11

lstnsound writes in Why noise-cancellation isn't all its cracked up to be:

Neat, right? Well....not exactly. Unfortunately, this technology comes with its fair share of flaws. The opposing sound waves generated by active noise cancellation technology end up blocking key parts of the sound spectrum (aka your music). With key parts of your music blocked, your ears are forced to work harder to create sound. This creates ear fatigue and will leave your ears more fatigued than standard headphones

Is it true, that there are negative effects of active-noise-canceling headphones for the ears?

  • 9
    I'm not sure if one can say that the ears "create" sound. The claim seems plausible (causing fatigue), but not by the proposed mechanism. I'm curious to see what will come of this. – T. Sar May 16 '17 at 15:52
  • 4
    I think "fatigue" may be the wrong word (though I'm not sure what would be better), as the sound pressure levels involved are not likely to be very high. There may be a mental fatigue associated with trying to find frequencies we expect to be there but aren't, but I don't believe this could be any more detrimental than that. I think this article is mostly written based on personal experience, not tested evidence. I think the author is mixing auditory damage with mental fatigue... (I personally think he's right about sound quality being diminished however) – Aaron May 16 '17 at 15:57
  • 3
    Anecdotally I found the opposite, wearing them in noisy factories made me feel less fatigued than wearing nothing. I guess having an office next to a running bench saw isn't what they tested here though. – daniel May 16 '17 at 16:29
  • 1
    Ears "create sound"? Yikes. – PoloHoleSet May 16 '17 at 17:20
  • 5
    When the diaphragm of the headphones moves, to cancel a sound wave from outside, it doesn't cause your eardrum to move. In fact it balances out the pressure wave so that your eardrum doesn't move. So if you're imagining that the constant adjustments of noise cancelling headphones would cause fatigue, then the opposite is probably the case. Anecdotally, I find them very relaxing, as long as the headphones themselves fit your ears comfortably. – Richard May 16 '17 at 23:28
7

No. It's the opposite: noise cancelling headphones typically reduce fatigue.

The opposing sound waves generated by active noise cancellation technology end up blocking key parts of the sound spectrum (aka your music).

Not correct. The noise cancellation blocks outside sound, but doesn't not affect the spectrum of the music. Overall the transfer function from the input to the ear drum is very similar to that of a conventional headphone. The music is simply added to the cancellation signal and not affected by it.

With key parts of your music blocked, your ears are forced to work harder to create sound.

Not correct. Healthy ears don't create sound. Key parts of the music are not blocked.

This creates ear fatigue and will leave your ears more fatigued than standard headphones - this is why you'll never see musicians using noise-canceling headphones.

Not correct. I work with musicians and do listening professionally. Many musicians love noise cancelling head sets and use them all the time. Flying is pretty hard on the ears and noise cancelling headphones significantly reduce noise induced fatigue, to the point that I can work when I come off a plane. Which I can't without noise cancellation.

There is well established correlation between stress and noise levels https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_from_noise and reduction of noise will result almost always in less stress, not more.

A side note: there are pathological conditions where the human ear actually does create sound. The inner ear has about 5000 neurons, about 20% of which are "efferent", i.e. they carry information from the brain to the inner ear. These information is used to actively tune a feedback loop that increases frequency sensitivity. Damage to these neurons or the associated hair cells can make this loop unstable and oscillation occurs which is measurable with a microphone. This is an extreme case of Tinnitus and the ears are quite literally "ringing". When working with a noise cancelling manufacturer, we found incidences where users reported significant improvement of their condition by using noise cancellation. However, that's anecdotal and as far as I know there is no solid scientific study to back this up.

  • I think TFA is confusing the pressure felt from the less advanced noise cancelling cans for something else. They can get uncomfortable and cause fatigue due to that pressure, but the problem was largely fixed years ago. – dont_shog_me_bro Feb 25 at 11:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .