Being a musician can take a toll on your hearing. When you’re performing gigs for live audiences, the music is going to be very loud. Over the course of a musical career, this can leave a musician with serious hearing problems.
Thankfully, there’s a range of products on the market that exist to provide hearing protection for musicians. Unlike conventional hearing protection, musician’s ear plugs are designed to still allow safe levels of sound through. This allows you to still hear your music as you’re performing, whilst blocking out a good portion of the dangerous sounds.
A good pair of musician’s ear plugs should offer a good SNR, whilst preventing safe sounds from being muffled or otherwise sounding off. They should allow a good range of sounds into the ear, allowing you to perform without trouble.
Best Ear Plugs for Musicians (UK 2017)
1. Alpine MusicSafe Pro Filter Ear Plugs
To offer the versatility that a musician needs, Alpine created their MusicSafe Pro Filter Ear Plugs that come with three different sets of interchangeable filters.
These filters dictate how much noise reaches your ear. This enables you to select the filters that offer the greatest balance between noise reduction and sound quality.
Depending on your position on stage, the instrument you’re playing, and the sound set up, you may require different levels of noise reduction. The three included interchangeable sets of filters offer three levels of protection: low, medium, and high.
As a relatively cheap product, these ear plugs do a great job of reducing noise. In our opinion, they do a great job maintaining a good balance of frequencies. This helps to make performing with them on more natural.
Whilst you can certainly get better performance out of a far more expensive set of custom-moulded ear plugs, these are very good for the price.
For a one-size-fits-all design, these ear plugs are remarkably comfortable. This is in part due to their clever material that moulds to the shape of your ear canal using body heat. This means that the ear plugs don’t exert excessive pressure on the inside of your ear canal, which negates a lot of the discomfort that comes with wearing ear plugs for long periods of time.
A bonus of the filter design is that they’re not airtight, meaning that your ears shouldn’t feel plugged up when you’re wearing them.
Though not important to the performance, the colour and low-profile of these ear plugs makes them very discreet. Furthermore, if you plan on taking these to concerts a lot, the included carry case is very useful. It allows you to transport the ear plugs with minimal risk of losing them at the bottom of your bag somewhere.
2. ACS ACS-ER20 Hearing Protectors
If you want a slightly more budget option, ACS have their ER20 ear plugs which offer solid hearing protection at a very tempting price tag.
Like most other musician’s ear plugs, they use a filter design that’s designed to still allow safe levels of noise into your ear whilst blocking out loud sounds. This allows a musician to hear themselves perform whilst still protecting their hearing from the volume of the sound on stage.
Given their price point, these ear plugs are astonishingly effective. We think they do a great job of attenuating noise whilst still retaining the incredibly important audio fidelity.
These ear plugs are a great option for performers and listeners alike. Whether you’re on stage or in the crowd, having some solid hearing protection is a must. These are a great option if you don’t fancy spending a small fortune on custom-moulded ear plugs.
ACS have created a surprisingly comfortable set of ear plugs. Our only complaint with the comfort is that they’re a tad bulky, which means they’re a bit harder to forget about compared to some smaller designs. Since these are primarily designed for music, you’re not likely to be wearing them for extreme lengths of time like you might with workplace hearing protection.
To prevent losing them, these ear plugs come with a cord that keeps them attached together. Unfortunately, these ear plugs stick out a bit far, meaning the cord is a bit more likely to get caught on things as you move around.
We suggest not using the cord if the ear plugs fit in your ears snugly. Having ear plugs pulled out of your ears is very frustrating when you’re in a high noise level environment.
3. EarPeace HD High Fidelity Hearing Protection
These ear plugs are designed for people in the music industry. They come in a choice of three skin-colour tones to make them as discreet as possible. Like with the Alpine MusicSafe Pro Filter Ear Plugs, you get three ear plugs rather than just two, so there’s a spare ear plug in case you lose one.
These ear plugs have been endorsed by Metallica and the music festival Lollapallooza. They reduce the volume of sounds without distorting them or changing the balance of frequencies. One of the best things about these ear plugs is that they camouflage very well with your ears, unlike other ear plugs that stick out like a sore thumb.
