Apple Health Headphone Audio Exposure Notifications are Not Accurate and How to Defeat Them

Have you been caught out by the headphone audio exposure notifications that were made mandatory by Apple in iOS 14.2? I have, frequently. I’ve messed probably every conceivable setting to try and disable this setting but there is no way around it.
• Settings app > Sound & Haptics > Toggle off headphone notifications
• Settings app > Privacy > Health > Headphone Audio Levels > Until I delete (or for 8 days)
[Note the 8 days, notifications are based on measurements every 7 days
– so you’re screwed either way]
• Settings app > Screen Time > Content and Privacy > Reduce Loud Sounds
• Health app > Headphone Audio Levels > Data Sources and Access > Disable iPhone
[You cannot disable your iPhone as a source!]

If you can think of it Apple have prevented it. Unless you jailbreak I guess. But I want to present you with some options below that don’t require a jailbreak.

I’d like to begin by stating that in my opinion this could be regarded as a worrying privacy intrusion. All audio that is streamed through your headphones is being monitored by the Health app in order to take these measurements and there is no option to disable this monitoring. I can disable access to just about all sensitive data on my iPhone but not headphone audio. So that will include every phone call made on an iPhone. From a privacy standpoint it is worrying that the manufacturer that has set itself up as the privacy-centric manufacturer has the mandatory audio monitoring with no opt out.

I attempted to challenge this mandatory monitoring with their customer support but was unsuccessful. Thus privacy minded iPhone users may be compelled to migrate to an Android or other platform in order to mitigate against this privacy violation. For now I am not compelled, but this is definitely a negative against Apple in my view.

Secondly the mechanism for making these calculations is based on faulty logic. Apple have assumed that audio levels calculated at the phone prior to coming out of the headphone speakers is a correct value – it isn’t. I have a video to prove it below. It is possible to see the iPhone’s calculations live in Control Centre: enable the Hearing widget in Control Centre settings, play music through audio device (Bluetooth or wired), open Control Centre and 3D Touch the Hearing widget. There it shows the calculated volume. But what if that is compared that to the measured volume coming out of the audio device? In the video you can see dramatically different volumes. The iPhone calculations are consistently higher than what’s measured actually coming out of the headphones. Thus the headphone exposure notifications are triggered based on incorrect data. In the video you can see the calculated value exceeding measurement by 10 dB tipping the exposure into a different categorisation (based on Health app’s categories). In order to retain safe listening the Health app requires a reduction in listening time by a factor of 10 (40 hours reduced to 4 hours)! This is another reason why these are unacceptable.

Apple’s measurements are not accurate

Apple have also misunderstood these measurements for two further reasons:

  1. Many audio devices – headphones and speakers – have their own independent volume control, so what is measured by the iPhone is not the volume coming out of the speaker.
  2. Listening on speakers is different to listening via headphones from a hearing health perspective: headphones play directly into your ears; speakers do not.
    This mechanism is therefore rife with invalid assumptions and inaccurate data.

But now onto some work arounds ➝ how can we defeat these exposure notifications?

Method 1: The manual method

The audio exposure notifications are based on measurement data that is stored in the Health app. Thankfully you still retain control over that data, enough control to DELETE it. So that’s what you do: go to Health app > Browse (bottom right of screen) > Hearing > Headphone Audio Levels > Scroll right down to Show All Data > Now delete every entry there.

Now the Health app will start collecting data from a blank sheet. You need to repeat this process regularly to prevent the recorded audio exposure reaching the limit that triggers an exposure notification. Hence this method is the easiest in some ways but it is tedious.

Method 2: Use a Shortcut

This method is my favourite by far. I like this method for two reasons: it is semi-automated and it is funny.

Video demonstration of the Negative dB Shortcut

Unfortunately Shortcuts cannot delete data from Apple Health! Big oversight IMO. But, and this is the funny bit, it can add negative audio exposure values to the Health app! I know that is very odd, but let’s be thankful that Apple have dropped the ball here because we are going to exploit it.

There’s more than one way to go about using negative audio exposure to reduce your average exposure, for instance you could add negative values over an arbitrary period of time (like several days for example) to ensure you never need to worry about your average getting too high, or (the method I’ll outline below) record negative exposure values for the same duration as your actual exposure over the last seven days. I’ll explain the latter method.

The Shortcut that I’ve made grabs all audio exposure samples from Health over the last seven days. Then it loops through each sample and gets the start time and duration of the sample. It then creates a new sample with the same start and end times and a value of -100 dB. This way, every positive sample is offset by -100 dB, this takes my average exposure down to ~0% every time I run the Shortcut. Next I link this Shortcut to a Bluetooth automation. I already had an automation linked to whenever my Bluetooth speaker is connected which launches Spotify. So I simply added a new action to run the Negative dB Shortcut to the existing automation. Now whenever I connect my Bluetooth speaker by Health audio samples over the last seven days are offset (average exposure reduced to ~0%) giving me enough time to listen unhindered and then Spotify is launched.

If the Shortcut is run within seven days multiple -100 dB samples are recorded per positive sample, but I don’t really care about that, in fact it should help to keep the average exposure right down. This isn’t full proof: a particularly long session of listening via the speaker could still exceed the average exposure, however, this method will still delay that intrusion.

If you want to get my Shortcut without having to make it yourself just use this link:

Update, Method 3: iOS 14.4

iOS 14.4 now includes an option to customise the type of your Bluetooth devices. Go into Bluetooth settings in the Settings app and tap into the device information page (i) to see an option to change the type of device. Change your speakers to speaker, car stereo dongles to car stereo etc, this ought to prevent them counting against your audio exposure in Health.

You can also now rename devices to custom names in the same pane.

I hope that the methods above help you retain some sanity in this unacceptable intrusion made by Apple. If you need any support getting this set up then drop me a message in the comments below or contact me at my website: