AirPods are renowned for their convenient wireless design, good sound quality, and range of operational features. Another interesting aspect of AirPods is their potential to protect from hearing damage.
Can AirPods be used as hearing protection?
Apple does not list hearing protection as one of the benefits that their AirPods have to offer. Therefore, they should not be used as a replacement for specifically designed ear defenders or protectors. However, to an extent, they may offer some protection.
Hearing loss is most commonly caused by exposure to loud volumes of sound over a certain period.
To prevent it, people wear ear defenders, earplugs, or other devices designed to protect their ears from loud noises.
AirPods slot into the ears, and therefore naturally provide some protection from outside sounds.
In this guide, we’ll explore AirPods effectiveness as hearing protection to determine whether they should be used for this purpose.
AirPods & Hearing Protection
Using AirPods for hearing protection may seem logical on the surface.
- AirPods Pro and 3rd generation AirPods are equipped with noise-canceling capabilities, which block out sounds from outside the earbuds and allow listeners to focus on the in-ear audio.
Wearing AirPods will certainly help to reduce the volume of background noise and lessen the dB as it enters the ear. At the most basic level, this is because the AirPods block the sound waves and form a barrier between the inner ear and outside noise.
There is, however, another aspect to consider.
- Using AirPods in a loud environment will make the audio coming through the inbuilt speakers harder to hear. The temptation is to then crank up the volume of the AirPods to compensate for the loud background sounds, which will be detrimental to your hearing rather than being protective.
The noise-canceling feature of AirPods may provide some hearing protection, but this is not what it was designed for.
Consequently, there is limited data and evidence available that suggests that they are effective tools for preventing hearing damage.
Noise-canceling is not the same as sound reduction.
For something to be classed as sound-reducing, it must significantly lower the decibels of sound waves entering the ear. Noise-canceling, on the other hand, simply means that certain frequencies are minimized so that others appear more prominent.
Protection from high SPLs (sound pressure levels) is the most essential aspect of preventing hearing damage. There are many earplugs designed to do this, and they are a much better option than relying on AirPods.
With that being said, it would be unfair to say that AirPods provide no hearing protection.
AirPods undoubtedly will block some of the louder sounds from entering the ears and potentially causing damage, just nowhere near as effectively as other devices designed specifically for this purpose.
The term noise cancellation is often mistaken for volume reduction, but it’s important to remember that it is a feature designed to enhance the listening experience rather than limit the loudness of the audio.
How Many Decibels Do AirPods Block?
Noise-canceling headphones are generally not as effective at protecting your hearing as specifically designed earplugs. Nevertheless, they do reduce the decibels of external noise to an extent.
AirPods Pro are significantly more effective at reducing the decibels of external noise than 1st or 2nd generation AirPods.
This is largely because they come with silicone tips that are available in various sizes to suit the dimensions and shape of the listener’s ear.
In the table below, you can see the effectiveness of AirPods at blocking external noise compared to some other popular earbuds, headphones, and earplugs.
|Device||dB Reduction (external noise)||Type|
|AirPods Max||26 dB||Over-ear|
|AirPods Pro||23 dB||In-ear|
|AirPods 2nd Gen||15 dB||In-ear|
|Etymotic Music Pro Elite||35 dB||Earplugs|
|Fender Musician Earplugs||27 dB||Ear Plugs|
|Sony 1000XM4||29 dB||Over-ear|
It’s important to understand that decibel reduction doesn’t directly correlate to volume. This is because there are two other factors to consider, which are:
- Actual SPL Reduction
- Perceived Volume Reduction
For example, AirPods Pro, which reduces the dB of external noise by 23dB, will reduce the SPL (sound pressure level) by around 99.5%. In terms of perceived volume reduction, this would be around 79%.
If we then take the AirPods Max, which reduces the dB of external noise by 26dB, this equates to an SPL reduction of around 99.7% and a perceived volume reduction of around 83dB.
As you can see from the above figures, the dB reduction doesn’t indicate the changes in perceived volume level or SPL reduction, of which the latter is the main culprit for hearing damage.
Consequently, it’s very important to consider perceived noise volume reduction when choosing earbuds or earplugs for hearing protection.
Many users are unaware of all the features on Airpods. Check out this YouTube video that gives a complete guide to everything Airpods have to offer.
Can You Get Ear Protection That Fits Over AirPods?
If you work in a loud environment or often find that the audio from your AirPods is drowned out by traffic noises on your commute to work, one possible solution would be to wear over-ear protection that fits over the AirPods.
This is possible, and there is some ear protection that is suitable for this purpose.
However, it’s important to proceed with caution. If the over-ear protectors push the AirPods further into your ears, this will increase the risk of damage from high SPL.
It’s therefore essential to choose over-ear protectors that cup the AirPods rather than pushing against them.
That way, the outside noise will be blocked and the audio from the AirPods can be played at a safe volume to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
There are two types of hearing defenders that can be used over the top of AirPods.
The first is industrial hearing protectors, which are ideal for people working with loud power tools, building equipment, or other high-volume noises.
These hearing protectors can completely block out potentially harmful high SPL noises and prevent them from entering your ears. They also have a cupped design, which means that AirPods can be fitted inside without any pressure being caused.
The second option you could use would be an existing pair of noise-canceling headphones with a deep cup design, like these from Bose.
While these headphones are not designed to completely block out harmful loud noises, they do protect your ears to an extent.
The key is to find ear protectors that slot over the AirPods without pushing them further into your ears or causing any discomfort after wearing them for long periods.
If you choose an unsuitable pair of ear defenders, this may be detrimental to your hearing in the long term.
AirPods vs. Earplugs & Ear Defenders
As we established, AirPods are not the best solution to preventing hearing damage. While they do cause a reduction of around 23dB, compared to specifically designed earplugs and ear defenders, they simply don’t offer the same level of protection.
Ear defenders, or earmuffs as they are also commonly called, offer the best hearing protection of the three.
They fit over the ear and create a circular pocket of space around it so that sound is blocked from the foam and plastic materials on the outside of the defender
These are most commonly used by construction workers using tools that reach very high decibels, which can easily cause tinnitus or other forms of hearing damage if protective measures aren’t taken.
Earplugs are a great alternative for musicians.
They are discreet due to their in-ear design, which resembles AirPods in some ways. Earplugs are pushed gently into the ear, and they use special filters to reduce the sound pressure level of audio waves which enter the ear.
One of the reasons that earplugs work so well for musicians is that they are mobile, and unlikely to fall out during a performance.
Earplugs and ear defenders are much more effective at protecting hearing than AirPods. While AirPods do offer minimal protection, they should not be relied upon solely for hearing protection.
Once hearing damage has occurred, it is very difficult to repair and in most cases is irreversible, so looking after your ears is essential.
I wish I had taken more care of my ears at a younger age as I now suffer from Tinnitus. I honestly believed my ears would never have a problem so if you are of the younger generation, take note! You will get older and hearing problems could potentially be devastating to your career.
Can AirPods cause tinnitus?
Neither AirPods nor any other type of headphone or earbud cause tinnitus. The thing that causes this is using them at inappropriately high volumes or listening to audio for very long periods. Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common is exposure to loud sounds.
Is it ok to leave AirPods charging overnight?
When AirPods are left to charge in their case overnight, it eventually enters a trickle charge mode when they are fully charged. This preserves the battery life of the AirPods by reducing the number of charging cycles.
Are AirPods good for running and exercise?
One of the best qualities of Apple’s AirPods is that they are perfectly designed for exercise. This is especially true with the AirPods Pro, as they tend to fit in the ear tightly and are rated as IPX4 sweat resistant.