Tight Headphones (And should they be loose?)

Any sound engineer will tell you that one of the most important pieces of equipment in their arsenal is a good pair of headphones. But not just any headphones will do—they need to fit well.

Some debate exists, particularly amongst audio enthusiasts like myself, regarding how snugly headphones should fit. Some allege that tighter-fitting headphones maximise audio levels and sound quality, while others are sceptical of this theory.

As a general rule, headphones should feel snug and secure when fitted, and not move despite excessive head movement. A good-fitting pair of headphones will remain in place for longer periods of time without causing pain, pressure, or discomfort to the user.

It is generally accepted that headphone manufacturers create headphones to fit the majority of people. Therefore, it’s tricky to find a pair of headphones that fit perfectly.

In this article, I want to look at how tight headphones should be, including:

  • Are headphones supposed to be tight?
  • What happens if you wear tight headphones?
  • Why do my headphones feel so tight?
  • How do you fix too-tight headphones?
  • What is the best way to test headphones fit?
  • How much headphone use is too much?

Are Headphones Supposed To Be Tight?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it largely depends on personal preference.

Some people find that tighter-fitting headphones provide a better sound quality, while others find them uncomfortable.

As a general rule, however, headphones should feel snug and secure when fitted, and not move despite excessive head movement.

If you find your headphones are constantly slipping off or causing pain, it is likely that they are not the right size for you.

What Happens If You Wear Tight Headphones?

The tightness of headphones is subjective and will vary between listeners.

There will be some telltale signs, however, that will let you know you are wearing your headphones too tightly.

Here are some symptoms of wearing tight headphones:

1. Headaches

You may experience headaches as the headphones are placing too much pressure on your head.

2. Sweaty Ears

You may suffer from sweaty ears because of a lack of ventilation around your ears. This will be particularly noticeable on headphones with plastic cups.

3. Skin Being Pulled

You may experience discomfort on the skin around your head as the earphones press into your skull.

Headphones should never be so tight as to cause headaches or pain.

Other than the effects of wearing tight headphones on causing headaches, unfortunately, very little research appears to have been done into the longer effects of wearing tight headphones, so it is best to take regular listening breaks and ensure your headphones are always comfortable.

Why Do My Headphones Feel So Tight?

Different headphone designs will have a different headphone clamp forces, which will determine how tight your headphones feel. Headphone clamp force only applies to over-ear or on-ear headphones.

Headphone clamp force is the amount of force or pressure the headphones place on your head.

Headphones that are too tight out of the box are typically a result of a very strong headphone clamp force.

You will want your headphones to be snug with a secure fit, but not so tight as to cause discomfort. To get this balance right, you need to consider the headphone clamp force.

Headphones that are too tight are one of the most common complaints from individuals unhappy with their headphones’ fit.

How Do You Fix Too Tight Headphones?

If your current headphone clamping force is too tight and it feels like the headphones are crushing your head, you can stretch them out to make them more comfortable.

It is worth noting, however, that only do this if you intend to keep the headphones!

If you are unhappy with a headphone fit and try to stretch them out, it is unlikely that the manufacturer will replace the headphones if you are still unhappy after the stretching process.

Here is a common method to fix headphones that feel too tight:

  1. Grab some books and place them side by side until they are the width of your headphones.
  2. Leave or store your headphones in this position for some time. Even after 24 hours, you’ll notice the headphones will feel looser on your head.

What Is The Best Way To Test Headphone Fit?

The best way to test the headphone fit is to try them on and see how they feel. You can typically try headphones on in audio stores, however, ensure you check with the store first.

If they are too loose, they will slip off easily and will not provide a good seal.

If they are too tight, they will be uncomfortable and may cause pain.

The best way to determine if a pair of headphones is the right fit is to wear them for a short period of time and see how they feel. If they are comfortable and stay in place, they are likely the right fit for you.

Gently move your head around and look down and up. The headphones should stay comfortably in position.

How Much Headphone Use Is Too Much?

It is so important to protect our ears.

As someone who works in the audio industry, I often wear headphones almost 90% of the day. To be honest, I am concerned about the influence of long-term headphone-wearing on my hearing and on my brain.

According to the Harvard Health Blog, here are some key points to note if you are a headphone user:

1. Keep Volume Levels Low

Exposure to sound levels above 85 dB (equal to a lawnmower or leaf blower) can cause possible ear damage with exposure of more than two hours, while exposure to sound of 105 to 110 dB can cause damage in five minutes. Sound less than 70 dB is unlikely to cause any significant damage to the ears. This is important to know, because the maximum volume of personal listening devices is above the threshold at which damage occurs (in both children and adults)!

Harvard Health Blog

2. Duration Of Use

In addition to volume, the duration of sound exposure is an important factor that contributes to possible ear damage. Importantly, listening at a comfortable level should be safe for an unlimited amount of time, though it is essential to balance duration of use with loudness of exposure.

Harvard Health Blog

In summary, if you want to preserve your hearing, limit how loud you let things get. For safety, try to keep the sound level below 70 decibels.

Final Thoughts

It is important to make sure that the headphones are not too tight, as this can lead to discomfort or pain.

If your headphones are too tight, you could start experiencing headaches and general discomfort.

Typically, headphones should have a snug fit and not move when the head moves. If your headphones are consistently falling off or moving, it may be a sign that they are too loose and not providing a good seal.

Happy listening!

Engineer Your Sound

We love all things audio, from speaker design, acoustics to digital signal processing. If it makes noise, we are passionate about it.

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