Best In Ear Hearing Protection – We found a musician and sound engineer who spends a month at live events and records music of all genres to find the best headphones for concerts. Our pick for best buy is the Vibes – Hi-Fidelity Earplugs set, their comfortable rounded tips are easy to insert and you won’t regret wearing them. If you are expecting a long and loud concert, the Eargasm-Slide offers even more protection at two different levels, especially for loud scenes. And if you value sonic purity above all else, Decibullz – professional headphones offer the cleanest and most transparent sound, in addition to a low-profile custom-shaped exterior.
This is a review covering ear plugs that allow certain frequencies to enter the ears to give a more natural listening experience. They’re great for activities like motorcycle rides and sporting events, but if you’re wearing earplugs to block out loud sounds, or to block out background noise while you’re trying to sleep, check out our best earplugs. Review and our survey of the best earplugs for sleep instead.
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As with all our reviews, we looked extensively at customer testimonials and compared the best sellers to come up with a list of our finalists to check out. Instead of trying to find all the differences between seemingly similar products, we chose a representative from each earplug based on price, sales history and availability.
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We started this review with a long history of wearing headphones and listening to music at live events. Our lead researcher and tester, Daniel, has been mixing live bands for over 15 years. Another tester of ours plays the acoustic guitar or the drums in the weekend concerts.
Our testers used foam earplugs for demanding situations (including working with power tools and motorcycles) and both said they wouldn’t hesitate to wear foam earplugs, especially in a strong concert. Our music tester uses Earaser brand clear earplugs when not normally wearing headphones. (We also tested Earasers, but they offered such a small discount that we didn’t include them in our results).
We’ve read dozens of earplug reviews, and in most cases, they’ve been recommended based on the popularity of a brand or casual experience. Wirecutter has the only review with detailed comparison information – other reviews, a blog post from the Hearing Health Foundation, Producer Hive, and Metal Insider describe the real test, but they and hundreds of Reddit r/ave and other pages of concerts are vague on the specifics. Inner FIdelity published a review that included the measurements in 2015, but since then several new models have appeared.
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For most concerts – 10 to 20 decibels of noise reduction – we have purchased earplugs with the best hearing protection rating. We looked for models that come with at least one size option so that people with large or small ears are not left out.
Size Selection Tip: If you can’t seal your ear canals with your new ear plugs, you won’t get the full discount you expect. After all, if the ear plugs are not comfortable, you will hate to wear them. All of the reusable caps we tested have at least one size option, and most give you three or more sizes to try right out of the box.
Tip shape and penetration depth: Everyone’s ear canal is different, so if you don’t like the way your first set sounds, try a different shape. Three-dimensional tips must be inserted and bent through the curve in the ear canal to seal well, while the round tips use pressure to fill the space outside the first curve to stay in place.
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Availability of other tips: If you are not satisfied with the fit of the manufacturer’s recommendations, you can buy foam or silicone tips made to fit the headphones. Comply sells reliable expansion foam replacement tips for every nose and ear size, but Spinfit silicone tips are also worth it, and Veston sells a full ten-option “face kit” that works with plugs for the ears of the narrow nose.
Noise Reduction Rating: See our discussion of NRR below. This number shows the difference in fitness and hearing to give a reliable indicator of how the earplugs should perform.
Filter options: In some cases, you can buy these earplugs with different filters for different levels of protection. We tested designs that rated between 12 and 22 on their NRR scale, and that’s mostly at the more rugged end of the spectrum for hi-fi headphones.
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Because we all have different ear shapes, earplug manufacturers have to test their products in a laboratory on groups of at least 20 volunteers. The Noise Reduction Rating (“NRR”) is calculated as how much a pair of earplugs suppresses a normal set of sounds for all test subjects, and the number indicates the difference in fit and intelligibility between most people. (Regular serial numbers are often listed so you can see this flexibility).
This system is designed for people who use earplugs in noisy work environments, where even boring tools like air compressors and leaf blowers can cause hearing loss due to the constant noise every day. Exposure to noise at concerts is a little different, and it’s important to understand how.
Humans hear some sound frequencies better than others—for example, when someone is talking to you, you rely on high-level detail to tell the difference between P and B. And that’s part of what makes some of even more annoying sounds: children screaming and shrill voices bombarding your ears with the most painful repetitions possible.
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Decibels are measured by applying a “perceptual weight” so that we can effectively compare how loud two different sounds seem to the human listener.
The A-weighted scale is the most common, and essentially the only scale used to test for hearing loss. Unfortunately for musicians, the A-weighted sound pressure meter doesn’t pay much attention to low-frequency sounds. It is suitable for measuring the sound of quiet sounds and is good for comparing the noise caused by the lawnmower, the neighbor’s dog or the grinder. But this system is terrible for judging a subwoofer competition at a car show or for judging sounds that sound like “shots”.
The C-scale, by comparison, includes most of the bass we hear in the scale, and is closer to how we perceive high tones. The balance still filters out a little more low-frequency sound, but it’s still effective enough to measure music and movie soundtracks, so people pay attention to the gut-rumbling bass.
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If you have a C-weighted scale for the sound you’re concerned about, calculating the performance of your earplugs is easy: just subtract the NRR number to get a good idea of how the earplugs perform.
But if you only get the sound level information from the A-scale number (as many decibel meter apps and cheap sound level meters give you), the requirement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to subtract 7 from the ear. Enter the NRR number before subtracting it from the A-weighted scale.
If you do your calculations based on the wrong scale, you are sure to get double (6 dB) the exposure you expected.
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Many headphone buying guides recommend that employers go a step further and halve the NRR number when calculating safety requirements to compensate for the possibility that someone may be wearing ill-fitting headphones. If you buy earplugs for yourself, you should make sure they come with replacements. Earplugs are ineffective, uncomfortable and more likely to fall out.
Our experiences in small clubs and stadium shows show that moderate to loud shows in all genres tend to stay between 100 and 110 dB(A), while surveying our fanbases, we found that major outdoor festivals tend to to stay under Reason 100 dB (A). (If you stand 10 feet from the speaker stack, of course, you’ll get a lot more than that.)
The World Health Organization recommendation for recreational listening is 92 dB(A) for one hour of total exposure. Note that for every 3 dB(A) above, the duration is halved, and half of the population may still experience temporary hearing loss at this level. Also note that tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is not predictable enough to recommend. It’s one of the few research papers that assumes you’re listening to loud music for fun rather than trying to protect workers, so it gives you a generous allowance to make your own choices about long-term damage.
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With these guidelines, outdoor exposure averages about 98 dB(A) for 15 minutes without earplugs. Using earplugs rated at 14 NRR results in:
This means you have up to an hour of top songs before you have a chance to listen
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