Annotated Bibliography

Selected literature from our bibliography that has informed us and helped shape our project is presented in annotated form below. Works are primarily derived from academic literature, with a few selections from popular literature for good measure.

Popular Literature
An Introduction to Noise Cancelling Earbuds. Retrieved from

This website is a popular and useful resource for consumers who are looking to explore both the technology behind and benefits of using noise canceling earbuds. The site contributes both to our exploration of the technological merits of in-ear headphones as well as looking into the social uses that continue to contribute to their popularity by exploring the new technologies behind noise reducing functions and well as reviewing best products in the in-ear headphones market. Most usefully, the site differentiates between noise canceling and noise isolating or blocking as an applied technology making its way to consumers.

Noise isolating earphones are those that are manufactured to fit significantly tighter or snugger in the ear canal. This tight fit is a result of the design of the earbud, and does not utilize any kind of digital technology. Conversely, noise canceling earphones are those that actually produce sounds in order to offset the sounds found in the user’s external environment. The technology that powers its ability to offset white noise is engineered to distinguish between different types of background noise—e.g. airplane, voices, music, etc. Because the technology is more advanced , noise canceling earphones are more expensive to consumers.

Blue, L. (2008). How Bad Are iPods for Your Hearing? Time. Retrieved from,8599,1827159,00.html

This popular literature article was featured in Time magazine, signaling the ubiquity of iPods and other personal music players, and more importantly the ubiquity of in-ear headphones. Moreover, the anxiety that surrounds their respective pervasive use in society is evident by the popular nature of the article topic and the well-respected media outlet it was published in.

The article reports on the then-recent findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which quantified just how much of the nation is affected by hearing loss. Amazingly, the study found that 16 percent of Americans have an impaired ability to hear speech and that more than 30 percent over the age of 25—55 million Americans—have lost at least some level of high-frequency hearing. So, are high volumes of in-ear headphones to blame? The article features an extended interview with Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston, who explains how much damage your headphones actually cause, which is actually pretty significant. This article informs our project’s exploration into the social consequences of in-ear headphones technology, especially considering social settings, groups and situations. If it worth living if you can’t hear anything, if you can participate?

Taylor, J. (2010). Technology: Alone in a Crowd, High-tech Style. Psychology Today: The Power of Prime. Retrieved from

This article traces the ubiquity of in-ear headphones in everyday life. The author provides a detailed article on the consequences that in-ear headphones can create both socially and psychologically, especially when they are used in social settings.  The central question that informs the author is: Why the need to be constantly tuned in (to whatever people are listening to) and tuned out (of the world around them)?

The article examines the paradox of an individual isolating themselves while they choose to submerge them self in a public environment. Why would someone do this and, more importantly, who do people continue to do this every day? MostThe author addresses the avoidance of engagement and the possibility of social discomfort as reasoning behind one’s disconnection when applying the practice of using headphones in social settings. Although there is not much quantifiable data provided in this article, it helps support our examination into the social consequences of in-ear headphones technology, particularly useful in examining its implications in social settings.

Academic Literature
Benoit, M. et al. Engineering Silence: Active Noise Cancellation. Retrieved from

A group of researchers sought to explore effective noise canceling headphones technology by engineering their own set of such headphones. Their research begins by differentiating between the two different types of noise canceling technology: passive and active. Passive noise canceling is simple, as the design of the actual headphones can effectively block out unwanted noise. Examples include circumaural headphones that surround one’s ears aw well as in-ear headphones, which sort of “sea” the user’s ear canal. Active noise canceling is more advanced, characterized by aural overlap and destructive interference that targets and attenuates background noise. In the end, their engineered headphones did, in fact, attenuation of low frequency ambient noise—thus successful at reducing or canceling unwanted noise in the set of headphones.

Richly, the authors also include a historical perspective on the technology behind noise canceling functions. The concept has existed since the beginning of the 20th century when, in 1933, a German patent was issued to Paul Lueg. His concept was of active noise cancellation, which he realized could attenuate noise by superimposing a phase flipped wave. This inclusion of a historical perspective as impetus for today’s advancing noise canceling technologies provides great context for our project on three of our main inquiries—historical, technological and social.

Blesser, B. (2007). The Seductive (Yet Destructive) Appeal of Loud Music. Hearing (Loss) and Related Issues, Canadian Electroacoustic Community, Montreal, 9.4.

This article attempts to answer this question: Why is the warning to reduce the intensity of music often ignored? It examines relevant questions asked by psychologists, audiologists, and hearing researchers: Why do people choose to listen to music at high intensities? As so many musicians and music enthusiasts are now choosing to use electronic amplification to raise the volume of music, there must be a good explanation for their behavior. The author argues that loud music is (a) not an accident that arises from ignorance of the consequences, (b) not the result of being manipulated for commercial profit, or (c) not a temporary fad that happens to exist in our culture at this moment in time.

The article also examines whether loud music transports listeners to another space mentally, whether sonic dominance and aural combat exist, whether music changes the brain and body, and whether loud music functions as a self-medicating drug. While many of these issues pertain to psychology and will not be included in a our research, it does provide continued evidence regarding the social consequence sof in-ear headphones. As our project proposes, we are not just studying in-ear headphones as a technology, but also how the technology is lived in everyday life.

Bull, Michael (2000). Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life. New York: Oxford.

Much of this book opens up a new area of urban studies, specifically regarding the auditory experience of self and environment. In doing so, it enhances our understanding of the role of media and technology in everyday life. Like our project’s inquiry into the lived practices of using in-ear headphones technology, it offers greater context into our stereophonic world.

