Humor by Greg Schwem

I have recently been made aware of how loud certain sounds can be, right down to the exact decibel.

For example, I now know that normal speaking volume is between 60 and 70 decibels while whispers hover between 20 and 30 decibels. I know this because a recent USA Today article detailed how Virgin Atlantic Airways hired a "whispering coach" to instruct crew members in the fine art of softly waking first-class passengers on flights between New York and London. Note to coach passengers: The article stated you will not be receiving similar courtesy, so be prepared for a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant to scream "RISE AND SHINE!" in your ear should you ever doze off over the ocean.

I also know that the average rock concert emits noise volumes somewhere between 110 and 140 decibels. I obtained that information while researching my soon-to-be-15-year-old daughter's sole birthday desire: a pair of hip, trendy and, oh yes, very expensive headphones. When I was her age, I too listened to music via headphones. Of course this was only because I got tired of the inevitable knock on my bedroom door and the command that followed. Both came from my father.

"(Naughty Dad word) TURN IT DOWN!!!"

I rarely heard him as I was too busy listening to my steadily growing collection of vinyl albums. Anything by Journey or Styx really seemed to amplify his blood pressure. Eventually I saved enough cash to purchase a pair of oversized headphones with a black, coiled cord that stretched from my bed across the room to my Radio Shack all-in-one AM/FM stereo with cassette recorder/player. The stereo cost $250; the headphones were 20 bucks.

My daughter's headphones were priced around $300, stereo not included. But who needs a stereo today when you can cram an entire record collection into an MP3 player the size of a matchbook? Gone are the 4-foot speakers that could double as loveseats if flipped on their sides. Today it's all about the headphones. With the proper set, headphone manufacturers insist the listener can clearly make out the triangle AND the piccolo in any of Mozart's symphonies. Don't believe them? Just ask the music celebrity hired to appear in the ads.

And, of course, the last thing I want is for my precious teenage daughter to be deprived of listening to music in the exact vein as internationally renowned rap moguls and rock stars. I was ready to pull out my Visa card.

Then I saw the "safety tips" link on one manufacturer's website.

A pair of headphones shouldn't come with a word of caution, I thought. Warnings are reserved for other products. Extendable ladders, power tools and semiautomatic weapons come to mind.

But headphones?

I clicked on the link and discovered that listening to anything over 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. A handy chart detailing various noise levels accompanied the warning. According to the chart, a food blender's noise level is between 85 and 90 dB.

Now I began getting nervous, knowing full well that most folks probably don't listen to music at margarita mixing levels. Furthermore, does anybody consider a blender to be loud? My dad never stormed into the kitchen and screamed, "(Naughty Dad word) STOP PUREEING!" Surely today's headphones are capable of more.

But how much more? Even though the site listed the noise levels of a garbage truck (100 dB) and jackhammer (110 dB) nowhere did it mention the potential eardrum-splitting capabilities of its product. Imagine that? Instead, it reminded visitors that the headphones currently come in "new limited edition colors" including purple.

I nixed that idea immediately. "I don't want her looking like a bruise," I told my wife.

I found my answer at, proving once again that there truly is a website for every subject in the universe. According to the staff, the headphones in question topped out at more than 110 decibels.

That meant they were not only more costly than the price of a live rock concert, but could be louder. Unless of course your idea of "rock concert" is Neil Diamond.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked my wife.

"We'll just tell her to turn them down if we think they are too loud," she replied.

"Wouldn't she rather have a blender?"

"Very funny."

So now I'm preparing for the inevitable: screaming at my daughter from three feet away and warning her that her 15-year-old ears will soon function like 85-year-old ears if she isn't careful.

I already know what her response will be.


Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

Humor & Satire

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