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New standards to limit Apple iPod volume in Europe

Media players like Apple's iPod will be set by default to a new, lower, "safe" volume level in Europe, thanks to a new rule passed by the European Commission Monday.

The new safety standards were approved in an effort to limit hearing loss among users of MP3 players. The executive of the European Union said that the default setting is designed to discourage people from listening to devices at "dangerously high volumes."

A recent study that listening to music on players at high volume over a sustained period can lead to permanent hearing damage, and that 5 percent to 10 percent of listeners, or 10 million people, are at risk.

The rule states that listening at 80 decibels adjusted should not exceed 40 hours per week, while 89 decibels should be limited to 5 hours each week. Settings on devices like iPods will be based on those criteria.

"EU standards are not mandatory, however if the new standard is approved by the European Commission and published in the Official Journal of the European Union, it 'de facto' becomes the industry norm," the commission said. "Products meeting those standards are presumed safe -– otherwise manufacturers have to go through costly independent testing for products. The new safety standards will apply only to future products."

The commission sent a mandate to the European Union's standardization body Monday. It requires that the new technical safety standards be drawn up, and implement the standard "soon."

Under the new rules, higher exposure levels are permitted, but the user must willingly select them after being presented with a warning of the risks and ways to avoid them. How the warnings are provided would be up to the manufacturer, whether it's a label or something that displays on the device's screen. Currently only a warning in the instruction manual is required.

The commission said that most MP3 players have audio at a range of 60 dBA to 120 dBA. Scientists said that hearing loss is not likely below 80 dBA, which is equivalent to someone shouting or traffic noise.

In August, reports of "exploding" iPhones in Europe led the European Commission to weigh in on the matter, prompting an Apple-led investigation. Apple has reported the incidents to the union as "isolated," but will do tests to determine the possible cause.