Going Deaf In London

June 16, 2011
1 min read

I’m on the second leg of my midlife crisis trip, hanging out with some extra-hospitable family friends in North London. It’s a given that I’m shooting into central London on the tube every chance I get but as enjoyable as the experience is, the one thing I noticed when I climbed on my first tube ride since the mid 90’s was how damn noisy these conveyances are.

London’s undergound trains are iconic, convenient and chanceful but I reckon that there’s a correlation between the fabled terseness of Londoners and the tube. These poor souls aren’t rude, they just can’t hear a bloody thing.

Fiddling around with the sound pressure meter app on my iPhone told me all I needed to know but long before I took in the numbers, I took advice from a set of ears rendered tender by too many shooting ranges and grabbed my noise isolating ‘phones.

I’m probably a bit paranoid about my hearing but deal with a bout of tinnitus now and then and you’ll be the same. That said, the noise on the tubes seems to run at above 90dB without fail and often redlines the SPL meter on the iPhone, which stops dead at 100dB. The accuracy of the app may be debatable but I’ve checked it against a colleague’s SPL meter and the iPhone is actually very close.

My tube trip is about 45 minutes either way, so there’s an hour and a half a day, plus any side trips I may make to get from one part of town to another. If I was doing even an hour a day, week in and week out for years in these noise-fests, I’d be getting worried, regardless of what the local safety bodies say.

I wouldn’t try and drown out the racket with a set of standard in-ear ‘phones either, I used my Sennheiser MX460s as an experiment and ended up cranking the iPod’s volume control far higher than I’d normally run it just to hear the music clearly. Even then I was skipping the quieter tracks. With my Ultimate Ears ‘phones plugged in, I’m tuned out and enjoying my tunes from the time the ride starts till I climb out in Totteridge, and I’m not listening much louder than I do at home.

I know I’ve gone on at length about these ‘phones before but noise cancelling phones are the only things standing between me turning into an angry, semi-deaf bloke who yells at people, and no one wants that.


  1. I reckon daily noise like this will become big news in about 10 or 15 years when there’s a generation who can’t sleep properly, or hear properly, because of Tinnitus and hearing loss. They’ll probably try and blame it on rock concerts and nights out clubbing to booty bass music, but we all know where the real problem lies. Noise is a city problem, and it’s just as bad in Dorkland as anywhere in the world. I just hope when the mayor gets the rail link up and running they’ve invested in one with genuine noise-damping.

  2. Agreed. There are heaps of people who’re doing regular damage to their hearing and will pay the price later on, or perhaps we’ll pay the price of keeping them all in hearing aids.
    I remember reading some interesting theory stating that we lose our hearing because of ongoing low level (or high level) damage, not from age. Whether that’s true or not, I still try and protect my hearing wherever I can.

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