March 15, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Earplug recommendation needed for concerts. Complication: tiny, tiny ear canal.

Reading this FPP, I realize it is time to start wearing earplugs to shows. I saw this question but I figure maybe there are newer, better things that came out since 2005.

This is basically the opposite of "I need earplugs that block out all noise." I need earplugs that make things softer, but will still let me actually hear the music with as much fidelity as I can get. I'm looking for the equivalent of turning down the volume, not sticking my fingers in my ears.

The other issue is that my ear canal entrance holes are tiny. You know those headphones with the rubber/gel plug you shove in your ear? I can't use those because even the smallest-size plugs are too big and don't stay in.
posted by griphus to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
An audiologist can fit you for "musician's earplugs." They reduce volume without losing any frequencies. A music writer I know--obvs frequently at loud shows--says they've made a huge difference.
posted by Ollie at 8:55 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go custom-made!
posted by scratch at 8:56 AM on March 15, 2013

Etymotic ETYPlugs are what I use. They reduce by 20dB across all frequencies. The "regular" size fits me just fine, but I'm used to using IEMs. However, with your small ears, I think you're looking at a custom solution.
posted by dobi at 8:58 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get earplugs moulded to your ears.

The Ety Plug advertised here is basically two pieces: A plastic core with an acoustic damper, and a rubber fringed tip. That tip is removable and replaceable with other tips, including silicone tips shaped to your ears.

Call local audiologists and tell them you want custom moulded earplugs. They'll know what you mean. The product will cost up to about $50 for a non-electronic unit, and the ear impression and fitting will cost another $50-100.
posted by ardgedee at 8:59 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I remember to take the, I like the soft Hearos. You could probably cut them if you needed to. They compress down and then fill up the ear canal. Most of the time I forget to take anything and just use a small balled-up piece of tissue; just small enough to fit down in the ear canal. It doesn't block as much noise, but it’s surprisingly effective and not very noticeable.
posted by iscavenger at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, I emailed my friend who is an audiologist to see if his office does custom musician's earplugs and if my insurance would cover it. Keep the suggestions coming, though!
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on March 15, 2013

Earplanes makes a kids' size.
posted by brujita at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2013

If insurance doesn't cover it, try a speech and hearing clinic at a local university; the one here at UW offers custom earplugs for a significantly lower price, if you don't mind students (with supervisors) doing the fitting.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:23 AM on March 15, 2013

Response by poster: A (different) friend of mine is a Speech-Language Pathologist; is that something should could direct me to?
posted by griphus at 9:25 AM on March 15, 2013

A smaller size of the Ety Plugs are the "Baby Blues".
posted by agentmitten at 9:26 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, I purchased this ridiculous item at Target and they are too small even for my lady ears. They are only $3 so worth a shot.
posted by something something at 9:27 AM on March 15, 2013

I've tried lots of earplugs and always keep coming back to Mack's Silicone Earplugs, in great part because I hate the feeling of anything stuck in my ear. These just cover the entrance to the ear canal. They may not be the absolute best at sound reduction or fidelity, but after a few seconds of everything seeming muffled, loud concert music sounds fine and I only have trouble hearing whoever I'm there with (and in that situation I'd have a hard time hearing them anyway).

And afterwards, when I take them out, I can hear everything perfectly clearly.

If I went to a concert every night, I might consider something more upscale, but these have served me well for decades.
posted by Devoidoid at 9:44 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a pair of the Etymotic plugs as well, and find that they do well at reducing volume across the board without muffling some frequencies. When I got my pair they had two sizes, regular and the "baby blue" smaller size. The middle size earbud option usually fits my ears, and the larger ETY plugs fit me fine. My girlfriend has smaller, shallower ear canals, and needed their smaller, blue plugs.

Apparently, they've renamed their "baby blue" smalls as the new regular size, and re-dubbed the old regulars as size large.

They are only $13, so it might be worth a try?
posted by JiBB at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Part time musician here. I tried the orange foamies a few times and hated them for anything but napping or felling trees with chainsaws.

