Earplugs for concerts
June 9, 2005 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone had any experience with buying earplugs for use at concerts?

I've only started going to live shows recently and I find the inevitable ringing in my ears afterward disconcerting. I know I don't have the greatest hearing as it is, and would like to keep what I've got, so I've been wondering about earplugs. These Etymotic ones claim that they won't muffle the sound so much as reduce the noise level equally across the board. Has anyone used these, or similar, and can speak to their effectiveness?

Oh yes: while I value my hearing, I'm not sure I really want to be 'that guy' wearing the large orange ear muffs in the corner. So style is an (albeit minor) consideration.
posted by maledictory to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Etymotic earplugs are great. Totally worth the money, reasonably comfortable, and they really do lower the volume across the board -- much better than the foamy orange or green ones.
My advice is to get over the style issue, unless you'd rather be deaf than look ever-so-slightly silly (but smart). Personally, I think anyone who doesn't wear earplugs at a rock show looks pretty dopey.

(I used to not wear earplugs, but once, at a Lucinda Williams show about six years ago, I neglected to do so, and wound up with ringing ears for three days for the first time since my college moshpit days. Never again.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:24 PM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

If your ears are ringing after shows, you need earplugs. The damage you can do is irreversable. Earplugs are an indicater that you love music so much you always want to be able to hear it.

Those plugs are excellent. I played in a band and used them non-stop. The sound quality is way better than the foam plugs. The only drawback is that they can get a little uncomfortable if you have them in for hours and your ears get sweaty. When I am not practicing in a small room or going to shows all the time, I find I don't need plugs as much, but I try to keep a pair in my car just in case. Also note that being close to the band can be quieter than further back depending on how the PA is situated and how high the amps are cranked.
posted by mzurer at 11:36 PM on June 9, 2005

The Etymotic ones sound like the drugstore version of some customized plugs my brother had made once. He swore by those things and nobody ever glanced at him sideways, even though he was in a thrash band at the time. Not giving a shit what other people think is about as cool as it gets.
posted by cali at 11:39 PM on June 9, 2005

Response by poster: Dr. Wu -- I said it was only a minor issue :)

I figured that these were a pretty safe bet, but just wanted to be sure. I've probably only been to under 10 concerts in my life, but I do notice that I have more trouble than some people following conversations at, say, very loud house parties.

I left my computer (with an average power-supply fan) on for most of an entire year once in my bedroom. I noticed my ears would ring a little whenever I turned if off. No good. Since then I've been trying to pay more attention to this sort of thing.
posted by maledictory at 11:46 PM on June 9, 2005

Any functional plugs are better than none. Wear earplugs, especially if the sound sucks and/or is over-driven like it is most of the time on any given sound system. (Something about heavily clipped and overmodulated sound just wears my ears out faster, probably due to the massive amount of weird harmonics and harshness and buzzing and whatnot.)

I have a huge box of individually wrapped Moldex Purafit foam corded plugs (towards the bottom. You can get them cheaper then that, though). The sound quality kind of sucks, but I can keep a half dozen to a dozen sets in my geek bag for everything from randomly ending up at raves/concerts to being able to sleep in noisy places. Plus they're cheap enough to give away to friends new or old.

I've tried the Etymotic ones and I like the frequency response, but it's generally not drastically better than the foams. They're huge-feeling and kind of uncomfortable. And they cost more. But people like them for music, and like that they're cleanable.

I personally find that the majority of the amplified sound events I go to (dive bars, clubs, and even raves) usually have way too much high frequency sound and not enough mid and bass frequencies - which makes the foams work just fine for me, because they tend to cut more highs.

On preview: Get your hearing tested if you can. It may not be (just) amplified-sound-created hearing damage that causes your ringing and inability to hear (comprehend?) conversations at house parties. Tinnitus can be a symptom of a lot of things, and listening to conversations with lots of background conversational noise can be a brain-intensive task rather than just an ear-related one. (I have a hard time tuning into one conversation at parties myself)

My ears have rang since I was a kid, but apparently my hearing tests better than most. I'm like Radar from MASH. I can hear someone turn on a CRT TV or monitor in the next house, and I hear lots of things no one else hears, or hear it before they do. I hear little rustles and whispers of small animals and insects in grass a long ways off. Or, like Radar, I can hear helicopters or planes approaching before anyone else does. It's actually kind of annoying. I wish I couldn't hear the high frequency whine of a CRT or flourescent tube and the like.
posted by loquacious at 1:00 AM on June 10, 2005

I had some earplugs custom made for DJ'ing about 5/6 years ago (the place has gone now - but the filters are the same as advertised on the site linked).

