Apple's AirPod headphones, and others, are limited by the noise reduction tech
Apple customers have complained that the iPhone maker is automatically reducing the volume of their music if it deems it too loud.
A “headphone safety” feature in the company’s latest operating system, iOS 14, has been launched to protect a user’s hearing by remotely cutting the volume of music.
Apple will send a notification if the decibel level reaches over 90 decibels for an extended period – equivalent to the sound of a lawnmower.
Since 2013, the European Union has implemented rules that prevent headphones from going over volumes of 100 decibels. It also asks that manufacturers set a default limit of 85 decibels, although users are allowed to override this.
However, Apple’s new setting causes the volume for iPhone or AirPod headphone users to drop automatically after it hits over 90 decibels for more than four hours a week.
The block on loud music does not come in instantly, but if a user exceeds a seven-day “limit” then they can see their music volume dramatically cut.
Apple’s headphone safety setting says: “To protect your hearing, your iPhone will measure headphone audio levels. If you exceed the recommended 7-day limit, a notification is sent and the volume is turned down. These notifications cannot be switched off.”
Apple's new AirPods Pro is also affected by the update
The move has frustrated Apple customers who listen to loud music, have jobs with large amounts of background noise, or are older and prefer to listen at higher volumes. Some have vented on Apple customer forums about the new setting.
“No matter how much I lower the volume I still get the notification,” said one user. One Twitter user accused Apple of being a “nanny”.
Another user complained that when they connected their iPhone to their car audio via Bluetooth, Apple also stepped in to correct their volume levels. The user said: “In my car every 15 [minutes] music turns down to 50pc. Please Apple fix this.” Others said it also affected their Bluetooth speakers.
In response to customer queries on social media, Apple said: “Due to regulations and safety standards, headphone notifications can’t be turned off in certain countries or regions.”
Thanks for the screenshot. Due to regulations and safety standards, headphone notifications can’t be turned off in certain countries or regions. If you have any further questions, meet us in DM using the link below. https://t.co/GDrqU22YpT
— Apple Support (@AppleSupport) November 24, 2020
Apple has long trodden a fine line between customers who want extra volume and concerns about damage to hearing.
In 2006, it was hit by a hearing loss class action in California over the volume of its iPod headphones, claiming “millions of customers have had their hearing put at risk” due to a lack of information. The claim was ultimately dismissed on appeal in 2009.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
The World Health Organisation warned last year that one billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to constant use of headphones with smartphones and other gadgets.
The WHO called for “certain features like automatic volume reduction and parental control of the volume” to be added to headphones and devices.
Apple introduced the decibel limits on its Apple Watch last year with its Noise app. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s head of health, said in June 2019 the Apple Watch was able to listen to sounds around users to warn them if sounds in their environment were dangerously loud.
At the time, Apple said: “The watch can send a notification if the decibel level reaches 90 decibels, which can begin to impact hearing after four hours per week of exposure at this level.”
Ms Desai said: “Since hearing loss is often so gradual, it’s important to know when the sounds around you are loud enough to impact your hearing, like when you’re in the middle of a construction zone, at a sporting event or playing your music really loud to drown out your singing voice.”