Noise Canceling Hearing Protection – Does It Really Exist?
If I had a dime for every time a patient told me they use noise cancelling ear muffs to protect their hearing I’d be a millionaire . . . truthfully, I’d have closer to $30. If you happen to be one of those 300ish people I’ve talked to, or one of the many I haven’t talked to yet, please, please understand that most “noise cancelling” hearing protectors do not cancel noise. And just to be extra clear, I’ll repeat, MOST NOISE CANCELLING HEARING PROTECTORS DO NOT CANCEL NOISE!!
Cancelling noise is hard – like, REALLY hard. There are only a few headsets that actually cancel noise, and NONE of them are considered a hearing protector. Try to find a Noise Reduction Rating* (NRR) on the Bose Quiet Comforts– you can’t, because they aren’t hearing protectors. They are designed to give you a high fidelity listening experience while reducing lower frequency sounds, but they will not protect your hearing in really loud noisy environments. In fact, they could actually increase chances for hearing loss if used in a noisy environment dominated by high frequencies. One company, Aegisound, makes actual noise cancelling hearing protection (custom ear plugs + earmuffs), but those protectors are usually used in extreme noise environments such as Naval Aircraft Carrier flight decks. These hearing protection devices are overkill for everyday hearing protection needs, and because of their specialized nature, they are cost prohibitive for most individuals.
Most of the ear muffs that claim to use active noise reduction technology only use a “peak clipping” technology. This means that sounds are measured using microphones on the ear muffs, and once the noise hits a peak level, the speakers turn off. This leaves you with a simple set of dumb ear muffs. By “dumb,” I mean no smart technology is used in these products. These devices protect your hearing by taking advantage of passive hearing protection properties of the ear muff – the same thing a $5 set of dumb ear muffs do.
So here’s my question – Is paying more for “noise cancelling” technology worth it?
Stay tuned for my answer. Leave your thoughts in the comments section. (Any declarations of purchasing noise cancelling headphones in order to protect your hearing will be charged a dime)
*(NRR ratings are required for all hearing protection devices mandated by the EPA)