Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Worth It?

A pair of noise cancelling headphones

Last updated: December 15, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Noise cancelling headphones aim to reduce outside (or airborne) noise and focus solely on the listening experience. Due to this added benefits (compared to standard headphones) they are usually more expensive.

Let’s take a look at the benefits and downsides of noise cancelling headphones to decide whether they are worth the extra expense.

What Are Noise Cancelling Headphones?

Unlike soundproof headphones, which attempt to block out ambient noise, noise cancelling headphones actually reduce unwanted external sounds by using circuitry to create active noise control.

It means you can enjoy your music without having to turn it up excessively loud to block out other sounds.

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Benefits Of Noise Cancelling Headphones

  1. Better audio. With external noises blocked out, you can hear the music, audiobook, podcast, or movie that you are listening to more clearly with few distractions.
  2. They aid concentration. If you’re studying in a noisy house or working in a noisy office, being able to play music quietly can be a real asset. Having a constant low-level sound is far less distracting than random noises of varying levels. It allows you to retain information better and concentrate more fully on your work so you can complete tasks more quickly.
  3. They protect your hearing. When you’re trying to listen to music and noises around you keep intruding, the temptation is to increase the volume until you can’t hear them anymore. While this can be effective, regularly listening to music above 85db creates a real risk of permanently damaging your hearing as well as increasing your chances of developing conditions such as tinnitus.
  4. They protect you from excessively loud environments. If you work in an environment that can be extremely noisy, but hearing protection is not offered, then noise cancelling headphones are a good solution. If you choose a pair from a reputable brand, they should reduce any environmental sounds to a safe level.
  5. They can keep you calm. People diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, anxiety, or depression can all become overwhelmed if the environment they are in is too busy or too noisy. It can make attending necessary appointments, such as at doctors’ surgeries or the hospital, challenging. By using noise cancelling headphones, the noise level will be reduced to a more manageable level. Some people with these conditions find soothing music or white noise can enhance the benefits even further.
  6. They can make travel bearable. If you’re on a long-haul flight, train or bus ride, noises you can’t control can become very stressful. There are crying children, people snoring, the noise pollution from other people’s headphones, the noise of the engines and people talking too loudly. By using noise cancelling headphones, you can block out the world to a degree. You can focus on the music you’re listening to or the movie you’re watching, read a book, or even pair them with an eye mask and get some sleep.
  7. They can improve your sleep. If you sleep with someone who snores extremely loudly or you have noisy neighbours, wearing noise cancelling headphones can stop your sleep from being disrupted. Noise cancelling earphones are now available, too, making it a more comfortable sleeping experience for you.

Downsides Of Noise Cancelling Headphones

  1. They’re more expensive. Noise cancelling features tend to be found in higher-end models and brands, so that means you will pay more for them. If you like your music to sound great, you may already be buying headphones in that range. If you just need something for the gym and buy lower-end models, this will be a price hike for you.
  2. They’re a little heavier. To effectively cancel noise, the headphones must contain active circuitry to achieve it. This will make noise cancelling headphones a little heavier than standard ones. If you’re accustomed to wearing headphones, you should adjust fairly quickly. If you normally wear earbuds, it may take a little longer.
  3. They use more power. Because the headphones need noise cancelling circuitry as well as their regular components, they need more power to operate. This means the battery will deplete more quickly. Bear this in mind, and if you want to use your headphones for an entire day, make sure you have a way to charge them up.
  4. They change the quality of the sound. Because noise cancelling is an active process, it suppresses the sounds you can hear. This process can also reduce the volume of your music, making it not as high-quality as other premium headphones.
  5. You need to remember to be aware of your surroundings. Imagine your headphones are working great. They’re blocking out other sounds, and you’re absorbed in music and your own thoughts. It becomes pretty easy to lost track of where you are. You could trip over a kerb, walk out into traffic or slip on a patch of ice. Remember, just because you can’t hear the world, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Worth It?

The answer to this one is, it depends. If you regularly work in noisy environments or don’t have quiet places to study, then noise cancelling headphones could definitely be worth considering. This is particularly true if you’re currently turning your music up louder and louder to block out other noises. Damage to your hearing caused by excessive noise is cumulative and usually irreversible. More expensive headphones are a small price to pay to protect yourself.

Similarly, if you or a family member struggles to cope in noisy or busy places, it can negatively impact your/their life. If noise cancelling headphones improve coping ability and allow essential appointments to be kept, then they are definitely worth the investment and the decrease in stress they may provide.

However, suppose you already have a good quality pair of headphones and are rarely in noisy environments. In that case, you may notice little to no difference when using a noise cancelling function. In fact, you may even find that the effect on your music’s sound makes them more of an annoyance than a benefit. If you’re happy with the sound you have, then if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

You also need to consider your finances. If you have a decent pair of headphones and not much spare cash, then it’s not worth getting yourself into debt to pay for noise cancelling headphones unless you’re so stressed out by noise it’s worth it for your mental health.

Do your research, weigh up the pros and cons, and decide on the best option for you.

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About the Author: AJ

AJ is a self-confessed soundproofing nut. He has written full-time on Quiet Living for the past 4 years, and has a wealth of knowledge about living a quieter life, soundproofing and fixing loud noises.

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