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There is already a question in this forum about the interpreter's voice, so I thought I'd ask a companion question about the interpreter's hearing. What do we do to make sure our hearing doesn't suffer as a result of our time spent in the booth? Should we visit a doctor regularly to have our hearing checked?

asked 25 Oct '11, 16:31

Michelle's gravatar image


12next »


Headsets should ALWAYS be worn OUTSIDE your ear. Never ever put anything inside.


  1. The outer ear (the part you can see ;-)) is an amplifier (three times). So, use it.

  2. The ear holds a complicated mechanism to protect itself. One element of this: if there is too much sound (e.g if the volume is too high), the sound is "thrown back" - you may remember this from physics lessons at school. If you have your ear plugs inside your ear, the surplus sound waves cannot leave the ear and are reflected back..... this will overstimulate your ear, and after a while your ear will not function so well. Initially of course it seems that you hear better, BUT!!!!!!

  3. The information comprised in language lies in the high frequencies. Low frequencies deliver the "sound", the "body". But it is only possible to differentiate between sounds because of the high frequencies. So, make your life easier and turn up the TREBLES and turn down the BASSES - as much as possible and bearable (as voices of speakers can be very troublesome, I know).

If you put your headset in your ear, surplus sound waves cannot escape - and most of the remaining frequencies are low frequencies. High frequencies are short and quick - they fade rapidly. However the low frequencies (long and slow) bounce back and forth - and due to the ability of our brains to extrapolate from the information available, they are perceived as even lower ones!! (An effect used when constructing organs!) So, with in-ear headsets you give your brain more of the low frequencies, which might drown out the vital high frequencies....

You can also help your ears by training them properly - listen to classical music for instance! (It trains the muscles in your middle ear because classical music often has frequent volume level variations whilst modern music typically keeps the same level of volume. Also, classical music has many more of the useful high frequencies - BUT: not in mp3, they are more or less cut off in mp3...

You can also do a listening training course based on the Tomatis Method®... If you want to know more about it - please, don´t hesitate to write to me (c.krueger(at) or call!


Hello, just a short comment to my own words after having read especially Fionas words. Thank you very much for reminding me to be very careful with words... - even more, when not using one's mother tongue...

  • basses/trebles: For sure: turn down basses as much as possible and bearable (the voice you are forced to listen to should still provide some fun ;-)) With trebles - instead of increasing the volume (which should, of course, be kept on the lowest possible level...) try to increase trebles, as there is the information (the phonetical difference between Wanne, Panne, Tanne, Kanne is to be found in the high frequences...) This makes your life easier! Never ever do anything to a max.

  • Just one little correction: Tinnitus is by far not always a high pitched sound. After working almost 5 years with people with all sorts of hearing and/or listening problems, I can say this for sure. Some people hear "air planes"...

  • earphones: I am very interested in any news about them. Very often I figuered out, when it says "balanced, especially for (classical) music" - the output is densified towards the basses.... Hopefully, Sennheiser is different! Please, keep us updated...

I am looking forward to the discussion in Berlin (13 July). Contact @Almute Löber, if you are interested!

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answered 20 Apr '12, 05:14

Claudia's gravatar image


edited 19 May '12, 09:16

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

The ear holds a complicated mechanism to protect itself. One element of this: if there is too much sound (e.g if the volume is too high), the sound is "thrown back" - you may remember this from physics lessons at school. If you have your ear plugs inside your ear, the surplus sound waves cannot leave the ear and are reflected back..... this will overstimulate your ear, and after a while your ear will not function so well. Initially of course it seems that you hear better, BUT!!!!!!

Thank you so much for this extremely interesting comment. Whilst I always heard you should stay away from in-ear headphones, I never came across a very clear explanation.

Let me just double-check: Would you advise against using Bang & Olufsen?

(23 Apr '12, 01:21) Tanja

Thanks to Claudia for that excellent expert answer. With all that in mind, are there any head- or ear-phones that you recommend for interpreters?

(28 May '12, 03:56) Andy

In an ideal world amongst other things you would do the following:

  • Visit a specialist once a year to check your hearing
  • Have state of the art SI equipment which would allow you to keep the volume of your headphones to the minimum
  • Avoid using in-ear headphones
  • Never, ever use outside of the booth mp3 and the like

But unfortunately we live in a less than perfect world and most of us never visit a specialist, unless we have a problem, use in-ear headphones and use mp3 etc...

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answered 25 Oct '11, 21:12

Marta%20Piera%20Marin's gravatar image

Marta Piera ...

