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Hearing loss risk and prevention for the Disc Jockey
Peter Ladd

Noise in the work place is responsible for the most prevalent occupational impairment: hearing loss or permanent deafness.(1) One occupation at risk to this disability is the disc jockey or DJ.

The nightclub disc jockey's job consists of playing loud music for an extended period of time.  The music being played is often somewhere around the 100 decibel range, and is directed out towards the dancefloor.  While one song is being played for the audience (for convenience I will call this song {Song A}), the disc jockey uses a pair of headphones to listen to yet another song {Song B}, while still paying attention to Song A. 

The object for the DJ is to attempt to match up the bass beats of  Song A with Song B. 

This is by using turntables that feature a pitch controll, allowing the DJ to speed up or slow down Song B so the bass beats match those of Song A.  When the beats are matched up correctly, the DJ lowers the volume of Song A while increasing the volume of Song B. 

This process is called "mixing" and allows for a continuous beat to be experienced by the audience.

One of the main tools that the DJ uses (besides music, of course) is headphones. 

To effectively mix two songs together, the DJ must be able to hear both songs equally, that is, at the same volume.  As mentioned before, the music being blasted from the speakers to the audience is somewhere near the 100 dB range, which means that the volume of the DJ's headphones must also be in the 100 dB range.

As you may have guessed, playing music through headphones at this level cannot be all that entirely healthy for one's ears.  Ising et al. measured hearing losses in a non-representative group of pupils whose ages were between ten and nineteen years who listened to headphones at varying duration and intensities.  It was predicted that 10% of the group would have a hearing loss of 10 dB at 4 kHz after five years.  0.35% of the group was expected to develop hearing losses at age twenty-five years that would be severe enough to substantially impair speech intelligibility.(2)

Loth D. et al. suggests that normal use of headphones, as used with portable cassette or compact disc players (i.e. walkman type players), even when used within safety regulations may still cause a temporary decrease in hearing ability.  After listening to both rock and classical music, twelve normally hearing volunteers were shown to have lost an average of 5 dB of hearing ability at the 4 and 6 kHz range.  This study also suggested that better headphones are likely to cause a temporary hearing loss at higher frequencies (frequencies above 8 kHz)  (3).  However, another study by Turunen- Rise et al. suggests that the risk for permanent noise - induced hearing loss from these personal cassette players is very small for normal hearing conditions.  (4)

Exposure to rock music for an extended period of time may also cause a temporary decrease in hearing.  After a concert, hearing levels were measured in twenty-two volunteers by Yassi et al..  81% of the participants showed a decrease in hearing ability of 10 dB or more 5 to 25 minutes after music exposure.  Of these, 76% demonstrated decreased hearing ability at 40 to 60 minutes after exposure.  (4)

Henderson et al. reported on the ability of the middle ear muscles to develop a resistance to noise induced hearing loss.  After conditioning one group of chinchillas to loud low frequency sounds, the group was given a rest period of five days.  The conditioned group and a controll group were both then exposed to forty eight hours of 106 dB noise.  It was demonstrated that the conditioned groups incurred substantially less permanent hearing loss than the controll group.  (5,6)

The way to lower the risk to a disc jockey for hearing loss is in the setup of equipment.  A normal disc jockey workstation or "booth" consists of stereo equipment which allows the disc jockey to monitor more than one song at a time.  To do this, a musical loudspeaker is placed inside the DJ booth which allows the DJ to clearly hear the music that is playing.  This speaker adds to the intensity of the sound already coming from the dancefloor.  If the DJ could lower the volume of this in-booth speaker (called the monitor) he would not have to increase his headphone volume as much. 

The problem with turning down the music is that the nightclub is a business where loud music is supposed to be played.  Placing a pillow in front of your dancefloor speakers to limit the sounds being emitted would essentially defeat the purpose of playing the music in the first place.  But still, the DJ needs to lower the volume that he is exposed to.

