Is Noise Cancelling Bad for Your Ears? (Pros, Cons, and Tips)

James Wood

Noise cancelling headphones come with many perks, from turning a chaotic background into tranquility to transforming your listening experience into a serene sanctuary. Nowadays, you'd hardly come across headphones without the active noise cancelling feature. But amidst their audio bliss, is noise cancelling bad for your ears?

When used responsibly and in moderation, noise cancelling headphones are safe; they pose no risk. Even so, noise cancelling headphones have some drawbacks, including unawareness of your surroundings and ear pressure sensation. Read on to learn how noise cancelling headphones work and how to use them correctly. But first;

Table Of Contents

Is Noise Cancelling Bad For Your Ears?

Noise cancelling headphones are not generally considered harmful to your ears. In fact, they can help protect your hearing by allowing you to listen to music or other audio at lower volumes in noisy environments. Active noise cancellation (ANC) technology works by creating anti-noise that cancels out background noise, which can help reduce the need to increase the volume of your audio source.

However, some people may experience discomfort or side effects when using noise cancelling headphones. These side effects can include ear pressure, headaches, dizziness, and jaw pain. This discomfort, sometimes referred to as "eardrum suck," is caused by the pressure changes created by the ANC technology. It is important to note that these side effects are not directly related to hearing damage and usually subside when you stop using the headphones.

Benefits of Using Noise Cancelling Headphones

According to studies, using noise cancelling headphones offers many benefits beyond the relief and quietness they offer. Some of the perks include;

1. Boost your concentration

Noise is among the critical detractors when you want to concentrate on an important task. Whether working in a bustling office or studying in a noisy library, noise cancelling headphones come in handy to block out the noise. Besides, putting on the headphones will signal your co-workers or anyone around you that you’re trying to concentrate on what you’re doing.

2. Helps with sleeping disorders

Noise-canceling headphones can block out surrounding noise for better sleep. Either it's your noisy neighbors, a snoring partner, a noisy train or an airplane, the headphones/earphones will help you find the tranquility you need to enjoy a rest.  Spoiler alert: headphones are not the best for side sleepers; in this case, you’ll need noise cancelling earbuds.

3. It helps relieve stress and anxiety

Listening to music through a quality pair of noise cancelling headphones will help create a soothing and serene environment, alleviating stress and anxiety levels. The headphones allow you to immerse yourself in calming sounds, fostering relaxation.

How Noise Cancelling Headphones Work

In reality, active noise cancelling headphones don’t prevent sound waves from getting to your ears. Instead, they emit anti-waves that counteract the intruding sound waves. The rivaling peak-and-valley structure of the two sound waves leads to silence.

In detail, noise cancelling headphones work in two ways;

1. Active noise cancelation (ANC): This technology uses an external microphone on the headphones to record ambient noise, creating an "anti-sound." The anti-sound is a sound wave with a similar amplitude to the incoming noise but an inverted phase. When the anti-sound meets the incoming noise, they cancel each other out, reducing the unwanted sound sneaking in.

This technology is available in modern earbuds and headphones.

2. Passive cancellation of noise: It’s a noise cancelling technique that blocks ambient noise, thanks to the physical design of the headphones. These headphones are built from materials that absorb or deflect surrounding frequencies and ear cups that offer an airtight fit when you put them on. The airtight cups and sound-deflecting materials create a physical barrier to external sound waves.

The passive noise cancellation combats the high-frequency sound waves.

Note: Both active noise cancelling and passive noise cancelling headphones will not prevent surrounding sound waves from reaching your ears in totality. However, they’ll do an impressive job of neutralizing and minimizing unwanted noise. Thus, provide you with a clearer and quieter audio environment.

Tips for Buying the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

When buying the best noise cancelling headphones, you'll want to consider several factors to make the right choice. Here are some valuable tips:

1. Choosing the right headphones: Are you in the market for noise cancelling headphones or noise isolating headphones? Here is the difference;

2. Fit and comfort: Noise cancelling headphones come in different sizes, weights and designs. Over-ear headphones often offer better comfort and noise isolation due to their cushioned ear cups and adjustable headbands. Do not compromise on your comfort.

3. Audio quality: You buy headphones to enjoy great audio, so prioritize sound quality. Look for headphones with clear, balanced sound, good bass, and crisp treble. Consider models with customizable sound profiles if you prefer a tailored audio experience.

4. Durability: Look for headphones with durable construction to ensure your headphones last longer and withstand daily use.

Cons of Using Noise Cancelling Headphones

When noise cancelling headphones are used irresponsibly, they pose a few potential drawbacks;

1. Ear pressure sensation

The noise cancelling technique hoodwinks your brain into believing the air pressure outside your eardrums is low. The brain then reacts by creating a pressure sensation inside your ears that might make you feel like your eardrums want to pop out. This feeling can also lead to a headache.

When the active noise cancelling feature is turned on, it reduces the surrounding sound waves coming through your ears and, thus, the lack of lower frequencies. The absence of the lower frequencies creates a low pressure mentality in your brain.

Modern headphone manufacturers are, however, incorporating internal mics on the headphones to scrutinize what is happening in the cups to stop the excess pressure.

2. Makes you unaware of your surrounding

Noise cancelling headphones will make you less aware of your surroundings as they are designed to block out external sounds. Not being aware of your surroundings can be dangerous in certain situations.

For instance, if you are walking, cycling, or driving in heavy traffic, you must be aware of what is happening around you. You should hear horns, sirens, or people shouting to alert you of danger.

Note: Avoid using noise cancelling headphones while walking or driving on a busy street.

3. Hearing damages

Operating noise cancelling headphones at high volumes for extended periods can lead to hearing damage. Avoid listening to music in high volume through your noise cancelling headphones. You can prevent hearing damage when using noise cancelling headphones by;

Listening to music through noise cancelling headphones can be a delightful experience. However, protecting your hearing while enjoying the music is crucial.


Noise cancelling headphones are safe to use when used responsibly and in moderation. However, it's crucial to exercise caution and protect your hearing. Listening to music at high volumes, whether through noise cancelling headphones or any other audio device, can lead to hearing damage over time. Keep the volume at a safe level and take breaks to give your ears the rest they deserve.

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