Updated: Jul 2
Auditory overstimulation is a major issue for people with ADHD , and research suggests that many of us with ADHD perform better at a task when background noise is removed  or when we are listening to music . There is an overwhelming variety of earbud and headphone models on the market today that are highly effective at blocking out noise and delivering quality audio , but not all models of listening device are ideal for people with sensory sensitivity issues.
The aim of this article is to identify the best earbuds and headphones to suit the needs of listeners with ADHD. In order to source these earbuds we asked our ADHD Coaches to recommend their favourite pairs and provide some detail about which qualities they appreciated the most.
The amazon links in this post are affiliated, which means that if you purchase anything, amazon provides some money to support this website. Rest assured these links are all for items we have either used, or thoroughly checked to make sure they fit this article's requirements.
What features should a good pair of earbuds have?
Obviously sound quality, durability, and price are important when choosing a pair of earbuds, however there are some features that make certain models ideal pair of earbuds for people with ADHD and others less suitable.
They should be comfortable
Hypersensitivity to touch is more common in people with ADHD compared to neurotypicals . Headphones fit over the ear, so individual differences in ear size and shape do not tend to have an impact on how comfortable the headphones are. However, finding well-fitting earbuds can be more difficult. There are three main things to look out for in a pair of earbuds in order to maximise comfort :
Earbuds which have softer in-ear components: Discomfort when wearing earplugs is most often caused by ‘static mechanical pressure’ or SMP, which is caused by the form of the earplug pushing against the ear canal tissue. So, it is best to avoid earbuds which put constant pressure on the sensitive parts of your ear. Earplugs which are softer/more flexible, as opposed to rigid plastic models , tend to be more comfortable as they cause less SMP when worn.
Earbuds which have ‘shallow’ rather than ‘deep’ inserts: For various biomechanical reasons, SMP is most unpleasant at the entrance of the ear, rather than the flexible tissue and cartilage of the outer ear.
Earplugs that are easy to use correctly are more functional and comfortable: Being able to insert and remove the earplugs easily, having them not fall out, and being able to quickly tell the difference between the right and left plug is very important. Incorrect wear will make the earplugs less functional at blocking noise and also less comfortable as they are more likely to press against tender parts of the ear canal.
2. They should have good noise-cancelling capabilities
Noise cancelling reduces the amount of auditory information being received, and this is crucially important for those with sensory hypersensitivity issues. ADHD is associated with a deficit in 'selective attention' this ability to pay attention to one stimuli (eg. someone addressing you in conversation), while ignoring irrelevant stimuli (eg. a distant alarm blaring) . Noise cancelling earbuds/headphones make it far easier to ignore environmental noise, and even without the added benefit of music or white noise wearing a noise cancelling device has been shown to improve concentration .
3. They should be easy to find when lost
Forgetting where you put something is an experience many people with ADHD can relate to. Additionally, the tiny size of most earbud models means these devices are extremely easy to lose track of. And, given that the best noise cancelling models can run over $300AUD, it is important they come with a contingency should they be misplaced. Therefore, built-in software that allows the earbuds to be located is a valuable feature to those of us with ADHD.
What are some examples of listening device models that work for people with ADHD?
In order to gather the opinions of people with ADHD, we asked Unconventional Organisation coaches to share their choice of listening device. Twelve coaches responded, and here were their picks of listening device. Each model is discussed with regard to its 1) Comfort, 2) Noise Cancelling, and 3) Findability when lost.
Comfort: Unlike Apple Earbuds, the Apple Airpods have a silicone cap that covers the speaker portion inserted in the ear. This means they are more likely to be highly comfortable for most people, as the soft silicone can mold to various ear canal shapes. Noise cancelling: All models of Apple Airpods have excellent noise cancelling, however the Apple Airpods Pro 2nd Generation have some of the best noise cancelling of any earbud model on the market.
Findability when lost: Provided you have an iPhone, the 'Find My' app allows you to locate your Airpods.
Comfort: These earbuds are made of hard plastic, however, their design means they have a shallow insertion and sit more externally to the ear canal compared to certain other models. Less contact with the most sensitive tissue of the ear improves comfort, and personally I find these earbuds very comfortable. However, readers may wish to try a pair on before buying.
Noise cancelling: Like the Airpods, all models of the Galaxy Buds have great noise cancelling. According to some sources, the Galaxy Buds Pro have superior noise cancelling to the Airpods, however it is unlikely that this difference is detectable to the casual user as both models operate extremely well.
Findability when lost: Samsung offers an app where you can find your earbuds should you misplace them.
Comfort: The Pixel Buds have a soft silicone insert, which molds well to the ear canal and increases the likelihood of a comfortable fit. However, due to their symmetrical design it is not easy to tell which bud is for the left ear and which is for the right, which may be problematic for some users.
