Jackhammer Headphones




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

These home-made hifi headphones work as well or better than Sony or Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
Cost: $20
Time to make: one minute.
Difficulty: none.
As seen in my article in Make Magazine volume 5
Unlike the commercial products, these block outside noise instead of cancelling it.
Listen to music or books on tape without hearing traffic noise, screaming babies, etc.
I've been making these for more than a decade. People sometimes ask "isn't it dangerous not being able to hear?" No. Talking on a cellphone shuts off most of the brain whereas listening to headphones is no more dangerous than say, being deaf.
Lots of my friends use these units and no harm has come to anyone.

Now on Know How! Click on the steps above for more details.

When you're done with this episode, check out episodes two, three, four, five, six, and

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Step 1: The Three Ingredients

1) Industrial ear-protection earmuffs from McMaster-Carr, etc.
These are Peltor model H10A, my favorite.
2) Airline or walkman headphones of the one-wire-per-ear variety.
3) A cutting tool.

Step 2: Cut Off the Head Loop

clip, cut, or chew off the plastic loop that connects the earpieces.

Step 3: Shove a Speaker Into an Earpiece

Peltor brand earmuffs are perfect for this. there's a rim inside that holds the speaker in place.

Step 4: Speaker in Place

it looks like this.

Step 5: Finished

repeat with the other speaker, and you're done! enjoy!

If your earlobes are the right shape to use earbuds, you can do something even easier,
which is just wear the industrial earmuffs over earbuds. My earlobes don't have that keyhole-shaped bracket thingy that retains earbuds, so they fall out.

Step 6: Comparison Testing

I was fortunate to run into these gentlemen wearing different active-cancelling headphones.

The verdict - The Jackhammer Headphones win on


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    186 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Is it okay to drill a small hole in the shell to allow an audio jack, provided it's still wrapped in insulation, or will that ruin the effect? I'm not going for total sonic isolation, just the ability to hear my music on the plane.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I have already tried that, and it won't work.

    The effect you will hear from the outside is te same as on a sea shell; it's very annoying.

    Although, if you are planning to make a tiny hole to fit the cable, make sure to seamlessly re-fill it. It should be perfectly tight, otherwise you are gonna end up with the annoying sea shell effect.

    A sort of rubber little tube; maybe hot silicone, hot glue to seal it down? You would probably need to detach the cable from the speakers to pass it through the little hole and re-solder after that.

    I never got that far on my experiment; maybe it would have solve the undersea effect problem.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, some comments on safety from a professional in the field (clinical audiologist/ hearing conservationist):

    First, if you block out a lot of ambient sound while, say, biking in traffic, yes, you do increase your risk of injury. It's fine to say it's just like being a deaf person, but people who are born deaf learn to pay attention to other cues, whereas people with some hearing learn to depend on hearing for peripheral alerts. (I also wouldn't recommend distracting yourself with a cell phone while in traffic.)

    Second, if you use these in industrial or noisy recreational settings, don't crank the volume up too high! There's a reason you're required to wear the hearing protection, it's because loud sound will cost you your hearing. If you drill into muffs, you may change their attenuation enough to make them inadequate for the noise level you're in, and if you crank the music up too high, it becomes your noise source.

    Keep in mind that while hearing protection isn't required until 90 dBA (time weighted average, so an 8 hour/ day exposure), decades of research have indicated that risk begins around 75-80 dBA, and the equivalent energy doubles every time you go up 3 dB. So if you spend your day working in noise just below OSHA's limit without hearing protection, and then come home and pound away with these, you will end up damaging your hearing. The hearing loss from noise is permanent, incurable, and comes with a bunch of other horrible symptoms like tinnitus (ringing), diplacusis (one ear hears tones differently than the other, which will make all your music sound like a heap o' suck), and hyperacusis (louder sounds make you cringe in pain, so no more concerts). Oh, and just for funsies? Too much loud sound also increases your risk of heart disease, ulcers, and colitis. Yay, don't those sound like a good time?

