What Are the Best Noise Reduction Earmuffs for Studying?

what are the best earmuffs for studying

Our brain is constantly listening to what is happening around us, and intermittent noises draw our attention away from studying whether we want it or not.

Noise reduction earmuffs are an inexpensive and effective antidote against these distractions.

Noise sources include talking, rustling paper, eating noises, coughing, ringing phones and message alerts, video game sounds, clicking keyboards, etc.

Memory, math, and reading comprehension all suffer. Studies have shown that performance can deteriorate by 30% and more.

I have used earmuffs (and other tools) for years to block out distractions while reading, writing, thinking, and meditating, and I still do.

All muffs recommended in this post were acquired at standard retailers and used in a variety of different settings. I have additionally subjected them to tests with coffee shop noise, cafeteria noise, and pink noise.

By how much do earmuffs reduce everyday noise?

Good study earmuffs reduce noise by 30 to 40 decibels in the frequency range from 500-8000 Hz, the range in which many everyday noises occur.

If you consider that a noise reduction by 10 decibels means halving the perceived loudness, this is huge.

What’s more, you don’t have to block all noise to make a difference when it comes to studying.

Every click, rustling, creaking, and attention-grabbing conversation that doesn’t reach your ear conserves brain resources.

But I want you to keep your expectations realistic: 

No earmuffs (even the bulkiest ones) and no other noise reduction tool that covers or plugs the ear can create complete silence in a noisy place.

In a classroom, coffee shop or cafeteria, noise levels can go up to 60 decibels and more.

Earmuffs lower the volume by a lot and take the edge off noise, but you will still hear louder conversations and screeching chairs.

You can improve on this by using a masking sound such as white noise or water sounds (e.g., waterfall, rain). For more on how to do this, please check my post How to Block Out People’s Voices.

You have two choices:

  1. Passive earmuffs without speakers: They offer good sound isolation and reduce the volume of a large range of distracting noises.
    Listening to sound via smaller earbuds underneath works, but can somewhat reduce wearing comfort.
  2. Earmuff headphones (often with Bluetooth): They work like passive earmuffs, but you can additionally play white noise or waterfall sounds to mask loud noises (e.g., chatter) that make it through the passive sound isolation.
    You can also use these to listen to lectures, podcasts and focus music.

Summary best earmuffs for studying

All short-listed earmuffs effectively reduce everyday noises students typically encounter and don’t look ridiculous. They are sturdy, have a well-adjustable headband, ample space for most ears, and replaceable ear cushions.

Best for adult students: Peltor Sport Bull’s Eye (NRR 27)

Why: Effective noise reduction and good looking at a medium weight & profile

Downside: At min. headband extension not small enough for younger children

Best for light earmuffs, young learners, and classroom use: Peltor X2A (NRR 24)

Why: Effective at only 7.7 oz., great headband and very rugged

Best earmuff headphones for students: 3M Worktunes Connect (NRR 24)

Available as foam edition and gel edition (gel more spacious, better for large ears)

Why: Good earmuffs plus you can stream masking sounds (e.g., white noise), focus music, and lectures via Bluetooth (or wired)

Downside: Heavier than comparable earmuffs without speakers

Best study earmuffs for very loud environments: Peltor Sport Ultimate (NRR 30)

Why: You have to study in a very loud environment, e.g., nearby construction, rumbling trucks and other low-frequency noise

Downside: At 13 oz., heavy and bigger ear cups. Not recommended for children

Recommended earmuffs details

Rationale for the recommendations

I have used all earmuffs in this post in a variety of different settings and tested them against coffee shop noise, cafeteria noise, and pink noise.

Most of the recommended earmuffs have noise reduction ratings from 24-28.

This leads to good to very good mid-and-high frequency noise reduction at a moderate weight and profile.

In case you need to maximize noise reduction to fend off heavy road traffic or construction next door, I have included a suggestion for larger NRR-30 earmuffs.

In most study situations, the lighter and more discrete options should do just fine.

