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Apple's iPods Go Quiet in Europe


Nanny state thinks it knows what's best for your ears.

Tsk tsk, volume abusers. In between tucking in your shirt and wiping the dirt from your face with a saliva-soaked thumb, the European Union has noticed that you might be setting your MP3 player just a tad too loud. So they're gonna go ahead and limit that for ya.

In strict accordance with the "If it's too loud, you're too old" mantra, 52-year-old Meglena Kuneva -- the EU's Consumer Affairs Commissioner -- said that the division will be drafting an industry-wide ordinance to limit the default volume on digital music devices sold in Europe. And since the standards will apply to all players, companies like Sony (S), Panasonic (PC), and of course Apple (AAPL) will have to readjust the settings on their popular MP3 devices.

In addition to the default settings, a health warning will be displayed when the user chooses to override the default maximum volume settings -- a guilt trip worthy of a long-distance phone call from your mother reminding you to wear your jacket.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Kuneva said she hopes that this initiative will limit the cases of hearing loss with younger patients. "If you want to enjoy your favorite songs in 20 or 30 years time, turn the volume down," Kuneva said in defiance of personal responsibility.

An EU scientific body stated that among the estimated 50 to 100 million Europeans enjoying their iPods and Zunes (MSFT) on a daily basis, up to 10 million are risking permanent damage by blasting Pete Townsend solos far too loud. The group warned that levels in excess of 89 decibels for a period of one hour a day could result in tinnitus or irreparable hearing loss after five years of regular use.

As it stands, maximum volume for MP3 players range roughly between 80 and 115 decibels, the EU's executive commission said. With internal earbuds and special headphones, the volume could potentially exceed 120 decibels, or the equivalent to the roar of an airliner during take off. The new standard -- which, Kuneva stressed, can be adjusted -- will be placed at 80 decibels, or the equivalent to a busy city street.

Apple is all too familiar with the volume output standards in Europe. Back in 2002, Apple was forced to pull the iPod from shelves in France because the device was capable of producing levels louder than 100 decibels -- the level a French law has regulated for all its players.

This current EU proposal continues the government's – particularly in the UK -- trend of regulating matters that ought to be maintained at one's discretion. Between trans fats, motorcycle helmets, and the overabundance of closed-circuit cameras, they're the political equivalent of helicopter parents, instilling the growth of vulnerability and subservience within the public mindset.

Of course, adults should be left to decide how loud their music should be -- as long as their next door neighbors don't have to hear it -- but what about the younger set? Shouldn't they be guided to make the responsible decision and prolong their hearing?

Well, considering that the default level can be readily adjusted, it's safe to assume the teens who have the know-how to download an album from BitTorrent and sync it with their iPod are also able to navigate to the MP3 player's settings and boost the maximum level -- thus completely negating this EU proposal by the very demographic they're trying to "help."

It's a curious push -- one that conjures more "Nanny State" allegations than its lack of totality and effectiveness dictates -- but the public should always be wary of what the government is attempting to regulate "in their best interest." The majority of music fans wouldn't have appreciated a meddling buttinsky telling them their music is far too loud.

Except for maybe the aforementioned Pete Townsend.
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