ELI5 if you hear the volume at the same level, what’s more harmful to your ears: in ear or over ear headphones?

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If it’s truly at the same level, it doesn’t make a difference. You ears can’t directly tell if you’re using in-ear or over-ear headphones. All they can feel is what actually hits your eardrums (not counting bone-conduction headphones). Harm is caused by too much energy going into your inner ear and damaging the very sensitive hairs inside. At equal volume, you’ve got equal energy going in and equal damage. Typically you’re not going to run in-ear and over-ear at the same volume though…over-ear does a *much* better job of blocking external sound, so you usually don’t need the volume to be as high to enjoy the same fidelity. So, in practice, you usually have the effective volume lower on over-ears (and less energy from external sources), which should lead to lower hearing damage, but that’s all because there’s less energy going into your ears.


Different direction to other comments. Earbuds put considerably more pressure on the sensitive parts of your ear. They also compact wax in the ear canal. Over the ear are always “healthier”, barring any specific medical condition. The flip side: over the ear can put pressure on glasses or the temple, which can cause irritation and headaches. There are some that loop over the ear without being an earbud, which generally avoids both issues.


Hi there! Audio engineer here. Tl;dr technically they’re each as capable of causing hearing damage. However you’re more likely to overdo it with in ears before you realize. I will do my best to break this down. First, there are two factors that work TOGETHER to create hearing damage. There is loudness and there is exposure time. Loudness for our purposes is going to mean how much PRESSURE the sound creates. We like to visualize sound as a squiggly line but it actually is more like a piston pushing air toward you. The harder the air is moving, the more pressure is hitting your ears. Exposure time is how long you have to feel that pressure on your ears. These two things are inversely related- that means that the MORE pressure (loudness), the LESS time it takes to cause damage to your ears. Now let’s bring this back to your question about types of headphones. As other commenters have said, because over ear headphones tend to seal out the outside world better, you will often listen to them at a lower loudness, which means less pressure on your ears. For this reason you can listen to them for longer before truly damaging your hearing. In ears tend to cause hearing problems faster because we often have them turned up louder. It is possible to have the inverse happen, though. It depends on how well they seal out outside sound. If the loudness (pressure) were truly identical, then it would take the same amount of time to cause hearing damage. Edit to add: one factor which I skipped for the purpose of eli5 is where we are measuring loudness, but I want to give it a quick shout-out. We are measuring loudness (pressure) at your ear. So the loudness as it sounds to YOU. Another commenter wisely pointed out that if we measure this loudness at the SOURCE instead of the listener, then assuming they’re truly identical, earbuds are closer to your ear than over ears, which means that you will perceive more loudness from the in ears. Remember that more pressure means less time before you experience hearing damage.


You are vibrating the eardrum either way. The greater danger is in increased volume which causes more violent vibration of the eardrum which can lead to hearing loss if you damage the internal workings of your ear.


Your ears are receiving the same amount of energy over time, the source is irrelevant. Your ear drums act the same whether the sound comes from earphones, cars or airplanes; they vibrate according to the air pressure differential (“sound”) that reaches them