J Am Acad Audiol 2019; 30(02): 153-161
DOI: 10.3766/jaaa.17104
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Can Self-Reported Personal Audio System Volume Predict Actual Listening Levels in Young Adults?

Peter Torre III
*   School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Mark B. Reed
†   School of Social Work, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
26 May 2020 (online)



Most young adults report using personal audio systems (PAS) with earphones as part of their daily activities. PAS exposure is intermittent and research examining the levels these young adults are listening to is increasing. On average, preferred listening levels are below what would be considered at risk in an occupational setting.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate how two questions predicted preferred listening level in young adults with normal hearing; specifically, whether these young adults could identify if they listen at a high level or not.

Study Sample:

One hundred and sixty young adults (111 women, 49 men) with normal hearing completed a questionnaire that had questions about PAS listening habits and then had preferred listening level assessed using a probe microphone system while listening to 1 hour of music through earphones.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Otoscopy, tympanometry, and pure-tone thresholds were completed in a randomly determined test ear. As part of the Risk Factors Survey, two closed-set questions were completed. First, “For a typical day, what is the most common volume used during this day?” with the following response options “Low,” “Medium/Comfortable,” “Loud,” or “Very Loud.” And second, “Do you listen to your personal music system at a volume where you…” with the following response options “Easily hear people,” “Have a little trouble hearing people,” “Have a lot of trouble hearing people,” or “Cannot hear people.” Using a probe microphone, chosen listening level (A-weighted, diffuse-field correction and a conversion to free-field equivalent [L DFeq]) was calculated over 1 hour while the participant listened to music with earphones. Sensitivity and specificity were determined to see how well young adults could identify themselves as listening at a high level (>85 dBA) or not. Linear regression analyses were performed to determine the amount of variance explained by the two survey questions as predictors of measured L DFeq.


Almost half of the participants reported a longest single use of a PAS as <1 hour daily and more than half reported listening at a medium/comfortable volume and had a little trouble hearing people. Mean L DFeq was 72.5 dBA, with young adult men having a significantly higher mean L DFeq (76.5 dBA) compared with young adult women (70.8 dBA). Sensitivity was 88.9% and specificity was 70.6% for the question asking about volume on a typical day. For the question asking about being able to hear other people while listening to music sensitivity was 83.3% and specificity was 82.5%. Two variables, listening volume on a typical day and sex, accounted for 28.4% of the variability associated with L DFeq; the answer to the question asking about being able to hear others and sex accounted for 22.8% of the variability associated with L DFeq.


About 11% of young adults in the present study listen to a PAS with earphones at a high level (>85 dBA) while in a quiet background. The participants who do report listening at a high level, however, do well at self-reporting this risk behavior in survey questions.