Apple's iOS 14.4 update promises better hearing protection from wireless headphones

apple airpods max
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has launched the latest operating system update for its iPhones, iOS 14.4 – and it comes with a nifty way for music fans to protect their hearing health while using wireless headphones.

If you upgrade to iOS 14.4, you'll be able to tell your iPhone what kind of third-party wireless audio device is connected to your phone, whether its a pair of wireless headphones, a Bluetooth speaker, a hearing aid, or a car stereo system.

Choosing 'headphones' from the options allows your iPhone to monitor the volume level of your music more accurately, sending you an alert if you listen at a level that could damage your hearing.

However, your iPhone won't alert you if you're listening at high volume levels on a Bluetooth speaker for example, as its less likely to cause damage than a pair of headphones. This is particularly useful for in-ear headphones, which can be up to 9dB louder than over-ear headphones at the same device volume, due to the proximity of the drivers to your eardrums.

To enable the new feature, you just need to go to Settings > Bluetooth, and select the type of audio device you're listening with.

iOS 14.4 is available to download on iPhones around the world right now. Not every iPhone can get iOS 14, but the compatibility list has not changed from iOS 13: if your phone is the iPhone 6S (from 2015) or later, you'll get the update.

Hearing matters

The ability to monitor volume levels and send alerts originally landed with iOS 14.2, but being able to tell your iPhone what kind of device you're listening with is a handy feature that could help you to better protect your ears.

With the rise in popularity of wireless earbuds in particular, looking after your hearing health is more important than ever.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to a billion young people are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, with nearly 50% of teenagers and young adults in particular being exposed to unsafe levels of sound from personal audio devices.

This type of hearing loss results from damage caused to the inner ear by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise, in particular through earphones like the Apple AirPods due to their proximity to the inner ear when worn. 

Action on Hearing Loss describes these unsafe levels of sound as being over over 80bB in volume, with many headphones having the ability to produce levels far in excess of this.

If you're very concerned about your hearing health, you can buy headphones that come with built-in volume limits.

The Puro Pro wireless headphones for example, limit volume to 85dB and arrive with two levels of adjustable active noise cancellation (ANC). This works to digitally block outside noise, meaning you don't need to raise the volume to compete with whatever racket is bothering you.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.