I actually have my hearing checked fairly regularly, if not once a year then maybe once every eighteen or so months. My ear specialist confirmed that headset quality is very important, and the more days per year you work, the more important it becomes. Quality headphones allow you to keep the volume down. I like the Bang & Olufsen ones and contrary to what some colleagues say, they are not in-ear because you can adjust the distance of the tiny loudspeaker from your ear. Moreover, since they are over-the-ear as opposed to over-the-head, they do not squeeze your head. I sometimes get a headache from too tight over-the-head earphones. There is also a notable difference in the volume I need when I work with my own headphones. The B&O's come in a variety of colours these days and they also allow you to wear any kind of earrings because they do not compress your earlobes against your head.

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answered 26 Oct '11, 15:38

Sirpa's gravatar image



That decides it, this year I am going to ask Santa for some of those B&O headsets! Thank you!

(27 Oct '11, 09:43) Michelle

You've convinced me - I'm going out to get earrings!

(11 Apr '12, 17:23) Luigi

I have seen colleagues having a hard time re-adjusting to 'conventional' headsets after having used B&O devices for some time (which regularly tend to break down). Personally, I never wanted to use B&O earphones because I instinctively hated the idea of putting anything inside my ears and what Claudia is explaining below reinforces my gut feeling: don't use them for interpreting!

(04 May '12, 06:10) Willy Visser

One good piece of advice an ENT physician once gave a group of interpreters he happened to examine during a 2-week assignment was to make sure to slowly but surely adjust the volume of your headset/earphones from low to higher and NOT to start at a high volume and turn the volume down. You will find that this will help you to work with less volume.

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answered 17 Apr '12, 16:58

AlmuteL's gravatar image



Thank you VERY much, Almute, 1st time I've heard that advice spelled out: instinctively I always set my volume control midway and then move it up or down according to circumstances; likewise my default setting for bass is slightly to the right of midway and treble to the left...and then I adjust according to speakers' pitch, before I set volume... barring sudden postural changes wich call for immediate volume correction.

(17 Apr '12, 20:12) msr

Whenever possible, I use my earphones only on one ear, leaving the other one uncovered. This will protect at least one ear from potential sound screeches or unexpected feedback. Of course, it won't work when you have a noisy booth partner, but in cases when it does work, it has the added advantage of being more ready when you seek your partner's help with a word or figure.

I also turn the volume down to zero while the sound operators are setting up the whole array of projectors, mics, laptops, etc. and, in general, before each session begins, since with many people busy getting ready (sound technicians, room assistants with roaming mics, the MC, speaker/s), the chances of (Oops! Wrong button pressed, and OUCH!) are significantly higher.

It also helps to be seated and ready to go a few minutes before the scheduled start. That way you will be more relaxed when the conference begins and your ears will find it easier to tune in at a lower volume setting, since your mind will be more present in the conference than if you've rushed into the booth just in time to begin. It is a more professional attitude, too, I think.

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answered 14 Apr '12, 11:34

Laura's gravatar image


edited 14 Apr '12, 12:25

...the vexed question of one vs. two ears covered and which - if any - is left uncovered :-). Personally I leave none, both not to waste the benefits of bi-aurality if not stereo sound - and because I rely on sound bone-conduction to keep aural track of my "production" - and to avoid sound getting from the unused earphone into live microphones, mine or colleagues' own.

(17 Apr '12, 07:28) msr

In my market (Buenos Aires) we tend to use headphones, actually, and of a relatively primitive nature, for that matter, so they won't be of the kind you can turn outwards, for instance. I think that's why I never thought sound could get into the live mics ... Anyway, I'll pay more attention to that next time. :)

(01 May '12, 22:49) Laura

I rely on sound bone-conduction

MSR, which headphones are you using?

(08 Sep '14, 16:45) Gaspar ♦♦

HI Gaspar :-). I normally use the ones provided, in my market more often than not supra-aural AKG... or my B&O if I decide that I don't like what I'm otherwise offered.

(09 Sep '14, 13:02) msr

I have my hearing checked every twelve months and all the more now since I suffer from tinnitus.

Contrary to what is widely believed, it seems it is not a good idea to put the trebles on max. Yes, we need the higher frequencies to understand better. If you pump up the trebles, the sound you get is a lot more distinct and clear.

