7 Reasons Why Headphones Hurt Your Ears (And DIY Fixes)

Headphones can cause pain and discomfort for many reasons, but solutions and DIY fixes constantly appear as the audiophile community grows. It’s common for new audiophiles to struggle with headphones sitting on their ears for too long, which can be disheartening when you’ve invested highly in these gears.

Some reasons why your ears hurt when you’re wearing headphones are:

  • Earcups size
  • Clamping force
  • Adjustability
  • Proper wearing
  • Headphone’s model
  • Wires
  • Earcups material / Pads

However, understanding what causes your ears to hurt won’t solve the problem if your goal is to invest further in the audiophile lifestyle. But, to our luck, countless audiophiles created and shared various solutions and fixes for gear-related issues after a long time in this niche.

1. Earcups Material / Pads

When wearing headphones, the outer ear spends the whole time intimately contacting the padded gear’s earcups. Depending on the earcups’ material, your ears might not respond well to this lengthy touch.

The contact, which the headphone’s clamping force provides, is necessary for the gear to sit comfortably at the head. Over the years, many fabrics became a part of the Earcups padding to provide comfort and serve as an isolating barrier for external noise.

While presenting various exciting materials to prioritize in your next headphone purchase, we’ll also lay down some pros and cons along with the discussion.

Understanding what materials are available is vital when choosing headphones. Leather earpads, for example, can vary a lot.


Regarding leather, there are many types to choose from, such as protein leather, authentic leather (animal hide), vinyl leather. Those fabrics provide different roles in terms of durability, noise cancellation, and comfort.

Protein Leather – Although not robust as animal leather, protein leather is highly durable. The issue, though, is that when starting to deteriorate, it becomes crackly. These crackly bits are discomforting and painful, especially when they’re many. Sharp leather cracks and splits are a definitive no-good for your ears since they cause itchiness and even superficial cuts.

Another essential detail to look for in protein leather earpads is the temperature at which you’ll use the headphone. Differently from its animal counter option, protein leather does not perform solidly in temperature changes since it gets cold in colder environments and hot at warmer temperatures.

Animal Leather – Animal leather, on the other hand, may provide more comfort and better durability. With higher durability, it’s uncommon for earpads made from an animal hide to crack or split; on the contrary, this material tends to get softer and more comfortable. The temperature factor in genuine leather is usually not an issue since it is good at shielding itself from warm or cold seasons.

However, animal leather presents moral obstacles for audiophiles who don’t want to fuel any harmful animal practice. In this case, protein leather is a good substitute, albeit not showing the same performance.

Vinyl Leather – Of all leather types, Vinyl is the cheapest and less reliable. Apart from cracking and splitting quickly, this kind of leather may cause pain in the ears from their non-porous and stiffer attributes. While non-porous, Vinyl gets rapidly uncomfortable with prolonged use; it becomes sticky, and sticky earpads are painful.

Pay attention to the kind of leather when you’re leaning towards this type of earpad material; it’s fair to assign ear pain to this artifact.


Browsing through textile fabrics, you’ll find cloth such as velour, velvet, Alcantara, and sheepskin. As the most important ones, these will offer differences comfort-wise and sound-wise in your headphones.

Velour – Velour is a comfortable option for an earpad cushion. However, some of its disadvantages include painful outcomes for the ear. It can curl up and fray more frequently, shrink, create fuzzballs, and snagHence, it’s prone to develop wrong adjustments to the ear, which causes ear pain.

Velvet – Velvet, though physically similar to velour, is highly different in its properties. As velour is the result of a knitting process, velvet comes from more complex and intricate steps. However, in velvet, it’s common to find different ingredients since the word “velvet” does not mean a material but the structure of the fabric.

In general, velvet is highly durable and more reliable than velour. It doesn’t snag or pill easily, which provides more comfort to a headphone’s pads. It’s also incredibly soft, achieving excellent pillow treatment for your ears. When choosing velvet, you might benefit from looking into the different kinds available.

Silk velvet, rayon or nylon velvet, linen velvet, mohair velvet, synthetic velvet, and crushed velvet will present differences in price and visual appearance. Still, it will perform the same in terms of durability and ear comfort.

