Whether you’re a DJ performing at a sold-out festival, a guitarist rehearsing in a garage with friends or part of a school orchestra, you hearing is your most important asset. It’s not only what makes you enjoy music, it’s what helps you make it. A great set of earplugs will do the same and protect your hearing.
What can go wrong?
The ear is a complex instrument, so there are many opportunities for things to misfire. Hearing problems can present themselves in different forms and can be short-term or long-term. The two most common issues musicians face are hearing loss and tinnitus.
Hearing loss is the partial or total inability to hear and can be temporary or permanent. While it’s often considered to be caused by aging or genetics, exposure to (loud) noise accounts for approximately half of all cases of hearing loss.
Tinnitus is the hearing of sound when no external sound is present. People often describe it as a ringing sound, that's why they also call it 'ringing ears', but tinnitus can manifest itself in many sounds: ringing, clicking or roaring. It may be soft or loud, low or high pitched and can be heard in one ear or both ears.
Chris Martin from Coldplay, Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk, Will.i.am, Moby, Ozzy Osbourne, … the list of artists with hearing damage is endless. And for some, there's a high price to pay. Like for Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC. During their world tour in 2016, Johnson had to quit touring, in order to prevent his hearing damage from worsening and eventually becoming deaf. Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses replaced him for the rest of the tour.
How does it happen?
Whether you're playing a two-hour gig, a short set at a nightclub or just turned up the volume for your favorite song: hearing damage can happen to anyone at any time. Essentially it all comes down to the level of sound and the period of time you're exposed to it. The decibel (dB) is used to measure sound levels. Irreversible hearing damage can occur as low as 85dB. But what exactly is 85dB?
First off, it's important to know that decibel is not a unit but a ratio on a logarithmic scale. Simply put: 10 decibel equals a power ratio of 10, while 20 decibel equals a power ratio of 100. This helps you understand that a difference of just one or two decibels has a much larger impact on your hearing than it may seem. A second thing to keep in mind is the time you're exposed.
The chart below shows different levels of decibels and how long they don't negatively impact your hearing. For example: A festival, concert or drum set has an average sound level of 97dB. At that level your ears are only safe for the first 30 minutes, after that you should use earplugs in order to prevent damage.
It's hard to determine the level of decibels at a club, concert hall or any venue at all. You can use a noise meter or app to measure it. But let's be honest, do you really see yourself standing on stage constantly checking the sound level and turning it down? Probably not. That's why protecting your hearing at the start of every rehearsal or performance is not only safer, it's also way easier.
What are the best options for a musician?
There are different ways to protect your hearing: earmuffs, foam earplugs, universal earplugs or custom-made earplugs. All work well to protect your hearing but not every option is suited for musicians. That's just because not every earplug offers the same kind of sound quality, decibel reduction or comfort.
When evaluating hearing protection, you should focus on the features that matter to you. As a musician that probably comes down to this: sound quality, acoustics and comfort. So, look for an earplug with a music filter or one that's specifically designed for music.
Universal music earplugs
Universal music earplugs have a build-in music filter that gives you optimal protection without loss of clarity. They're different kinds of music filters. Look for one that has a flat attenuation curve, for the best music experience. There are also different sound reductions available, we suggest choosing one between 15dB and 25dB. As the name suggests, universal earplugs have a universal fit. Which means they're designed to fit every ear. They often come in white or transparent, you can reuse them multiple times and their price range is very acceptable ($25.00 - $35.00).
Advanced music earplugs
If you're looking for a more personal fit and just that bit extra, an advanced music earplug like Loop is the one for you. Loop is an earplug with a flat attenuation curve and an equal 20dB sound reduction across all frequencies. Loop works on 3 stages: acoustic resonance, advanced filter and closing of the ear canal in order to achieve a great music experience. The acoustic channel that defines the earplug's resonance is functional and defines its elegant round shape that doesn't stick out. Which makes it a great earplug to wear if you're working with headphones. Loop is available in 5 different colors and each set comes with 6 different sets of ear tips (3x silicon and 3x foam) for $29.95
Custom made earplugs
Another option worth considering are custom made earplugs. These are fully tailored to your ears which makes them really comfortable. When you get your moulds taken by a qualified technician, you'll get to choose from several filters that can be installed, ask for the one with a flat attenuation curve. The downside of custom made earplugs is both price as well as wait time. It can take up to three weeks to deliver and prices vary between $120-$150. But can you, as a musician, really put a price on your hearing?