Unsafe headphone use might cause permanent hearing loss. Which is better, earbuds or headphones? Can noise-canceling headphones be of assistance? Check out our recommendations for using headphones securely.
Leading medical organisations caution that improper use of headphones poses a serious danger for hearing loss in both young and old persons.
In addition to expert assistance, we also offer suggestions on how to get the most out of your headphones while also safeguarding your hearing.
Your hearing may be harmed by headphones.
It’s critical to cultivate excellent listening habits since, according to the NHS, excessively loud headphone use is “one of the biggest threats to your hearing.” If exposure is very loud or prolonged, it may result in permanent and untreatable hearing loss or tinnitus (ear ringing associated with hearing loss).
Therefore, it’s crucial to take care of your ears. The NHS advises: Listen at no more than 60% of your device’s maximum volume. Never wear headphones for longer than an hour at a time without taking a break of at least five minutes.
Since you won’t instantly feel the impact, it can be challenging to determine what constitutes “too loud.” It’s preferable to start listening at a low volume before increasing it slightly so that you can hear everything well. Your ears will adjust if you turn it up above the minimum advised level, even for a short while.
This implies that you might forget to switch the level back down once you become acclimated to the greater sound. It may be time for new headphones if you frequently increase the volume to block out background sounds.
Invest in a set of headphones that are noise-isolating or noise-cancelling to help you hear what you’re playing clearly at a lower volume by helping to block out background noise.
What volume settings are suitable for use with headphones?
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just keeping the noise down. Only a specific amount of sound can be tolerated by your ears, and this amount depends on both how loud the sound is and how long you listen to it for. The longer you can listen without risk of harm, the lower the volume must be.
Decibels (dB) are used to measure volume, and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a safe daily limit of 85dB for eight hours from all sources of sound, not just headphones.
This volume is comparable to the rumble of heavy traffic or a food blender.
The WHO advises that personal audio devices can produce sound as high as 136dB, despite the fact that you may believe you never play your music that loud. Additionally, decibels do not increase linearly; for instance, an 88dB sound is twice as strong as an 85dB sound. Only seconds of exposure to 136dB can result in permanent harm.
Is there a way to tell if I’m listening too loudly?
Since audio player volume controls typically don’t provide this information, trying to measure your exposure in decibels is typically not viable in practise.
There are smartphone apps that can measure the volume of sounds in decibels, although some are more trustworthy than others and are typically made to measure the volume of noises in your surrounding vicinity rather than your headphones.
It’s a good idea to set your smartphone’s volume limitation to 60% of the maximum volume to comply with NHS recommendations, but you shouldn’t rely only on this as it’s merely a suggestion.
Most of the time, your smartphone won’t be able to pinpoint which headphones you are wearing. At the same volume on your smartphone, certain headphones may sound significantly louder than others.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t believe that using headphones and listening at the’safe listening levels’ that many smartphones recommend would automatically safeguard your hearing. Listening duration is just as important as listening volume.
What should I do if I believe my hearing may have been harmed?
There is no foolproof test to determine whether you are using your headphones too loudly. Your hearing may have been harmed if it becomes dull or rings following exposure.
To reduce the possibility that this will become chronic and to give your ears’ sensory cells time to recuperate, you should take a significant break from excessive noise.
Everybody has unique ears, and some people are more genetically predisposed to hearing loss than others. Advice is of a very broad nature, according to audiologist Dr. Robert C. MacKinnon of Anglia Ruskin University, until we understand more about hearing loss.
Which is better for your hearing: headphones or earbuds?
The finest headphones for your ears are over-ear models because they provide the best acoustic seal around your ear, allowing you to reduce the volume without damaging your hearing. Additionally, your eardrums are farther from the headphone speakers.
At the same device volume, in-ear headphones can be up to 9dB louder than over-ear models. If you don’t like the way over- or on-ear headphones feel or look, in-ear headphones with flexible eartips are the next best option. To prevent outside sounds, the flexible tips create an acoustic seal around your ear canal. Choose a pair with a variety of sized tips to accommodate various ear shapes.
Earbuds, which contain earpieces made of hard plastic, are typically the worst choice if you wish to protect your hearing. You could be tempted to play your music louder than is appropriate because they do a considerably poorer job of blocking outside noise.
Can headphones with noise cancellation aid in preventing hearing loss?
It might be beneficial.
The amount of sound that actually reaches your ears is reduced because to active noise-cancelling technology, which generates opposing sound waves that cancel out ambient noise.