Urban, cultural and anthropological studies have been dominated by explanations of experiences drawing upon notions of visuality, or so says the author. But culture always has an auditory component that shapes attitudes and behavior — perhaps nowhere more so than in the city where sound is intensified, which this book argues. This book challenges strictly visual approaches to culture by proposing an auditory understanding of behavior through an ethnographic analysis of personal stereo use. In this sense, sound is just as important as sight, causing affect. The author reformulates our understanding of how people, through the senses, negotiate central experiences of the urban, such as space, place, time and the management of everyday experience, and examines the critical role technology plays. While our project does not at once consider such environmental settings of in-ear headphones, it is interesting and relevant nonetheless.

Crane, R. (2005). Social Distance and Loneliness as they Relate to Headphones Used with     Portable Audio Technology. California State University Humboldt.

This recent research, specific to headphones, gives credence to our continued investigation of the possible social consequences that may arise from using in-hear headphones, especially as it concerns inter personal relationships. Once headphones were introduced to consumers, individuals could take music machines anywhere and not disturb others. However, in the process of employing a means of not bothering others, it can be assumed that psychological separation from others may have occurred as well. Portable radios beget portable cassettes, portable cassette players beget CD players, and CD players are now considered by some to be outdated with the advent of MP3 players (such as iPods and other digital music players).

It has been suggested that the use of headphones may impede interactions with and feelings of being connected to others. The basic theory employed in this study was Attachment Theory. There are two important contradictory aspects to this theory: (1) proximity seeking, closeness or feeling connected to a significant other while at the same time (2) using this connection as a safe haven to separate or become autonomous. Several attachment theorists believe headphone use tends to alienate those around the user who are often put off from making conversation. In addition, several researchers have theorized that a portable audio device may serve as a transitional object (TO) as one moves between close relationships.

Kistler, D.J. & Whiteman, F.L. (1988). Headphone simulation of free-field listening. I: Stimulus synthesis. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp. 858-867.

This article describes techniques used to synthesize headphone-presented stimuli that simulate the ear-canal waveforms produced by free-field sources. In it, the researchers enacted stimulus synthesis techniques in order to measure each subject’s free-field-to-eardrum transfer functions for sources at a large number of locations in free-field. Additionally, measurement of headphone-to-eardrum transfer functions with subject wearing headphones was conducted. Digital filters were then constructed from the transfer function measurements, and stimuli were passed through these digital filters. Transfer function data from ten subjects and 144 source positions are also described in this article, along with estimates of the various sources of error in the measurements. Then free-field-to-eardrum transfer function data are consistent with comparable data reported elsewhere in the literature. A comparison of ear-canal waveforms produced by free-field sources with ear-canal waveforms produced by headphone-presented simulations shows that the simulations duplicated free-field waveforms within a few dB of magnitude and a few degrees of phase at frequencies up to 14 kHz.

What this means in regards to the technology behind in-ear headphones is that it is advancing to such a degree of quality that it can mimic real-life sounds and waveforms. It is the quality of the sound produced by the advanced technology in the headphones that enables the high quality, analogous sound to be created—an amazing feat.

Moy, C. (2001). Preventing hearing damage when listening to headphones. Retrieved from

This article offers a very accessible, colloquial and informative guide to prevent hearing loss. It traces the root causes of high decibel levels and the consequential high risk associated with headphones use. While it helps better understand the consequences of listening to music too loud for extended periods of one’s life, it does not attempt to understand user motivation or the continued, informed decision surrounding doing so.

This author highlights and explains the anatomy of hearing loss and how damage can occur. The author also provides supplemental quantitative data and illustrations, like highlighting safe decibel levels of normal, everyday auditory practices as well as safe decibel levels for in-ear headphones use. Moreover, the article addresses the music industry and their engagement with occupational noise. Musicians, performers and sound engineers all place themselves at high risks for hearing damage or loss. The article does now, however, go into the underlying social or psychological motivations of continued high-decibel exposure of those working in the industry. In this sense, it only offers a cursory example of a kind of physical and social consequence of in-ear headphones use, rather than studying the affects.

Peng, J., Tao, Z. & Huang, Z. (2006). Risk of Damage to Hearing from Personal Listening       Devices in Young Adults. The Journal of Otolaryngology, Volume 36, Number 3, 2007

This research informs our project of one of the biggest social consequences of in-ear headphones use—hearing loss. It investigates the effects of personal listening device use on hearing in young listeners. Its research project featured a methodology that focused on the conventional frequency audiometry (0.5-8 kHz) and extended high-frequency audiometry (10-20 kHz) by running the two on 120 personal listening devices and their users, as well as and 30 normal-hearing young adults. And the results showed that the hearing thresholds in the 3 to 8 kHz frequency range were significantly increased in the personal listening device listeners. The frequency range of the increased thresholds became broad as the exposure duration was increased. Impaired hearing was detected in 14.1% (34 of 240 ears) of ears (> 25 dB HL in one or more frequencies in 0.5-8 kHz). The hearing thresholds of extended high-frequency audiometry in personal listening device users could also be increased even if their hearing thresholds in conventional frequency audiometry were normal. These results suggest that long-term use of personal listening devices can impair hearing function. The data also indicate that extended high-frequency audiometry is a sensitive method of early detection of noise-induced hearing loss, which is useful knowledge for the new generation of young people who frequently play their in-ear audio at such high volumes.

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