Noise Canceling Vs. Noise Blocking Headphones (Disability Equipment)

White noise canceling headphones Vs. black noise blocking headphones on a blue floral background
Don’t have time? Read the TL:DR at the end of the article!

When it comes to accessibility and accommodation devices the use of anti-noise gear is very common by autistics. These headphones can aid people with ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and other disabilities. For me, my headphones are like a cane — they make the world easier and less painful. Using my cane or the headphones allows me to do things I can’t do. The headphones also allow me to do things, do them without melting down or eating up all my energy on being in a place. They make my life easier, and walking outside much more bearable. I don’t tire as much, I can go into shops without being unable to do anything for the next day or becoming very afraid, confused or overwhelmed.

Till my last birthday I used Noise blocking headphones, from the kind used by technicians and electrics which I got from my dad. I also use silicone earplugs with them if I need some extra quiet.

This year my awesome friends collected money and bought me noise canceling headphones. I wanted them but I wasn’t sure if buying them was an investment I was ready for — so this was a great birthday present for me.

I decided to do a review and a side-by-side comparison of the two, with pros and cons for each product. I hope you will find it quite useful for yourself or your dear ones!

Noise Blocking Headphones

Noise Blocking Husqvarna’s Headphones

What I use: Husqvarna’s “Hearing protection” old model. 
 Weight: ~200gr
Noise reduction; NRR: 25 dB(A) SNR: 27 dB(A)

Other names: Noise isolation headphones, work earmuffs, passive anti-noise headphones, Hearing protection headphones.

Where to get:
 You can get those in a shops for work equipment, building and DIY home supplies. Various work places supply noise blocking headphones. You can also get them from different shops on AliExpress, eBay or Amazon.

Price: 
About 100–500 ILS (25–130 USD), depending on quality.

How they work:
They go around your ear to block sound-waves from around you and contain different materials inside them to block and muffle the noise. The headphones provide physical barrier between your ear and the sounds around you.

Pros:

  • Relatively cheap (some work places even provide them).
  • No need to charge or use battery. Just put them on and adjust the size!
  • Water proof.
  • Basic models can be used on tests since they are not electronic and do not connect to electronic devices.
  • There are models with FM radio and Bluetooth connection.
  • Low tech — no need for technical understanding to use.
  • Usually it doesn’t matter how you put them because they don’t have left and right sizes.
  • Can be combined with earplugs for better protection and quietness.
  • Can be combined with small headphones for listening to music.
  • Works fine with thin glasses temples (the part that sits on your ears).
  • They might be approved by your country’s “Standards Institute” and thus are reliable and actually protect your ears.
  • Provide hearing protection.
  • Blocks taking and not talking equally.

Cons:

  • Big and bulky — some won’t fit under hats or won’t allow you to sleep in them comfortably on your side/stomach.
  • Sometimes their colours/design give them away as work earmuffs. This can cause stares, unwanted attention or questions.
  • Muffle lower pitch noises better, and you might not hear other talking to you.
  • Can’t play music on their own.
  • Some models are might be uncomfortable because of the pressure they put on your head.

Noise Canceling Headphones

Parrot zik 2.0 white noise canceling headphones

What I use: Parrot zik 2.0 white noise canceling headphones.
Weight: 270 gr, Noise canceling: Up to about ~30 dB,

Other names: Active noise canceling headphones, noise canceling headphones, Noise controlling headphones

Where to get: Electronics stores (like BUG), Amazon, eBay, manufacturer's e-shops.

Price: 
About 1000 — 3000 ILS (250 — 8000 USD), depending on brand and model.

How they work:

The noise canceling works using the physics of sound waves. They use a “counter wave” to cancel the outside noise (Destructive interference). The device can’t predict random noises, so it is more useful for predictable, monotone sounds.

Graphical depiction of active noise reduction, from Wikipedia
Active noise-cancelling headphones use a microphone, amplifier, and speaker to pick up, amplify, and play ambient noise in phase-reversed form; this to some extent cancels out unwanted noise from the environment without affecting the desired sound source, which is not picked up and reversed by the microphone.
- Wikipedia

Pros:

  • Noise cancelling degree can be controlled via an app.
  • Cool and trendy look, various colours might be available.
  • Very comfortable.
  • Various models: earbuds or headphones are found on the market.
  • Can play music from your phone (or computer) and be used for voice calls with high quality sounds.
  • Have some degree of passive noise blocking.
  • You can hear people talking to you — so you won’t miss important stuff!
  • Quite fine to sleep with on the side/stomach, if airplane mood is activated. It is best with probably earbuds models.
  • Music volume control via touch panel in some models.
  • Lowers the volume needed to listen to stuff.
  • Can be worn with some hats.
  • Have both interactive mood and airplane mood.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Not water proof.
  • Delicate electronic equipment.
  • Right and left sides are important — if you don’t put the headphones the right way they might not work as well.
  • If have a control panel on one headphone — might not be as comfortable to left handed individuals.
  • You can still hear human speech clearly, even if you don’t want to.
  • Work on battery — and need charging. If not used for several days, may need additional charging.
  • Electronic noise might be heard if the headphones are charging.
  • Some functions might need a smartphone.
  • People who find it hard to work with electronics might struggle with using them.
  • Accidental touch on the ear control panel leads to starting / stopping what you are listening to.
  • Eats your phone battery quite fast.
  • Can’t use them on tests.
  • Unknown degree of hearing protection.

Summary

Both passive and active anti-noise headphones have their pros and cons, and you should choose what will work better for you. I recommend getting noise blocking headphones. Their price makes them accessible and because they don’t need as much care to block noises. If you can afford active noise cancelling headphones — they can be great addition to your set of tools for dealing with the world. They worth it, even if they are marketed as “super awesome headphones” for able people. They were not designed with disabled people’s needs in mind. Even if you prefer active noise cancelling, I still recommend buying passive headphones as a backup. Also, having both can widen the times you can make yourself more comfortable. Most of the time I use my passive headphones, because I am less worried that they will break. I think that they cancel speech and noises a little bit better, by my experience. The active headphones are very useful as well, especially if I want to listen to texts while working. They are also great for talking on the phone because they have high-quality microphone.


TL:DR;

My final recommendation: active noise cancelling headphones are expensive, but are great. Passive headphones are awesome as well. Get the passive ones, or get both(passive and active) — with the passive functioning as a backup.