I wear headphones almost all day long. The headphones I wear for 90% of the day are my trusted Beyerdynamic DT-990s Pros for studio work.
There is some debate, particularly amongst audio geeks like myself, on how tightly headphones should fit. Some argue that headphones should be tight to maximise the audio levels and sound, while others take this theory with a pinch of salt.
So in reality, how tight should headphones be?
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 well known that major headphone manufacturers, such as Sennheiser, design headphones to fit the widest percentage of the general population. As a result, it is never straightforward finding a perfectly fitting pair of headphones, so what can you do to help find that perfect “secure but not too tight” fit?
What is headphone clamp force?
Over-ear or on-ear headphones will have a clamping force attached to them.
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 with individuals unhappy with their headphones fit.
Signs that your headphones are too tight, with too strong of a clamp force are:
- You may expereince headaches as the headphones are placing to much pressure on your head.
- Sweaty ears due to lack of ventilation around your ears. This will be particualry noticable on headphones with plastic cups.
- Discomfort on the skin around your head as the earphones press into your skull.
- Short listening sessions as you will not be able to comfortabley listen to your headphones for longer periods of time due to the clamp pressure.
How do you reduce clamping force in 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.
Below is a common method to reduce the clamping force for a softer fit:
- Grab some books and place them side by side until they are the width of your headphones as shown below.
- Leave or store your headphones in this position for some time. Even after 24 hours you will notice that the headphones will feel more loose on your head.
Is it bad to wear tight heaphones?
Wearing tight headphones could result in headaches or migraines due to the tension and pressure placed on your head from the clamping force of the tight headphones.
Headphones should never be so tight as to cause headaches or pain.
Other than the effects of wearing tight headphones on causing headaches, very little research appears to have been done into the longer effects of wearing tight headphones.
What is healthy headphone use?
I wear headphones almost 90% of the day and personally, I am concerned about the influence of long term headphone-wearing on my hearing and on my brain.
Although it would be difficult for me to dramatically reduce my headphone use as they are often a key tool in music production, I did wonder if I could improve my “headphone health”.
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)! ” [Reference: 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. [Reference: Harvard Health Blog]
From these two key takeaways from the Harvard Health Blog, the real issue that can damage your hearing is listening at too loud a volume, so personally, I am going to make a big effort to keep my listening levels low, and well below the 70dB threshold as much as possible.
What weight of headphones is good?
The weight of headphones can be really important in achieving a good fit for over-ear and in-ear headphones.
A pair of light headphones will need a very tight clamping force to stay on the head when subjected to excessive head movement, and as a result, be uncomfortable.
If you get a slightly heavier pair of headphones with a softer clamping force, you will find that the headphones will be really comfortable as they will not be too tight, but due to the slightly heavier weight, they will stick your head better and feel more secure.
According to a headphone test by Rtings.com, headphones below 0.55lbs are considered light and above 0.75lbs are considered heavy.
Weight is really a subjective thing, but typically with heavier headphones, you will get more padding and softer headbands resulting in a snug and secure fit.
For me personally, the most comfortable headphones on the market with excellent quality and less than $100 are the Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro Studio headphones.
If you have a bigger head, and therefore need a light clamp force, Beyerdynamic recommend the DT-990 Edition, which is identical to the DT-990 Pros but has a softer headband for greater comfort.
If you would like to learn more about these fantastic headphones, check out my in-depth review of the Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro headphones.