The European Union has ordered MP3 and mobile phone makers to turn down the volume on their must-have gagdets, warning on the risk of deafness to millions of teenagers.
Meglena Kuneva, who heads the European Commission's consumer protection unit, proposed new rules aimed at preventing teenagers from cranking up music volumes to dangerous levels.
AdvertisementShe said some music players can batter eardrums like the roar of a jet airplane taking-off and gave manufacturers two years to come up with solutions to a growing problem facing some 10 million Europeans.
As a first step, new devices would be changed to cap the sound levels as soon as buyers take them out of their wrappers, with a setting of 80 decibels built in as default. A normal conversation is 60 decibels.
"It can take years for the hearing damage to show, and then it is simply too late," Kuneva said in a statement. "These standards make small technical changes to players so that by default, normal use is safe.
"If consumers chose to over-ride the default settings they can, but there will be clear warnings so they know the risks they are taking."
Global sales of all makes of digital music players are expected to jump to nearly one billion units a year in 2009, researchers have found.
But current European standards do not impose maximum volume levels on manufacturers, only that warnings should be included in instruction manuals.
France has introduced a limit of 100 decibels already above the workplace threshold under international health and safety norms.
At 85 decibels, little above the equivalent of nearby road traffic, workers should be issued with ear protection.
Hearing damage is not limited to deafness, the commission warned.
It also cited "a resulting inability to hear certain sounds..., difficulties understanding speech in noisy environments, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hypersensitivity to loud sounds."
Kuneva said she would like maximum levels pegged at 80 decibels, although the risk of damage is not just triggered by volume, but also how long people spend listening.
Welcoming the two-year timeframe for proposals from her industry, Bridget Cosgrave of Digital Europe said modern city life also creates a noise hazard.
But for older commuters, the commission's drive will come as a blessing.
"Hopefully it will reduce the number of times we have to listen to the din of someone else's personal stereo on the bus or the tube," said Malcolm Harbour, chairman of the European parliament's consumer protection committee.
Meanwhile, Kuneva also warned that iPhones will be taken off the market if national authorities find manufacturing faults lie behind mystery screen 'explosions'.
"If goods are dangerous, then we will order a recall," she said.
Kuneva has received complaints from Britain, France and Germany, where labs are investigating.