I always know commuting is not a fun thing, but since I have worked from home last several years, I had started to forget just how lousy it is: cramped conditions, awful smells, late services, and cranky passengers. Plus, you never forget the first (or last) time you end up with your face in a fellow commuter’s armpit on the UK’s London Underground service.
I didn’t realize how dangerous the commuting noise can be to your hearing— at least not until I started wearing an Apple Watch Series 7, that is, which is single-handedly making me aware of just how precious my hearing health is.
Here’s how the Apple Watch, with a little help from the Noise app and Apple’s Health tracking app, is helping me protect my ears.
The screech of the Jubilee line
I’d always had my suspicions that the London Underground was a dangerously noisy way to travel. I’m familiar with the loud noises; I’ve spent years in front of guitar amps in bands, have been down the front at hundreds of gigs, and love to be close enough to a club’s speakers to feel the sound waves.
So I can say my tolerance for noise has always been pretty high. But there was something about London’s Jubilee line, the most convenient route for my journey from South East London into iMore’s Central London office, that always worried me.
It didn’t just rattle along, it absolutely screeched at some points on the route where the train’s metal wheels hit curves in the metal track. Other passengers will visibly wince and put their fingers in their ears. I would envy the oversized ear protectors for toddlers. This is not only uncomfortable but distressing.
I’ve not long had one of the best Apple Watches, but I found it worthy when I use the noise monitoring app. Just opening the app within seconds, my suspicions were confirmed — riding the tube gets so loud, it’s dangerous, and the Apple Watch proved it.
How Noise App On Apple Watch Helps You
The noise app is a piece of cake. Click on its icon, which looks like a yellow ear, and enable its monitoring permissions. That’s it – the watch’s microphone will now scan the sound levels around you, notify you when they reach dangerous ranges, and optionally send you a notification to be careful if things get too extreme. This also includes audio played from headphones, such as Apple’s noise-canceling AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. The Noise app keeps no records, so your privacy is protected, but the data collected is transferred to your iPhone’s Health app so you can track long-term trends.
I was shocked to see the results. The apple detects my regular commuting noise, the Apple Watch is always higher than 90 decibels (dB) — which Apple likens to sitting on a motorbike — with a peak of 110 dB recorded. For reference, this is the equivalent of being at a rock concert and something that you shouldn’t experience for more than four minutes over any seven-day period.
If this happens frequently, permanent hearing damage may result. It’s unlikely to be fixed anytime soon, as service operator Transport for London has previously admitted there are no legal limits on the amount of noise and vibration that existing railways can generate.
Do you know how accurate is the Apple Watch when it comes to monitoring? Well, it’s very accurate, according to this in-depth assessment from TheNoiseChap.com, with the Watch readings staying within 2 to 3 dB of a pro-grade, standalone noise meter device. The same assessment makes a good point — the Apple Watch only measures “quick response,” showing you the noise level for a given second, rather than showing its noise warning as an average. Prolonged exposure to high sound levels is most damaging.
My Apple watch always warns that the sounds are above 100dB on my transportation way — This is what a journey I must have twice a working day. Obviouly, the risks I was exposing my ears to.
That’s hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds: it’s basically irreversible. Once the damage is done to the tiny fibers that line your ears and aid your hearing, it’s done forever. Hearing aids may help in some cases, but without the amplification device, the frequencies and whispers you could hear before will never return.
The Noise app and its accompanying Health app data are now staples on my commute in the same way that my Pocket read later app and Kindle app are. It’s taught me the noisiest stages of the Jubilee line track (between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich are particularly bad, if you’re wondering), and I prepare in kind with ear defenders or my favorite noise-canceling headphones when those stretches are reached. I haven’t always been the smartest when it comes to protecting my hearing over the years, but I’d be damned if the smelly train on my way to work was between me and hearing my favorite songs for years to come . Here’s hoping the feature returns even better for the new Apple Watch Series 8.