Field Test: EarQ Technologies Reference Hearing Analyzer

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY MARK FRINK

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Audio pros often make statements such as: “My ears are fine,” “My ears are shot” or “I don't want to know what my hearing is like.” The conventional method of determining the truth about such statements is to take a hearing test. Unfortunately, most standard hearing exams require both an office visit to an audiologist or physician and the ability to directly confront the fear of the unknown. For most musicians and sound pros, a trip to the dentist is preferable. Also, standard hearing tests typically only measure octave bands in the 125 to 8,000Hz speech range.

The EarQ Hearing Analyzer is a personal hearing self-test application that functions on most desktop and laptop PCs. The software ships with a pager-sized calibrator that is used before each test to set the computer's headphone output via a 1kHz tone and a three-LED “stoplight” arrangement.

A $199 package is supplied with Sennheiser's TEC Award-winning HD 280 Pro headphones (reviewed in Mix, November 2002), which are comfortable and rugged, while providing the high isolation helpful for hearing exams (and live gigs). Other supported models include Sony MDR 7506 (same as the V6), Sennheiser HD 25 SP, Beyerdynamic DT 770, Audio-Technica ATH-M40fs and several by Koss. The software and calibrator alone are $99, so the Sennheiser bundle is a good value.

A third method is using EarQ with in-ear monitors (IEMs), and files are also included to calibrate it to several popular models, such as the Shure E-1 and E-5, Sensaphonic ProPhonic 2000, Future Sonics Ears and Etymotic ER-4 and ER-6.

The testing window has 16 faders that represent frequencies from 63 to 20k Hz. Below 2k, they're at octave intervals; above 3k, they're spaced at ⅓-octave intervals, providing greater resolution where hearing is most often impaired. Minimum audibility self-testing is performed one ear at a time by pushing each fader until its intermittent, slightly warbled tone is barely heard. Results are then converted to a hearing-response audiogram, which compares them to those of young adults with normal hearing. These can be saved and easily compared to previous tests. The Audiogram window also has an option for suggested EQ settings, recommending slight boosts depending on the measured deficiencies, with different settings for listening levels of very soft (65 dB), comfortable (80 dB) or comfortably loud (95 dB). However, only the last is meaningful for most audio professionals.

The entire process takes less than 15 minutes. Because it's a self-test, a degree of honesty is required for meaningful results: You can easily convince yourself you heard a tone that you'd like to be able to hear.

Making tests over several days, it's clear that hearing ability changes, depending on factors such as exposure, stress, medication and rest. Results obtained following a good night's sleep are better than after a long day of loud music or travel. In fact, this temporary threshold shift is the very mechanism by which hearing loss occurs over time, and EarQ's ability to monitor this makes it an excellent tool for hearing conservation. EarQ can't replace a visit to the audiologist, but it's relatively simple to make before-and-after comparisons of your hearing levels at rock concerts or studio sessions.

EarQ was initially conceived as a means to identify tweaks to control room monitors that would provide better studio results for older or abused ears, because the lack of certain frequencies tends to make an engineer push them in the mix. It's also an invaluable tool for monitor engineers who are responsible for mixing IEMs. Though many performers (or engineers) may not want a hearing test, offering it demonstrates professional responsibility.

EarQ's EQ suggestions can also provide a guide to tweak individual mix EQ so that compensation can be made with console-output EQ, outboard graphics or with the EQ on the more sophisticated mastering processors used as safety limiters with better IEM rigs. Investigating mix or “mastering” EQ with individual musicians may provide them with an improved performing experience, as well as showing them you care about their hearing. More importantly, EarQ lets users check their own hearing on the road daily and in privacy to monitor the temporary threshold shifts that can turn into hearing loss over time.

The average 40-year-old has already lost some high-frequency hearing, so it's no surprise that the typical result of two decades in the music business is a permanent notch in the highs. That the EarQ software may recommend a boost of a few dB at those frequencies should not be surprising. Though exaggerated losses cannot be compensated for by large-frequency boosts, the careful monitoring of personal hearing can allow professionals to mitigate further damage, while helping improve their listening experience.

Set your browser to www.earq.net for an uncalibrated, simple 4-band demo of the EarQ software. When was the last time your hearing was checked?

EarQ Technologies, Box 6654, San Rafael, CA 94903; 415/479-7339; fax 415/329-3303; www.earq.net.

Want to try a quick hearing test online? Download EarQ's limited frequency range demo.










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