Earbuds vs. Headphones – What’s Better For Your Ears?

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.Blog-post, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

Earbuds vs. Headphones – What’s Better For Your Ears?
Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.
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Earbuds vs. Headphones – What’s Better For Your Ears?

Have you ever wondered how to protect your hearing when listening to music, or wandered down the electronics aisle feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. The earbuds vs. headphones debate rages on, raising questions of sound quality, the listening experience, and of course hearing health. So what’s the answer? What style – earbud or headphone – should you be using to protect your hearing?


Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Both earbuds and headphones have the capacity to damage your hearing. Common sense tells us that volume level and length of exposure is more important than the listening device. Noise induced hearing loss has become an increasingly major issue, with many damaging sounds around us like sirens, heavy equipment, traffic, and music concerts. Unlike exposure to loud noises at work or on the street which are often unavoidable, another leading cause of noise induce hearing loss is inappropriate use of personal listening devises with earbuds or headphones blasting loud sounds right into your ears.

It all comes down to decibel (dB) levels. Quiet sounds, whether from earbuds or headphones, don’t damage your hearing. The sounds to watch out for are loud sounds higher than 85 decibels. The longer you listen and the louder you crank up the volume, the more you will damage your hearing. Unsafe sounds include subway trains (90dB), gunshots (100dB), jackhammers (130dB) and jet plane engines (140dB). Many personal listening devises are capable of playing sounds at 120 decibels! That far exceeds safe levels. The louder the sound is, the less time you can listen before damage occurs. At 120dB, permanent hearing loss can occur in as little as an hour and fifteen minutes!


So What’s the Answer: Earbuds or Headphones?

While both earbuds and headphones present the risk of high decibel levels and long exposure, earbuds are actually more likely to cause damage.

Since earbuds sit right inside your ear and are very close to the ear canal, they naturally increase the volume by around 9 decibels. Headphones sit outside the ear, so there is less natural amplification.

Headphones also block more of the background sounds. With earbuds, distracting sounds aren’t dulled, so we often reach for the volume control and turn it up to dangerous levels. Finally, it’s much easier to find cheaply made earbuds at any convenience store or shopping center. These poor quality earbuds distort sounds or play at uneven volume levels, making us turn up the volume even more.


It’s Not All About the Headphones

Even though headphones are better for your hearing health than earbuds, getting a good pair of headphones doesn’t mean you can forget about your hearing health. Remember the 60-60 rule. Only play music at 60% of the maximum volume and listen for 60 minutes a day. This ensures that neither volume levels nor prolonged exposure damage your hearing! Another rule of thumb is that if you are unable to hear other sounds around you, your music is too loud! When in doubt, always turn down the volume, and make the right decision for your hearing health.


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