Most of us have had the experience of wearing disposable foam earplugs. Whether it was on the job or at a concert, racetrack or shooting range, we’ve scrunched up the foam plug, inserted it into our ear and waited for it to expand. Depending on the style of foam, it may have felt soft and squishy or firm against our ear canal. It may have brought the noise down just enough for comfort, or we might have had to remove it to hear another person talk.
We’ve probably also worn earmuffs once or twice. Easier to put on and take off, they fit over our ears and outside sound is attenuated. If we wear glasses, they were probably a little less effective and probably started to feel uncomfortable after a short while.
Consumer-Grade Ear Protection: Effective but Inaccurate
With both styles of hearing protection, high frequencies are attenuated much more strongly than low frequencies. They do the job of protecting our ears, but without much nuance or grace. Everything sounds like it’s on the other side of a wall. In many situations this isn’t a problem, but listening to music can be a lot less enjoyable this way.
If we’re fans of music, or musicians ourselves, in all likelihood we’ve tried out some reusable earplugs, which promise to maintain the same relative levels between frequencies that we experience with the naked ear. These might cost $15-30 and usually come with a carrying case so they can be kept clean in our pocket, ready to be deployed whenever we find ourselves in a situation with sustained dangerous noise levels. (Any noise level above 85 dBA is dangerous, especially when we encounter it for sustained periods of time.)
While these models certainly sound better than foam plugs, it doesn’t take long to notice that they don’t really maintain the integrity of the natural frequency spectrum as much as they claim. It’s much more enjoyable to take in a concert with these than with a set of disposables, but we still miss the natural relationship of low and high, as high frequencies are still more attenuated. For performing music, this is unacceptable. Musicians find themselves unable to gauge the relative volume of their instrument compared to the other musicians in the group or even to experience the nuanced variations in their own playing. For singers, the seal created by the plug makes it impossible to hear themselves naturally.
Custom-Molded Earplugs are the Most Reliable Option
Enter the custom-molded earplug. For custom hearing protection, a mold is taken of your ear canal and a plug is designed to fit it perfectly. The plug can then be fitted with a variety of attenuators (10, 17, or 24 dB) to suit the level of sound you’ll be experiencing.
These earplugs truly offer an even reduction in level across the frequency spectrum, as well as avoiding the problem of creating a seal so that singers can use them without losing the ability to hear their own voice as normal. Avid music fans will also appreciate them, as the experience of hearing a concert is the same as with an unimpeded ear, only quieter.
Custom-Molded In-Ear Monitoring is the Next Level
Musicians who require stage monitoring, FOH engineers, audiophiles and recording/mastering engineers on the go will appreciate the options offered in the Ultimate Ears Pro line of in-ear monitor options. Combining the custom-fit earplug with high-quality drivers for music reproduction, these devices can attenuate outside sound up to 24 dB while reproducing accurate, high-quality sound on the inside.
Musicians can get a great monitor mix while blocking out cymbals, guitar amps and other loud sounds on stage. FOH engineers can zero-in on what’s really happening in their mix. Recording and mastering engineers can work on projects not only in the studio but on airplanes, in cafes, or backstage at a client’s show. Audiophiles, too, will be able to appreciate hi-fi sound in any circumstance. While these devices involve a substantial financial outlay, those who are serious about music will wonder how they ever lived without them.
Get Your Hearing Tested
If you’re a musician, a professional in the audio industry, or a fan looking for the best way to enjoy your favorite music, tour team at Mt. Hood Hearing is here to help! We can give you a rundown of the options available for high-quality, custom-fit attenuation and sound reproduction.
Part of the process of fitment for custom earplugs should always be a hearing test, and those who are exposed to loud sound on a frequent basis should have their hearing tested once a year. This is more frequent than the general population, but more frequent testing allows hearing degradation to be ascertained early, which means you can make the necessary changes to stop hearing loss before it becomes problematic.
Talk to our team at Mt. Hood Hearing about custom-fit earplugs and in-ear monitors today. Your ears will thank you now and later!