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Headphones and Earbuds for People with Unilateral Hearing Loss

Kylyssa Shay has lived with unilateral deafness since the early 2000s and likes to give advice that helps people enjoy their lives.

Stereo earbuds are everywhere. What about options for those of us who only have one ear that works?

Stereo earbuds are everywhere. What about options for those of us who only have one ear that works?

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.

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!

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

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.

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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

Stereo-to-Monaural Adapter

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.

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?

© 2012 Kylyssa Shay

How Do You Enjoy Listening to Music with Unilateral Hearing Loss?

kbay1 on April 13, 2016:

Check out Sensaphonics 221 single ear stereo is really good..onlyit costs $450 but if you are like me and want to hear all the music it is worth it...or you can go to Scansound for a cheaper bud ranging from about $20 to $40.

Paul on October 28, 2015:

I've been deaf in one ear since birth and when MP3 players first came out I always just used the left ear bud. On the occasion that it broke I would switch to the right and was amazed that whole elements to songs appeared that I had missed before.

I really like the apple earbuds, I find that any of those ones that go deep into your ear like plugs make me feel a bit dizzy, also I can't have both in as vibrations on my deaf ear also makes me feel disorientated.

BEST solution I found, Apple iPod and iPhone have a mono sound option in the menu!!'

Remy on October 24, 2015:

Very cool info. Being born deaf in one ear I had no clue I was missing out. Ordering an adapter today :)

anonymous on July 27, 2013:

Like catJB, I was born deaf in one ear. That's all I've ever known. My daughter usually gives me her earbuds when one side stops working. Because of conversations with her i've learned that in some cases I'm missing half the music. I was also surprised to find out that for people who really know certain music, or songs, they know that the instrumentals play on the right, and vocals on the left for example, so if you have earbud in the wrong ear, it sounds backwards. This has boggled my mind a little lately. But anyway, I just came across this website somehow and am actually very excited to hear that there are headphones and other things out there that help people like me hear music more like it should be.

anonymous on April 17, 2013:

Kylyssa, thank you for posting this important page. I thought you'd be interested in the new headphone we've designed that places both channels in a single earpiece, but uses two different sound sources to approximate true stereo...a much better solution than any existing headphone out there! We've just launched a Kickstarter and would welcome any help getting the word out! You can find it by searching for "Yuni" on Kickstarter!

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on February 10, 2013:

@CatJGB: If you don't already, I'd suggest checking whatever you listen to music on to see that the output is in mono. A lot of music has different "channels" of sound in left and right speakers. You may be literally hearing only half of a song if you've got your device or ear buds set on stereo. You could be missing entire sections of vocals or instruments.

CatJGB on February 09, 2013:

Ah, you see, I was born with a unilateral hearing loss, so I've never heard anything in stereo, so mono....or whatever it is I hear....sounds normal to me. Obviously I don't know what I'm missing. I just buy regular ear buds and put one in and hang the other round my neck to balance it. Nice to know there are other options though.

anonymous on December 07, 2012:

If you have an Apple product you can change the Mono Audio setting to "on" and this will allow stereo to feed into both earbuds. (Settings>General>Accessibility >Under Hearing look for Mono Audio and turn this to ON. I also recommend ScanSound's single sided stereo earbud. They have various options available and are very comfortable to wear and the sound is great!!

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on November 13, 2012:

@anonymous: I've found that a quality stereo to mono adapter used with a high quality pair of standard headphones works pretty well. It isn't quite as good as I remember headphones to be before my hearing loss, though. However, I do like how the sensation (vibrations and pressure apart from the actual sound) of the pair of headphones makes it emotionally feel as if I'm hearing from both ears even though I'm not. I'd be absolutely delighted to see one of the major headphone brands make a good headphone for people with unilateral hearing loss.

anonymous on November 13, 2012:

None of the major headphone brands have developed a high quality mono option. I find this very disappointing as there are a lot of people who are deaf in one ear who can't enjoy the all encompassing sensation of listening to music through headphones.

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