Good active noise-cancelling headphones can assist you safeguard your hearing because of this and the fact that you don’t need to turn up the volume of your headphones as much to block out sounds around you.
The effectiveness of noise-cancelling technology varies significantly between models, and it is frequently expensive; higher-end pairs typically cost an extra £100 as a result of the technology. Our lab simulates busy environments, such as the London Underground, to accurately assess the noise-cancelling capabilities of headphones.
Which headphones work best for those who wear hearing aids?
You should search for a sizable over-the-ear pair that can fit over both your ear and the hearing aid if you typically wear behind-the-ear hearing aids. Finding an appropriate combination can be challenging because the hearing aid microphone can produce whistling feedback with a high pitch. To locate one that fits with your particular style of hearing aid, you’ll need to test out various over-ear or on-ear headphones.
When wearing headphones, it is much better to leave your hearing aids in because doing so runs the danger of putting the headphones on at extremely loud volumes, which could exacerbate your hearing loss. A Bluetooth hearing aid is an alternate choice to think about.
These cost roughly £1,500 and let you use the hearing aid much like a set of wireless headphones by connecting it directly to your smartphone or music player.
See our guide on the costs and providers of hearing aids if this sounds like a better option for you. Any type of headphone, whether in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear, should operate well with cochlear implants that have been surgically added.
How some headphones can make it easier to hear actual conversations
Both Apple and Android smartphones have features that let you turn up the volume of real-world conversations so you can hear them more clearly when coupled with appropriate headphones.
You may simply utilise your device as a microphone by placing it in front of the person you are speaking with. Your hearing aid or headphones will play the noises captured by the device’s microphone, amplifying the other person’s voice.
It is made to function in noisy environments or to hear someone speaking across the room.
Apple AirPods, Apple AirPods Pro, and Beats Powerbeats Pro headphones as well as hearing aids that support the iPhone are compatible with Apple Live Listen. You’ll need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with iOS 12 or later. To use the feature, just personalise the Control Centre in the Settings app on your supported device.
Similar capability is offered by Google’s Sound Amplifier app for Android devices, which is available for free download from the Google Play store.
Best practises for properly wearing headphones
It’s crucial to take care of your hearing because permanent hearing loss cannot be cured. If you’re concerned, adhere to these advice for better listening practises:
Make sure your headphones have outstanding sound clarity so you won’t need to turn up the volume as much.
By eliminating background noise, active noise cancellation enables you to listen at lower volumes as well.
The best headphones are typically over-ear models because they create an acoustic seal around your ears, which reduces the amount of volume you need to hear clearly.
If you prefer in-ear headphones, pick a set with flexible eartips because they are far better at isolating outside sounds than earbuds.
The volume limits on your device should only be used as a suggestion. While some headphones sound louder than others at the same device volume, other people have inherently more acute hearing.
Start off with a modest volume and gradually increase it to a level that is comfortable for you.
Don’t raise the level to cover up an annoying sound since you can get used to it and forget to lower it again.
Take frequent breaks, especially if you experience ringing or deadened sounds in your ears. How long you listen for is just as important as the volume.
Apple’s Headphone Audio Levels, a smartphone app function, tracks how long you listen and alerts you when it’s time to rest your ears.
With the help of the Sound Amplifier app for Android, you can hear more clearly without turning up the volume.
Do your headphones need to be cleaned?
Like any item that is used frequently, headphones run the danger of becoming a little soiled over time. This is especially true if they are not stored in a case but are instead haphazardly thrown in a pocket or purse.
But do kids run the risk of acquiring additional nasties like bacteria and germs? We swabbed many volunteers’ headphones in March 2020 and sent them to our lab for examination.
Fortunately, our quick analysis revealed that the common bacteria and other organisms found on headphones are not expected to represent a threat to healthy people.
However, a thorough cleaning every now and again will maintain your headphones looking their best and, if done correctly, will not cause any harm. So, use the helpful advice we’ve provided below to clean your headphones.
How to properly clean headphones
Because each kind of headset is unique and you risk accidentally damaging them if you don’t, you should always follow the manufacturer’s directions while cleaning your headphones.
Numerous manufacturers advise against using alcohol to clean (certain hand sanitizers would fall under this category), as it can harm the surface of headphones. Even though they claim to be water resistant, most headphones aren’t completely waterproof, so putting them in the sink with your dishes may cause them to stop working.
Pay attention to the areas that touch your ears.
