Maxfield Targets the "Turn That Thing Down" Crowd

Peter Burrows

Interesting post from Digital Music News, on a company that's focusing on selling to parents who fear for their kids' hearing from listening to MP3 players:

Following Concerns on Hearing, iPod Competitor Is Soft on Ears

As more reports focus on the possible hearing damage caused by iPods, a market opportunity could be arising. The potential health risk rings loudly for parents of teenagers and tweens, who may be worried that their last Christmas gift now constitutes a health risk. Enter German audio manufacturer Maxfield, which just released the Max-Joy, a digital audio player designed to prevent potential hearing damage. The Max-Joy accomplishes this by restricting audio output to no more than 60 decibels. To put that in perspective, decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, in which volume doubles every 3 decibels. iPods can pump out music at 115 decibels, or levels 18 times louder than the Max-Joy. Maxfield also includes a special set of Koss headphones designed to further reduce hearing risks. The 256MB Max-Joy is targeted towards kids, and carries a tough rubberized fascia designed to survive drops and dirt. And children, including teenagers, have more sensitive hearing than adults, so the volume restrictions are customized to curtail, but not ruin, the listening experience.

While it is still too early to tell if hearing concerns will affect iPod sales, others in the market are already delivering solutions. Bose and Sennheiser offer noise canceling headphones that emit inaudible frequencies to screen out extraneous noise, reducing the need for higher volume levels. Meanwhile, Shure uses simpler sound-isolating techniques to block external noise. Maxfield is the first to actually take the step of limiting volume levels in the player, but if consumer concern grows, other manufacturers may make similar moves to reduce potential product liability. And Apple has already been sued for this, so the risk is real. Incidentally, some volume limitations already exist on European iPods, specifically at 100 decibels. The Max-Joy has just shipped in the UK for £61 ($106), and pundits expect it to come to the states by summer for a price point of about $99 (£57).

Story by news analyst Richard Menta.

When I wrote about this topic last week recently, I got lots of feedback. Most folks felt I was all wet for suggesting Apple had responsibility for people that wanted to blast their ears to kingdom come (plus there was one hearing-impaired reader who prayed Apple wouldn't set the kind of volume limits that Europe has imposed). But others pointed to an easier fix: creating a new setting that would allow a parent to impose a volume restriction. Seems to me it could simply go under the Parental Controls pane in iTunes.

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