Wearing headphones with glasses is a test of will, but music shouldn’t be a pain bespectacled listeners have to grin and bear through. While headphones with glasses may never match the comfort eagle-eyed listeners experience, there are ways to manage the pain.
Editor’s note, this article was updated on March 29th to include more information about how fit affects performance.
When buying headphones with glasses, go with over-ears
Over-ear headphones distribute pressure more comfortably than their on-ear counterparts. The ear cups encompass the ears, rather than placing pressure directly on them. While this design doesn’t eliminate discomfort, it avoids creating a pain-sandwich like on-ear headphones that crush the plastic arms between your ear lobes and skull.
You’ll still have to take breaks with over-ear headphones like the AKG K371 or Sony WH-CH700N, but they’ll be less frequent than with the Beats Solo Pro. Then again, if portability is important and you’re dead set on the look of headphones, instead of earbuds, there are a couple of options to consider: the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless and AKG N700NC, both of which are relatively comfortable for their breed.
Earpad material matters
When you’re using headphones with glasses, comfort isn’t the only concern: audio quality is highly affected by a proper fit. Plenty of headphones include synthetic or leather earpads, and these stiff materials leave gaps around your glasses. We recommend looking for headphones with either very soft, or extremely pliable padding so it goes around the glasses arms as best as possible. That way, you’re not sacrificing as much audio quality when you listen.
As a result of a poor fit, your music quality is degraded, a consequence of auditory masking. This is when a relatively loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a relatively quiet one.
We’ve all experienced auditory masking. Think of the last time you were on the train platform; it may seem like your music was decreasing in volume as the train pulled up, but it wasn’t. Instead, your brain prioritized the processing of the low-frequency, loud noise of the train over that of your music. This is a survival mechanism. It was supremely useful during caveman times, but isn’t great if you’re trying to perceive every detail from your tunes.
Fabric and velour earpads are your best friends
We highly recommend getting earpads of a softer material like velour, suede, or fabric. The former is typically found on more premium headsets, but you can always buy third-party earpads to replace your headset’s default ones. One of my all-time favorite headsets is the Philips Fidelio X2: the large ear cups are extremely comfortable and the velour covering works well with the memory foam earpads. I’m able to listen to these hours at a time with my glasses on, and even longer with them off.
Fabric earpads are a little more difficult to find, but are often included with athletic and gaming headsets like the JLab Audio Flex Sport and Plantronics Rig 500 Pro. They’re usually mesh and fabric, making them lighter and more breathable than those of the memory foam variety. However, cloth earpads don’t provide as much cushioning as others and may prove uncomfortable after an hour or so of wear.
Gaming headsets have great features to alleviate eyewear discomfort.
Some Razer gaming headsets even include dedicated eyewear channels that are designed to alleviate pressure around the temporal bone structure. Our resident gaming headset-guru Sam Moore recommends the Razer Thresher Ultimate for Xbox gamers, and the Razer Kraken X for anyone on a budget.
Clamping force makes a world of difference
Another thing to keep in mind for headphones with glasses is clamping force. Any pressure placed on the head, especially on the sides, will be felt even more when wearing glasses. That’s because the arms place an acute amount of pressure on the skull and this pain compounds quickly. It’s hard to know how comfortable or painful a pair of headphones is going to be without trying a few options out first.
I don’t want to discover my maximum pain threshold when enjoying a new album.
Smaller heads will experience less stress than larger noggins when it comes to clamping force, so your child is unlikely to feel the same degree of pressure from a given headset as you. Although it’s important to ask friends what they find comfortable, it’s just as important to remember that the secondhand research you do is just that: secondhand. If you’re able, it’s great to try a headset out in person before buying it.
Avoid the most pain with earbuds
In-ears are the best solution if all you’re trying to avoid pain altogether while wearing glasses. Discomfort along the temporal fossa, sphenoid bone, and zygomatic arch is common among those with glasses and ill-fitting headsets. This is because the arms of your glasses rest along each of these bones and are pressed into the skull with on or over-ear headphones, amplifying pressure. Since earbuds don’t overlap with the arms of your glasses, you don’t have to worry about this type of pain.
In-ears have their drawbacks
Earbuds introduce different potential pain-points, but don’t make contact with your glasses.
So, you’ve decided to circumvent head pain by picking earphones or true wireless earbuds. Well, unfortunately, issues arise with in-ears that don’t present themselves with headphones. For one, earbuds comfort is highly subjective.
I personally feel the Sony WF-1000XM3 are extremely comfortable, while a colleague of mine at Android Authority disagrees. It’s not that one of us is right and the other is wrong; instead, we just have different ear shapes.
When earbud housings are too large for your ears, you may experience pain along the interior of the antihelix, antitragus, tragus, and concha, all of which come in direct contact with most earbuds. This is why I prefer the Sony true wireless noise cancelling earphones: they use a tri-point design to evenly distribute weight and pressure along various parts of the outer ear. Some people may prefer an ear hook design like the Beats Powerbeats, but the ear hook poses an issue for some glasses because they overlap where the arms slope down and around the back of the ear.
Fit idiosyncrasies aside, in-ears need to be cleaned more often than headphone earpads. Ear tips are great at accumulating ear wax on them and can collect gunk down the tube of the ear tip. This then clogs the nozzle’s grill. Any sort of blockage degrades audio quality and can also put you at risk of developing an ear infection and, as a symptom, temporary hearing loss or reduction. In order to lessen the likelihood of infection, just clean your ear tips regularly. We have a detailed article on how to clean your AirPods Pro, and the procedure is the same for all earbuds.
You don’t need to do this daily, but it should be done with some regularity, especially if you wear earphones every day. What’s more, if you share earbuds with a friend it’s good practice to clean them immediately after.
The type of glasses frames can affect comfort, too
Just like headphones, glasses come in all shapes and sizes. This variation extends to the arms of your glasses, too. Comfort, in this instance, has less to do with the frame shape and more to do with the arm shape, material, and thickness. I used to have thick frames with rounded arms and have since bought thinner, flat-armed frames. It was significantly more difficult to wear headphones with the round-armed glasses than the flat-armed ones: there was less surface area making the pain more acute.
Now’s not the time to sign onto Warby Parker’s site and replace your frames just to accommodate your headphones. However, it’s something to keep in mind when you buy your next pair of glasses—especially if you spend most of your days with headphones on. It may seem extreme to choose glasses based on the headphones you own, but if audio is your main outlet, it’s a worthwhile change. Plus, it’s always nice to get a new lens style once you’ve worn through a reliable pair of glasses.
You may find a pair of earbuds to be extremely comfortable while your friend may abhor them due to differences in your ear anatomies.
Unfortunately for us bespectacled folk, you could have the best headphones on the market, but that doesn’t matter if it hurts every time you wear them. Pain elimination is next to impossible when wearing headphones with glasses, but I hope this helps you find workarounds. Best of luck and happy listening!