The fitting/moulding process is midly unpleasant - they block your ear canal, then pour a liquid in that sets after a minute or two, for those moments your breathing becomes the loudest thing you have EVER heard.

I've never looked back - in any club I've DJ'ed in that doesn't have controllable monitors - or where I've been out in the crowd and the system has been too loud, I've worn these plugs (mine are black - but I don't care about the look at all).

My hearing is still perfect - despite dj'ing twice weekly for nearly 20 years...and the difference the day after is amazing, waking up with ringing ears makes ME feel like I have a hangover...so using these adds a couple of pleasant hours to my day.

(just remember to remove them before driving home - and turning the radio up to about 11 to hear some music - its happened)

I would highly recommend getting professinal fitted plugs if you are at all serious about the hearing damage, and the amount of time you will spend in those environments.
posted by mattr at 1:44 AM on June 10, 2005

I bought the Etymotics a month ago and have been to five or six things since. They're great. My only problem is deciding whether or not to wear them, since some shows (and some parts of some shows) aren't really loud enough to be able to hear properly with them in. So you end up taking them in and out all the time.
posted by cillit bang at 1:47 AM on June 10, 2005

From what I can tell, the plugs you linked to are roughly the same that can be had at Home Depot for $3. I get ringing at concerts as well, and while I was doing construction, I was one of the few who actually wore plugs during the day. These types of plugs do work wonders.
posted by efalk at 2:04 AM on June 10, 2005

I'm not sure I really want to be 'that guy' wearing the large orange ear muffs in the corner

not that it's important, and perhaps it depends what kind of music you're into, but from my experience, that guy with the ear plugs is hip to the scene / knows what's up / takes his music seriously. Scenesters always have ear plugs.

posted by mdn at 4:07 AM on June 10, 2005

The foam plugs work very well and are cheap cheap cheap. The sound at shows basically sucks anyway.
posted by OmieWise at 5:32 AM on June 10, 2005

I've probably only been to under 10 concerts in my life...

It's good that you are planning to wear plugs so early. Rush out and buy a pair of cheap foam ones before you go to anymore shows, and while you decide if you want to spend more on special plugs.

I personally use the Howard Leight Max (33) (halfway down), or something similar and have been for just about 10 years now. They work like a charm and after you get used to them it's like you're not wearing them.

I've never had the level of comfort with the "cone" type plugs (like you've linked) as I have with the disposable foam ones, but that might just be personal preference.
posted by bwilms at 5:48 AM on June 10, 2005

Foam plugs suck. Your head's in a blanket. On the other hand, bulk foam plugs are like a thousand times cheaper than the custom fitted ones (no exaggeration).

As far as I can tell, Etymotic and Westone are the same thing -- if you get earplugs from Westone, the attenuator disc comes from Etymotic.

I got a pair from Westone back in the early 90's for about $100 (in a period when I was seeing a LOT of bands ... 700 in five years), The earplugs are great, period. Instead of the head-in-a-blanket effect, it's just like turning down the volume. And they are reasonably discrete -- it looks like a small hearing aid, if you notice it at all. I agree that anyone without earplugs at these shows looks stupid.

After a couple years the plugs didn't fit so great (I guess my head got fatter and distorted the ear canal or something) but it was good enough. Recently however I've been going to more shows, including ludicrously loud drum'n'bass and Unsane and such, so I decided to spend the money to get a new set done. Just two days ago I had the fitting for a new pair -- they'll cost $200 total when I receive them in two weeks.

So, they're not cheap, but if you can swing the cost then they're the way to go.

By the way, the hearing test this week (along with the fitting) showed that my hearing was fine. Considering that I've seen literally a thousand bands, I guess that means the earplugs work.
posted by intermod at 5:54 AM on June 10, 2005

I have to relate this.

A friend of mine went to a concert, but soon after it started he realised it was too loud for comfort. He needed earplugs - but had none!

Improvising, he chewed up his ticket into a pulp, and crammed that into his ears. It worked just fine, and he enjoyed the rest of the show without the worry of permanent hearing loss.

AS he left the venue, he tried to dig them out. He only managed to push them further in, so he stopped trying for the evening.

By the next day they were dry and lodged deep in his ear canal. A keen swimmer, he figured a few laps at the local pool would re moisten the pulp and flush it out. Half correct - they became soft, but moved further into his ears. He was now completely deaf, only able to hear the loudest sounds.

Finally he went to the doctor, who managed to carefully extricate the mush. She commended him on being careful with his hearing, but recommended regular earplugs in future.

