Earplugs – which ones are right for me?

There has been increased awareness of noise damage to hearing lately. People are increasingly cognizant of the punishment loud noises or music can inflict on our ears. Temporary damage can become permanent damage over time. OSHA has established guidelines about workplace noise “dosages”, and shooters and musicians are lately hearing more about hearing protection devices. What do earplugs do, and which kinds of earplugs are best to use?

The main function of earplugs is to block sound from entering the ear canal. The less energy vibrating the eardrum, the less loudness will be heard. Hearing damage comes from the intensity AND the duration of the exposure. Intense, brief sounds may be as damaging as less intense sounds of longer duration. Solid or foam plugs are generally economical and will block or absorb much of the energy in sound. For this reason they are useful for highly damaging noises, such as power tools or jet engines. Unfortunately, when sound quality is important, these plugs fall short. Low frequencies pass through, however, high-frequency sounds are banned, and clarity is poor. Also, disposable plugs need to be replaced often.

For musicians and others in need of good sound clarity as well as attenuation, we recommend hi-fi musicians’ custom plugs. These devices have a hollow channel to let sound through the plug. The hole is then plugged with a special filter, which provides a “flat attenuation”. This means the sounds heard are relatively natural sounding although softer. Ears are protected, and sound quality does not suffer. This is good news for demanding listeners such as performing musicians. There are three different strengths of filters: 9dB, 15dB and 25dB. 15dB is standard for most musical applications. 9dB may be appropriate for unamplified combo work or chamber music, and 25dB should be reserved for very loud groups, such as heavy metal bands or large drumlines.

There are other strategies, such as limiting exposure time, using acoustic modifications in the room and turning down the volume. There are other devices to protect hearing, such as earmuff-style protectors. These can even be worn on top of plugs for even greater protection. This works well for shooters. Greater awareness has increased our options.

We always say the best earplugs in the world are…..the ones that actually get worn. As always, let us keep you on a CLEAR PATH to good hearing and ear health.

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