Do Noise Canceling Headphones Damage or Protect Hearing?

Whether noise-canceling headphones damage, protect, or do nothing to your hearing depends on how you use them and the circumstances in which you are listening. These headphones can still cause hearing damage or protect your ears from outside noises. 

This post will explore if noise-canceling headphones damage or protect hearing. I’ll explore this topic in-depth to give you a good understanding of how noise-canceling headphones work and what you can expect relating to your hearing when using them. 

Let’s dig in. 

Key Takeaways

  • Noise-canceling headphones do not inherently hurt or harm your hearing. This depends on how you use the headphones. 
  • Noise-canceling headphones can damage your hearing if you listen to loud music, just like any other type of headphones. 
  • They can also protect your hearing by blocking out loud, potentially damaging noises in your surroundings, but they don’t entirely function as hearing protectors. 
  • Proper use of noise-canceling headphones will help promote healthy hearing, but this is true with any headphones. 

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Damage or Protect Hearing? 

This question comes up often for anyone who has never used noise-canceling headphones or is just starting to use them. Since it’s a newer technology, people aren’t always as familiar with it. 

Noise-canceling headphones will not damage or protect hearing on their own. These headphones are not designed to protect your ears. But they also aren’t designed to hurt them either. 

Even though noise-canceling headphones have the ability to block out extra noise to give you a better listening experience, they are still safe to wear. But just like with any type of headphones, you need to know how to use them safely for them to be safe. 

Noise-canceling headphones pose the same risk of hearing damage as any other type of headphone. If you listen to really loud music often with them, you have the potential to damage your hearing in the long run. 

With this in mind, the best school of thought is not to max out the volume of your noise-canceling headphones when using them. This will prevent them from reaching the high volumes needed to cause permanent damage. 

But it’s also important to know that noise-canceling headphones won’t protect your ears either. They might block out some outside noise, but they aren’t official hearing protection that you can count on to lower extremely loud noises. 

Some people think that noise-canceling headphones can operate as a replacement for protection hearing headsets or earplugs. They do not. They might block out some noise, but you should never count on them for real protection.

Do Noise Canceling Headphones Protect Hearing while Mowing? 

If you are doing an activity that generates a lot of noise, like mowing the lawn, you should always wear ear protection. Noise-canceling headphones do provide a level of protection while mowing, but not as much as actual hearing protection. 

And if you listen to loud music while you are mowing to drown out the sound of the mower, you aren’t protecting your ears at all. You still need to ensure that you keep the volume at a decent level if you want to protect your hearing in the long run. 

This advice applies to other situations and activities where you might be around loud noises. Noise-canceling headphones can assist you with making things seem quieter and offer a degree of hearing protection. 

But if you turn up the music loud, all of those benefits go out the window. You need to keep things at a lower level if you want the most protection as possible. And wearing actual hearing protection is the best option to protect hearing. 

Wearing Noise Canceling Headphones All Day

You can safely wear noise-canceling headphones all day. Some people do this if they work in a loud environment and want to listen to music and get some level of hearing protection. Other people like to wear them for long periods when traveling. 

Regardless of why you choose to wear noise-canceling headphones all day, you shouldn’t have any issues with doing so as long as you keep the volume at a decent level. If you have the headphones turned up loud all day, that can cause hearing damage. 

Wearing any type of headphones for long periods can lead to discomfort, which is true with noise-canceling options. Your ears might get sore, and you might experience some pain on your head. 

How long it takes to experience this discomfort varies from person to person. It might take an hour or two or only happen after a full day of use. But if you take the headphones off and let your head and ears rest, you shouldn’t have any long-term issues. 

Do Noise Canceling Airpods Protect Hearing? 

Noise-canceling AirPods don’t protect hearing as much as real earplugs or other protective headwear. You do get some level of protection when using them, but not enough to be a substitute in intense situations. 

Over-the-ear style headphones will give you more hearing protection in most situations because this blocks out more sound coming in from whatever source. But even these won’t protect you from very loud noises. 

And you still don’t want to keep the volume up really loud on AirPods, or else you’ll run into the same issues you do when listening to any other type of headphones loudly. Permanent hearing damage is possible, even with AirPods. 

