When I was growing up, I was a child who always had the best noise cancelling headphones. I traveled by bus, studied, did different things: if I did not absolutely need to talk with other people, I listened to music on my giant Koss headphones.
I wore them everywhere. People laughed at me because the headphones were very big. My parents tried to make me wear smaller, more fashionable models, but they did not get accustomed, because they never sounded so good. I could not put into words why I loved these headphones so much, but now I know that the reason is that the best noise isolation most often means better sounding music.
What are decibels?
When we talk about loudness, we’re talking about decibels (dB) . The dB scale is logarithmic in nature, so an increase of 10 dB represents an increase of 10 times, and an increase in perceived loudness by a factor of 2. 70 dB is 10 times more powerful than 60 dB, but only twice as loud. Similarly, a 10 dB reduction is half the volume, a decrease of 20 dB will mean that the sound is reduced by 1/4 in volume and so on.
For reference, the sound of most smartphones is in the range of 30 dB (at minimum volume) to 110 dB (at maximum volume)when listening to best noise cancelling headphones. As you can imagine, this means that loudness close to maximum in headphones will very quickly affect your hearing, so it’s important that your listening volume is low. But what volume is safe? It depends on how long you listen to the music. If you listen to music for 8 hours a day, like me, the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) recommends not to exceed the volume level above 85 dB. However, if you listen to music in your headphones for a long time, less than an hour, you can make the melody a little louder.
Your inner ear is a much thinner instrument than you imagine, it’s very easy to damage your hearing with loud music. Our ears are composed of many parts, but we have an exceptionally weak link in the chain: small tiny hair receptors inside our cochlea. If these tiny receptors bend, break or fall out, our ears stop sending signals to our brains to interpret them as sound. Although degradation occurs throughout our life, regardless of whether we listen to music or not, listening to music at maximum volume in headphones for a long time can significantly speed up this process.
Therefore, if you are trying to limit the impact of a high noise level, you can use several strategies :
It sounds a bit strange, but if you can avoid loud noises, then you should do it. A study conducted in 2012 showed that you should listen to music less than 50% of the overall volume of your smartphone or MP3 player, this is a pretty good reference point. However, this is only true if you have connected headphones with the proper level of resistance to the corresponding equipment. For example, it’s best to connect a headset with a resistance not higher than 32 ohms to the phones, so the volume and sound quality will be easy to control. If you connect headphones with a resistance of 60 ohms or higher to the phone, the sound will be very deaf and inexpressive, and you’ll have to raise the volume slider to near the maximum level and you will not be able to focus on its position when choosing a safe volume level.
This is the preferred solution, because noise cancellation is not “too much.” Physically blocking sound is the most effective and at the same time simple strategy. It is also used in many workplaces with a noisy environment.
Headphones with passive noise isolation do a poor job of blocking low-frequency sound, but headphones with active noise cancellation systems are much more effective. Although, this system is also not able to completely rid you of ambient noise, at least it significantly reduces its loudness, which means it keeps your ears.
But even if you are a strange person and you are not worried about the health of your hearing, there is another important reason why your best noise cancelling headphones should have maximum noise isolation – external noise affects the sound quality that you hear in your noise cancelling headphones.