Alcantara – Alcantara is soft and conveniently light. However, it may show durability issues. This fabric is extremely lightweight, it does not provide much resistance to the outer ear, and it shapes relatively quickly without applying too much pressure. Hence, Alcantara can be a solid cushioning option for earpads.

Sheepskin – It is highly recommended to use sheepskin earpads if you want to avoid ear pain. The material is soft and soothing to the ear, quickly shaping to its form. Friction is a minor concern in this fabric since the fibers move quickly against one another, making movement smoother. Sheepskin also keeps your ears warm in colder seasons and more relaxed on warm days.

If your ears hurt from using headphones, try ones from materials such as the fabrics aforementioned. You will benefit from deciding which textile-cushioned earpads provide less pain from long periods of use.


Hybrids won’t turn out much different from the non-hybrid ones comfort-wise. Even when combined, headphones’ materials feature an internal and external difference, shaping the sound. The only information you’ll need is – what is the fabric touching the ear?

The comfort or pain will come from the outer material on the cushioned pad. The hybrid feature will mainly focus on sound quality.


It is pretty standard for the factory headphone’s padding to be less comfortable than many other pads sold separately. Apart from the types of material you can choose on an earpad, there is also the option to make the pads or cover them yourself.

An interesting DIY approach for improving an earpad’s touch on the outer ear is to make and implement a soft, protective cover.

One short solution to improve leather earpads is to use a cotton sock as a cover. If you can spare a pair, cut it and staple it around the pad for better cushioninglike in here. The same method can use socks or clothing from any textile material.

Another technique is to buy and install replacement pads. You can buy these online, and they are usually accessible to replace.

One common way is to use industrial glue to fixate the foam in the earpad after removing the older set. These foam pads are available in many online shops, such as Amazon, and they are relatively cheap and comes in different sizes.

2. Earcups Size

The earpad material causes comfort issues. Its shape and size highly impact its capacity to perform pleasantly.

In general, standard-sized headphones are suitable for the majority of customers. However, due to differences in ear size, a considerable chunk of the audiophile base may adapt better to custom-sized earpads than standard-sized ones.

Looking into the amount of time you’ll be wearing headphones, it is beneficial to search for a custom-shaped pad to support your ear adequately. The adverse outcomes from wearing a smaller or bigger place are many.

Bad-adjusted earpads will cause pain, soreness, and itchiness and will likely be unbearable to wear for many hours or even minutes by wrongfully compressing the cartilage around your ears.

Another detail is the pad’s thickness. Its horizontal size is essential to provide ears with a deeper room to breathe. Please pay attention to stock pads; they can be problematic since they’re not particularly deep.

The earpad hole has measurements that you can gather before buying a headphone. Brainwavz, for example, has a measurement schematic for pads. There are also many lists online featuring earpads sizes measurements of popular headphones. Discussion forums also feature informative earpads measurements.


Apart from the different earpads available to buy, you can also make changes and improvements to them at home.

By browsing alternative foam pads, you’ll get cheap options in many shapes and sizes. Buying one cheap foam pad will allow you to replace it on the headphone. It would help if you used industrial glue to keep the foam in place while cutting and replacing the original pad.

An alternative to industrial glue is Earpad tape, an easy-to-find product for taping earpads on headphones, mainly sold for DIY purposes. To replace the original pads, you might benefit from a prying tool, which you can find in any tech store.

Take the measurements and correctly sculpt the foam with boxcutters to feature the correct measures of your ear.

3. Clamping Force

Headphones need a clamping force to sit still on our heads. This force will usually be moderate, without any prominent pressurization on the temples. However, some headphones, especially new ones, can feature a more robust clamping capacity, which causes severe pain for the ears.

The clamping force is associated with the Headband. For instance, a metal headband is more bendable than a plastic headband. The bending factor can help tighten the headphone’s grip or loosen it. 

Plastic headbands do not offer many adjustment possibilities since the material is weaker and can easily break, unlike metal ones, which are more robust and can reshape.


To lessen the gripping power from headphones, you can apply force in the opposing direction of the Headband’s grip, slightly bending it. However, this will need very cautionary movements since the wrong bending can make it difficult for the headphone to sit symmetrically.

