Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing? (Detailed Answer)

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing? In most cases, a fancy gadget arouses curiosity and desire. Noise-canceling headphones are an excellent example.

Do noise-canceling headphones, on the other hand, protect against hearing loss?

The answer is yes, but not in all circumstances. The environment has become extremely noisy as a result of technological advancements. Prolonged exposure to these sounds, which range from jet engines to vehicles to factory machinery, causes long-term hearing loss.

You know this and you want to do something about it. And then, there is a technology that you have heard about which is noise canceling. There are noise-canceling headphones available on the market but the real question is- Do they protect you from hearing loss?


Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?
Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?

So, Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?

They absolutely do! They can, in fact, do a pretty good job, but not in every situation. Let me explain: there are two types of noise-canceling headphones: passive noise-canceling headphones, which don’t use any kind of power source to block sound and rely solely on the materials they’re made of, and active noise-canceling headphones, which generate sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with the surrounding noises.


As we mentioned above, when we talk of noise-canceling headphones, we are basically talking of two types of headphones; Headphones with passive noise cancellation (PNC) and active noise cancellation (ANC). Both of these headphones now work in a different way.

Passive headphones physically block, reflect, and attenuate sound waves and sound pressure levels through the body of the headphone. Consider earplugs to gain a better understanding of how PNC headphones work.

As you can see, when properly worn, earplugs isolate the eardrum from external noises and sound waves in the environment. The sound waves are reflected or absorbed by the earplugs.

The earplugs do not cancel out all noise, especially if you are in a noisy environment, but they do provide adequate attenuation of the sound pressure on your eardrum. Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, employs active circuitry to generate an “anti-noise” signal on the headphone’s driver that cancels sound waves via phase cancellation.

The headphone circuit includes a microphone that measures external noise, an anti-noise circuit that cancels the actual noise by delaying the noise signal, an amplifier that adjusts the anti-noise signal to match the actual noise, and finally, a summing amp that combines the anti-noise signal with the intended audio.


The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) conducted a study in 2011-12 to investigate the effects of prolonged noise exposure on people in the United States.

The study discovered that 12.5 percent of children aged 6 to 19 years and 17 percent of adults aged 20 to 69 years suffered permanent damage as a result of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Hearing loss caused by exposure to high pitch sounds in everyday life is referred to as NIHL.

I used to work in a profession where I had to deal with aircraft noise on a daily basis, and I can assure you that prolonged exposure to high noise does cause hearing loss in the long run.

Similarly, in other professions or jobs like working in a factory or the railways or a motor garage, people are more prone to hearing loss for which OSHA-approved headphones (my related article) are recommended. Noise-canceling headphones are safe to wear but there are some considerations. 

Alternative Video: Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Your Hearing?

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Your Hearing?


According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss as a result of exposure to harmful levels of sound from personal audio devices and loud venues such as nightclubs and sporting events.

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Noise-canceling headphones eliminate the need to crank up the volume on personal devices to dangerous levels, and they can reduce the amount of noise exposure experienced in noisy environments.


Noise-canceling headphones are categorized into passive and active types.

1. Passive Noise Cancelling

Passive noise-canceling headphones do not use a power source, such as a battery, to block sound. They rely solely on the materials from which they are constructed, such as thick padding.

They function similarly to ear muffs and can be connected to your media player. Normal headphones also block some noise, but they have not considered true noise-canceling headphones.

Active Noise Cancelling

Active noise-canceling headphones produce sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with the surrounding environment. That is, if you are in an airplane, the headphones will produce sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with the jet engine’s sound waves.

The main advantage of having this technology is that you can listen to music at low volumes, whereas normal headphones in a noisy environment require you to crank up the volume.


Noise-canceling headphones can help protect your hearing, but it all depends on the situation. The passive ones will be effective in most situations and will provide some protection in others. Active noise-canceling headphones will also work well in some situations but will not work at all in others.

