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Are noise canceling headphones harmful?

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For a few years, they have been on everyone’s lips when it comes to headphones – so-called noise-cancelling headphones. They promise that they can use anti-noise to neutralize external noise and thus make it inaudible.

But can noise-cancelling headphones possibly be bad for your ears or otherwise harmful to your health ?

Maybe it just feels like they let less noise through when in fact the sound waves are reaching our ear canals full force and causing damage there?

Or maybe they even emit harmful radiation?

questions upon questions. We have researched diligently and summarized the answers here.

Short and sweet:

In principle, noise-cancelling headphones are not harmful to health and, compared to ordinary headphones , do not involve any additional risks worth mentioning . Often their noise suppression can even have positive health effects instead.

How do noise canceling headphones work?

To understand whether noise-cancelling headphones can be harmful to your hearing, we first need to understand how they work.

Noise-cancelling headphones take advantage of a physical phenomenon called “destructive interference.” It works like this:

Every sound is made up of sound waves. And a so-called “anti-noise” can be produced for each sound wave. This is, so to speak, the exact opposite of the original sound wave.

If you superimpose the first sound wave exactly with its anti-sound, then the two sound waves neutralize each other. The result is silence.

And this is exactly the principle with which noise-canceling headphones work.

Using microphones, they first record the noises in the environment. They then produce the anti-sound waves to match these noises and play them back over the loudspeakers in real time .

Before the sound waves from the ambient noise reach the ear, they are mixed with the anti-sound waves and thus neutralized.

In the best case, you only hear silence. This short video (38 sec.) explains this again in pictures.

Sometimes passive noise canceling is also used. However, this differs greatly from the active method described above. In principle, passive noise canceling is nothing more than particularly dense physical insulation (padding), which is intended to ensure that background noise simply does not get through to the ear.

In this article we focus exclusively on active noise canceling headphones.

Are noise canceling headphones harmful?

However, the question still arises as to whether anything about the noise-cancelling technology could be harmful. To answer that, let’s look at various potential risks and how they might actually be dangerous.

1. Do they emit harmful radiation?

Noise-cancelling headphones do not emit radiation comparable to cell phones or the like. So, in that regard, they are completely harmless to the body.

2. Are there dangerous, inaudible additional noises?

Overall, the noise canceling technology actually works. The headphones can actually effectively neutralize background noise.

This means there are no “hidden”, inaudible sound waves that could be dangerous in any way.

The only thing that might pose a problem for some people is a faint hiss that accompanies the noise canceling and is generally present. Some people find the noise uncomfortable.

3. Do they really cancel out any kind of noise?

It should be noted that noise-cancelling headphones cannot cancel out all types of noise .

Mainly, they are effective when it comes to neutralizing monotonous and long-lasting noises in the lower frequency range.

They are usually very effective for noises up to 1000 Hz and effectively neutralize noise in aircraft or the hum of engines, for example.

Unfortunately, they do not neutralize conversations and other noises in higher frequencies very well.

That’s why noise-cancelling headphones are no substitute for professional earmuffs, for example when it comes to protecting yourself from heavy construction site noise.

4. What if you turn the music up too loud?

In this question, noise-cancelling headphones are no different from ordinary headphones and the usual safety rules apply.

It is important to ensure that the music is not turned up too loud, as this can damage your hearing.

If you listen to your music on your cell phone, you can usually set a maximum volume that cannot be exceeded. This is particularly useful for devices that you leave to your children.

So all in all, there is no reason to assume that noise canceling headphones are in any way more harmful than regular headphones.

Instead, there are some benefits of noise-cancelling headphones over regular headphones that might even be beneficial to your health .

How noise-cancelling headphones can be beneficial for your health

With the right use, noise-cancelling technology can even have a positive effect on our health. Here are some examples.

1. You don’t have to turn up the music so loud anymore

With ordinary headphones, it’s easy to turn up the music very loud just to drown out distracting noises in the environment.

Of course, this leads to the risk of turning the music up louder than is good for our ears.

With noise-cancelling headphones, this risk is actually significantly reduced.

Because the noise canceling effectively neutralizes background noise and there is nothing more that you have to drown out with music.

With noise-cancelling headphones, you can listen to music quietly and still be undisturbed. You can even turn off the music and still enjoy silence, because the noise canceling works even without music.

2. Less stress

When our ears are constantly bombarded with noise, it puts a lot of stress on the body over time.

This can be particularly noticeable when traveling, for example when exposed to hours of aircraft noise.

With noise-cancelling headphones, the noise level and thus the stress level can be significantly reduced.

3. Better sleep

It is well known that good and sufficient sleep is absolutely essential for good health.

And this is where noise-cancelling headphones can be extremely helpful. Not only do they reduce noise when travelling, but also at home.

For example, if you are struggling with your partner’s snoring or with constant traffic noise, you could have found a really good solution for your insomnia with noise-cancelling headphones!

4. Better concentration

Noise is distracting and annoying, especially when we are sitting on an important task and need to concentrate.

Noise-cancelling headphones can help reduce distraction and improve focus. If you can then complete your tasks all the faster, the stress will also subside more quickly or not arise at all.

Our favorite headphones

We’re huge fans of noise canceling headphones ourselves! And these are our favourites:

We think the  Sony WH-1000XM4 * are the best headphones out there right now. They get absolute top ratings and achieve top marks for sound, handling and above all for their noise-cancelling performance. They definitely convinced us!

If you are looking for in-ear headphones, you should try the Bose brand. With the QuietComfort Earbuds * , it offers by far the most popular in-ear headphones on the market. And rightly so!


All in all, one can say that noise-cancelling headphones are not harmful to health, but in some cases can even have positive health effects. As with ordinary headphones, with noise-cancelling headphones you also have to be careful not to set the volume too high, otherwise this can damage your hearing.  

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