managed to find a very comfortable listening level by calibrating my monitors and then trying to match my headphones level with speaker volume by ear.

I followed the k-system guidelines (Articles - using -20db RMS pink noise from DAW hitting mixer at unity. I set my speaker volumes using a iPhone SPL meter to reach 75db

While listening to audio from monitors I put headphones on and slowly raised volume until I couldn’t hear the room sound at all. At this level I can’t really tell any difference in volume between speakers and headphones :slight_smile:

My headphones volume knob is at about 25%