Soundproofing is analogous to passive noise cancellation. Materials, similar to soundproofing, are used to physically block sound. These headphones are on the heavier side and can be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

Passive noise-canceling headphones will protect your hearing, at least to some extent, during impulsive noises like gunshots and firecrackers.

Active noise-canceling headphones require some “settling time” before they are truly effective. They spend some time measuring the sound waves of external noises in order to generate ones that are 180 degrees out of phase.

As a result, when traveling in an airplane with a constant level of engine noise, these headphones become extremely effective. Active noise-canceling headphones, on the other hand, are ineffective for impulsive noises such as gunshots and firecrackers because they do not work instantly.

How Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?
How Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?


Yes, you can! As a matter of fact, it’s part of the basic gun safety to protect your hearing, and your instructor in your shooting lesson should be able to tell you this. When it comes to sound, we use decibels to measure it (dB).

The normal range of sound for human ears is now somewhere between 0 dB and 100 dB. In fact, 100 dB is a little too loud, but it won’t hurt your ears. However, anything above 100 dB can impair your hearing, and anything above 140 dB can permanently damage your ears.

A gunshot now produces over 150 dB and can easily damage your ears. Given that the vast majority of firearms exceed safe hearing levels, shooting hearing protection devices can and should be used whenever a gun is fired.

No matter the activity – might be target practice, hitting cans, or hunting – you can always protect your ears from the gunshots by wearing noise-canceling headphones. In fact, anyone who uses a gun always wears earplugs, earmuffs, or earphones to protect their ears.

When you fail to protect your ears, you put yourself at risk of developing profound deafness as well as the lifelong misery of tinnitus, along with all the discomfort, dizziness, annoyance, and disorientation that comes with it.

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Gunshots are known in the shooting community to cause deafness as the noise and recoils they subject themselves to gradually assault their ears. Don’t let yourself become one of them! Prioritize safety over everything else.


You should never leave anything to chance when it comes to your hearing. This means you owe it to yourself to learn more about the hearing protection devices you’re about to insert into your ears.

There are noise-canceling headphones and custom hearing protection headphones when it comes to hearing protection devices. These headphones are not the same, and understanding their differences will help you choose the best and most appropriate hearing protection device for your needs.

Noise-canceling headphones operate on both active and passive noise cancellations. The initial padding in the ear cups will provide standard protection for your ears, but the circuitry beneath the caps is what gives these headphones the edge.

Furthermore, the headphones work on the principle that sound waves that are inverted from one another cancel out when added together. Noise-canceling headphones dampen any sound around you, making them more effective if you’re trying to concentrate on work in an airport or simply keep to yourself in a noisy room.

They lack the sophistication of custom hearing devices, as they do not distinguish between loud and quiet sounds. Noise-canceling headphones from Bose, Beats, Sony, and even Apple are designed to isolate you from your surroundings.

Custom hearing protection headphones, on the other hand, work on the principle of passive noise cancellation. This refers to the fact that the design of the ear cups determines the amount of noise that is blocked out.

The shape of the ear cups, as well as how they fit into the user’s ears, are important factors in blocking out as much noise as possible while amplifying smaller sounds around you.

For example, if you’re taking a shooting class to train or get certified, you’ll want to protect your ears from multiple shooters while still being able to hear your instructor’s voice clearly.

Tactical Hearing’s custom hearing protection devices are the perfect solution for that scenario. If you are a hunter, with Tactical’s devices, you will be able to hear and track animals within your vicinity, simultaneously protecting your hearing while shooting your rifle.

Can You Shoot Guns With Noise Cancellation Headphones?
Can You Shoot Guns With Noise Cancellation Headphones?


First and foremost, whether the headphones are passive noise canceling or active noise canceling. They will generally perform well if they are the passive type. Passive noise-canceling headphones are used by airline pilots and provide adequate protection in a variety of situations.

