Kinetic molecular theory of sound exposure in personal listening devices

R. P. Oates, Stephen Ambrose, David M. Klein

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Noise-induced hearing loss associated with earbud use is an increasing trend in modern society. All smartphones are coupled with earbuds that expose the human auditory system to unsafe sound pressures. Acoustic waves enclosed in the ear canal force the tympanic membrane to move 100-1000 times greater than acoustic waves of equal amplitude in open air. Classical acoustics has not fully explained this biophysical phenomenon. Maxwell's kinetic molecular theory was used, in conjunction with Special relativity, to quantify sound pressure exposures in personal listening devices more accurately. A non-linear dependence of sound intensity on speaker excursion is predicted, demonstrating that earbuds sealed in the ear canal can exceed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's ceiling limit of 140 dB. Sound intensities predicted from molecular mass and velocity produce similar results to Beranek's model of acoustic waves in a closed, rigid cylinder and support previous observations of trapped volume insertion gain in personal listening devices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)531-534
    Number of pages4
    JournalActa Acustica united with Acustica
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - May 1 2017


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