Noise cancelling: Both the Pro and the A-Series model have noise cancelling, however the A-Series noise cancelling is quite poor whereas the Pro model's is at the level of similarly priced competitors.
Findability when lost: Any Android device can download Google's find my device app which allows the Pixel Buds to be located.
Comfort: Mifo focused on comfort in designing their earbuds, with a silicone ear insert complimented by a low-profile casing which fits into the shape of the ear. In addition, most models come with 7 additional ear inserts, so find the perfect fit. As a result, they are highly comfortable.
Noise cancelling: The Mifo Buds have slightly poorer noise cancelling compared to more expensive models. However, the ability to adjust the size of the ear inserts in these earbuds means a in-ear fit is more likely and less noise will enter from outside, improving functional noise cancelling.
Findability when lost: Mifo does not offer an app to find lost Mifo buds. However, it may be possible to use third party software to find linked Bluetooth devices.
Comfort: These noise cancelling earbuds (which do not play music), have a double silicone insert design. This is comfortable, due to the soft silicone used, and it is also easy to find a good fit as there are two potential in-ear seals as opposed to just one.
Noise cancelling: These earbuds do not play music, their only function is to attenuate, but not entirely cancel, noise. Alpine describes this as "turning the volume down", meaning the wearer is still able to hear environmental noise, just at a lower volume than what would be audible without the earbuds. The MusicSafe Pro earbuds have a feature where you can adjust the decibel you want filtered out, making this a good option for those who prefer to be aware of their surroundings.
Findability when lost: These earbuds have no software allowing them to be found when lost.
Should I go for headphones or earbuds?
Headphones are significantly better at noise-cancellation compared with earbuds, however for every day (rather than industrial) use, most people will not notice a difference. Therefore, deciding between these listening device for many comes down to two factors: comfort, and ease of use. Our survey suggested that people with ADHD tend to find headphones more comfortable. Four coaches out of the twelve in our study noted that they could only wear their earbuds for a few hours at a time before they would start feeling uncomfortable, and one coach even noted that they could not wear earbuds at all. However, our survey also returned that earbuds are more convenient than headphones due to their small, portable size. Indeed, the vast majority of those surveyed put a model of earbud, rather than a model of headphone, as their preferred choice of listening device, suggesting that earbuds are generally more popular despite perhaps being more uncomfortable.
If you are considering a pair of headphones instead of earbuds, the following headphones suggested by Unconventional Organisation coaches may be of interest:
These wireless headphones are lightweight, adjustable, and comfortable for people with glasses. They also have exceptional noise cancelling, although this noise cancelling is not adjustable, meaning the noise cancelling feature can only be turned on and off, but the degree to which noise is cancelled out cannot be modified.
These wireless headphones were designed to reduce environmental noise, and have unbeatable noise cancelling. Users can also adjust the noise cancelling settings (there are 11 different noise cancelling presets!) of these headphones, which may be helpful for those with more specific acoustic preferences.
Don’t like the feeling of something on or in your ears? These may be the headphones for you. They bypass the ear itself entirely, instead resting on the upper cheekbone and behind the ear. Instead of an speaker, they rely on bone conduction to transmit sound. These may be a good option if you do not wish to filter out environmental noise, but you still wish to listen to music.
Should I go for noise-cancelling or bone conducting headphones?
If, like me, your interest was piqued by the concept of bone conducting headphones, then here are some points to consider before purchasing this type of listening device. Naturally, the primary flaw of bone conducting headphones is that they do not cancel out noise. Noise cancellation can be highly beneficial, as research suggests that being exposed to environmental noise is detrimental to concentration  and may exacerbate negative emotions . However, it is also true that leaving the ear uncovered is generally more comfortable and being able to hear sounds (such as someone calling your name) can be very important . There is a lack of research on this topic, however it is likely that noise-cancelling headphones are the superior option for concentration among people with ADHD because they reduce the amount of auditory input the brain must process, thus reducing the likelihood of sensory overwhelm .
Hopefully this article helped you in deciding which earbud or headphone model might be appropriate for your needs. This article was originally intended to be much shorter, but we gathered such an interesting range of listening device options that further analysis was called for. On a personal note, I find my noise cancelling earbuds an invaluable accessory when focusing on a task. For many of us, myself included, it is uncommon to be in a truly quiet environment during a period of intense work or study. Therefore, being able to manufacture one's own quiet is an incredible advantage.
ADHD can have a huge effect on daily life. But it doesn’t have to. If you’re looking for neurodiverse-friendly strategies you can use immediately, then book a free consultation with one of our ADHD Coaches.
They will help you understand your executive functioning struggles and learn how Unconventional Organization can help you. Plus, they also have ADHD!
Click here to book a free consultation.
Meriel Burnett is director of research at Unconventional Organisation. She has a background in psychology and is currently also working at Queens University Belfast.
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