Hearing Protection for Musicians, or, It's Too Loud and I'm Too Old
September 9, 2013 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I am a bass player, and I have recently returned to playing loud, noisy rock and roll after a 4-year hiatus from the stage. I have always eschewed earplugs on stage, on the grounds that they keep me from hearing all of the nuance I need to hear to play effectively with a group. But I ain't no spring chicken anymore, and now I recognize that the real reason I never wore earplugs before, even in mind-bendingly loud bands, was mostly out of misplaced machismo. I can tell that I have lost some hearing over the years, especially in the ear that usually faces the drums, and I want to avoid losing more. I have tried using cheap, disposable foam ear plugs, but I am not satisfied with the sound quality I am getting with them. Are there better ear protection alternatives out there?

Please don't just say "turn down the volume!", because a) we've already done that, and b) when you're playing in different venues, a lot of times you don't really have control of how loud things are on stage.
posted by vibrotronica to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I now have a musical/dancing outlet I participate in where the music isn't painfully loud, but I promised myself that next time I was going to be spending a bunch of time out in clubs listening to live bands that I'd pick up a set of Etymotic ETY*Plugs 'cause they claim to have a fairly flat attentuation, and at $13 weren't "break-the-bank" expensive.

Haven't used 'em myself yet, though.
posted by straw at 2:11 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The right way to do this is not cheap - they make a mold of your ear and custom-produce protection for you - about $200-300, and you get them via an audiologist
posted by thelonius at 2:22 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I got a pair of these recently and they're pretty nice. It took me a couple of tries to the get the molds right, but they were good about sending additional molding materials as needed.
posted by doctord at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2013

I'm very fond of my Etymotic ear plugs. I'm not a "musician", but I'm a DJ and run sound at dance music events. I find that I can hear better with the ety's in because my hearing isn't overwhelmed.
posted by flaterik at 2:40 PM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: An industrial safety guy I know just recommended EarPeace to me. Neither he nor I are musicians, and I haven't even tried them yet, so take that for what it's worth. I believe they work the same way as the Etymotics do (same price too), but are slightly less conspicuous -- they're flesh toned, and I think the stems are supposed to be shorter.
posted by natabat at 2:41 PM on September 9, 2013

I use wax ear plugs from this site while riding my motorcycle. They go in easily (after a bit of practice), block sound, and are quite comfy.
posted by Wulfhere at 2:48 PM on September 9, 2013

I found the ETY*Plugs that straw mentioned to have the best fidelity for music (for a reasonable price--I haven't tried anything more expensive).
posted by jjwiseman at 2:52 PM on September 9, 2013

Ety Plugs work for me too, though I do always feel like they're a bit conspicuous because of the amount they stick out of my ears. Beware, I had to buy the "large" size (at least as labeled on Amazon) despite having what I think are very normal sized ears.

Slappin da bass, mon!

(No, of course I did not post this solely for an excuse to say that...)
posted by primethyme at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2013

This question comes up regularly; see this previous thread for recent recommendations; looks like Etymotic and Hearos are the good cheap ones, custom-molded is the way to go if you have $150 or so to spare for your hearing, and the forums at Head-Fi.org might be useful as well.

Thanks for asking this now, though; the $1 foam plugs I bought at a club this weekend were completely inadequate. I found myself doing stupid stuff like inserting them vertically to get some of the high end back, instead of just buying some $13 plugs that are worth at least a single shit. There's more via the earplugs tag, but it looks like your two options are gonna be a $15 or $150 set.
posted by mediareport at 3:10 PM on September 9, 2013

When I first started riding motorcycles, my safety instructor gave me a bit of advice regarding helmets, which was this - "Got a fifty-dollar head? Get a fifty-dollar helmet."

When I've played loud gigs (which is a rarity for me), I have ended up wearing Hearos. I think they did a fine job of cutting the LOUD while retaining the nuance, and they were only about $13. I don't play out much though, so if you do I'd say it's probably worth it to shell out the bigger bucks and grab some of the more fancy molded earplugs listed above. Hearing is awfully nice, and you may as well protect what you've got left of yours.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:37 PM on September 9, 2013

My husband the drummer has a pair of custom-molded ear plugs. He paid about $160 total for the ear exam and the set. Can't live without them.
posted by raisingsand at 3:39 PM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: The Etymotic plugs are great for the people attending the shows; the musicians playing the music should probably spring for the custom set.

How much would you spend on a new bass? Isn't your hearing worth at least that much?
posted by mimo at 3:56 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another option would be to get OSHA rated earplugs, which are specifically designed to protect the ears. All but the very worst earplugs will simply cut the volume of the sound and not affect the tone or dynamics very much.
posted by gjc at 6:36 AM on September 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the insights! I'm going to buy some of the Etty*PLugs for now, and then if I keep playing with this band past a few months I'll drop the dollars on some expensive ones.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2013

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