Do Noise Canceling Headphones Cause Tinnitus? 

Noise-canceling headphones can cause tinnitus if you listen to music at a loud level, but they don’t cause this condition just because they are noise-canceling. Tinnitus can be caused by any exposure to loud noises, no matter the source. 

Some people believe that noise-canceling headphones have the potential to cause an increased chance of tinnitus, but there is no evidence to support this. These headphones can cause the problem, but only with improper use. 

To reduce your chance of developing tinnitus, you need to limit your exposure to loud noises. This might involve listening to your headphones less if you use them often or other measures.   

You can safely listen to music or other audio sources with noise-canceling headphones. Just be sure to keep to volume at a lower to medium level rather than cranking it up all the way. This is important for everyone. 

Not everyone will develop tinnitus at the same rate or because of the same exposure to high volumes. There isn’t a single way to know if you’ll develop the condition, so practicing safe listening is always a good idea. 

Noise Canceling Headphones for Loud Machinery

If you work in or around loud machinery often, you need to wear ear protection. While noise-canceling headphones offer some degree of protection, they are not an entirely effective option for ultimate protection. 

If you work right next to loud machinery all day, you’ll want proper safety equipment to keep your ears in good condition. Using noise-canceling headphones can help a bit, but you’ll still be at risk. 

And these headphones can also give you a false sense of security because they can drown out the noises rather than protect you from them. Keep that in mind if you think they are a good alternative to proper ear protection.

How to Choose the Best Noise-Isolating Headphones

Taking the following factors into account, your decision-making will be much easier.


The main way that noise-isolating headphones work is by fitting so snugly in the ear that it blocks out excess noise. As a result, the fit of the headphones needs to be good in order for them to successfully isolate noise.

If they are too loose or don’t fit the concaves of your ear, they will let sound in. This could quickly ruin your audio experience.

Sound Quality

Like any set of headphones, you want to ensure that your noise-isolating headphones sound good. Sound quality will ensure your music, videos, or whatever else you listen to sound a lot better.

Be sure to check out the reviews of the sound quality of the headphones before you buy them, as there can be a vast difference in quality from pair to pair.


Of course, you also want the headphones you end up purchasing to also be comfortable. If you are wearing them for hours on end, they need to not hurt your head or ears.

Comfortability can include their shape, the material used, their size, their weight, and potentially a variety of other things.

What Are the Best Noise Isolating Headphones?

Here are some of the top recommendations, along with a quick review of each option.

1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

These are a great option from one of the most recognizable names in the space. These headphones offer incredible clarity and are praised by top audio and sound engineers. The ATH-M50x headphones sound great at a large range of different frequencies.

They can be used by anyone from a sound engineer to someone who simply wants to listen to music. Their design contours around the ears well to isolate sound even in louder environments. They are comfortable enough to be used for hours and include swiveling earcups for great versatility.

2. Sennheiser HD 598

The headphones from Sennheiser are full of premium components that allow for impeccable audio. They feature a closed-back and over-ear design for increased isolation, and the leatherette and fabric throughout make them very comfortable to wear.

They come with multiple different cables to help connect you with a number of devices from cell phones to home theater systems. Their “EAR” system (which stands for ergonomic acoustic refinement) provides a high-quality listening experience.

3. Shure SE215-K Sound Isolating Earphones

Unlike the other two mentioned, these are in-ear headphones that still offer great sound and noise isolation.

They are lightweight, feature a strong and durable cable, and are designed to comfortably stay in your ears. They come in numerous sizes to ensure you always get the right fit and get the best isolation possible.

The headphones come with a soft, yet secure, case to keep them from getting tangled in your pocket. Of course, these earbuds also offer high-quality audio and sound, no matter your needs. They are available in both wired and wireless, depending on your unique preferences.

Final Thoughts

Noise-canceling headphones do not harm or help your hearing on their own. The environment and situation you use these in dictates how much damage you might experience, so always use proper protective equipment if you need to. 

These headphones can provide a degree of protection, but less than real hearing protection devices. 

Have you used noise-canceling headphones in loud environments? Have you had any issues with your hearing? Let me know in the comments below.

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