If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
According to the CDC, extended exposure to noises over 70dB (decibels) can lead to permanent hearing damage. This includes activities like using a gas-powered lawn mower, or riding on a motorcycle. Noise-reduction ear muffs look like over-ear noise-cancelling headphones, but their ear pads are made out of materials that dampen (the technical word for reduce) the volume of loud sounds before they reach your ears. The noise dampening is built into the headphones, so it doesn’t require a power source to work.
Wearing a pair of noise-reduction ear muffs while you work with power tools, or plan on being in a loud environment won’t totally protect your ears from potential damage, but it will reduce the risk. Our guide will help you find the right ones for you, whether you want to stick with the basics, or prefer having extras, like Bluetooth connectivity for music listening.
The Best Noise-Reduction Ear Muffs
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right noise-reduction ear muffs for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Noise-Reduction Rating: Every pair of noise-reduction ear muffs is assigned an NRR (Noise-Reduction Rating), which approximates how much sound it can keep from reaching your ears. All of our recommendations have an NRR value of 23dB.
For reference, many popular earplugs have an NRR rating of 32dB, and can be worn under your noise-reduction ear muffs for an extra layer of protection.
Weight: You’ll likely be wearing your noise-reduction ear muffs for extended periods of time, so you’ll definitely feel their weight. The materials used in noise-reduction ear muffs is far heavier than the ones used for over-ear headphones, and our picks can weigh almost one pound.
Powered vs. Passive: As we mentioned earlier, the noise-reduction ear muffs work passively, which means their sound-dampening properties are a function of the materials they’re made out of.
Some of our recommendations also have active noise cancellation, which use microphones to cancel out noises at certain frequencies. Active noise cancellation adds a significant amount of weight to the ear muffs, and requires them to be charged.
Audio In: While noise-reduction ear muffs aren’t a replacement for over-ear headphones, some do have built-in speakers, so you can listen to music while you engage in certain activities. Make sure to check local laws before listening to music while riding a motorcycle, or operating heavy machinery.
1. Walker’s Razor Hearing Protection Ear Muffs
Walker’s ear muffs combine excellent passive and active noise cancellation at the cost of some weight.
When they’re powered off, this pair of noise-reduction ear muffs has the same 23dB NRR rating as the other ones in our guide, but turning them on engages its SAC (sound activated compression circuit). Using two microphones, the SAC uses active noise cancellation to block up to 82dB of noise on top of the 23dB it’s blocking passively.
Its response time is 0.02 seconds, so you’ll barely hear the loud noise before the ear muffs start working.
The electronics required for active noise cancellation contributes to the ear muffs weight: 0.77 pounds, which is 0.2 pounds heavier than the lightest pair we recommend. You’ll notice the difference on your head, but the trade-off is worth it given the big difference between its active and passive noise cancellation settings. The only downside is that these ear muffs require a non-rechargeable battery to work, so you’ll always have to keep some around.
Finally, the ear muffs have an audio-in jack, so you can connect your phone to it, but only via a standard 3.5mm audio cable. This cable is common, so you may already have it, but feeling a tug on your ear muffs each time you make a big movement may get annoying.
2. Vanderfields Ear Protection Ear Muffs
Vanderfields’ ear muffs work using passive noise reduction, which means sound is absorbed in its large, spongy earcups.
The upside is that at just 8.8 ounces these are one of the the lightest noise-reduction ear muffs on our guide. You’ll definitely feel that difference if you need to wear a pair of ear muffs for longer than a half hour.
The downsides to passive noise cancellation is that there’s no way to stream music through the ear muffs, and no additional sound filtering, which you’d get through active noise cancellation. On the other hand, there’s no batteries to keep track of and charge, which makes this pair more grab-and-go than our other recommendations.
Despite only using passive noise cancellation, these noise reduction ear muffs reduce noise up to 125db. They lack some extras, but nail the core functionality necessary that helps keep your ears safe.
3. 3M WorkTunes Connect Gel Ear Muffs
3M prioritized comfort and audio technology over weight and active noise cancellation in its WorkTunes noise-reduction ear muffs.
At 0.96 pounds, this is the heaviest pair of ear muffs in our guide. The weight is due in part to the huge ear cups, which are made out of a gel cushion for added comfort. These two physical factors kind of cancel each other out: they’re heavier on your head, but easier on your ears.
Although these headphones are powered, they only provide passive noise cancellation, and earn the same 23dB NRR rating as our other recommendations. Instead, 3M decided to build a pair of speakers and a Bluetooth chip into its ear muffs, turning them into a pair of wireless headphones.
If you listen to music while you work, the combination of passive noise cancellation and audio will make these headphones very appealing, but the lack of active noise cancellation — especially given the weight — is a little disappointing. 3M’s noise reduction ear muffs can be recharged via a Micro-USB cable, but the company doesn’t say how long they last per charge.
If you want extra ear padding and a way to stream music while you work, 3M’s WorkTunes noise reduction ear muffs are the right choice.
Bluetooth technology lets you wirelessly stream music, plus it has a rechargeable battery for longer wear-time, and gel-filled ear cups for added comfort.