Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bone Conduction 101: How it Works, What it is and Will it Hurt?

Music is a large element of everyday life also it has been for almost as long as Humans have been on this earth. I often point to a discovery of the 40,000-year-old flute dating back to the ice age as evidence for this, but truthfully, the proof you may need is all around you, every day. We remember ballads and music long after the folks who first composed them have died and rotted away (an idea which I find curiously reassuring) plus the music industry, love it or hate it, is always a big business.


On the other hand, while the ice age musicians probably lived during a world of stark cruelty, frozen, unimaginative wastelands and tough, ‘kill or be killed’ inter-cave politics, they never required to contend with road works, transport lorries, screaming toddlers or drunken rabble-rousers on their way to the stag night. Lucky buggers.


Today’s listener has to accommodate all that and much more, that may make listening to the music not just difficult, but additionally dangerous.


Now, however, modern science has stumbled across a means in which you’ll be able to still listen to your favourite tunes, even if you’re wearing earplugs (no, I’ve not been sniffing discarded paint cans once more). It’s called skeleton conduction technology and no, despite the marginally strange name, it in truth doesn’t hurt…


According to recent research, contact with any noise over 100 decibels wears away a membrane known as a myelin sheath and leaves your middle ear liable to problems like tinnitus and temporary deafness, which can be the start of much more serious problems. Bone conduction technology has been developed to bypass the most sensitive parts of your ear and reduce the danger of inner-ear harm.


How? Well, so as to know that, we need to first identify with how our ears actually work. (HERE COMES THE SCIENCE-Y BIT) Essentially, noise travels though the air, these sound waves are intercepted by numerous structures in the ear and are finally translated and transmitted into our brains (if it helps, think of it like the encoding/decoding of digital information, like that which guides the actions of the wireless mouse).


The sound waves first encounter a bit of cartilage (yes, similar stuff a shark’s skeleton is formed of), which helps to focus the sound, this is called a pinna (but you may call it your outer ear without appearing too stupid). 


Then, the sound waves pass into your middle ear, it is filled up with air and also contains both your acoustic canal and your eardrum (my little brother burst his when he was little and almost burst mine crying about it). The eardrum vibrates, passing the sound through to the ossicles, which are three small bones (that are actually pretty vital to your sense of balance, I am told). These tiny bones transmit the sound to the cochlea, that is a fluid-filled structure that ‘encodes’ the signals for our brain to ‘decode’.


Bone conduction technology vibrates the bones of the skull, distributing the noise directly to the cochlea and bypassing the remainder of their ear totally. The nerve impulses transmitted to your brain are exactly the same, however the sensitive instrument of the ear doesn’t have to deal with the hassle of, to cite Anchorman’s Brick Tamland “LOUD NOISES!”


This process appears to be totally safe; actually, the eminently deaf composer Beethoven employed a elementary version of this method to be able to create his most famous works. He attached a rod between his piano and his head and, as such, was able to listen to the song he was playing.


So there you go, instead of exposing your sensitive ears to louder and louder volumes, to drown out the background noise, it is possible to instead stick your earpugs in and play your music at the appropriate volume. Make no bones about it (groan!)


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Bone Conduction 101: How it Works, What it is and Will it Hurt?

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