It should go without saying that a musician, engineer, or producer’s greatest asset is his or her hearing. We rely on it for quite literally everything we do related to music, from gathering inspiration to writing, recording, and mixing. The reality is, though, that it’s something we tend to take for granted until it’s too late. An estimated 1-in-8 people suffer from some sort of hearing loss (commonly known as “tinnitus”) in their life; but the right set of earplugs now could make a huge difference.
As we age, our hearing naturally degrades. It’s the norm that older people tend to lose a lot of their ability to hear higher frequencies. However, there’s no reason to speed up this process if we can take the right precautions to avoid it! This particularly pertains to the rehearsal room or live concert venue.
Luckily for us musicians and engineers, the technology around protective earplugs has drastically improved. You can say goodbye to those oversized chunks of foam we used to see all the time which completely dulled our hearing senses. The best earplugs for musicians today are designed to attenuate sound pressure level while retaining our ability to hear the full frequency spectrum.
General Advice: Earplugs for musicians and concert-goers
For most people, the idea of wearing earplugs isn’t all that appealing. The notion of choosing to fill your ears with something that will greatly limit the sound you’re hearing seems like a losing proposition. Naturally, we’re always on the hunt for ways to improve what we’re listening to—that’s partly why we collect so many fancy toys to begin with! But if we can’t hear accurately when we stuff our ears with foam or plastic, what advantage do we have then?
Fortunately, this isn’t even a concerning factor anymore. That’s because there are loads of earplugs on the market that offer noise reduction (i.e., hearing protection) without sonic degradation. What this means is that you can use earplugs to attenuate overall level without cutting necessary midrange and high-end frequencies.
From a purchasing perspective, we shouldn’t be afraid of investing in our greatest asset; whatever the cost may be, it’s entirely worth it, since our hearing is fragile and impermanent. The plus-side, though, is that none of the top earplugs for musicians are relatively expensive anyway! Sure, you can get into the ultra high-end earplug arena (upwards of $300!), but affordable options are more than adequate.
You’ll probably wind up trying multiple pairs before settling on one that’s best for you and your ears. And that’s perfectly doable since earplugs don’t cost hundreds of dollars a pair. That said, there are marked benefits of trying out higher end sets, such as greater noise reduction ratings and extended comfort. As a rule of thumb to buying earplugs, comfort and SPL (sound pressure level) attenuation—without putting a low-pass filter in your ears—are the top priorities.
Key Ingredients to Any Quality Earplugs for Musicians
As with most things in life, not all of them are made equal!
1. They should lower the volume
That’s really the only reason we’re even having this discussion! You’re trying to protect your ears from damaging sound levels, so your earplugs need to turn down the volume a bit.
Most of them attenuate SPLs from anywhere between 15 and 30 dB on average. Depending on what you’re using them for, you may want more or less attenuation.
2. They should retain as much sound quality as possible
This is another key concern for the type of earplugs you go with. As musicians, we want to simply bring the volume down. We don’t want to lose important information in the frequency spectrum.
Honestly, this is why people hate wearing ear protection in the first place. By and large, they block out crucial mid and high-end information. The overall sound quality is terrible because it sounds super muddy with earplugs in.
3. They should be comfortable
Your hearing protection should fit snuggly, but comfortably. If you have an uncomfortable pair, you’re not going to want to wear them, defeating the whole purpose!
No two people’s ears are alike, and unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all earplug. You may need to experiment with a few different pairs before settling on ones that work best for your ears.
Westone is an industry-leading in-ear monitor manufacturer. It should come as no surprise that they’re able to adapt their renowned fit and finish to a set of earplugs.
One of their most popular models is the TRU Universal series of earplugs, which come with either 25dB or 16dB of volume reduction. If you’re a drummer or find yourself sat next to the PA or cabinet all the time, you might go for 25dB. For the average musician or concert-goer, 16dB provides more than enough attenuation to keep your hearing safe.
A pair can be had for around $45.99, making them one of the more expensive options on this list.
This is another great set of earplugs designed to turn down the volume without sacrificing fidelity. For just $13.95 a pair, there’s really no excuse not to protect your hearing. These are rated between 12 and 20dB of volume reduction and come in two different sizes for the best fit and comfortability.
Etymotic Earplugs have superior sound quality!
Earos One touts itself as the best hearing protection product on the market, specifically for musicians. For just $40, we think they’re worth a shot! These earplugs are rated for 17dB of volume reduction and retain the full spectrum of frequencies to keep you immersed in the listening experience.
They also look pretty sleek, so if that’s a factor for you, these are a great choice!
If you’re looking for a discrete pair of earplugs for the rehearsal space or live venue, EarDial’s offering is one of the best. They’re practically invisible once you put them in, regardless of skin tone, and come with a nifty carrying case you can attach to your keys.
A nice touch is their proprietary iOS decibel meter which monitors the SPL in the given environment and alerts you when levels are damagingly high.
For sheer volume reduction, you can’t do much better than Decibullz. They offer a massive 31 dB of attenuation which makes them great for super loud rehearsals or shows.
One of the really unique features these offer is the ability to mold them to your ears. You heat them up with hot water and then “custom mold” them to your ears. They’re also re-shapeable, meaning you can repeat the process as much as needed.