The portions of headphones that are most likely to become dirty are the eartips and earcups, as wearing headphones will surely cause ear wax to collect on them.
So when cleaning, give these the highest attention. You can wash in-ear headphones on their own in a mild soap solution if they have detachable flexible eartips. The producer of Comply foam eartips uses only water.
Some brands of on-ear and over-ear headphones let you take the fabric-covered foam earpads out of the earcups.
If your pair allows it, gently wipe the fabric of the earpads with a damp cloth before allowing them to air dry. But be careful—some of the foam and fabric that make up the earcups can be surprisingly absorbent. Avoid getting them too wet, and stay away from any material connections. Before storing them, make sure they are completely dry to prevent the growth of mould.
Check how the earcups are attached when you remove them because, in practise, it can be difficult to re-attach them to your headphones. If your headphones are in exceptionally bad shape, you can purchase replacement earcups from select manufacturers, like Sennheiser.
washing the surfaces of the headphones
Even if they claim to be water resistant, most headphones aren’t completely waterproof, therefore the best way to clean them is to start with a dry cloth.
On the other hand, oils from skin contact frequently accumulate and might be challenging to remove with a dry towel.
If this is the case, lightly dampen the cloth with water (or, if necessary, a light soapy solution, provided the manufacturer’s instructions do not forbid soap) and gently wipe down the surfaces, being careful to avoid delicate areas like the gauze over the speakers (which are very small and delicate with in-ear headphones), microphone holes, vents, joins in the material, wires, buttons, and charging connectors.
Use a toothpick to gently loosen any dirt that has become lodged in these places, and then a dry cloth to wipe it away.
taking care of the headphone holes
Use a toothpick or dry cotton bud carefully to remove debris that has amassed in holes in the headphones, such as the fragile gauze protecting the speakers or the recess for the microphone, being careful not to puncture the headphones or harm the delicate gauze. It’s crucial to avoid getting these places moist.
You must choose the tool that will function best with your headphones. Be careful not to scratch or dent the headphones because toothpicks are sharp.
If cotton strands from cotton buds get caught in the gauze, they may be difficult to dislodge.
Cleaning the area around the gauze of your headphones, if they are particularly filthy, may also improve the sound quality. Just like too much earwax in your ears, wax buildup in headphones can prevent music from coming through clearly.
Can headphones cause an ear infection?
It is quite unlikely. The hazards are quite low if you are healthy and do not have any illnesses that would cause your immune system to be compromised.
While exercising while wearing headphones can result in the humid conditions that favour the growth of bacteria, our quick lab test of how unclean headphones were revealed that there is little need for concern.
This is because, as the headphones dry out between uses, the most typical germs that cause ear infections can’t flourish in such a dry environment.
Review of LG TONE Free HBS-FN7
Contextual score for store 56%
Verdict on comparison: Unremarkable headphones
These active noise-cancelling headphones are not among the best, but they are also not among the worst. You’ll fare better with one of our Best Buy pairs for this price.
Bass frequencies are helpful for noise cancellation.
safe and comfortable fit
Several options for customising the app
resistive to water
Cons of wireless recharging
Better sound quality is possible.
Less effective mid-frequency noise cancellation
The charging case hinge is very adaptable.
Black glossy earpieces are fingerprint magnets.
Review of Honor Earbuds 2 Lite
69% View store Test scoreContext Show £69.99
Comparison finding: Excellent deal purchase
These headphones are actually wireless, which is amazing. At this price, it’s a remarkable accomplishment; throw in efficient noise cancellation, and what’s on offer here is quite uncommon. Although the software to change settings is only available for Android, they are still a terrific offer considering the price even though basic functionalities do work on iOS. They are designed for Android device users. They are a fantastic deal and are highly recommended.
sound quality is good
dependable noise cancellation
For these types of headphones, a respectable battery life
Optimal for Android users iOS can do basic operations, but Android users can only use the app to change settings.
A review of the Belkin Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds
Contextual Score for Retailer 46%
Comparative judgement: A bad decision
With these in-ear headphones, outdoor calls sound clearer than others, but indoor calls and music are subpar. So, unless you make most of your calls from your backyard or neighbourhood park, we wouldn’t suggest them.
Good acoustic seal, clear phone calls outside
Active noise cancellation is absent.
The music sounds bad.
