Any Advantage to Custom-fitted Earplugs?
October 1, 2007 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Are custom fitted noise-reducing earplugs any better than cheaper off-the-shelf ones?

There is a person who works in my organization that is insisting on buying (on my company's dime) some custom-fitted "musician quality" earplugs to deal with what he feels are hearing loss issues posed by his job.

Leaving alone my skepticism about his actual exposure (I will be evaluating this soon), I cannot find any reason to buy him custom fitted plugs (at over $100 a set), when there are a number of very inexpensive comfortable ones available in the 20-25 dB noise reduction range, which he would need to do his job and still hear some stuff. And there is the added concern that the 50 or so people in his job class my then clamor for their own.

As a hearing aid wearer, I know from earmolds and custom fitting, and I rather have a pair of these off-the-shelf plugs in my ears than the earmolds that I wear.

Does anyone have any direct experience with this, from a noise reduction standpoint?
posted by Danf to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My friend Nate made his own, and though it's a very hacky thing to do, he discusses the difference and says they're absolutely worth it, but for standard noise-blocking, you can always just jam some basic earplugs in your ear.

Or make your own custom-fits.
posted by disillusioned at 11:10 AM on October 1, 2007

I looked into this when I was in a band that practiced twice a week and performed out once a month. The custom-fitted jobs have the advantage of being able to have a diaphragm in them to have a much flatter decibel reduction across all frequencies. You actually can find that in the "christmas-tree" kind as well, but I can say they are not comfortable for long periods or if you get sweaty. If flat response is not critical, I cannot imagine why a huge container of disposable foam plugs, or slightly more expensive ones on a lanyard wouldn't work just fine.
posted by mzurer at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2007

My parents are both musicians/singers and they have both used custom earplugs since they were children, for work as well as going to concerts. When they go for their annual check up at the musician's clinic (McMaster Uni), they freak the ear specialists out because they have not yet begun to experience any hearing loss whatsoever. At 38 & 46 years of age this defies normal auditory aging in even the healthiest of individuals, and the specialists agree it's the long term diligent use of proper ear plugs.

(unfortunately, you cannot say anything under your breath & 2 rooms away at my house and get away with it)
posted by zarah at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2007

As mzurer said, nice earplugs have flat frequency responses. Which is to say, ideally they make everything sound the same as before, just quieter, whereas cheap earplugs tend to affect different frequencies in different ways (often removing a lot of high end) which can be disconcerting for musicians.

If this person's job doesn't involve performing music or scrutinizing sounds, I can't imagine that the cheap ones wouldn't work fine.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:25 AM on October 1, 2007

Best answer: If your staff require to hear accurately or in detail while exposed to high noise levels then custom earplugs will be necessary. If it is a matter of simple hearing protection then cheaper, standard foam plugs will suffice.

It would be worth considering the cost of litigation if you fail to provide the correct protection. In the UK there is specific Health and Safety legislation regarding Noise At Work and employers are required by law to have thorough risk assessments in writing, guidelines for staff protection, areas of escape from noise, limits on duration of exposure to noise, thresholds on decibel levels at which you must take action to prevent hearing damage and so on. Failing to meet these standards can cost a company over here a LOT in claims.

I have a pair of ER25 custom made earplugs which cost me around £150. I am able to hold conversations, pay attention to audible alarms, listen to instructions, be aware of warehouse vehicles etc in an high decibel environment. Foam earplugs tend to muffle these important sounds too much and make my work riskier. They are far more comfortable than the foam variety also.
posted by brautigan at 11:38 AM on October 1, 2007

Also: I had very positive experience prior to purchasing custom made ones with Hi-fidelity earplugs similar to these. Far better than foam or wax plugs and provide a very similar experience to the customs.
posted by brautigan at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2007

Response by poster: The noise is very intermittent, and I very much doubt that it would trigger the US OSHA sound protection rules. But as a matter of policy, we like to go "over and above" OSHA. I do need to assess it thought and I have a couple of fun little instruments to do that with.

What needs to be heard is simple human speech, specifically from the mouths of kids. It seems like any decibel-reducing plug would do that, and the "christmas tree" or ETY type, from what I have read above would work really well.
posted by Danf at 12:04 PM on October 1, 2007

Silly question: if there's human speech "from the mouths of kids", is their hearing being protected?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:31 PM on October 1, 2007

What needs to be heard is simple human speech, specifically from the mouths of kids.

Listening to speech or music is greatly enhanced with the flat-response musician's type earplugs.
posted by flug at 6:40 PM on October 1, 2007

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