Best Earplugs for Audio Engineers & Musicians

Written By Kyle Mathias  |  Audio Basics, Live Sound 

If you’re young, it may seem like it’s not such a big deal. But if you love music or if you work in the audio industry, it’s time to start protecting your ears before it’s too late.

In this post, I’m going to show you the best ear plugs for audio engineers and musicians so that you don’t have to sacrifice sound quality to protect your ears at concerts or other noisy environments.

If this is our first time meeting, my name is Kyle. Welcome to Audio University!

The Problem With Foam Earplugs

The best way to protect your ears is obviously to wear earplugs in noisy environments. As I’m sure you know, most earplugs completely degrade the sound quality of what you’re listening to, which can make it really hard to play if you’re a musician and even harder to mix a concert if you’re an audio engineer.

The reason it’s so difficult to enjoy music when you’re wearing earplugs is because most ear plugs don’t attenuate or reduce all frequencies evenly.

Instead, most ear plugs you’d buy at a drugstore will reduce the high frequencies much more than the low frequencies. This effectively places an EQ curve that looks something like this onto everything you’re hearing.

Foam earplugs like these separate you from your surroundings, which usually results in you taking one or both of the ear plugs out halfway through the second song, defeating the whole purpose and putting your ears and your hearing at risk.

If you’ve ever experienced this and you’re searching for a solution, you’ve come to the right place.

Best Earplugs For Musicians & Audio Engineers

Luckily, there are earplugs that are designed specifically with musicians and audio engineers in mind.

These ear plugs are superior because instead of attenuating frequencies differently across the spectrum, they aim to attenuate all frequencies evenly which effectively just brings the level of the sound down, instead of changing the frequency balance.

I’m going to show you two options in this video – an option for those who need the earplugs with the best comfort and sound quality and an option for those on a budget (Link to Amazon).

Custom-Fitted Filtered Musicians Earplugs – The Best Option

By far the best option for comfort and sound quality is to get a pair of custom fitted filtered earplugs. The reason these are the best option is because they’re custom made to fit my ears.

Every year, I go to my audiologist at Sound Access in St. Louis to get my hearing tested. While I’m there, I can get custom molds made so they can produce a set of ear plugs that fit my ears perfectly.

I asked Dr. Gleghorn to show us the two most common methods for getting custom-fit earplugs…

“Basically we take a silicone-based material that starts as a liquid. It has two components. As they combine, they solidify and I remove that and we have a model of your ear.”

“The second way that we can kind of get an image of your ear is called ear scanning or ear imaging. We can take an image of your ear and we’ll actually have a 3D model of the same thing. So instead of this physical thing we have this 3D image. It’s camera guided and it’s more comfortable and it’s a bit safer.”

These ear plugs also allow for interchangeable filters so that you can use the same molds for a variety of situations.

For example, if I’m mixing at a really loud show, I can use the 25 dB filters. If I’m instead mixing at a club where the sound level is a bit less extreme I might choose to use the 15 dB filters. It’s as simple as popping one filter out and popping the other one in.

“I used to go to concerts without any kind of hearing protection – and this was after I knew better.”, Dr. Gleghorn said. “When I was in college for audiology, I went to concerts with no hearing protection because I hated the ‘foamies’. But since I finally invested in the custom molds, I don’t go to a concert without them. It actually makes it better. I kind of look around and I’m like, ‘How can you guys tolerate how loud it is without any protection in your ear?’. So if you’ve had struggles like that where it’s just not enjoyable if you put in hearing protection, I’d definitely consider the filtered custom protection, because it makes a big difference.”

Etymonic ER20XS – The Budget Option

Going the custom molded route is more expensive. If you’re on a budget, don’t let that stop you from getting earplugs that you’ll actually wear.

You can get a really good pair of universal fit filtered ear plugs for less than $20! In fact, the company that makes these universal ear plugs, Etymonic, is the same company that makes the filters in my custom fit earplugs.

They’re not quite as comfortable as the custom molded ear plugs and the attenuation curve isn’t as linear, but for the price they’re a great value.

Now really is the time to start wearing earplugs. Don’t wait until you’ve already started to lose your ability to enjoy music.

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