Block Noise, Listen To Music

Noise Blocking headphones made from industrial earmuffs

Noise-Cancelling Headphones actively cancel external sounds so the listener can hear their media without distraction. They do this by taking external sound waves from an on-board microphone, inverting the audio signal and mixing that with the media audio. The outside sounds and their inverses cancel each other out before reaching the listener’s ears. There is one downside to these types of noise-cancelling headphones, they are very expensive.

[Mike] works in a wood shop and didn’t want to pony up the hundreds of dollars it would cost for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, let alone having such an expensive electronic device in a dusty workshop. The solution? Make some headphones that will block out the noise but still allow the comfortable listening of music. This project is simple but effective; inexpensive headphones taken apart and installed in a pair of Industrial Ear Muffs. If you’d like to make your own, [Mike] gives step by step on the above link.

Comment below and let us know your experiences with noise cancelling headphones and any alternatives you’ve come up with.

37 thoughts on “Block Noise, Listen To Music

    1. This will not work. The feedforward arrangement of noise cancellation (mics on the outside of the earbuds) will get you a few a few dB of attenuation at low frequencies, but the response *must* be appropriately EQ’d. The acoustic response through the earcup is not flat and if you don’t account for this you will certainly end up amplifying some frequencies (overcorrecting). This means that your noise-cancellation will turn into noise-amplification.

      In addition, the better noise cancellation headphones use both feed-forward and feedback (Bose pioneered this) . These have mics on the inside and outside of the earcups. Feedback gains you quite a bit more attenuation, but if you don’t EQ it appropriately and tune the gain you risk getting feedback.

      Noise cancellation is hard.

    1. I worked in a car factory for a few years and that’s what most people did.

      Of course it was completely against every single safety rule but that didn’t stop anyone.

      1. @Rasekov
        How exactly was it against the rules? I can think of all sorts of reasons, I’m just curious what the actual rules were. Like, was it the music, the type of ear protection, or both?

        1. If you listen to music you won’t be able to hear someone screaming at you to move out of the way when something heavy comes your way. It’s pretty much standard practice to ban music where heavy machinery and people meet for this reason.

          This is one reason why most hearing protection will let through certain frequencies more than others, those are the main frequencies of alarms, scared men screaming, and warning sounds in industries…

  1. Noise canceling headphones have one big drawback. The power of the onboard amp limits the intensity of external sounds that can be canceled. The little battery operated amp can’t cancel hip hop bass when you’re in a club or the street for that mater. Someone gave me a pair of the Bose, approx $60, not as pricy as hip hop endorsed ear buds.
    I’ve got all the parts laying around, incl the high eff phone elements. -30 dB industrial hearing protection. To be driven by a DC coupled amp with flac files from a Sansa Fuse+. Wood shop noise is evil!

  2. NRR 30 ear muffs with ear bud for music for when landscaping. In the wood shop, Just the NRR 30 ear muffs because it’s important to be able to hear how the wood is cutting and the sound of the motor. The only exception is when planing lots of bf, when I use the foam in-ear plugs, plus the ear muffs. THE PLANER IS VERY LOUD!

  3. Deja vu… I did this years ago and my pair looked exactly like that. Red ear protectors like that used to be $3 at Harbor Freight, but I can’t find that pair on their website now. A couple tips to improve the build quality: Use a dremel or something to cut a couple of small slots in the bottom of the plastic shells and hot glue the cords in the slots for stress relief. You can also snip slots in the padding to accommodate the cord so it doesn’t have to bend as much (depending on how worried you are about the cord/drivers you used.) I suppose if you wanted to get really fancy you could drill holes, desolder the cord from the drivers, run them through and resolder them, but that seems like an awful lot of work for something this cheap. Hot gluing the drivers and foam pads inside the shells so they stay put is also not a bad idea.

    I can also vouch for the fact that they work quite well… In fact, that’s why I stopped using them. I was completely oblivious to anything going on around me, even with the sound turned down. That, and they clamped my head too much and made my ears too hot for my liking. I use open cans now.

  4. Rich Bremer, are you too lazy to look on Amazon? Noise cancelling headphones don’t cost hundreds of dollars. In fact, I have some that were free after rebate, and they work OK.