Calls inside are muted
Review of LG TONE Free UFP8
60% of the testShow Context
Comparative assessment: A passable effort
These truly wireless headphones provide acceptable sound quality, but it falls short of our Best Buys, and there is a slight hiss that was audible throughout our tests due to the noise-cancelling technology. You can get better at this price.
a cosy and organic acoustic quality
decent noise cancellation
Cons: Sound doesn’t leak
Comfort can vary.
limited battery charge duration
Case hinge seems to be weak
Review of Jaybird Vista 2
View store Test resultShow Context £189.99 55%
Verdict in comparison: Not bad for sports
These genuinely wireless in-ear headphones don’t sound too awful and should offer all the capabilities you need for exercise and leisure. However, we have identified alternatives at this price that we believe are a superior option, such as the original (and less expensive) Vista headphones.
Suitable for use in sports
a sufficient battery life
Almost no acoustic leaking
It has decent sound.
Costly noise cancellation might be superior.
Review of the Skullcandy Push Active True Wireless
Test score for £49.99View stores Show Context 56%
Conclusion: Features prevail over sound
These headphones stand out from the competition thanks to a variety of functions and hands-free voice commands. They could be attractive to sports-minded people, but their headphones can’t match the sound quality of our Best Buy models. Some people won’t even consider these headphones because they lack noise cancelling.
Various voice control commands are available
With some drive, even sound
properly sized earphones
Stay-Aware mode to allow for background noise
No noise cancellation
Numerous perspectives on comfort Call quality could be improved
Review of the Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
View store Test resultShow Context £139.99 52%
Verdict after comparison: There are models available that sound better.
These genuinely wireless in-ear headphones have good noise cancellation, but their sound quality falls short of that of its competitors. Despite the fact that they have hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon, our comparative tests show that there are superior pairs available for less money. Opt for one of our noise-cancelling Best Buy or Great Value pairs instead.
Noise cancellation that works
a flexible and user-friendly software
a battery life that is appropriate for this sort of headset
acceptable call quality on the phone
Cons of wireless recharging
could use a better build
Review of LG TONE Free UFP5
Test score: £69.00 View Retailers Show Context: 59%
Comparative finding: Moderate
These really wireless headphones are fine; the sound quality is good, and using them to listen to music is enjoyable. Although battery life is on the short side, noise-cancelling isn’t as effective as we’ve observed on some devices with higher scores. In the end, even if these headphones are fine, you can get more for your money.
a genuine sound
It doesn’t leak sound.
Cons: Ambient mode performs nicely
Call quality is poor
Case looks to be weak
Bass could be improved.
Review of B&O Beoplay EQ
Typical price: £349.00
73% on the testShow Context
Verdict on comparison: Premium-looking true wireless The Best
With its dynamic and consistent sound quality and excellent adaptive active noise cancellation, these truly wireless headphones stand out from the competition. Although they are expensive, you will have a difficult time finding genuinely wireless headphones with a comparable level of quality and the range of sound modifications offered by this software. Our only major concern is with device connectivity, since we occasionally had dropouts in our tests. However, comfort is very much a matter of personal preference.
It doesn’t leak sound.
Noise-cancelling works very well
Hard case wireless charging is possible.
resistant to splashes
Better battery life would be desirable.
At the time of the test, we had some connectivity troubles.
Review of Bowers & Wilkins PI5
View retailers’ test results for £169.06Show context 61%
Conclusion: Decent sound quality and poor battery life
These in-ear headphones are genuinely wireless and have a tonne of capabilities, but unlike some, hardly no sound escapes to irritate those around you. Additionally, noise cancellation functions well, but the music quality is just passable and the battery life is negatively impacted by all the technology.
Almost no acoustic leaking
Noise cancellation is effective.
a limited battery life
Bass could be improved.
Review of Huawei Freebuds 4
Test score: £99.00 View Retailers Context: 52%
Comparative judgement: Routine
Although they included a tonne of high-tech capabilities, these in-ear headphones weren’t the best we’ve ever heard. Instead, the sound quality was average rather than outstanding. Therefore, even when calls, podcasts, and music sound well, you could feel that your ears deserve better.
Benefits A lot of features
sound not too terrible
shortened battery life
How well they fit in your ears will determine the sound quality.
Review of the Skullcandy Jib True Wireless
Conclusion: The bass is very loud and sounds unnatural
Sadly, the Skullcandy Jib True Wireless are not one of the extremely few exceptions to the rule of terrible genuinely wireless headphones under £100. There are far better solutions available, even on a tight budget. Check out our Great Value line of affordable headphones instead.
