Headphones and Earbuds for People with Unilateral Hearing Loss
Do they make headphones and earbuds for people who are deaf in one ear?
Do you want to buy a set made specifically for people with single-sided deafness?
It's complicated. My answer is maybe yes and maybe no.
About twelve years ago I suffered hearing loss in my left ear. While I'm a huge music lover, it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of music all that much at the time because I owned a house and could have my home stereo on and fill my home with music as loud as I liked whenever I felt like it. While the sound was different to me, I could still hear all of the components and a little trial-and-error fiddling with my speaker balance minimized the difference. But when I moved into an apartment with two roommates I found myself wanting to use headphones or earbuds again.
I soon discovered a "new" problem with being deaf in one ear; regular headphones are made to play music in stereo. So, if I wanted to hear all of a song, I could either try to stuff two earbuds into my right ear or to use a pair of folding headphones precariously perched on my head with neither speaker lined up well enough with my functional ear. I didn't need stereo earbuds but a single earbud or a comfortable single ear headset or single ear headphone.
Fortunately for me and for every other music-lover with unilateral hearing loss, other people have put a bunch of thought into this and there are options and solutions available.
Check Your Device Settings Before Buying Specialized Ear Buds
Before you sink money into a single earbud or even an adapter, check whatever device you use to listen to music on to see if it has a mono audio setting you can turn on.
All You Need Is One
Single mono-to-stereo earbuds provide an excellent solution to courteous music enjoyment for people with unilateral hearing loss. They provide the full sound of music and fit comfortably in your one good ear.
The advantage of an ear bud over the single-sided headphone or cup is that you can still hear a little of the world around you, provided you don't have the volume turned up too high. That can also be a disadvantage as you may wish to drown out outside noises without damaging your functional eardrum.
I've pointed out to a few of my friends without hearing loss that one of these might be a good idea for them, too. I see people walking around oblivious to the outside world because they are listening to MP3 players while out walking, jogging, or shopping. If they used one of these, they would still be able to hear from the other side. If I still had that ability, I would probably do so. But since I've just got the one good side, music it is!
Quick, Effective Search Terms to Use to Find Single Earbuds:
I use this exact search plus the plug size (2.5mm or 3.5mm in my case) on eBay when I'm looking for replacements or looking for a new brand to try:
(headset, earbud) (mono, solo, single)
When searching on Amazon or elsewhere, just get rid of the punctuation and don't forget to add your device's audio port size or cord plug size.
Single Mono Ear Buds
I've tried a few made for people with SSD (Single Sided Deafness) and quite a few made for gamers and joggers. I wasn't trying to find the perfect ear bud; I'm just really rough on thin cords when it comes to small electronics devices. I catch them on things when I'm using them, close them in drawers, and let the roommate's cat get at them. So I was looking for an inexpensive new ear bud because my old one was clearly on its way out.
By luck, a Scosche solo clip bud was what was cheapest and shipped from the US that day on eBay. I bought it because it was the cheapest one that would reach me in the shortest time, but it turned out to be a real find. It lasted me about a year and a half, which is something of a record for me. When it was almost as much black electrical tape as original materials, I ordered another one just like it. I now have a spare. I've had better sounding buds, but it wasn't by very much and they didn't last long enough to be worth their price.
One other type I find interesting are the shorter cord varieties. They might have fewer problems with cord breakage because there's just not so flipping much of it to get caught on things. I hadn't realized before that a shorter cord could be helpful for use with an MP3 player or tablet, but depending on how you carry your music device, it can make the cord more manageable.
Cheap and Very Sturdy, with a Good Average Sound
While I'd say the sound from the Scosche solo bud is about average, it's very comfortable, has a volume control and microphone, and, most importantly, it can handle a lot of abuse. The drawer in my nightstand has killed so many ear bud cords that I don't even want to think about it. I know I've spent more on replacement cords than on my tablet PC.
I was so desperate to use earbuds that I stuck a pair of them into one side of a pair of earmuffs. It didn't work very well so it motivated me to find more efficient solutions.
A Single Ear Headphone That Provides Full Sound
If you prefer something that fits over instead of inside your ear a single ear cup headphone might be the answer for you. The speaker mixes the right and left stereo audio components together so you can hear everything with one good ear.
I've tried a few of these and, even wearing glasses at the same time, I found them quite comfortable. While it is not the same thing as actually having two speakers in one ear, the noise reduction caused by having some actual padding to block out room sounds makes it provide a better sound quality than earbuds. Both have their uses but these are nice for at-home use.
Individual Headphone - It's like Half a Set of Headphones with All of the Sound
Intended for DJs, this single-side headphone works nicely for listening to music, too. The sound quality is very good and feels like it has depth to it. If I couldn't use environmental speakers now and then, I'd probably invest in this model because I was surprised by the sound quality when I tried them out. There's no tinniness and bass tones come through solidly.
Turn regular headphones and earbuds into mono headphones and earbuds.
You can connect regular stereo earbuds or headphones to your MP3 player, computer, sound mixing equipment, or stereo using a stereo-to-monaural adapter. This may be the least expensive option and perhaps a somewhat comforting one if your unilateral hearing loss is recent and you have a favorite pair you prefer to use. A stereo-to-mono adapter also removes the need to buy non-standard headphones or earbuds. Be sure to buy the size you need which will be the same size as the plug to your earbuds or headphones. The ones shown below are a commonly used size.
This is my favorite option due to the lack of name-brand, high-fidelity single ear headphones in an affordable price range. I also like how the familiarity of feeling the headphone on the deaf ear makes me emotionally feel as if I'm hearing my music with both ears even though I'm obviously not. It's also possible I'm getting a little vibration or bone conduction from the left speaker. I've always thought of headphones as a sort of musical hug for my head and this option allows me to keep that feeling.
The other advantage to using adapters is that you can use them with other peoples' equipment. My partner and his producer ask me how new mixes of his music sound sometimes and I can give much better input if I can listen using the same equipment they are using.
Stereo-To-Mono Adapters - a One-Size-Fits-Most Solution
A stereo-to-monaural adapter of the correct size can turn high quality stereo headphones or earbuds into quality mono headphones or earbuds. If you have an awesome set of stereo headphones or a comfortable pair of buds I recommend just getting an adapter.
Because they are so cheap, I keep a few on hand and carry one in my purse in case I might need it. Because my partner is an independent songwriter, singer, and musician the need for headphone adapters comes up more often than one might think.
This is a common size of adapter for MP3 players. I own several of these because they are so cheap and turn regular headphones or earbuds into ones that work for me. Double-check size and type of adapter before buying.
Do You or a Loved One Have Unilateral, or Single-Sided Hearing Loss?
Do you or a loved one only have one good ear due to single-sided deafness or partial hearing loss?
Do you or a loved one have unilateral hearing loss?
© 2012 Kylyssa Shay