However when you hear a sound, it's a wave that comes and "knocks" against the eardrum, which sets all three tiny bones in our inner ear (hammer, anvil and stirrup) in motion and these then come and "knock" on the cochlea. It is the cochlea that analyses the sounds received. It is an organ that looks very much like a snail, so your specialist may have showed you a picture of it. Well the part of the cochlea that is in direct contact with the stirrup is the part that analyses high frequencies. Which is why tinnitus is always a very high pitch sort of a noise: it's caused by damage to the outer part of the cochlea.

So if you pump up the trebles, you're actually tiring your ear a lot quicker, you're putting extra pressure on it. Have a look:

I followed my specialist's advice and now have both bass and treble to the minimum when I start working. I have a very good Sennheiser that provides me with a good enough sound that I can work well, especially now that I have gotten used to it.

I use more treble only when:

  1. I grow tired and just can't hear as well at the end of the day;
  2. I get an exceptionally low male voice;
  3. it is getting fast and furious and my brain just can't cope and needs all the input it can get.

Neither of these three cases present themselves as often as you'd think, once your ear is trained differently.

The result after 6 months and then another 6 months showed spectacular recovery of my hearing in high frequencies.

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answered 18 May '12, 04:54

Fiona's gravatar image


edited 23 May '12, 10:58

Angela's gravatar image


+1 Thanks for sharing your experience, Fiona!

(18 May '12, 09:05) Delete ♦

Very interesting, Fiona. Would you tell us which Sennheiser model you are using now?

(18 May '12, 13:10) Conrado

Hi there and thanks, Nacho!

Conrado, I don't know because I'm on holidays and I don't have it with me, but I have seen colleagues using different Sennheisers and there were all happy about the sound quality. Some go over the head, some go simply over the hear and on the neck and don't mess with your hairstyle but do make you look like you're listening to Eminem... ;-)

They're made for music lovers and you can ask the salesperson whether there are differences between them. They cost a lot less than the Bang and Olufsen but they're bigger to carry with you. A colleague of mine who knows about technical stuff says the headset itself has been designed balance the frequencies better, which is why the sound is so good, allowing you lower both volume and treble and bass.

Coming back to a comment by Sirpa, I think, Sennheisers don't squeeze your head and don't hurt or cause a headache at the end of the day. And I don't even own stock of the company! ;-)

(18 May '12, 22:31) Fiona

...this issue is of such obvious relevance that I never tire of repeating the advice we were given by a distinguished ENT guest when I was Secretary to the CdP (aiic staff interpreters comittee) and we organised a conference on voice & hearing in Brussels: make sure you have your hearing tested objectively as opposed to subjectively, as in pure tone audiometry, where the subject responds to a tone by pressing a button... because the latter is of no use for insurance and/or legal purposes, following a trauma and when attempting to establish liability.

One must have baseline evidence to be able to quantify loss.

As to what one can do to avoid (natural) hearing loss... for conference interpreters who do simultaneous, remember to use the treble/bass controls, if any, and adjust them for each speaker before you turn up the volume :-).

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answered 12 Apr '12, 20:02

msr's gravatar image


edited 12 Apr '12, 20:05

This is pretty useful: "As to what one can do to avoid (natural) hearing loss... for conference interpreters who do simultaneous, remember to use the treble/bass controls, if any, and adjust them for each speaker before you turn up the volume :-). "

(22 Apr '12, 18:08) dilsayar

Hi there, I have a question: what is an objective test of your hearing? My own medical file for insurance purposes should anything happen to me is a series of audiogramms, so I'd like to know the difference. Also: how do you test hearing if not by checking what one can or cannot hear... and therefore pushes the button or not!? Thanks.

(23 May '12, 05:45) Fiona

Hello Fiona :-)

To the best of my understanding, an objective test of one's hearing is one where same is determined not by what we say (or push buttons to signify) it is but by what it actually is as measured by some yardstick that we do not control... somewhat, I'd venture, like one's response to a "reflex hammer" hitting one's knee is not determined by the intensity of one's "ouch" but by the amplitude of the involuntary jerk of one's leg :-).

If I remember correctly the actual test is a tympanogram

measuring objectively the response of one's ear-drum to sound stimuli, ie variations in air-pressure, as opposed to pure tone audiometry

where we merely indicate if and when we think we have heard anything... or want to say so.

I'm not saying the latter is useless (patients being tested are not supposed to lie,insofar as it obviously defeats the purpose)only that it's worthless in an accident setting, say trauma from a Larsen effect, because any insurance lawyer worth his/her salt will question the veracity/reliability of the interested party's response, if the tests were subjective... not to mention incidental aspects, such as sound insulation or state of mind which may also influence one's response, irrespective of any malice.

