Knoetze, M., Mahomed-Asmail, F., Manchaiah, V., & Swanepoel, D.W.
Ear and Hearing, In Press.
Publication year: 2021

Objectives: More than a billion adolescents and youngsters are estimated to be at risk of acquiring recreational noise-induced hearing loss (RNIHL) due to the unsafe use of personal audio systems (PAS). RNIHL is preventable, therefore, the present study aimed to determine (i) the accuracy and reliability of dbTrack (Westone) sound-level monitoring earphones and (ii) the effect of sound-level monitoring earphones with smartphone feedback and hearing health information as an intervention to promote healthy listening behaviors in young adults.

Design: The study consisted of two phases, the first phase investigated the accuracy and reliability of dbTrack sound-level monitoring earphones. Accuracy was determined by comparing earphone measurements to sound level meter measurements. Intra-device reliability was determined by comparing earphone measurements during test-retest conditions. Nineteen participants were recruited through convenience sampling to determine within-subject reliability by comparing in-ear sound levels measured by the earphones during test-retest conditions. For the second phase of the study, a single-group pretest-posttest design was utilized. Forty participants, recruited through snowball sampling, utilized the sound-level monitoring earphones with the accompanying dbTrack smartphone application for 4 weeks. The application’s smartphone feedback was disabled during the first 2 weeks (pretest condition) and enabled during the last 2 weeks (posttest condition). Average daily intensities, durations and sound dosages measured during pre- and posttest conditions were compared.

 Results: Phase 1 dbTrack earphone measurements were within 1 dB when compared to sound level meter measurements. Earphones were also within 1 dB in repeated measures across earphones and across participants. Phase 2 posttest average daily intensity decreased by 8.7 dB (18.3 SD), duration decreased by 7.6 minutes (46.6 SD) and sound dose decreased by 4128.4% (24965.5% SD). Differences in intensity and sound dose were significantly lower with a small and medium effect size, respectively.

Conclusions: This study’s preliminary data indicate that dbTrack (Westone) sound-level monitoring earphones with a calibrated in-ear microphone can reliably and accurately measure PAS sound exposure. Preliminary results also suggest that feedback on sound exposure using the accurate sound-level monitoring earphones with the accompanying dbTrack application can potentially promote safe listening behavior in young adults and reduce the risk of acquiring an RNIHL.