They are effective at isolating low-frequency sound waves but not at protecting against mid and high-frequency sound waves. Active noise-canceling headphones are only effective for consistent noises where the battery power is sufficient to generate the sound pressure that cancels out the effect of ambient noise.

They are ineffective at high pitch noises and sudden transient noises but effective at low frequencies such as engine, generator, and appliance noise. Active noise-canceling headphones are ideal for listening to music at low volume levels. This is also important in terms of ear protection.

If you’re on a bus or train, you’ll need to turn up the volume on your regular headphones. High-volume music listening is another major cause of hearing loss. As a result, active noise cancellation headphones can help protect against hearing loss.


The ones you should choose will be determined by your preferences, as well as the types of noises to which you are exposed and require protection. Active noise-canceling headphones are ideal for daily commuters who use public transportation.

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Passive noise-canceling headphones are ideal for noisy environments such as markets, shooting ranges, and so on, where the high pitch or transient noises render active noise-canceling headphones ineffective.


Earmuffs can provide the same level of hearing protection as passive noise-canceling headphones. Both are effective at blocking out high-frequency noises such as people talking and babies crying. Both will have a negative impact on engine noise and low-frequency bass from speaker systems.

So, if you’re only interested in noise isolation, earmuffs are a better option than spending money on expensive passive noise-canceling headphones.


Aside from the types of noises, they are effective against, there are a few other factors to consider when determining which one is best for you.

Active noise-canceling headphones are more lightweight and comfortable. Passive noise-canceling headphones work by physically blocking sound with the help of construction materials. As a result, they are bulky and can be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

There are some passive noise-canceling headphones that are designed to do the job while causing no discomfort, but they are pricey.


They do, in theory, and many people have complained about a drop in quality. As a result, passive noise-canceling headphones are preferred. As we all know, active noise-canceling headphones generate sound waves to compensate for ambient noises.

This technology requires a high level of accuracy and battery power to function properly. Active noise-canceling headphones, on the other hand, are designed to operate with less than optimal battery usage, compromising sound quality.

Moreover, for active noise cancellation to take place, the ambient sound waves have to be converted into the digitized form so that the compensation can be done and thereafter, reconverted to analog for the listener.

This also creates a degradation of quality. On the brighter side, this may not be noticeable in high-performing headphones.


Noise-canceling headphones, whether active or passive, are not the same as cell phones or microwave ovens. They do not emit low-level radiation and are only dangerous if the music is played loudly. In case you’re wondering, the noise cancellation process in active headphones is also completely safe.


Going for noise cancellation headphones is not a bad idea from the perspective of an avid music listener. They do contribute to the prevention of hearing loss.

However, if noise pollution is your only concern, noise-canceling headphones aren’t the best option. In this case, earmuffs are preferable because they are less expensive.

Are Noise Cancellation Headphones Safe?
Are Noise Cancellation Headphones Safe?

FAQs About Noise-Canceling Headphones

Does wearing noise-canceling damage hearing?

Yes, is the short answer. Noise-canceling headphones are safe on their own. In fact, ANC technology was developed primarily to protect pilots’ hearing from the loud sounds of the plane engine.

Are noise-canceling headphones preferable to earplugs?

Foam earplugs have not yet been dethroned, but cutting-edge over-ear active noise-canceling headphones are significantly better than foam earplugs at reducing low-frequency noise (17 dB better on average for the headphones tested here), and the difference is growing.

Are noise Cancelling headphones harmful?

Noise cancellation earphones pose no risk to your health and are perfectly safe to use. Unlike mobile phones, they don’t emit low-level radiation, so you can use your headphones to block out background noises knowing they pose no risk to your safety or wellbeing.

Barry Moroney

Hi, Barry here. I'm a tech writer and blogger. I write about the latest technology, gadgets, and software. I also provide the best how-to and guides on the latest sound systems. I'm always excited to share my knowledge with others!


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