Discover the ultimate guide to using noise-cancelling headphones for tinnitus relief. Learn proven methods to enhance your hearing without worsening symptoms.
Alexandra Costlow, AuD

Alexandra Costlow, AuD

Medically Reviewed by
Audiologist and Tinnitus Specialist
April 19, 2021

Top Noise Cancelling Headphones for Tinnitus

Struggling with tinnitus? You might have reached for noise-cancelling headphones as your go-to solution. However, it's crucial to understand that these devices can be a double-edged sword. While they can offer a quieter environment that may seem beneficial, improper use could actually intensify your tinnitus symptoms.

But what if you could harness the power of noise-cancelling headphones to make them work for you rather than against you? Sounds like a game-changer, doesn't it?

Our in-depth guide is designed to equip you with the know-how to use noise-cancelling headphones and hearing protection in a way that complements your tinnitus management strategy. Your journey towards a more harmonious auditory experience starts now.

What are Noise Cancelling Headphones?

Ever wondered what 'noise-cancelling' really means when it comes to headphones or earbuds? The term can be a bit misleading. Let's break it down into two main categories: passive and active.

Passive noise-cancelling headphones

Think of passive noise-cancelling headphones as your basic sound blockers. They work by physically covering your ears, reducing the amount of external sound that can enter. In essence, any headphone offers a degree of passive noise cancellation by creating a physical barrier to the sound. But not all are created equal. The most effective devices are engineered to fit snugly either in your ear canal or over your ears, providing superior auditory isolation.

Active noise-cancelling headphones

Active noise-cancelling headphones take it up a notch. They not only cover your ears but also produce specific frequencies that counteract external sound. Imagine this as a mirror reflecting unwanted noise but with a twist – the reflected sound waves are 180 degrees out of phase, effectively cancelling them out.

Some types of active noise-cancelling headphones offer additional perks:

  • Adjustable Noise Reduction: Choose from various levels of noise cancellation to suit your environment.
  • Selective Hearing: Built-in microphones can detect and allow certain environmental sounds you might want to hear, like announcements at a station.
  • Speech Recognition: Advanced models can differentiate between ambient noise and speech, allowing you to hear conversations without removing your headphones.

Passive vs. active noise-cancelling headphones: A tabular comparison 


Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Basic Function

Block external sound by physically covering the ears

Cover the ears and produce counteracting sound frequencies

Sound Isolation

Moderate to good, depending on fit and design

Excellent, due to active sound wave cancellation

Power Requirement


Battery or USB-powered


Generally less expensive

Generally more expensive

Best For

Natural sound isolation without electronic interference

Superior noise cancellation, especially for low-frequency sounds like engine noise

Additional Features


Adjustable noise reduction, selective hearing, speech recognition, Bluetooth connectivity

How active noise cancelling works
Active Noise Cancelling Diagram. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Certain noise cancelling headphones have some additional features:

  • the ability to select between levels of noise reduction
  • selecting a feature that allows microphones to detect certain environmental sounds that the user might prefer to hear
  • to “neutralize” environmental noise and identify (and so not filter out) speech to an extent.

Bluetooth compatible headphones can be synced with a mobile phone to stream calls directly to the headphones worn over the ears.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Tinnitus?

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand that any type of headphones, including noise-cancelling ones, can contribute to hearing damage and tinnitus if used irresponsibly. The main offender? Excessive volume. 

More specifically, when you expose your ears to high volume levels for extended periods, you risk damaging the sensitive hair cells within your inner ear. These cells are responsible for converting vibrations into electrical signals that your brain interprets as sound. Once damaged, they cannot regenerate, leading to permanent hearing loss and, often, tinnitus.

What are safe listening levels?

Understanding safe listening levels is paramount when using any type of headphones, including noise-cancelling ones, to prevent hearing damage and the onset of tinnitus. But what exactly constitutes a 'safe' volume level? Let's break it down.

The decibel scale

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Normal conversation usually occurs at about 60 dB, while sounds at or above 85 dB can be harmful if you're exposed to them for extended periods.

Safe listening guidelines

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the safe listening level for headphone use is below 85 dB. For context, that's roughly the volume of heavy city traffic. Here are some general guidelines:

  • 60/60 rule: Limit listening through headphones to 60 minutes at a time and keep the volume below 60% of the maximum.
  • Noise-cancelling advantage: If you're using noise-cancelling headphones, you may find it easier to keep the volume down, as these devices reduce ambient noise, allowing you to hear clearly at lower volumes.

The benefits of noise-cancelling headphones for tinnitus management

Beyond the obvious advantages of noise reduction and enhanced focus, noise-cancelling headphones offer a range of benefits that contribute to a holistic approach to tinnitus relief. Let's explore these further.



Reduced exposure to damaging noise levels

By minimising exposure to loud external noises, they can help prevent further inner ear damage, thereby reducing the severity of symptoms. This quieter environment enables better focus and concentration.

Enhanced mental well-being

The incessant noise of tinnitus can be emotionally draining. Such headphones offer a sanctuary of sorts, reducing stress and anxiety by creating a calmer auditory environment.

