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A rocker's guide to hearing protection

Writer:Kevin CoffeyDate:2017-05-19

Wear earplugs.

Your family and friends will thank you, especially because they won’t have to repeat themselves.

And you’ll thank yourself because, well, you’ll be able to hear.


I’ve never had the greatest hearing. In grade school, when every kid had to go through routine hearing and eye tests, I’d always get held back for an extra hearing test.

Years of mowing lawns in high school, working construction in college and, well, going to a ton of really loud concerts — all without any hearing protection — never helped.

So now if you see me at a show, I have something in my ears. I don’t want things to get worse.

I’ve used a lot of different earplugs, and I’ll tell you what I like and what I don’t like.

  • Foam earplugs: Anything is better than nothing, so if this is your only option, go for it. But to be honest, they’re terrible for concerts. They dull everything and make music, and all its nuanced melody and bass and rhythm, sound really muddy and terrible. Avoid if you can.
  • Silicone earplugs: Ever use earbud headphones with the little silicone tips that fit in your ear? That’s what these are like, except they block out noise. The ones I like best are from Ear Peace (who also offer a higher-quality version and a custom-molded version). They’re inexpensive, they fit well and they’re reusable.
  • Acoustic filter earplugs: This is a step up from the simple silicone buds you stick in your ear. These have small filters designed to decrease volume without reducing the complexity of the sound. They’re also relatively inexpensive. Generally speaking, they’re not as good as custom-molded plugs, but they make up for that in price. I really like Dubs, small earbud-like earplugs that filter out volume pretty well, especially at quieter sounds. They’re $19.99 on Amazon. I also recently tried out Etyomic’s ER 20 XS High-Fidelity earplugs. The filters in them are fantastic, and they make even the loudest shows manageable and sound fantastic. They’re the best inexpensive ear protection I’ve used at shows. I found them uncomfortable to wear for a few hours, but I have small ear canals. (Weird, but true.) They do come with a few different-sized tips, so you can probably switch them around for something you like. They’re $24.95.
  • Custom-molded earplugs: These are the Cadillac of earplugs, and they’re what I like the best. You go to an audiologist where they put goopy silicone in your ear and let it harden. (It feels as weird as it sounds.) Then they send it off to a company who uses the mold to make earplugs that fit you and only you. Some have little acoustic filters in them (but some don’t), and they reduce the volume level without sacrificing clarity. They’re excellent in every environment, and they’re the best possible hearing protection. But they’re expensive. I recommend them for anyone who goes to a lot of shows or whose hearing is especially important to their line of work. (Some producers and engineers I know use them, too.)

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