media release

Vuvuzela-proof hearing protection

Staefa, Switzerland, June 29, 2010

Phonak hearing protection created to tune out drone of vuvuzela

As part of its Hear the World initiative, the experts at leading hearing aid manufacturer Phonak helped start the debate about the risk of hearing damage from the vuvuzela when they conducted sound measurements, which found that it reached an ear splitting 127 decibels (dB) - louder than a lawnmower (90 dB) and a chainsaw (100 dB). And now they have taken things a step further.

Phonak have customised one of their state-of-the-art hearing protection systems - typically used by helicopter pilots, fire-fighters, industrial staff and security professionals - to filter out the endless drone of the vuvuzela. Several of these prototype systems have been sent to South Africa for testing purposes, with the aim of enabling journalists in the stadiums to focus on their work, stay connected to the overall atmosphere in the stadium and engage in regular verbal communication, while being protected from dangerously loud noise levels.

Continuous exposure at just 85 dB puts us at a risk of permanent noise induced hearing loss, and when subjected every working day to 100 dB or more, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes. Recent measurements at big games have shown the combined noise of the crowd and their vuvuzelas to almost constantly exceed 130 dB - even at a South African Premier League soccer match that took place before the World Cup, measurements conducted by the University of Pretoria indicated peaks of 137 dB, and an average of 100 dB over the match, when there were only 30 000 fans in attendance.

The prototype was made by first analysing the precise sound emitted by the vuvuzela, and then deciding on the Serenity DP dynamic hearing protection system as the base for the prototype, as its digital signal processing capabilities provide a versatile platform for experimentation with a multitude of digital filters. It works by damping impulse sounds the moment they occur, and as long as the surrounding noise is within safe limits, the system is fully transparent - ie, it will not alter the ambient sound and communication capabilities of the user.

If this prototype proves successful, and vuvuzelas take off in stadiums around the world, mass production might be an option going forward

Call to journalists

Phonak has made a limited number of these prototype units available for testing at the remaining World Cup matches by journalists attending games. To apply for a test unit, contact Cheryl van der Merwe at the contact details below, indicating your name, media organisation, and the game/s you will be attending.