Another excellent solution, which is also a friendlier one, is to leave the headphone on a book pile overnight. Do this for a few nights, and it will naturally lose some of its clamping force, resulting in a more flexible headband.

4. Adjustability

Check the headphone’s features – is it adjustable to what extent? The problem can be more straightforward than expected.

Generally, high-quality headphones will offer customers some adjustability options. You can make the main adjustments for the headbands horizontally or vertically; for the earcups, you may adjust the angle, rotation, and height.

The cause of pain in your ears may be because you haven’t found the proper adjustment for it yet. If the headband and ear cups are adjustable, try doing different settings.


There are different adjustments you can try. However, if your headphone does not feature any adjustments for the Headband, you can try to DIY a custom headband.

By customizing a sheet metal and adding cushions to it, you might get an exciting result. Ideally, the sheet metal is quickly bendable and not so thick. To implement cushioned bands, buy them online or use a soft, thick fabric to DIY; after that, you’ll only need to glue them in the right spots where pressure is prominent.

A riskier solution is to cut the Headband and solder extra metal to increase its size.

5. Proper Wearing

A common misconception about headphones is that they’re supposed to perform comfortably independently of the person who is wearing them.

Ear pain can result from the wrong positioning of headphones over the head. Wearing a headphone usually requires understanding how their built is precise to fit the head and cover both ears. Furthermore, if, for some reason, you’re wearing only one side of the earcups while the other is loose or resting against your head, then you’re helping it to cause ear pain.

Audiophiles who wear glasses also suffer pain from headphone-wearing. The earpads do not take into consideration a thin metal strap around the ears. Hence, glasses-wearers can feel quite some pain in the ear, precisely in the area around the metal straps from the glass.

The position in which you sit is also of value. While seated in an unconventional, crooked, unhealthy, and slumpy posture, you make it difficult for the headphone to sit adequately. Its Headband is supposed to compress over your head; however, in a slumpy stance, it can apply force in a direction not appropriate for it.


You can fix this intuitively. Most likely, you’ll benefit from avoiding specific positionings which are not proper for your head. Watch out for your posture, and try sitting in a healthy stance.

Use the earcups on both ears most of the time, and try not pressing one side more than the other.

6. Headphone’s Model

In the unfortunate case of bad noise-canceling headphones, audiophiles may resort to turning up the volume to hear the audio better. This practice of setting the book to louder levels is damaging to the ears. If the pain concentrates on the inner part of the ear, it’s essential to understand the role of a headphone’s model in that case.

Audiophiles need to take care of their ear health, and fortunately, some headphones focus on delivering that. To care for your hearing, you will need headphones with highly noise-canceling engineering to avoid external interference.

Hearing damage is irreversible, and audiophiles need to avoid it the most. Keeping music at a soothing low volume is vital and will prevent pain ear.


Give prioritization over High-quality noise-canceling headphones. These gears can be quite expensive but will perform precisely at delivering the proper care for your ears.

Models such as the Bose 700 feature next-gen noise-canceling engineering, apart from its highly comfortable material. Many more headphones focus on ear health, and you can check some of them here.

7. Wires

Wires have an essential role in the headphone’s balance in the head. Tangling wires can get stuck in many edges around your device, which may pull the gear and inflict extra force against your ears. Furthermore, if your equipment is high-quality, there are possibly heavy cables present.

While using heavy cables to connect your headphones to an audio interface, ensure that the wires are not in a position to weigh down your head. Even if invisible, Wires’ weight adds to the overall pressure on your ears, and summing this with the period you’ll wear headphones can be too much.


To fix any discomfort wires can cause to your ears, you can focus on organizing an ideal setting to hold the necessary cables safely. By placing and separating every wire correctly, you’ll avoid tangling, pulling, and general mess.

An exciting on-budget solution is to tape wires on the walls around you. You’ll have more accessible separation possibilities to organize which wires are from the device, the audio interface, and the headphone by taping them.

Apart from tapes, cable staples are an ideal tool for assisting you in mounting wires on the wall. However, heavier wires might need special care, and you’ll find exciting techniques to place them securely in your room here.

Júlio Roque

Júlio is an audio producer and sound designer. His experience and knowledge of audio and music drive him to write exciting articles related to plugins, hardware, and general audiophile gear.

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