If you look at memory champions like Joshua Foer (people who can quickly memorize thousands of numbers or the order of multiple decks of cards) you will notice that they isolate themselves from their environment with ear muffs.1 This is because they notice how they must avoid distractions in order to perform at their peak.
Studies support this idea and show that silence or slight ambient noise is the best study environment.2Cassidy, G., & MacDonald, R. A. (2007). The effect of background music and background noise on the task performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music, 35(3), 517-537. This is why I have assembled this list of the best ear muffs for studying.
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Noise reduction rating (NRR): 25
These ear muffs are not the most attractive around, but couple it with a big black rimmed glasses, a casual hipster outfit and you can easily pull it off.
They may hurt your ears in the beginning. It’s the unfortunate side effect of some headsets. But in time you will get used to it. I know I did.
Noise reduction rating: 22
These babies offer the ability to still communicate while blocking out excess sounds. Due to built-in directional microphones and software it will amplify lower volume speech and ignore higher volume gun shots or other noise.
However, it seems the reduction in dB is not large. The formula for calculating a rough estimate of dB reduction from NRR value is: (Environment noise dB) – ((NRR-7)/2)
Noise reduction: up to 125dB, SNR of 26.
The design is beautiful and you have 9 colors to choose from: black, violet, brown, green, pink, red, iron gray, marine blue and turquoise. An obvious con is that it’s not super flexible, this probably due to having to provide a certain level of hearing protection in a laboratory setting.
The SNR means it is according to EU standards.
Noise reduction: 21-31 dB
You can choose among 5 models. Each with colored differently and with a different level of noise reduction. The black one’s almost reach the max theoretical noise reduction possible for an ear muff. Some adjustability but not a lot.
Unlike the cheaper 3M model, these come with some replacement parts and a cleaning kit.
Noise reduction: 32dB SNR and reduces up to 125dB
Eloquent design coupled with heavy hearing protection. This Ear Defenders model comes in 5 dark colors: green, black, blue, brown, gray. Some adjustability but not a lot once more.
Noise reduction: Box says 20dB NRR
Black minimalist modern design but a great example of why apparently you can’t trust the rating system as a heuristic. This company uses a lot of false advertising to sound better than they are.
Take for instance “NRR Sound Technology” this only makes sense if you don’t know what NRR (noise reduction rating) means. And it seems like this company barely understands English.
4. 3M Worktunes
Noise reduction: 24 dB NRR
The design is more industrial in nature but at least with 3M we know what kind of hearing protection we get. Unlike most highly rated ear muffs there is no false advertising and whoever does the marketing for this company actually understands english.
Noise reduction: 26 db NRR
Identical to some models on Amazon. Which means they are using white label products to market as their own but at least we can trust the NRR rating. Color choices are black and red or black and purple. However, these can be a bit rough on the ears if you’re sensitive.
Noise reduction: NRR is 22, not 31 as advertised.
Plenty of color choices: black, black/orange, black/teal, brown, gray, mossy oak camouflage, pink, pink mossy camouflage, , purple accent, yellow. However it’s the same base model as AmazonBasics or Vanderfields just a slight difference in the headband.
Noise reduction: 24 dB NRR as advertised
This baby is expensive and AAA batteries should be included at such a price point but they aren’t. Great for shooting or construction work. Amplifying voice but not gun shots or other noise. Unlike other ear muffs on this list it’s highly adjustable.
The Bottom Line
Always check out the worst reviews. They will tell you if the company engages in false advertising. It seems like a lot of companies do. Also go deeper into the searches the first few pages are filled with copy-cat ear muff companies. A lot of them use the same base models and just rebrand with their own logo and design and images.
The Mozart effect is mostly hype. There is very little good evidence for it as a meta-analysis shows.3Pietschnig, J., Voracek, M., & Formann, A. K. (2010). Mozart effect–Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis. Intelligence, 38(3), 314-323. It’s more likely to simply to enhance your mood and studying with an enhanced mood is what makes people “better” or “smarter”. But numerous studies have since shown that it’s in fact silence or ambient noise that’s the best sound for studying. Unadulterated focus is what brings the best academic results. Which also means do not listen to music.