I aimed to select earmuffs that meet the following criteria:

  • Can be worn in public,
  • have a well-adjustable headband (extension and ear cup tilt),
  • offer ample space for the ear,
  • are sturdy,
  • have replaceable ear pads,
  • allow upgrading to gel ear cushions for added comfort and ear space

Many earmuffs are inexpensive, but being able to replace only the ear pads helps to reduce plastic waste. In addition, you can optionally use different cushions if you find the stock ear pads uncomfortable or too small for your ears.

Peltor Sport Bull’s Eye (NRR 27): Recommendation for adult students

Peltor-Bulls-Eye-earmuffs

For study earmuffs without speakers, the Bull’s Eye are my current favorites.

They effectively reduce everyday noise and have a medium weight (9.5 oz., 269g) and a medium profile.

Note: For a child, these muffs may be too large even at minimum extension; the X2A described below can be made smaller.

The Bull’s Eye look good and can be worn anywhere you go, such as in a coffee shop, library, etc., without standing out or looking stupid.

They are among the most adjustable earmuffs and the ear cushions provide ample space, even for large ears. The cushions are replaceable when worn out.

Optionally, gel ear cushions are available for these muffs that provide even more space and work better with glasses.

Tip: When using these and other muffs as study earmuffs, place reading glasses temples’ on top of the ear cushions, instead of inside. I find this the most comfortable option.

Please also check the following posts:

For an in-depth review of these earmuffs: Peltor Sport Bull’s Eye and Sport Ultimate Review

For more information on gel ear cushions and improving wearing comfort for earmuffs: How to Make Noise Reduction Earmuffs More Comfortable

Peltor X2A (NRR 24): Ideal for young learners, students who want very light muffs, and classroom use

Peltor-X2A-earmuffs

Weighing only 7.7 oz. (217 g), the Peltor X2A are very light earmuffs.

Overall, they are a tad less effective than the Bull’s Eye, but with the kind of noise you typically get in a study environment the difference is barely noticeable.

Despite being light, the X2A are very rugged earmuffs (rubberized cups & headband) and can take quite a beating.

I have used these and other X-series earmuffs, and have never been able to damage any of them.

The headband may look as if it was plastic, but it is actually made of a good layer of rubber molded over a steel wire core. Some headbands can create pressure points at the top of the head, but I have not had issues with this one.

You can change both the headband’s extension and the tilt of the ear cups

By comparison, the Bull’s Eye headband is a little more extendable, but the X2A also fit most adult heads, and they can be made smaller to fit young learners.

The ear cup openings of these muffs provide ample space for the ears (more than the X4A from the same series).

The ear cushions of the X2A are replaceable and 3M offers hygiene kits (ear cushions + foam lining).

Should you at some point decide, you want even more spacious and softer ear cushions, you can also use gel cushions.

Tip:

While there are no “official gels” for these earmuffs, both the GEL-HYG the Prohear GEP01 snap into the ear cups (review). The GEP01 are softer (a bit more comfy) but when used with the X2A, they are somewhat less effective at reducing noise than the GEL-HYG.

3M Worktunes Connect (NRR 24): Earmuff headphones with Bluetooth

3M-Worktunes-Connect-earmuffs-gel

The Worktunes Connect offer a great overall package: they are good passive noise blockers, have built-in Bluetooth headphones with a 40-hour rechargeable battery, and look sleek.

You can use these earmuffs without power to reduce noise like you can with any other noise reduction earmuffs in this post.

In addition, you can also connect them via Bluetooth / wired to your phone or computer and listen to lectures, podcasts, and audio books. You could even take phone calls (not recommended while studying).

Finally, you can use white noise, waterfall sounds or focus music to enhance study performance and mask loud noises (e.g., loud conversations) that make it through the passive noise isolation.

The Worktunes Connect come in two configurations: with foam ear cushions and with more spacious gel ear cushions.

Both are good, but if you have large ears, I recommend you get the gel version.

Notes:

  • At 12.35 oz. (350g), they are heavier than earmuffs without speakers but comparable noise reduction. For adult students the weight should be fine, but they may be a bit heavy for a smaller child.
  • Unlike normal headphones, these earmuff headphones have a built-in volume limiter which attempts to keep the volume at a safe listening level (<82 dB).
  • The ear cushions of the Worktunes are replaceable.

