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Deaf Sound Engineer


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Hi all


So now I'm tackling deafness from a different angle... One of my engineers has recently been tested and found he has a major deficiency in his mid-to-high range. I'm still fishing for more precise information as to what kind of loss and what the suspected cause might be. He's a mid-30's single male, without the usual penchants for rock 'n' roll, clubbing or other noisy activities. And he's not a pro engineer either - his only sound experience (so far as I'm aware) comes from volunteering with us on a twice-monthly basis.


This obviously brings some issues. Those of us running larger teams never want to lose valued members, and to date I've had no problem with his work or his attitude. He's obviously now lacking confidence, so there are some questions coming out of this:


  • Is it realistic for someone with a significant hearing loss at specific frequencies to continue work as a live sound engineer?
  • Is there a chance (assuming the loss isn't total) that they can train their "ear" based on what they can hear?
  • Assuming there is room for manoeuvre, What could be done to increase the guy's confidence?
  • What adaptations could we reasonably make to allow him to continue in his role?


Something to ponder on at any rate - and I'm really interested to hear other's thoughts and experiences on this one!


C :)

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It really shouldn't cause TOO much trouble at all, though it will take a fair bit of work to get around the problem.


If they can hear anything at all either with or without some form of assistance such as a hearing aid(s) then providing that the sound they hear is in some way proportional to that of what other people hear there is no reason whatsoever why this person cannot carry on engineering.



If you imagine those horrible horrible gigs where there is simply no practical or even safe way to setup a desk at FOH and you are stuck mixing from the side of the stage.

The sound is indeed very different and what you hear there is different to what you hear out front, where the audience are. The key is to mix indirectly. You know how you want it to sound, so you get that sound out front and then you listen to how it sounds in your mix position. Very similar (although generally less drastic) Principles apply if you're shoved under a balcony in the corner, or up in a box 15 feet in the air.


When you have your good mix out front that you want, you know what you are aiming for. Perhaps it will sound too loud in your mix position. Perhaps far too much sub, perhaps the vocals will sound rather dull (most likely) but you know that this is fine out front, so this is the sound you aim to keep throughout the show.



It takes some getting used to and it's not easy.



If you're hard of hearing you can use this same method (all be it a few subtle changes). The subtle difference is that they may need to take some time with the help of someone else to work out how the sound is different so they can mix accordingly



All in all, I don't see any major problem at all with it. It just requires some time and some effort and basic training of their ears to improve the sound. Once they've established the variance between what they hear and what everyone else hears on average (remember we all hear things differently anyway there are likely people with much worse hearing in the audience) then there is nothing to stop them mixing.


I find they become very focussed on the job, and from a couple of cases I know become extremely good (rarely matchable) engineers.





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I think the fact that he's now aware of it is a major bonus. I've been around other experienced engineers who, from the sound of their mixes, seem likely to be lacking some sensitivity around 3 - 4k, which they compensated for with the way they mixed which made for a really unpleasantly piercing sound. I assumed that it must have sounded fine to them though.
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I've been to a couple of gigs in the last few years where it has been painfully obvious that the FoH engineer had no idea what their mix really sounded like. You could have used either to peel paint at 100m. In one case, the guy was kicked-back, just watching, with a smile on his face from a job well done. The audience's ears were bleeding.


At the second, a festival, all was well for the first two days. Lateish on Friday the headline act reprised their seminal album from many years ago. I suspect that they dragged their engineer of the period out too.


So, the answer looks like "maybe", depending on skill, determination, willingness to listen to others views on what he's doing, and the level of damage.

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I'm sure Simon Lewis will be along soon!


Someone called?!


As others have indicated, it depends upon a) the degree of hearing loss b) the type of hearing loss c) the extent of other related hearing disorders and d) the time 'history' over which the loss has occured.


Many of us have some degree of hearing loss, but it is either too small to make a difference, or we employ coping strategies - or we just don't notice it! As the hearing loss becomes more acute, our ability to listen accurately diminishes.

Many people have some degree of high frequency hearing loss, and will see this increase with increasing age. This is presbycusis, and is the reason why fast food outlets can put almost ultrasonic devices outside their shops to deter evil malingering teenagers ;-) However, some loss of very high frequencies isn't likely to affect a mix too much. If a person suffers from Noise Induced Hearing Loss, then damage will have been caused either through impulse sound or exposure to sustained periods of loud sound. This manifests itself in a characteristic dip in the hearing response between ~ 3 - 6kHz. This dip recovers on the high frequency side (unless there is rampant presbycusis!). Depending upon the depth of this notch and whether the suffering is aware of it will dictate whether they can allow for this dip, or whether they turn up the EQ to compensate for what they think is a deficient sound system.


Alongside NIHL, there may be a loss of discrimination (the ability to distinguish wanted sounds and speech from noise).


A sound engineer with some degree of loss would need to ensure that he or she can compare what they mix with a known (well mixed) piece on a 'reference' system, and may well benefit from using a sound level meter at FOH to provide an indication of actual level.


If hearing loss has occurred over a long period, then the person may well have developed some degree of compensation or adjustment. If it has happened fairly quiockly, or if temporary threshold shift has occurred, then the engineer may not be aware of the loss and mix badly... If there is a complete loss at specific frequencies, then they just have to mime ;-)




edited to make sense...

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Firstly, as I've always admitted, I'm not a Sound Engineer: I'm just a jack-handy that loves to work with theatre sound B-)


I have tinnitus, which can be a right pain, but I've learned to live with it (as if there's a choice).