Improved sleep quality

For many sufferers, falling asleep can be a struggle due to the constant noise. These devices can aid in creating a more conducive environment by drowning out external disturbances, leading to improved sleep quality.

Versatility and convenience

Most modern headphones come with adjustable settings and features like Bluetooth connectivity, allowing for a customised listening experience. This makes them versatile not just for tinnitus management but for everyday use.

Increased productivity

By creating a distraction-free zone, this technology can significantly boost productivity, whether you're working, studying, or engaging in creative pursuits.

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How to use noise-cancelling headphones for tinnitus management

While noise-cancelling headphones offer a quieter environment that some find helpful for managing tinnitus, it's crucial to use them correctly to avoid the potential drawbacks mentioned above. This section aims to provide you with a comprehensive set of best practices to enhance your listening experience and safeguard your hearing health.

Finding your volume comfort zone

Given the risks of high volume, it's advisable to make use of monitoring elements available on most modern smartphones. These features often include warnings when you're approaching unsafe listening levels, helping you maintain a volume that is both enjoyable and preserves your hearing health.

In line with this, set your headphones to a volume that allows you to relax without overwhelming your auditory senses. The aim is not to mask external sounds but to achieve a balanced listening experience that respects your hearing health.

Sleep aid with caveats

If you're using noise-cancelling headphones to aid sleep, ensure they are worn correctly to avoid discomfort. However, all-night use is not recommended for safety reasons, as it's important to be alert to subtle environmental sounds.

Periodic listening breaks

To reduce the risk of auditory fatigue and potential aggravation of tinnitus symptoms, it's advisable to take short breaks during extended listening sessions. A common recommendation is to take a five-minute break for every hour of continuous listening.

Ear hygiene

Regularly clean your headphones or earbuds to prevent ear infections, which can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms.

Explore Oto for tailored auditory experiences

For a more personalised listening experience, check out the range of tinnitus-friendly sounds available on Oto.

Try the most popular sounds from the Oto app:

We would advise using them at which level is comfortable to you, whilst taking care never to increase the volume above 60%.

A man wears noise cancelling headphones while looking out of a window
A man wears noise cancelling headphones while looking out of a window

What about Hearing Protection?

While noise-cancelling headphones offer a range of benefits for tinnitus relief, hearing protection is another crucial aspect that warrants careful consideration. However, it's not as straightforward as it may seem, as overuse can have counterproductive effects on your symptoms. Here's a balanced guide to using hearing protection effectively.

What is hearing protection?

Hearing protection refers to devices specifically designed to reduce the level of sound entering your ears. These devices act as a barrier between your auditory system and external noise, minimising the risk of hearing damage. Besides noise-cancelling headphones, other examples include:

  • Earplugs: These are inserted into the ear canal to block external sounds. They come in various materials like foam, silicone, and custom-molded options.
  • Earmuffs: These fit over the entire outer ear to form an air seal, effectively reducing the level of noise that can reach the eardrum.
  • Acoustic filters: These are specialised earplugs that reduce noise levels while maintaining sound fidelity, often used by musicians.

The double-edged sword of hearing protection

While shielding your ears from loud noises is crucial, overuse of hearing protection can ironically make your tinnitus worse. For instance, wearing earplugs during quiet times can induce a form of mild hearing loss, causing your brain to work harder to perceive sounds, thereby intensifying your symptoms.

Hence, if you've been continuously using hearing protection to silence your tinnitus, it's time for a strategy shift. Carry such devices for situations involving harmful noise levels, like sporting events or yard work, rather than wearing them all the time. 

For instance, custom-made earplugs that are specifically designed for activities such as shooting or performing music can be obtained through an audiologist. There are also specially designed ones for sleep time. A simple gauge for the need for hearing protection is the ambient noise level. If it's loud enough to drown out other sounds, consider using earplugs or moving to a quieter environment.

A guitarist wears in ear monitors while performing

Top Noise Cancelling Headphones for Tinnitus

1. Nuheara IQbuds² MAX

Nuheara IQbuds² MAX provide active noise cancellation and technology specifically developed to help relieve tinnitus symptoms. With IQbuds² MAX you can use sound therapy apps on the go whilst blending the volume with the outside world.

IQbuds² MAX
Nuheara IQbuds² MAX

2. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones for tinnitus feature 11 levels of noise cancellation that range from fully cancelling to fully transparent.  They are also rechargeable and use touch control to change settings.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

3. Bose Quiet Comfort 20

Bose Quiet Comfort 20 noise cancelling earphones allow the user to switch between noise cancelling mode and “Aware mode,” which allows the user to hear that’s happening in the environment.

Bose Quiet Comfort 20 Noise Cancelling Earphones
Bose Quiet Comfort 20 Noise Cancelling Earphones

4. Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones are regarded as the "King of noise cancellation" according to the Sound Guys. They are also highly rated as Amazon's Choice.

Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless
Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless

5. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Earbuds offer a convenient and discreet wireless ear bud option for noise cancellation

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Earbuds
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Earbuds

6. Soundcore Life Q30

Soundcore Life Q30 are a good budget option for noise cancellation headphones

Soundcore Life Q30 Headphones
Soundcore Life Q30 Headphones

Earplugs for Tinnitus

Foam earplugs can be a useful tool to have on hand when you wish to reduce environmental noises when you’re trying to sleep, concentrate, or simply relax.  

