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Your headphones contain tiny components called headphone drivers. They help convert electrical audio signals into audible sound waves, helping you hear and enjoy music more clearly. Think of these drivers as miniature speakers.
The size of the driver determines how well your headphones can play low frequencies. For instance, a large headphone driver can play bass much better as compared to a smaller one. Fortunately, most modern headphones have a good low-frequency response to allow them to handle bass very well.
This also means that too much bass won’t damage your headphones. However, when played at maximum volumes, too much bass can damage your headphones since the drivers need to work harder to reproduce any bass-heavy sound. With that being said, as long as you don’t exceed your headphones’ limit, they will not break.
In this post, I will try to cover the following topics:
How our hearing and headphones work.
How too much bass affects these two components.
Ways on how you can take care of your headphones more properly.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
How Do Humans Hear?
Our ear consists of small hairs that vibrate when there are incoming sound waves present. They then convert these vibrations into nerve signals, which then travel to the brain where they turn into more audible sounds.
Each of these hairs responds to sounds at specific frequencies. The hairs in the front translate low-frequency sounds while those at the back translate high-frequency sounds.
How Does Bass Damage Our Hearing?
In terms of hearing loss, the volume of the sound has a bigger role than its frequency. Volume is described as how much force the sound hits the eardrum. Meanwhile, frequency is the number of times the sound waves hit the eardrums. High-frequency sounds enter the ear canal faster than low-frequency sounds. This is the reason why hearing high-frequency sounds repeatedly is a common cause of hearing loss.
Bass is a frequency range that’s on the lower side of the auditory scale. Sounds that fall anywhere from 16-256 Hz is generally considered bass. So, as you can see, bass is generally harmless as far as frequency goes. However, it can also become a problem once you pair it with loud volumes.
Louder sounds put more pressure on the hairs inside the ears, which then damages them and makes them go flat. Flat hairs mean they won’t move, won’t vibrate, and eventually, won’t generate nerve impulses and prevent us from hearing.
Therefore, if you partner bass-heavy sounds with loud volumes, the hairs responsible for translating low-frequency sounds become more vulnerable. Once these hairs stop working, the ability to hear deep or low-frequency sounds will be gone as well.
Headphone drivers (which have six types) consist of three main parts: the magnet, voice coil, and diaphragm. The magnet creates a magnetic field while the voice coil is a piece of metal that moves inside that magnetic field. Lastly, the diaphragm is a piece of plastic membrane that moves with the coil and pushes out air.
The audio first enters the driver as a signal and moves back and forth once it travels through the coil. Then, the diaphragm will also vibrate to push the air in front of it. This means that headphones work by reproducing the audio waves from the electric signal.
The volume level and frequency of headphones and speakers both determine the rate and depth of the driver’s movement. Very loud music will make the driver oscillate with greater force. Meanwhile, high-frequency sounds mean that the driver will move much faster.
How Can Loud Bass Damage Your Headphones?
Our hearing is limited to the 20-20,000 Hz range. Since bass is on the very low end of this spectrum, we find it more difficult to hear it. Other instruments and sounds can easily drown the bass component. To avoid this, the headphone drivers use more power and air displacement to turn the bass to more audible levels. This enables some headphones and speakers to produce bass sounds that stand out even in high-frequency songs.
The problem is that the driver becomes more vulnerable the more work you put into it. And, once it goes beyond its limit, it will inevitably break. All audio devices have their limit, and when your headphones reach that limit, the sound will become distorted. This is more common in cheap, low-quality headphones. Since they can’t handle heavy bass, they eventually give out. So, if you want to hear that bass but don’t want to damage your hearing, consider investing in high-quality headphones like the Sennheiser HD 600 which I personally use.
Tips to Prevent Damaging Your Headphones
Listen to Lower Volumes
Listening to lower volumes will let you control how much bass you can hear during playback. Use the lowest setting if you’re in a quiet environment while use the highest setting when you’re in louder environments.
Use an Equalizer
Equalizers enable you to adjust the frequency range of each channel so they all match up perfectly. By doing this, the channels will produce all parts of the spectrum equally regardless of the type of music.
Simply lower the higher frequency ranges if you want to boost the bass. This lets you listen to a good amount of bass without necessarily increasing the volume.
Never Listen at Full Blast
Avoid listening to music at full blast and only listen to appropriate levels. Most headphones don’t come with an automatic volume limiter feature, so this tip is something you must always remember.
Invest in a Good Bass-Heavy Headphone
Cheaper headphones have a smaller headphone driver so they damage more quickly from a bass sound. Consider buying a good pair that has enough power to produce bass sounds without the risk of damaging themselves.
Don’t Put Your Headphones in Hot or Wet Environments
Keeping your headphones in hot places can damage them over time. This is because heat can cause the materials inside to expand and contract and thus, damage electronic devices.
Similarly, using your headphones in cold/freezing weather or using them in wet environments will make them rust. This will later lead to a short circuit and produce a very loud pop. So, whenever possible, always put your headphones in a dry place where there’s no moisture. Consider buying a separate container to make sure your headphones stay safe.
Maintain the Cleanliness of Your Ear Cushions
Keeping the ear cushions clean helps prevent dust from accumulating on the surface. Ear cushions tend to attract dirt easily, so cleaning them regularly can help extend the life of your headphones.
Some of the most common reasons why headphones produce an excessive amount of bass are:
Your music player plays low frequencies at high levels. Listening to songs with lots of basses means that your player is also probably increasing the bass level.
Bad audio mixing. Some people tend to focus more on the lower frequencies, which raises the bass volume automatically. The music will still produce high levels of bass even while using a good pair of headphones.
Faulty headphones can distort sounds or boost bass inappropriately. Excessive bass volume can eventually damage the actual headphones.
Low-quality headphones can’t handle high volumes of low-frequency sounds. This results in distorted sounds, and worse, damaged headphones.
How Can Listening to Loud Sounds Affect Your Hearing?
Listening to loud noises can result in two types of hearing loss, including:
Temporary Threshold Shift
As the name suggests, this is when you temporarily lose your ability to hear after being exposed to loud sounds. This means that your hearing will come back to normal after some time. Your recovery rate will depend on two things:
The loudness level. The louder the sound you were exposed to, the longer the recovery time.
How long you heard the sound. The longer you heard the sound, the longer the recovery.
Permanent Threshold Shift
A permanent threshold shift usually occurs 48 hours after exposure to loud sounds. But, in some cases, it can also occur after a much shorter period. Still, regardless of the time of exposure, the common culprit is that it results from high sounds.
Can Headphones Lose Bass With Time?
Yes. Too many vibrations can hurt the headphone’s volume and frequency. This will slowly degrade the sounds and lose their qualities like the bass and volume. The headphone’s volume will also start becoming low and a lot of buzzing can occur.
Can Bass Boost Harm the Ears?
Boosting the bass means boosting the player’s overall volume. So yes, boosting the bass can certainly hurt your ears. If your surroundings sound muffled or if you experience some ringing once you take the headphones off, they’re too loud.
Any musical experience is never complete without the bass. But, make sure to buy good-quality headphones designed for the job. This ensures that you can continue listening to low frequencies even without turning up the volume.