Simple to use
For these style of headphones, a good battery life
Fit and comfort can be quite unpredictable.
Review of Bowers & Wilkins PI7
View shops Test result: £289.00 Show context: 62%
Verdict on the comparison: Good, although we had hoped for much more
These fully wireless in-ear headphones aren’t horrible, but they’re also nothing spectacular. Their battery life is the one real drawback. The noise cancellation is effective, and very little noise leaks out to irritate your neighbours, but the music lacks the energy and punch needed to truly uplift people. We had anticipated greatness for the high price, but all we received was a decent set of headphones.
Almost no acoustic leaking
Good noise suppression and lots of features
a limited battery life
The sound quality is average.
Review of the Sennheiser CX True Wireless
View retailers’ test results for £85.00Show Context 66%
Verdict after comparison: Worth hearing
These in-ear wireless headphones are definitely worth a look. Although there is no active noise cancellation, they don’t cost a lot and sound nice. While battery life isn’t outstanding when compared to other types of headphones, it’s respectable for a totally wireless set. If the tone or balance aren’t to your taste, you can make limited adjustments using the app.
high-quality speech sounds
touches to operate
Cons Splash resistance Adjustment options in the app Sound doesn’t leak
Various comfort levels No active noise cancellation
Review of Huawei Freebuds 4i
Test score: £49.00 View Retailers Context: 67%
Comparative assessment: affordable noise-canceling earbuds
These incredible noise-canceling earphones are so much less than the eerily similar-looking Apple AirPods Pro that they are practically a Best Buy. They have good audio quality and good noise cancellation. Although there is some sound leaking to your surrounds, for the price they represent a worthy Great Value pair. They can work with Apple devices if you don’t mind that you can’t utilise the settings app since they were developed for Android devices. They are definitely worth taking into account if you’re seeking for earbuds that are affordable.
sound quality is good
Comfortable, effective noise-cancelling
They resemble Apple AirPods but cost considerably less Negatives
Options for optional app customization unable cannot be used with Apple devices
Give your surroundings some sound
Sony WF-1000XM4 review
View stores Test result: £199.00 Show context: 61%
Final judgement: Sleek appearances, but inferior to the less expensive WF-1000XM3 by Sony
Sadly, these XM4s go forward while also moving backward. They appear to outperform the Sony WF-1000XM3 from Best Buy in certain ways, but this is all overshadowed by the fact that all of our panellists had problems with the fit or the sound. Instead, save yourself the bother and money by purchasing the fantastic Sony WF-1000XM3.
fantastic battery life
Small earphones Negative
Significant fit concerns that impact noise cancellation and acoustic quality
Review of Apple AirPods from 2021
View stores Test result: £159.00 Show context: 90%
Conclusion after comparison: Beautiful sound and easy to use
The Apple AirPods (2021) surpass prior AirPod iterations in terms of sound quality, ranking among the very finest pairs we’ve ever tested. Warm bass and precise balancing create music that is both pleasurable and exceptionally detailed. Additionally, they are cosy, a pleasure to use, and a great investment.
incredibly accurate audio with strong bass
Despite the earbud style, there are very few sound leakage. Easy to use.
In noisy environments, it might be challenging to maintain phone calls.
Review of Marshall Mode II
Contextual Score for Retailers 44%
judgement in comparison: Style over substance
Unfortunately, Marshall’s first attempt at fully wireless in-ear headphones is a complete failure; they’re not at all deserving of the illustrious brand. These have terrible audio quality and poor battery life. Despite their attractive appearance, we strongly suggest you to choose one of our Best Buy pairs over these because they are so lacklustre.
weedy sound quality is poor.
inadequate battery life
Not as upscale-looking as you’d anticipate
Review of Bose Sport Earbuds
View stores Test resultShow Context £149.00 68%
Excellent sports and fitness headphones, in comparison
These are excellent in-ear, truly wireless headphones that provide above-average sound quality in a convenient design. They are among the greatest options we’ve found if you want to use these headphones for athletics and just barely lose out on becoming a Best Buy.
Fit safely for your workout
Water-resistant to IPX4
sound quality is good
Pros: Well-built, simple to use
There is no equalisation to change the sound (at time of testing)
JVC HA-EC30BT review
Test result for store – Show Context 44%
- Comparative assessment: Weak soundThe first obstacle is where these headphones fail. The sound quality is noticeably lacking in bass and is nowhere near enough. Your music will come off as lifeless and thin.
Positives Plastic hooks offer a snug fit.