See this video tutorial for how to fit your 3M roll down earplugs, which can be purchased over the counter.

Custom made ear plugs that are specifically designed for activities such as shooting or performing music can be obtained through an audiologist.  There are also specially designed ear plugs for sleep time called sleep plugs.

Oto: A digital companion for tinnitus therapy

While noise-cancelling headphones offer a temporary respite from the persistent sounds of tinnitus, a more comprehensive solution is often needed for long-term relief. Enter Oto, a digital platform designed to help you cope with tinnitus more effectively. Created by a team of experts who have both personal and professional experience with tinnitus, it offers a unique blend of medical expertise and empathetic understanding.

The power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

When it comes to tackling tinnitus, nothing beats the proven effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This psychological treatment equips you with the mental tools to change your perception of tinnitus, allowing you to focus on your life rather than the constant noise. 

Features tailored to your needs

  • Guided audio programs: Beyond mere symptom relief, these CBT sessions offer actionable strategies and coping mechanisms, enabling you to regain focus and live a more fulfilling life despite tinnitus.
  • Instant access anywhere: The app brings the support you need right to your fingertips, wherever you are. It’s like having a CBT therapist in your pocket to help you tune out tinnitus effectively.
  • Comprehensive toolkit: Oto offers a variety of tools to improve different aspects of your life affected by tinnitus, from sleep aids to focus-enhancing sounds.
  • User-friendly design: It is intuitively designed for ease of use, making it accessible even for those who aren't tech-savvy.

Additionally, Oto's 1-1 program offers personalised coaching sessions alongside the app, providing a well-rounded approach to reducing the impact of tinnitus. You'll also gain access to regular webinars and Q&As with leading tinnitus experts. 

Ready to take control of your life? Download Oto from the App Store or Google Play today and start tuning out tinnitus with the proven effectiveness of CBT.


In today's noisy world, finding effective ways to manage tinnitus is crucial. While noise-cancelling headphones can offer a temporary respite and are a valuable tool – especially when you choose from our list of top recommendations – they are not a long-term solution. 

For sustained relief, nothing beats the proven effectiveness of CBT. Oto's mobile app brings this powerful treatment right to your fingertips, offering a comprehensive, user-friendly approach to tackling tinnitus. The app addresses real-life challenges such as daily disruptions, sleep issues, and emotional stress, providing actionable strategies to help you tune out tinnitus and focus on what truly matters.

So, are you ready to take the next step in your tinnitus management journey? Don't let tinnitus control your life any longer. Get started with Oto today and leverage the transformative power of CBT.


Can noise canceling headphones provide relief from tinnitus?

Yes, some noise canceling headphones can offer temporary relief from tinnitus. However, excessive use to "cut out" environmental sound can make tinnitus perception worse.

What are the two types of noise canceling headphones?

There are two types: passive and active. Passive headphones block sound by covering the outer ear, while active headphones emit sound at specific frequencies to cancel out external noises.

Can noise canceling headphones cause or worsen tinnitus?

There's no scientific research showing that noise canceling headphones specifically cause or worsen tinnitus. However, if used without sound playing, the noise canceling feature might make tinnitus seem louder by reducing natural tinnitus making with everyday sounds.

How should noise canceling headphones be used with tinnitus?

The sound in the headphones should be at a pleasant and comfortable level, never to completely mask or drown out environmental sound. They shouldn't be worn all night during sleep to ensure safety.

What's the difference between noise canceling headphones and hearing protection?

While noise canceling headphones are used to reduce the sound levels in noisy areas or to focus without interruption, hearing protection is used to protect ears from harmfully loud sounds.

Which are some top noise canceling headphones recommended for tinnitus?

Some top recommendations include Nuheara IQbuds² MAX, Bose Noise Canceling Headphones, Sony WH-1000XM5, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, and Soundcore Life Q30.

Can earplugs help with tinnitus?

Earplugs can reduce environmental noises, especially during sleep. However, overuse can make tinnitus seem louder due to less masking from everyday sounds.

What are the benefits of the Oto app for tinnitus sufferers?

The Oto app offers techniques to cope with tinnitus, including CBT techniques, sound enrichment, mindfulness activities, relaxation exercises, and sleep support.

Is it advisable to use noise canceling headphones all the time?

No, neither noise canceling headphones nor hearing protection should be used all the time. They should be reserved for proper use when needed, such as when being exposed to loud sounds or noisy areas. There is a risk that consistent noise reduction of normal, everyday sounds may lead to one becoming more aware of their tinnitus due to less masking and being more sensitive to acceptable sound levels.

How can one ensure safe volume levels when using headphones?

It's important to monitor the volume and keep it at a comfortable level. Modern smartphones often track and alert users if the volume is too high.

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Discover how to tune out tinnitus with our free webinar

Register for our 20 minute webinar and learn why you don't just have to live with tinnitus.
Thanks for signing up! Please check your inbox to access the course.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.