    I'm not telling you not to enjoy your music, or even not to make these...if they get you protecting your ears while mowing the lawn, DJing, or using the miter saw, awesome. As long as you don't crank the volume too high, these should beat the heck out of nothing, and Peltor is a very solid brand. But I've spent quite a few years seeing the damage done by excessive noise, fitting hearing aids on some shockingly young people, and having to explain to them that we have no cure, the ringing doesn't go away, we can't fix the hearing, those hearing aids are the best we can do, and they're limited because the sound still goes through those damaged ears. By the time most people realize that yeah, loud sound really is destroying their hearing, they already have significant damage.

    Oh, and to the guys who want these to sneak music into work: you might check on your state's worker's comp laws first. In some states, deliberate non-participation, failure to use required hearing protection, etc. can make you ineligible for compensation if/ when you develop hearing loss. The thinking seems to be that you're an adult, and if the employer has done their best, and you've sabotaged their efforts, well, kinda your own fault if you lose hearing. Which means you'll be popping the $3-8k for hearing aids every 3-4 years.

    ON the plus, a lot of those hearing aids will play your music via Bluetooth.

    5 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    On the other hand, attenuating the ambient allows one to listen to their music at a lower volume level. All that's been done here merely duplicates a set of 'studio isolation headphones' like these: http://memphisdrumshop.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1406


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    This is true, and a good reason to reach for noise-reducing headphones! Just not while you need ambient cues for safety.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I'll second everything that Brainmist has said here, and throw in some of my own experience. Placing audio sources INSIDE acoustic ear muffs not only defeats the purpose of the ear muffs, but the audio source inside the muffs becomes its own source of audio assault on your ears. Eighteen years ago I made a pair of these using this type of ear muff, and for whatever reason, my ears ring 24-7. I have no doubt that playing music this way contributed to my hearing damage. The thing about progressive damage is that it is subtle and creeps up on you. As you suffer loss you compensate for it by - what? TURNING UP THE VOLUME!! Which only serves to increase the damage threshold. Personally, I think that this is a really bad way to listen to music. If you really love your music and wish to continue to enjoy it in its full dynamic range... don't build this project. Oh... and don't put great, giant thumper speakers inside your car.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Is that to say that while playing headphones at a set normal volume, it will be more hurtful to your ears if you have ear muffs on than if you were simply wearing headphones?


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Not the best thing to wear in an airport these days, but i do the same kinda. I just throw them on top of ear buds. I can still use them at the range that way.

    I discovered the usefullness of this technique a long time ago, as I used to work as a lawn mower and was sick of not being able to hear my music over the mower and did not want to pay for an expensive pair of noise cancelling headphones.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Tested on 11 hour plane flight - volume was on 3 instead of 8 and everything was so quiet. Flight attendants will remind you to remove them for landing. I used dark green Peltor hearing protectors.

    Thank you TimAnderson!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    The problem with these is that they completely depend on which headphones you start with to put in them. BUT, brilliant idea though.

    The Old Fart

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I have been building these for the past 15 years and I keep trying to improve them. The elements that I will be using have a freq. response of 4Hz. - 22,000Hz. The muffs cut out 65db of outside sound. My wife has to throw things at me to get my attention because I can't hear anything she says when I am wearing them. I am building 3-watt mini mono amps to install in each side. I thought of using a stereo type amp but the mono has a better response and I can use individual volume controls to better set the balance. I will be spending around $30 for the elements. Like I said before, I have been building these for years and I am always improving on them. The ones I am doing now will turn your brain into jelly and have a very low bass that thumps like a bolt loosening car stereo. Once I have all the parts I will do an instructable.

    2 replies

    65 dB? That seems a bit high... I haven't seen any hearing protectors rated that high. Do you have a link for them?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great concept! This is a good solution to a common problem where people want to listen to music in a loud environment. There are several new products on the market today, which are earplug earphones; some are very costly (over $100), but one that I have found is about $25. They are called Jamplugs, and you can get them online wherever racing headphones and racing ear buds are sold. They also have a website, and they are currently on ebayas well. I have had my Jamplugs for a while now and I love them!