For more information, please read my detailed review of the 3M Worktunes Connect.

NRR-30 earmuffs for maximum noise reduction

NRR-30-earmuffs-for-studying

Earmuffs with an NRR of 30+ are designed as a hearing protector in high noise environments.

If they really are NRR-30 earmuffs, they also reduce everyday noise better than earmuffs with a rating of 24 to 28. The difference is noticeable with low-frequency and low-mid-frequency noise.

If you are bothered by road traffic or have construction going on next door, or need to make a loud environment as quiet as possible, they are a good option.

The downside is that they are a bulkier (big ear cups) and typically heavier, and some of them look huge.

But note, even they will not completely block loud conversations, screeching chairs, and loud clicking noises.

For most study situations, I recommend mid-NRR (24-28) earmuffs. They take the edge off the noise around you without being too big.

Here are two recommendations for NRR-30 earmuffs

Peltor Sport Ultimate

The Ultimate are the larger brother of the Bull’s Eye. They have the same headband and ear cushions with ample space for the ears, but use bigger ear cups with more mass.

This results in a weight of 13 oz. (368 g) as opposed to 9.5 oz. (269 g) for the Bull’s Eye. I am OK with the weight, but would not recommend these muffs for children.

Despite being large, in my opinion they still look good, and the Sport Ultimate are very effective at reducing noise.

For more information, also read my comparative review for the Sport Ultimate, Bull’s Eye, and the Optime 105 listed next.

Optime 105

At 10.1 oz. (286g), the Optime 105 are substantially lighter than and virtually as effective as the Sport Ultimate.

On the downside, the ear cups are as big as the Ultimate’s and they look much more like construction earmuffs.

They also offer somewhat less space for the ears than the Ultimate (but are still roomy enough for most ears).

The ear cushions of the Optime 105 can be replaced. At present, no gel cushion upgrade is available.

Final thoughts

Earmuffs, with or without speakers, are a great, inexpensive study tool.

If you find your environment too loud or distracting or easily lose focus try a pair. You may be surprised how much better you’ll be able to concentrate even if you can only cut out half of the distracting noises.

How do earmuffs compare to active noise cancelling headphones?

Both can be used to reduce distracting noises.

Earmuffs: No frills, but effective at reducing most everyday noises. Great bang for your buck! Just get a pair and toss them in your bag.

You have to get used to a significantly higher headband force than with normal headphones though. But they stretch over time.

Good active noise cancelling headphones cost more. They sound better than earmuff headphones, are more comfortable, and are better at reducing low-frequency noise. But to do this they need to be turned on.

They are typically weaker than earmuffs at reducing mid frequency noise, including speech. You can compensate for this if you don’t mind playing a masking sound (white noise) or focus music.

For other options for reducing noise while studying, please also read my post The Best Tools to Block Noise While Studying or Working in an Office.

8 thoughts on “What Are the Best Noise Reduction Earmuffs for Studying?”

  1. Helmut,
    Before I discovered your website I was thinking something like this needed to exist on the internet. This site is a huge service to people who are trying to deal with noise sensitivity. Seeing some of the things that I could feel fleshed out in writing has helped me and I’m sure many others zero in on the most relevant solutions.
    I was planning to send this and some other info through your contact page, but it doesn’t seem to be accepting emails at this time.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
    • Hello Marcel,

      Many thanks for the encouraging feedback.
      And thank you for the heads up: I had the contact page checked; It must have been a temporary glitch and should be working now.
      Please share the site with other people who might benefit.

      All the best.

      Reply
  2. Hi Helmut,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while, and learnt a lot about noise reduction.
    You are the hero of noise dilemmas! Thank you.

    My current set up is a pair of X5A ear muffs with HY80 gel pads for comfort. I use this on a daily basis to help me with my study and to block out general noise. This solution has helped a lot, but I still have trouble with blocking out loud voices, and the thumping low frequency beats coming from a nightclub that I live adjacent to. I’m looking to improve on this.

    I have tried using foam earplugs in the past. The brand that I used may not have been good quality, and I may not have been using them correctly (I wasn’t placing them as deeply in my ears as I’ve seen from some of the pictures from your articles), but I started experiencing ear pain. I’d prefer to go for something different than foam earplugs.