While examining the workstation at a nightclub where the author is employed as a disc jockey, I came up with a few suggestions:  First, the DJ booth should be positioned behind the main dancefloor speakers.  Simply put, it is not as noisy behind a speaker as it is in front of it.  Next, the DJ booth ideally should be enclosed in a sound proof box, which would cut much of the sound coming from the dancefloor to the DJ.  The DJ could still monitor the sound level on the dancefloor by the indicator lights on his mixer board, and he could check the sound quality by using his speaker monitor that would be placed inside the soundproof box with the DJ.   Because the DJ would no longer have to overcome the loud music being played from the dancefloor, his in-booth music level could be cut down, allowing for his headphone level to be lowered. 

While earplugs have been shown to decrease the risk for hearing damage to individuals exposed to high intensity impulses (7), they would not be as effective to the DJ because they tend to dampen the low frequency noises.  To a DJ, the low frequency noises are essential to mix two songs together, and wearing earplugs would result in a decrease in job efficiency and quality (songs would not mix together well, beats would not match up correctly because the DJ couldn't hear the bass clearly, thus resulting in a very bad-sounding mix called a "train wreck".)

Another mode of hearing loss prevention to the disc jockey involves a nutritional component.  Correlations were observed between serum magnesium levels and noise induced permanent hearing threshold shifts.  Three hundred young, healthy and normal hearing recruits all underwent two months of basic military training which involved repeated exposures to high levels of impulse noises.  These subjects were involved in a placebo - controlled, double-blind study in which each subject received daily an additional drink containing 167 mg of magnesium aspartate or a similar quantity of placebo  (Na-aspartate).  Results showed that noise induced permanent threshold shifts were significantly more frequent in the placebo group than in the magnesium group.  Long term intake of a small dose of oral magnesium was not accompanied by any notable side effect. 

(8)  This study may introduce a significant natural agent for the reduction of hearing damages for the disc jockey.

In conclusion, the disc jockey is at a risk for hearing losses.  Due to the nature of the DJ's job, simply turning down the volume at the nightclub is an unrealistic measure of prevention for noise-induced hearing loss.  While earplugs may be beneficial for others who work in noise related occupations to lower the risk of hearing damage, they serve as an obstacle for disc jockey performance.   A well thought out DJ booth and dancefloor seems to be one of the best ways to reduce hazardous noise levels to the disc jockey. 

Nutritionally, oral magnesium also proves beneficial.  While the DJ may adapt to the constant high levels of music, there should be an effort made by the nightclub owners, sound system designers, and disc jockeys themselves to limit the risk of hearing loss to the disc jockey.

Pete Ladd
Chiropractor / Disc Jockey



1.Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety.  2v.  International Labour Office, 3d ed., 1983.  

2.Ising H,  Hanel J,  Pilgram M,  Babisch W,  Lindthammer A.  Risk of hearing loss caused by listening to music with head phones. 

HNO 1994; 42 (12) :764-8,  

3.Loth D,  Avan P,  Menguy C,  Teyssou M.  Secondary auditory risks from listening to portable digital compact disc players.  Bulletin de l Academie Nationale de Medecine  1992 Nov;  176(8) :1245-52; discussion 1252-3

4.Turunen-Rise I,  Flottorp G,  Tvete O.  A study of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss by the use of personal casette players (walkman).  Scandinavian Audiology  1991;  34:133-44

5.Henderson D,  Subramaniam M,  Papazian M,  Spongr VP.  The role of middle ear muscles in the development of resistance to noise induced hearing loss.  Hearing Research  1994 Apr;  74(1 - 2) :22-8

6.Subramaniam M,  Henderson D,  Spongr VP.  Protection from noise induced hearing loss:  is prolonged 'conditioning' necessary? 

Hearing Research  1993 Feb;  65(1 - 2):234-9

7.Dnacer A,  Grateau P.  Cabanis A,  Barnabe G,  Cagnin G,  Vaillant T, Lafont D.  Effectiveness of earplugs in high-intensity impulse noise.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of American.  1992 Mar.  91 (3)


8.Attias J,  Weisz G,  Almog S,  Shahar A,  Wiener M,  Joachims Z, Netzer A,  Ising H,  Rebentisch E,  Guenther T.  Oral magnesium intake reduces permanent hearing loss by noise exposure.  American Journal of Otolaryngology  1994 Jan-Feb;  15(1) :26-32

9.Microsoft Encarta - 1993  (CD-ROM)




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