Sensaphonics dB Check In-Ear Sound Level Analyzer

In-ear monitors have brought a quiet revolution to live sound
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In-ear monitors are also often promoted for protecting hearing, but the flaw in that idea is that users have had no practical way of empirically determining how loud they are actually listening.

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Owners of Sensaphonics custom-fitted in-ear phones now offer an easy method of determining how loud someone is listening (and of correlating the measured volume with OSHA and NIOSH standards for safe sound exposure) utilizing the company’s dB Check ($300). The concept behind dB Check is simple yet insightful. Sensaphonics knows the sensitivity of its various models of in-ear devices, and based on the model in use, can determine the actual SPL level delivered to the ear based on the voltage input to the earpieces.

In Use

The “nano”-sized dB Check is inserted in between the source device and the earpieces. dB Check’s side-mounted scroll wheel/select button and the two frontpanel buttons are used to chose a Sensaphonics model (2X-S, 2MAX, or 3D), then a time duration for your test (1-120 minutes) and you go about your business of making music. Instantaneous measured dBA SPL is shown on the frontpanel monochromatic LCD display during the test. At the end of the sampling period, the front-panel buttons flash and the averaged A-weighted SPL is displayed, along with the OSHA- and NIOSH-recommended maximum exposure time for the measured SPL.

What could be simpler? A musician gets immediate feedback of listening levels, and a plainly stated reference of how long he can continue to listen at that level without damaging his hearing (end-users do need to realize that the OSHA and NIOSH standards refer to all daily cumulative sound exposure, not just what’s coming through their in-ears). For ambient measurements from stage monitors, at FOH or from any seat in the house, there’s also a built-in front-panel microphone (for best results in this MIC Mode, the unit should be placed at listener head height).

Operation

Completed measurements are displayed until dB Check is powered off. A new test is started each time the unit is turned on, and the sampling period restarts if a menu function is changed before the end of a test. The last Sensaphonics model selected and test time are retained in memory when the unit is powered off. Pressing and holding either the scroll wheel button or the front-panel buttons turns the unit off and on, and either of the front buttons can power the unit down. The unit runs for up to eight hours on a full internal battery charge (charging is done from any USB port via a provided USB-to-mini-USB cable — there’s no computer interface; it’s just a ubiquitous power source).

When engaging the onboard microphone, the wired input stays active in the measurement unless you actively disengage it. This was counterintuitive to me until I realized that the MIC mode was also intended to allow an engineer to speak to the artist through the mic while they have their “ears on.” This communication mode blends the two inputs, and the user needs to be aware that it can affect the final readings. The mic level can be adjusted with the scroll wheel when the MIC mode is selected, allowing you to adjust levels when monitoring the mic with earphones. There’s a slight amount of hiss in the monitor signal when the dB Check is in line, but using a simple headphone splitter and wiring in-ears in parallel can avoid that, should it prove distracting.

I used the dB Check effectively with my personal set of Sensaphonics 2X-S inears, and in mic mode at various venues. It’s simple and efficient, and the results often illuminating. This is truly an idea whose time is now — your irreplaceable hearing could depend on it. (See http://www.sensaphonics.com/vanderbilt_08.html for more on research into how musicians tend to use their in-ear monitors).

Contact: Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation | www.sensaphonics.com