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Noise-canceling headphones can help prevent hearing loss if you use it properly



  Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Noise-canceling headphones can protect your hearing if you use the right pair at the right time.


Sarah Tew / CNET

Noise-induced hearing loss is a serious threat in today's noisy environments. Bustling city streets, sporting events, concerts, festivals and more expose our delicate ears to dangerously high decibels . The risk of hearing loss increases when you listen to loud music through headphones but what should someone do if it is always so noisy that you constantly have to increase the volume?

You may have considered stopping noise-canceling headphones to end the constant struggle between your headphones and external sounds. By blocking background noise, you can keep the volume of your music or podcast low, which helps protect your hearing. However, they are not always the right answer – read on to find out why.

Passive noise-canceling headphones versus active noise-canceling headphones

Two types of noise-canceling headphones can protect your hearing in two very different ways.

Passive noise canceling headphones (PNC) essentially offer sound isolation through a robust design that blocks your ears from external sounds. PNC headphones usually fit tightly and can feel heavy, but they are effective in drowning out sound – especially explosive transient noises such as gunshots and fireworks, and high-frequency noises, such as those of a baby crying or a dog howling.

Active noise canceling headphones (ANC) use sound matching technology to "erase" external sounds. They work by identifying the pitch of ambient noise in the neighborhood, such as the buzz of a jet engine or the collective buzz of a coffee shop full of people; they are most effective in places where the overall sound and volume remain constant.

ANC headphones require some "rest time" to measure sound waves and then produce suppressive sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase.

Do noise-canceling headphones protect hearing?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones usually protect your ears – both active and passive.

PNC headphones protect your hearing because they are designed to block your ears from loud external noises, especially transient noises such as gunshots or explosions. PNC headphones also provide protection for people who have loud professions but need to communicate, such as pilots or construction workers operating heavy machinery.

ANC headphones protect your hearing to some extent because they reduce the volume at which you listen to music through headphones. Loud music damages the cells of tiny sensory hairs in your inner ear, which help send auditory signals to your brain. The lower the volume, the less potential damage to those cells.

However, ANC headphones do not protect you against sudden, explosive noises because they rely solely on the ANC mechanism and do not provide the protective seal that PNC headphones offer. Headphones that combine PNC structure with ANC technology offer optimum protection in all scenarios.


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Do I need to get passive or active noise-canceling headphones?

If you want to protect your ears against explosive or high-frequency sounds, PNC headphones are the right choice. Because ANC headphones need some time to identify and match external sounds, they are not good at adapting to and protecting against fleeting sounds. However, if you are purely looking for hearing protection, you are probably better off with protective ear protectors.

If you wanted to ward off the constant crowds of public transportation, busy streets and busy offices, you would benefit from ANC headphones. You can significantly reduce your risk of hearing loss due to noise by listening to music at lower volumes, which you can do with ANC headphones.

It is worth noting that headphones with noise reduction are not a good choice to listen to music while exercising outside. In situations where you have to pay attention to your environment – for example cycling in a busy street – you want to follow these tips to stay safe with headphones while running or cycling .


The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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