On a more helpful note, I've always thought the regular industrial plugs to be quite sufficient, but my friend (the same one mentioned above) swore by his custom moulded ones. He's a musician and has attended many live shows, and values his hearing.
posted by tomble at 6:22 AM on June 10, 2005

I am a huge fan of ear plugs. I'm convinced that wearing the (foam) ear plugs has saved my hearing (and by limiting the constant ringing in my ears, my sanity). I also wear them on planes. Now if I could force myself to keep the car radio turned down -- sometimes my ears freak out after I've been driving around for awhile. I just don't realize how loud I've made the radio...
posted by armacy at 6:57 AM on June 10, 2005

I've got something similar to these and I wear them to concerts all the time. They don't dampen the sound as much as the foam ones do, and they are a lot cheaper than the high-end ones.
posted by matildaben at 7:03 AM on June 10, 2005

For small rock shows where you're not getting the best sound mixing, I generally like the sound with the foam plugs more than without -- I tend to want to hear the lyrics, which is usually easier with the ear plugs. (I've never tried the custom ones.)

And I agree with everyone who said all the cool kids are doing it. I was self-conscious for about 10 seconds, till I noticed all the hot people in the room also had them in.
posted by occhiblu at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2005

I have worn earplugs to concerts and live events for more than a decade. In recent years I have started receiving compliments on them and requests for a spare pair. Cool kid indeed, although I wind up telling my tinnitus story more than I would like.

As for the plugs themselves, I generally buy the $3 cylindrical foam ones available at any local pharmacy. They cut out the dangerous high-end while maintaining midrange clarity. Mack's wax earplugs are less intrusive but not nearly as protective. Someday I'd like to get a professional Etymotic-style pair, but in the interim, the disposables are working well.
posted by werty at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2005

Is someplace like Home Depot the best place to buy earplugs in retail, or is there someplace else I should look? I'm sure online is a much better deal once you know what you want but I'm not ready to commit $20 for 100 yet.
posted by smackfu at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2005

Best answer: A friend has been a music lover and DJ for fifteen years, and now she's down to about 30% of normal hearing capacity. So she quit her job managing bands and started Earlove. They sell really good, very comfortable earplugs which allow you to hear the music with a lot of clarity for 15 bucks. The only problem is, you can also hear yourself sing along really well. Annoying flash intro on the site, sorry.
posted by pomegranate at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2005

smackfu, if you just want foam plugs, you can get them at any drug store in lower quantities for around $5. They are reusable, so you may never have to buy another box, even if you get "only" 10-20 pairs.

I must respectfully disagree with people who think that the natural frequency attenuation curve of the cheapos is somehow more favorable to live music as compared to the disc-attenuator models. If it is mixed that poorly, it sounds better because it's cutting out twice as much of the sound overall. You might as well just listen from outside the club.

Note as well that the custom jobbies often give you options as to how much attenuation you would like.
posted by mzurer at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2005

Response by poster: Yes, thanks tweak. I remember that thread. I guess I just wanted more specific information.
posted by maledictory at 9:21 AM on June 10, 2005

I've always wondered why they turn the volume up so much at rock shows that even the musicians feel the need to wear earplugs.
posted by epimorph at 12:58 PM on June 10, 2005

Many musicians turn up their amps to very loud levels to get sonic qualities from their gear available only at high volume, and thus would wear earplugs regardless of the level of the PA. And when you play loud music as often as a band that actually performs does, you are more sensitive to loudness so you might wear earplugs no matter what. Some bands (e.g. Nirvana, The Who) use the loudness in and of itself as part of their performance experience. Venues crank the loud to make sure everyone in all parts of the building are getting their money's worth. Well-engineered loud is a thing to behold, and is not nearly as draining to be a part of as poorly engineered loud. The latter tends to occur more frequently than the former, and many venues have crappy sound characteristics (I'm looking at you, Slim's in SF, and the old 9:30 club in DC) that can ONLY be made bearable by cranking the volume knob up.
posted by mzurer at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2005

smackfu writes "Is someplace like Home Depot the best place to buy earplugs in retail,"

Look around for an industrial safety place. A box of 20 pairs around here is like C$7.00. I managed to buy a couple pairs of the rubber style in a little plastic box with a key loop on it for ~$5. Hate the rubber plugs but I use the boxes (one attached to the pulls on each of my jackets) to keep a couple pairs of the foam plugs in.

I use the plugs for woodworking and find them to be a godsend. I'm also cheap so I'll wear them for about a dozen insertions before openning a new pair. I figure I'm safe as long as I keep them clean and don't share used plugs with others.
posted by Mitheral at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2005

www.earlove.net is where i got mine. love 'em
posted by softlord at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2005

If anyone is curious, the earplugs at the drugstore were in the same section as the bandages. Would not have found them without the staff's help.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on June 14, 2005

« Older Looking for Housing in San Juan, Puerto Rico   |   What are the economics of airline tickets? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.