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, your hearing is your most important asset. It’s not just what makes you enjoy music, it’s what helps you make it. A great pair of earplugs will help you preserve your ears and your music.
In this article, we'll go more in depth about the importance of earplugs for musicians, the different kinds of earplugs and the best choices for musicians.
Why wear earplugs as a musician?
It's a fact that not a lot of musicians wear earplugs. The number one excuse is that they distort the music. And the truth is, they're right. The truth is also that they're probably wearing the wrong earplugs, not intended for musicians. An earplug designed for musicians won't distort the music, it will just lower damaging sound levels to protect your hearing.
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.
Want to know more about? Check the comparison of decibels in your daily life
It's no secret that there are many opportunities for things to misfire when you're rehearsing or performing without earplugs. 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. It may be soft or loud, low or high pitched and can be heard in one ear or both ears.
Famous musicians with hearing damage
Hearing damage is often irreversible, making prevention that much more important. But don't freak out if you're already experiencing some form of hearing damage or loss, just make sure it doesn't get worse.
Chris Martin from Coldplay, Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk, Will.i.am, Moby, Ozzy Osbourne, … the list of artists with hearing damage is endless.
For some musicians, there's a high price to pay. So it was 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.
The 3 key features of an earplug for musicians
1. Great Sound Quality
As a musician, you fine-tune your music to give it a specific sound. It's only right you'll hear it as you intend it to sound, with as little distortion as possible.
In order to do that, you need an earplug with an equal attenuation over the entire hearing spectrum. An equal attenuation across all frequencies will result in a natural sounding experience without distortions, as you'll see in the example below.
Most earplugs have an uneven attenuation and that's because they block your ear canal off completely. The result: distorted sound.
To counter this undesired side effect, earplugs must have a resonance chamber.
There are different ways to include a resonance chamber in an earplug. At Loop, we took on an innovative approach by designing a hollow acoustic channel. Sound waves enter Loop via a small opening and travel through the hollow channel on the inside of Loop. This acoustic resonator has the same length as your ear canal and mimics its function, with a natural sound experience as a result.
Want to dive deeper into the importance of equal attenuation? Check out our technology page!
It all comes down to this: music should sound as you intended it to sound, just less loud. And that brings us to the second feature: sound reduction.
2. Enough Sound Reduction
Sound reduction is the number one goal of any earplug. How much an earplug reduces differences from pair to pair but ranges typically from 15 to 30 decibels.
How much you need depends on what kind of musician you are. If you're playing in a metal band or spending hours behind a deck, you'll want one that reduces a bit more compared to someone playing an acoustic instrument.
It all boils down to finding the right balance between protection and experience. We've found that the perfect balance often lies around a reduction of 20 decibels. It lets enough music in for you to enjoy to the fullest and protects your hearing from sound levels up to 105 decibels.
3. Comfort is key
When you're constantly working with music or performing, you'll want an earplug that fits your ears as good as your instrument fits you as a musician.
Ears are different, what fits you might not fit another member of your band. Some people have large ear canals, others very small.
Finding an earplug that fits you is not only important for your comfort but also for its level of protection. A correctly sized earplug will seal your ear canal completely, making sure there are no leaks around the plug, making it less effective.
If you're a DJ, producer or working a lot with headphones on, make sure to get an earplug that doesn't stick out your ears, so you can wear it under your headphones.
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 simply because not every earplug scores well on the 3 key features that matter for musicians: sound quality, sound reduction and comfort.
With this in mind, let's go over de different kinds of earplugs suited for musicians.
Universal music earplugs
Universal music earplugs have a built-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 is the one for you.
Most advanced music earplugs combine an acoustic resonator or channel with an acoustic filter in order to achieve a crisp clear sound experience. In addition to that, you'll get to choose from a broader range of sizes, compared to the universal earplugs.
They come in various shapes, some even in various colors. They're also reusable.
This kind of earplug has a broader price range, prices vary from $25.00 to $80.00.
Custom made earplugs
Another option worth considering is custom made earplugs. These are fully tailored to your ears which makes them really comfortable.
When you get your molds 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 waiting time. It can take up to three weeks to deliver and prices vary between $120-$150.