    One solution that I have in mind is to add the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro Earbuds to my current set up, maybe in combination with dark brown noise to drown out some of the nightclub music? However, I noted that you found the 1More buds to be uncomfortable after wearing for some hours, and it also involves running a cord under the X5A’s ear cup. Do you have any other suggestions? I’m looking for a comfy long term solution that will allow me to watch video lessons for my study, whilst being strong enough to block out the loud noises in my environment.

    Thanks,
    Trân

    Reply
    • Hello Trân,

      thank you for your very uplifting feedback!

      As to speech noise:
      Short of using a helmet, even passive noise isolation plus active noise cancelling at the ear can’t completely block loud speech noise.
      Both will help to reduce it and complement each other.

      But to not hear loud chatter at all, you would still have to add a masking sound as mentioned in the post How to Block Out People’s Voices.

      Against low-frequency noise (e.g., the thumping bass from the adjacent night club), the HY80 gels actually somewhat reduce the performance of your X5A earmuffs.

      However, the gel cushions should may make it more comfortable to wear active noise cancelling earbuds underneath your muffs, and the earbuds might help against the club.

      I have your setup.

      I’ll try your combination with the 1More ANC earbuds and give you a feedback. It will take a few days.

      P.S.: All by themselves, I find the 1More buds very comfortable. It’s the combination with the X5A + gels that needs testing.

      All the best.

      Reply
    • Hello Trân,

      I have now tried the 1More ANC Pro underneath the X5A earmuffs with HY80 gel ear cushions:

      The gels definitely enhance the comfort of this combination compared to the standard ear pads and there is ample space for the earbuds underneath the muffs.

      I am fine wearing this combination for two to three hours at a time. After that my ears need a rest and I start feeling the wires.

      I tried the combination against bass-heavy EDM music played via a sub-woofer system.
      As I expected, the earbuds add a lot of low frequency noise reduction!
      All by themselves the earbuds are already very good against the bass and moderately so against other noise. Against speech and higher frequency noise the earmuffs add a lot.

      I would not want to use this combination for sleeping. I don’t find it comfy enough for this.

      If I was mainly trying to reduce bass noise at night, I would use the earbuds all by themselves and perhaps play brown noise or a waterfall sound at a moderate volume.
      I can wear them without experiencing any discomfort. If you are side sleeping, you have to be aware that they protrude somewhat from your ears, but I still much prefer this over over-ear headphones.

      If you need a single tool that combines comfort (provided you are a back sleeper) and overall noise reduction at night plus reduces study distractions during the day: Quality over-ear ANC headphones.
      The Sony WH-1000XM4 and M3 come to mind (in particular because you are mentioning the night club).
      I have now had the M3 for quite a while, and more recently also got the M4.

      The two appear to me to be virtually the same in terms of comfort, noise reduction and sound signature.
      For me, the main advantage of the M4 is that I can connect to two devices at the same time. Otherwise I would optimize based on price.

      In any case, I would make sure you can return stuff that expensive in case it doesn’t work for you.

      I hope this helps a bit. All the best.

      Reply
      • Thanks for taking the time to test this out and for writing a thoughtful response.

        I’m going to try out the 1more earbuds in combination with several other solutions suggested here and there on your website; X4A w/ Camelbacks plus U-pillow, Lectrofan. Hoping this scattershot will handle all variations of noise intrusion. Keeping Sony M4 in mind as a future possible alternative.

        I’m glad that you’ve gotten past the four hour sleeps, hope to find some success now too!

        Keep well,
        Trân

        Reply
        • If you are using the 1more earbuds, you may not need a white noise machine.
          Just play your masking sound (e.g., created by myNoise) through the earbuds and use the app’s equalizer for best performance.

          Also, here is one more idea for sleeping: If you already have some standard comfy over-ear headphones with slightly deeper ear cups (they shouldn’t touch the earbuds), try these as light earmuffs (without sound) over the 1More. The headphones add to the higher-frequency noise reduction the earbuds already offer and the earbuds’ ANC does the heavy lifting against the bass noise.

          All the best.

          Reply

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