Hope I was able to help, I'm anyway only relaying specialised medical advice we were once given :-)... and I do know of one colleague's case where the existence of a previous tympanogram (he had attended the Brussels conference I mentioned!) was crucial to determine the baseline in relation to which disability benefits were eventually awarded.

(23 May '12, 06:47) msr

A lot has been said about headsets, so I will belabor the point.

What I think is most necessary is that we undergo hearing tests: audiometry (to test hearing acuity); impedance testing and tympanometry ("Tympanometry allows the audiologist to measure how well the eardrum is vibrating when sound strikes and how well the tiny bones of the ear are functioning to transmit those vibrations to the organ of hearing. It also measures the pressure in the space behind the eardrum that contains those bones" cf. Impedance Testing ).

As we grow older we should increase the frequency of the testing because there is a phenomenon that occurs with age, presbycusys (Presbycusis From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (also spelled presbyacusis, from Greek presbys “elder” + akousis “hearing”[1]), or age-related hearing loss, is the cumulative effect of aging on hearing. It is a progressive bilateral symmetrical age-related sensorineural hearing loss. The hearing loss is most marked at higher frequencies (eg, high-pitched voice). Hearing loss that accumulates with age but is caused by factors other than normal aging is not presbycusis, although differentiating the individual effects of multiple causes of hearing loss can be difficult.

Deterioration in hearing has been found to start very early, from about the age of 18 years. The ISO standard 7029 shows expected threshold changes due purely to age for carefully screened populations (i.e. excluding those with ear disease, noise exposure etc.), based on a meta-analysis of published data.[2][3] Age affects high frequencies more than low, and men more frequently than women. One early consequence is that even young adults may lose the ability to hear very high frequency tones above 15 or 16 kHz. Despite this, age-related hearing loss may only become noticeable later in life. The effects of age can be exacerbated by exposure to environmental noise, whether at work or in leisure time (shooting, music, etc.). This is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and is distinct from presbycusis.

Over time, the detection of high-pitched sounds becomes more difficult, and speech perception is affected, particularly of sibilants and fricatives. Both ears tend to be affected

So, let's all include a visit to our ENT specialist in our busy schedules!

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answered 10 Jun '12, 12:13

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

edited 11 Jun '12, 09:48

[I've been meaning to answer this question for a little while, but I wanted to wait before I confirmed my initial impressions with my audiologist. Which I did today.]

For your hearing to incur permanent damage, you'd have to be exposed to sounds above 85 dB for over 8 hours. But at 85 dB, you'd take your headphones off right away because that level would be unbearable -- it would be like someone yelling at you from up close. In other words, listening to speech through headphones in the booth does not cause hearing damage.

The idea that removing the headphones off of one ear at a time, and switching throughout the day, would reduce the risk of damage is, consequently, ill-founded.

However, there is the question of fatigue, which is highly variable at an individual level. This would be similar to eye fatigue after reading for a long time. I'm told this type of fatigue does not cause long-term damage.

Tinnitus is a bit of a mystery, still. It isn't always caused by a trauma (although a sudden hearing loss can trigger it), and the causes are generally unknown. There appears to be nothing one can do to avoid or minimize tinnitus. However, health, stress, or other variable factors can affect tinnitus temporarily.

I suffer from some hearing loss (likely from birth), I wear hearing aids and I have tinnitus -- the whole shebang. I can still work in the booth just fine by turning the volume to a comfortable level.

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answered 20 Nov '14, 18:28

alexandrec's gravatar image


edited 21 Nov '14, 13:55


This is a very interesting issue and I think we should be more aware about our hearing safety and health. I am not very happy with the equipment that is widly use in Germany with integrated microphone in your headset. It is good for your back but bad for your ear since you tend to increase the volume. at least I feel it that way. That's why I have grown so fond of the Philipps and Bosch consoles: I can use my Bang & Olufsen. I love them becasue of the sound quality and I notice that I work at a lower volume. However i am starting to wonder if in-ear earphones are really OK: I still want to work some years! I recently worked with an on-ear Sennheiser headset with integrated microphone and I must say that I was really happy as the sound quality was very much like the one with my Bang & Olufsen and I was working at low volume input. I use my trebbles and bass always midway and the volume rather low but of course I start to increase the volume as I get tired or when it is getting fast or complicated.


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answered 18 May '12, 13:09

Conrado's gravatar image


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question asked: 25 Oct '11, 16:31

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last updated: 21 Nov '14, 13:55

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