  5. my uncle went about this a different way. he put a small mp3 player and the speakers inside the ear protectors. from the outside, they appeared to be plain ol’ ear protectors.
    of course, his hack was so he could rock out at boring work without getting harassed for wearing headphones, while ear protectors were mandatory, so he did not look out of place. anybody else that did it had little wires hanging down from their head. no wires hanging from your head, no obvious ‘safety hazard’.

    1. I actually started this project with a bluetooth headset but one of the earphones wasnt working. i think I like the wired option better though since its one less thing to keep charged in the shop.

      1. one thing about wireless headphones is, if you near a motor it will probably generate a lot of RF, i.e. circular saws, you’ll get a very loud blast of static when the motor starts.

  6. Great idea…
    I bought a set for £25 ($40) (powerfix pkg 82 a1) which had an FM radio built in for a long haul flight. They worked very well, except that your ears do get a bit sweaty after a while.
    They have a microphone which allows you to hear when someone speaks to you despite the noise from any power tools you may be using.

    This is one of those great ideas that very rarely seems to be implemented

  7. I use noise isolating head phones. I can’t hear the guy on the other side of the cubicle who just won’t shut up. They also work well the F1 GP, that is, when they used to be loud.

    Unfortunately they do gunk up a bit with earwax, and if you pull them out too quickly, they can separate leaving the foam deep in you ear.

    1. In my experience with headphones, passive noise cancelling headphones have always been more effective than active. I’d make a large bet than wearing canalphones under unmodified earmuffs would give you better sounding music and higher isolation for cheaper than the parts used in this hack. Not saying the hack was pointless, maybe the hack-er finds canalphones uncomfortable or just wanted to learn about active noise cancellation.

      1. I agree. It’s not a hack, certainly, but I use a pair of ultimate ears customs for both hearing protection and music. They work great once you get used to them and your wallet recovers from price shock. I also have musicians earplugs which work pretty well too.

  8. I have made the same modifications to my military grade earprotection (issued by Finnish defense forces). Works great, altough I wanted to get rid of the cable a few days ago and now it has a cheap bluetooth module and a small battery, also there is a AUX plug for listening without the bluetooth in case the battery runs out :)

  9. Why not buy a set of in ear monitor headphones? 100usd and they are made to work in loud environments and are acoustically better than cutting and gluing.

  10. I have been doing this for years when I mow my grass. I just never drilled any holes in my ears protection. Looks like the exact same ones I used from Harbor freight.

  11. Awww, what the F? I did this seven years ago, exactly the same way and posted it on Instructables (and I know how to spell “voilà”). If I’d known HAD would post it I would have submitted it :)

  12. I do the hearing protectors w/earbuds hack that some of the other commentors here do as well. Had a pair of JVC noise cancelling headphones that worked well, but found that this works much better for drowning out the neighbor’s car bass. When I REALLY want to concentrate, I load up a 24 hr Star Trek ambient ship noise loop, which basically creates white noise, but isn’t high treble like static. I’ve found a pair of flat-cable earbuds at Big Lots for $5 and the flat cable reduces stress points.

  13. The ear protector idea works very well, however if you want something more durable you might consider something like this:

    I made these several years ago mainly because wearing earbuds irritates my ear canals. Also these are better if you’re like me and don’t like a cord dangling from both ears. I used to have a “replacement style” plug with a screw on hood, but even with a strain relief it wore out much too quickly for me. The plug you see in the picture is an overmold plug from an old pair of headphones with the old overmold removed, new wires soldered in place then a new hot glue overmold.

  14. I have a pair of the tactical black earmuffs with the cute little box as well. I started out with a green pair that my guests now use. I’ve purchased pairs for all 4 other shooters in my family as well. Virtually everyone of the instructors at Gunsite had them when I went there, so I took that as a recommendation.

  15. This is a nice low cost solution. I did something similar to few hearing protections in the 80’s and 90’s. The biggest problems were the wires failing. They never lasted more than few months. I then switched to Peltar hearing protectors (-40db) with built in radio. Couple of AA batteries lasted for few weeks.
    Currently you can buy hearing protectors (>-30db) with built in radio, DAB+, and Bluetooth for about 50 dollars. Less if you shop around or find coupons.

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