How Loud? So Loud I Can See It.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Product The Guardian wired headphone by Hamilton Electronics, with a visible sound-level monitor.

Target Audience Parents who want to protect their children's hearing -- assuming the kids are compliant enough to switch their earbuds for these clunkers and let Mom and Dad monitor their home use.

The Concept It doesn't seem so long ago that you were listening to Mick and Janis and Jimi full blast, and now, you suspect, you have the hearing loss to prove it. If only you'd known. These days, when you watch your kids hooked into their PlayStations and MP3 players, you can't help wondering if they're heading down the same road. Audiologists, who say the incidence of hearing loss is rising, would support your concern.

The Guardian headphone was designed to end the mystery -- at least while a child is under your watch. A light (visible to others, but not the user) flashes green when the hearing level is safe, red when it exceeds 90 decibels (comparable to truck traffic or a motorcycle engine). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide protection for workers exposed for eight hours to noise at this level. Ten to 15 minutes of such noise is plenty through headphones, said Teri Wilson-Bridges, director of the Hearing and Speech Center at Washington Hospital Center, who tested the product and found it performed within an error margin of five or 10 decibels.

"It's a great device," she said. "I'm impressed."A red light is the cue for a concerned parent to step in, says Shelly Goldstein, president of VCOM International Multimedia Corp., the parent company of Hamilton Electronics. "If they see that red light glowing, they're gonna say one of two things: 'You're listening to this way too loud' . . . or . . . 'Are you having trouble hearing? Maybe we should get [your hearing] tested.' "

Will your children appreciate the gift -- and your concern? There's no telling, Goldstein admits.

"I've lived through the teenage years. . . . When I gave my son a cellphone, he said, 'What's this, my electronic leash?' "

Price With a charger, about $40. The product (one size, with adjustable headpiece) does nothing, of course, to reduce potential harm from earbud headphones, which may pose more of a hearing risk.

-- Susan Morse

© 2007 The Washington Post Company