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

02/10/13 7:28 PM

Music is a large part of everyday life but it may be for almost as long as Humans have been on this earth. I often point to a finding of the 40,000-year-old flute dating back to that ice age as proof for this, but in fact, all the proof you will need is all around you, each day. We remember ballads and music long after the people who 1st composed them have died and rotted away (a plan which I find curiously calming) and the music industry, love it or hate it, is actually a huge business.

On the other hand, whilst the ice age musicians probably survived in a world of stark brutality, frozen, dull wastelands and tough, ‘kill or be killed’ inter-cave politics, they never had 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 deal with all that plus much more, that may make listening to the music not just difficult, but also risky.

Now, though, contemporary science has stumbled across a means in which you’ll be able to still listen to your favorite songs, even when you’re wearing earplugs (no, I have not been sniffing discarded paint cans again). It’s called bone conduction tech and no, despite the marginally odd name, it actually does not harm…

Based on recent fields of study, exposure to any sound over 100 Dbm wears away a film known as a myelin sheath and leaves your inner ear liable to problems like tinnitus and temporary deafness, which can be the beginning of even more important problems. Bone conduction technology has been designed to bypass the most sensitive portions of the ear and reduce the chance of inner-ear harm.

How? Well, in order to know that, we have to first identify with how our ears essentially work. (HERE COMES THE SCIENCE-Y BIT) Basically, noise travels though the air, these sound waves are intercepted by numerous structures in the ear and are ultimately translated and transmitted into our brains (if it helps, imagine it much like the encoding/decoding of digital information, such as that which guides the movements of a wireless mouse).

The sound waves first meet a bit of cartilage (yes, similar stuff a shark’s skeleton is made of), which allows to focus the sound, this is named a pinna (but you are able to call it your outer ear without appearing too silly). 

Subsequently, the sound waves pass into your central ear, this is filled 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 in fact pretty essential to your sense of balance, I’m told). These tiny bones transmit the sound to the cochlea, that’s a fluid-filled infrastructure that ‘encodes’ the indicators for our brain to ‘decode’.

Bone conduction technology vibrates the bones of your skull, distributing the sound directly to the cochlea and bypassing the rest of the ear totally. The nerve impulses transmitted to the brain are precisely the same, but the sensitive mechanism of our ear doesn’t have to deal with the trouble of, to cite Anchorman’s Brick Tamland “LOUD NOISES!”

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

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

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