The Ety plugs, on the other hand, are great! I bought several pairs and keep them on me at all times. (One in my pocket, one in my instrument case, one in my car, etc.)

In addition to making shows more enjoyable (most rock shows actually sound *better* with the Ety plugs; my non-scientician's opinion is that it's the live equivalent of the "loudness" button on your stereo), they improve many other situations, too: airplanes, buses, walking on city streets, hanging out in loud bars, drowning out coworkers, etc.

They don't really eliminate any sounds, they just take everything down a few notches, which really helps me focus. At first I worried that people were judging me for wearing them in loud social situations, but in practice I don't think anyone actually notices I'm wearing them. If anything, they help with social anxiety: wearing them I feel more calm and controlled and less distracted.

And yeah, waking up the day after a show without ringing in my ears is great, and I'm sure Future-SportBucket™ will appreciate being able to hear his grandchildren (god willing) clearly.

So get some decent earplugs! You'll wonder how you lived without them.
posted by sportbucket at 10:33 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The ety baby blues work great and are pretty small. Custom musicians plugs, however, are a thing of beauty, and worth buying even if your insurance doesn't cover it. Think of it this way, is your future hearing worth $200? I'd think so.
posted by markblasco at 11:45 AM on March 15, 2013

I'll add my voice to the chorus of Ety supporters. And I accidentally got the baby blue ones recently when I needed to replace another pair I'd had for years and they are indeed tiny, enough so that I was pretty sure I'd ordered kids' earplugs by mistake when they'd arrived. And they're smaller than the small tips that came with my Ety earphones.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:32 PM on March 15, 2013

A (different) friend of mine is a Speech-Language Pathologist; is that something should could direct me to?

S/he might be able to recommend a colleague (depending on where s/he works), but hearing isn't generally something they work with.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 2:12 PM on March 15, 2013

This is probably so obvious you didn't even bother mentioning it, but I thought I'd ask about it, just in case.

Before you attempt to insert the ear plug, do you pull up on your ear to straighten your ear canal? I, too, have smallish ear canals and I wear small ear plugs. Even when using a small size, I cannot insert them unless I straighten my ear canal first. If you haven't done this before, it's quite simple: grasp the top of your ear with your thumb and forefinger and pull upwards. It's a very small movement - probably only a quarter of an inch or less. Hold your ear in this position and insert the rolled-up ear plug. You can feel a difference when it's actually in the canal. When it's in, let go, and it will expand in the canal. It should fit very snugly. When you remove it, twist it first to break the vacuum seal.

I use this brand of ear plugs.

I realize this only addresses one part of your question. As for turning down the volume vs. blocking most sound, I'd just recommend looking for a lower noise reduction rating.
posted by pecanpies at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I, personally, would recommend the custom-fit route for actual fidelity. Many live sound techs I know use those and swear by them. Link to Etymotic's version. Yes, you go to an audiologist (who can possibly be found in hearing aid shops) to get the mold made for your ears. The Etymotics & some other brands can come with more than one filter so you get different levels of sound reduction.

I've tried the Etymotics ETY & similar "musician's" earplugs and I hate 'em. I don't find they have a flat or even frequency response - they just sound like regular earplugs that let through a little more of the very high frequencies, so it's like wearing ordinary earplugs with some annoying "sizzle" added. YMMV, of course, and at $12.95 list price it hopefully won't blow your budget to give them a shot.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:53 PM on March 15, 2013

As a singer and bass player, Doc's PROplugs (Vented) are by far the best earplugs I've found for cutting sound volume without affecting sound tone AND that fit my annoyingly small ear canals. They come in a range of sizes and will take out the high end ring that leaves your ears ringing after a show without perceptibly affecting the rest of the sound. (I'm especially picky about being able to hear the bass tones, which most foam earplugs end up muffling beyond recognition.) Plus the clear ones are practically invisible so you don't look like a doofus with neon orange foam coming out of your ears!
posted by platinum at 11:18 PM on March 21, 2013

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