The volume of the sound produced by headphones turned up to the maximum can exceed 100 decibels (dB), which is enough to cause serious damage to your ears. According the NHS, an MP3 player on loud produces 112 dB of noise, which is more than a nightclub and almost as much as a chainsaw.
A good rule of thumb is to never listen to headphones at over 60% of their maximum volume. However, if you’re listening to music on a bus, train or other noisy environment it’s tempting to turn the volume up louder.
If you find yourself having to turn your headphones up past 60% of their maximum volume it might be a good idea to buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will block out external noises allowing you to listen to music at a safer volume.
Best Headphones to Prevent Hearing Damage
Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones
Bose was the world’s first company to release a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to the consumer market in 1989. Since then the company have continued to lead the market in noise-cancelling consumer audio products.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are one of the post popular and well regarded noise-cancelling headphones on the market today. They offer the exceptional sound quality Bose are known for with the addition of Bluetooth and NFC so they can be used wirelessly. You can also plug them into your phone or MP3 player using the audio cable provided.
As well as listening to music, you can use the Bose QuietComfort 35 to take hands-free calls using its built-in microphone. However, the noise-cancelling technology means you might end up speaking louder than normal as you won’t be able to hear your own voice so well.
These headphones have a built-in USB-chargeable battery which is more convenient than having to replace or recharge an AA battery as in previous models.
These headphones are expensive, but they’re arguably the best you can get.
Pros and cons
Sony MDR-1000X Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones
These headphones are often considered the main rivals to the Bose QuietComfort 35s reviewed above. They have a very similar list of features and perform almost identically when it comes to noise cancellation.
The right ear pad has touch-sensitive controls that let you play, pause and skip tracks and adjust the volume without needing to keep getting your phone or MP3 player out.
The sound quality on these headphones is excellent. There’s a good level of bass and you can also hear a lot of detail in the mid and upper ranges.
The earpads have a synthetic leather covering which looks classy and luxurious but isn’t very durable. The headband is also prone to cracking, which is disappointing for a product at this price point.
Pros and cons
Sony h.ear on MDR-100ABN Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphones
Like the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones reviewed above, these noise-cancelling headphones from Sony are wireless and use NFC and Bluetooth to connect with your phone and other devices. You can also use Bluetooth for hands-free calling using the built-in microphone.
These headphones have an attractive design and come in a choice of colours. You also get a useful carrying case to keep them clean and safe. They’re also very comfy to wear.
One issue with these headphones is that they don’t deal well with the sound of wind, which can create a whooshing noise when using active noise cancellation.
The sound quality on these headphones is good, but you might find there isn’t enoguh bass. If you’re a real audiophile you will probably prefer the sound of the Bose QuietComfort 35s.
Pros and cons
About Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Do noise-cancelling headphones protect your hearing?
It’s important to realise that while noise-cancelling headphones are generally better for your ears than regular headphones or earphones, you can still damage your hearing if you use them to listen to music at high volumes.
Noise-cancelling headphones can protect your hearing by avoiding the need to turn up the volume to a dangerous level to block out external noises. The NHS recommends using noise-cancelling headphones over earbuds or regular headphones as they allow you to listen to music at a lower volume.
Noise-cancelling headphones vs. ear defenders
While both noise-cancelling headphones and ear defenders are designed to reduce the volume of external noises, they are fundamentally different products.
If you want to protect your hearing from very loud noises such as gunshot or aircraft taking off, you should buy some specially designed ear defenders rather than relying on noise-cancelling headphones which won’t offer the same level of protection.
However, if your main aim is to listen to music and the sounds you’re hoping to block out aren’t excessively loud, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones will suit you much better.
Some products such as radio ear defenders combine the functions of ear defenders and headphones. You can also be creative and combine ear defenders with earbuds as described here.
How do noise-cancelling headphones work?
Noise-cancelling headphones work in one of two ways:
- Active noise-cancelling headphones work by picking up the sounds around you through a microphone and then producing a sound wave which is the acoustic opposite of the noise around you, which acts to mask it. The two waves physically oppose one another, cancelling each other out. These headphones require a power source to work.
- Passive noise-cancelling headphones block out sound physically using thick ear cups. They work in a very similar way to passive ear defenders.
Are noise-cancelling headphones safe?
Noise-cancelling headphones can make you less aware of what’s going on around you. It’s not recommended to wear noise-cancelling headphones when driving or doing anything else where you need to be aware of your surroundings.