I've just finished providing sound for a panto (My first year with them) & comments varied from "Best show for years" to " I could hear every word; never had that before".


The FoH position was horrible - 14' up right in the corner of roof & back wall, which overemphasised the bass, but I compensated by doing as I always do: I asked people sat in various parts of the room, both when empty & full throughout rehearsals, how the sound was & kept tweaking until the comments were, more or less, favourable: It works for me.


My major problem is that I don't always hear feedback early enough, so I always have the lampies "spotting" for me.



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<<--- is mild tinnitus at 21 years old a bad sign? <_<


Sorry Merv, it was for me


First noticed it after gigs, back in the 60's & it's got steadily worse each year since, not helped by a lifetime in heavy industry.


The good side is I learned to live with it - the bad is that I can't hear a conversation in a Pub etc. It's like being in a tank of water when there's any background noise.

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  • 2 years later...

I too have terrible tinnitus (in my left ear), the cause of which was a type of brain tumour called an acoustic neuroma (or formerly called vestibular schwanoma). If your tinnitus has come on suddenly then it's likely nerve damage due to something similar. Or, in some cases, stress related. Then of course there's tinnitus caused by noise. best to get it looked at.


I also have tinnitus (of a different 'pitch') in my right ear. This was caused by head trauma and appeared the following day after brain surgery.


I sympathise with you palantir - I also find being in social situations very difficult a much as love being out. It can be quite alienating, subtle nuances are missed, humour goes over my head etc etc.

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Re the OP!


The engineer has mixed well for a while I assume and obviuosly you were satisfied enough to retain them on the phone list, SO their work quality needn't be different after a hearing test. Sadly their confidence may be so dented that they don't return to work though. Having a hearing test hasn't caused the hearing loss, just identified it.

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I was once doing house monitors for a band that 2 days earlier in the tour had a deaf monitor guy. Totally deaf according to the band. The day after the house engineer was apparently worse than the deaf guy.so some people seem to make it work somehow.
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I'm 50, so I have Simon's age related loss (never knew it had a proper name!) and playing a test tone at 15K from this laptop makes my son in the same room scream, and I cannot hear anything at all. 14K is there loud and clear. I've compensated a little by deciding to ease off slightly from my personal preferred setting of the HF, on the assumption that if I think the cymbals sound right, they're probably not - and asking the younger people if they feel the metalwork is a bit 'sharp' usually gets a nod. Dropping it back a little until they think it sounds ok mean I've got a pretty good handle on what they think it sounds like - even if to me it's a tad dull.


I have started paying much more attention to what I inflict on myself too, as I've got the start of tinnitus in my left ear - but I think I've probably done quite well.



One warning - don't use re-salvaged blue tack as a solution to having no plugs. It works really well, is quite comfy, and has given me a rather unpleasant ear infection - which I suspect may have kicked the tinnitus off. I've had the infection 3 times now, and it always comes back worse.


I've given this subject much thought recently, and I suspect before long, I'll shift back to lighting. I've spent all today on a location recording job, wearing headphones. It's been hot and unpleasant. I can still do this effectively - but I'm slightly worried that some of the harmonics I hear as the piano dies away on the final loud chord are not coming from the piano at all, but are the product of the piano's overtones and my tinitus? Anybody know if this can actually happen? It seems logical for some strange mixing to take place - but can a real frequency from an instrument actuall do the sum and difference thing with a phantom tone produced by your own ear - I don't know if tinnitus actually generates the tones we hear, or just produces the nerve stimulation that a real not would? So can mixing take place? Today, the pianist - a very good one with perfect pitch, could not detect what I could hear, even when we both had out heads in the piano and I waved my had as the 'new' unwanted pitch emerged.

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Ref your questions. I believe you need to know a bit more about your colleague's condition before you could make any decisions on his ability to mix your shows.


It must be devastating for a young person (relative to me anyway) to learn of an hearing impediment which might seriously affect his enjoyment of his "hobby" and possibly self worth. No wonder his confidence is taking a beating. It would be a LOT worse if he earned his living mixing.


If he can be open with yourself with the prognosis he has been given then you can research the subject or perhaps have a natter with your own GP for more gen (if he wants to help of course) or possibly an occupational therapist. You may want to know if your colleague has been advised not to continue with sound mixing, which would obviate a difficult choice you may have to make.


There are thousands of hits on google relating to sound impairment in the workplace but from the angle that sound in the workplace caused the hearing impairment. There seems to be precious little info about how non work related sound impairment can affect a person in a craft such as sound mixing, or being a musician.


Hopefully his condition is only transitory and is merely the symptom of something else, which can be cured easily. The rub is, and doubtless you have considered this too, is that if the impairment becomes worse.


The acid test is to listen to his mixing and see how it sounds to you and rest of your staff. If he overcompensates to the discomfort of the audience then he could be helped to set the levels by a spotter, or even, as mentioned earlier, as a last resort learn to rely on a decent sound meter which can be set to be frequency selective.


I suspect however you would be be wise to practice the "...sorry old chap, but owing to your condition we will have to let you go..." speech.


There again, and looking on the bright side (pun intended) you might inquire if he has considered being a lampy. Might do wonders for his self esteem (the loss of which itself is a cause of hearing loss) and if he's a good bloke then he's got to be worth your asking...




A concurrent post has been automatically merged from this point on.


PS. Obviously this thread started a while ago and the above answers are probably no longer relevant in this particular instance.


Still it would be pretty unique if YOU were the only person with this problem.

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