How noise-cancelling headphones help to protect your ears

Headphones and earphones enable us to enjoy our favourite tunes, but can they also be detrimental to our hearing?

Recreational hearing loss due to overexposure to loud volumes has become a prominent issue around the world, with over 1.1 billion young people at risk according to the World Health Organisation1.The same source states that nearly 50 per cent of people aged 12-35 put their hearing at risk through the use of personal audio devices. 


"As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss," notes the WHO's Dr Etienne Krug.

"Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk."1

One way to safely enjoy music at lower volumes is with noise-cancelling headphones. Here's what you should know. 

How do noise cancelling headphones work? 

Active noise cancelling headphones are a fascinating piece of technology. They contain a built-in mini microphone that picks up the predominant amplitude and wavelength of the soundwaves around you2

The noise-cancelling circuitry in the ear piece takes the ambient soundwaves (eg: those produced by an airplane engine) and creates its own soundwaves, but with a pattern that is opposite to the sound outside2

The result is that the two sounds (the ambient noise and the soundwaves from your headphones) cancel each other out, effectively creating a silent environment where you can listen to your music. 

How are they better for your hearing? 

In order to hear the music properly, people will often turn up the volume to effectively drown out any ambient noise such as traffic, the sound of the bus or train or even the roar of an airplane. However, when we do this for extended periods, the loud volume can be detrimental to our hearing. 

A study published in the Ear and Hearing journal found that listening to music with headphones at 70 per cent volume for just an hour can bring you to the threshold of your safe listening limit3. By using noise-cancelling headphones that enable you to enjoy your favourite music at a lower volume, you are able to listen safely (60 per cent volume or lower) for longer without the risk of hearing damage3

If you think your music listening habits might have impacted your hearing, you can book a FREE* hearing check with Western Hearing Services. Click here to request an appointment or give our friendly team a call on 1800 940 981. 

1WHO, 1.1 billion people at risk of hearing loss. Accessed April, 2017. 
2 Audio-Technica, How do active noise-cancelling headphones work? Accessed April, 2017.
3 NCBI, Output levels of commercially available portable compact disc players and the potential risk to hearing. Accessed April, 2017.