DownBeats Reusable High Fidelity Hearing Protection
These ear plugs are designed for concert-goers, but are great for performing musicians as well. They come with a small aluminium case that can be easily attached to a keyring, wallet or bag, meaning you won’t forget to take them with you to gigs or concerts .
DownBeats Reusable High Fidelity ear plugs have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 18 dB. They are relatively discrete as they’re made from clear plastic, but they’re more noticeable than the EarPeace HD ear plugs reviewed above.
Best Ear Defenders for Musicians (UK 2017)
Ear defenders are bulkier and less discrete than ear plugs, but they can be more comfortable to wear and are easier to put on and take off quickly. Ear defenders are popular among drummers. The drums are one of the loudest instruments, so it’s a good idea to use ear protection when practicing as well as performing. While you will probably prefer to use discrete ear plugs for gigs, ear defenders that go over the ears are comfier for using while practicing.
1. Vic Firth Drummer’s Ear Defenders
These ear defenders reduce the volume of the sound hitting your ear drums by 25 dB, which offers a good level of protection for practicing. The fit can be adjusted to suit the size of your head, and the ear pads feature broad foam cushions for added comfort. These ear defenders are effective at reducing harmful volumes without undermining your ability to hear detailed and clear sounds.
2. FSL Decimate Safety Earmuff
These earmuffs have an impressive Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 34dB. They’re designed not just for drummers, but for outdoor sports like shooting as well. This means they’re built to be very durable, so you can take them with you on the road without worrying about them getting damaged.
With noise-cancelling headphones, you can listen to the track you’re playing along to at a safe volume. These are especially useful for drummers who have no control over the volume of their instrument. One advantage of using noise-cancelling headphones over ear defenders or ear plugs is you can use them to listen to music when you’re not playing your instrument.
Some of the most popular noise-cancelling headphones among drummers and other musicians are reviewed below.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones
These wireless noise-cancelling headphones aren’t cheap, but they offer an impressive combination of effective noise reduction and high sound quality. Bose are famous for their superior sound engineering, and these headphones are really state-of-the-art.
These headphones can be used with or without wires. When you use them in wireless mode you won’t get your instrument tangled up in wires, meaning you can focus on playing your instrument without worrying about cables getting in the way.
If music is a major part of your life, these headphones are worth the high price tag. However, Bose don’t provide an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating), so it’s hard to know exactly how much protection these headphones provide.
TaoTronics Active Noise Cancelling Headphones In Ear Earphones
These in-ear headphones are much cheaper than the Bose headphones reviewed above. They are wired, but you might not mind this if you’re playing along to music on an MP3 player or phone in your pocket. They reduce outside noise by up to 30 dB when you’re playing music through them.
These earphones are comfy and affordable, and much safer to use than regular earphones if you listen to music while practicing.
Custom-made ear plugs
Your ears are unique, so custom-made ear plugs are a good way to make sure your ear plugs offer a comfortable fit. Getting ear plugs custom made will take longer and be more expensive than buying some online or in a shop, but will usually offer better protection and more comfort. You will usually need to see an audiologist who will make impressions of your ears in order to create ear plugs to fit the size and shape of your ears.
How to Protect Your Hearing as a Musician
Like all other loud noises, loud music poses a significant threat to your hearing. Musicians and concert-goers alike have a very high risk of causing permanent damage to their hearing. If you enjoy music, losing your hearing can be a terrible thing, especially if you’re a musician.
Whether you’re performing, practicing, or just listening to music, there are a range of techniques and products you can use to protect your precious hearing.
Noise levels above 85dB can cause permanent damage when you are exposed to them for long periods of time. The risks at 85dB aren’t too bad, with most workplace safety organisations stating that up to 8 hours of exposure to 85 dB noise is acceptable.
However, that exposure time is cut down to roughly 2 hours with noises of 100dB. To put that into perspective, a loud rock concert is roughly 120dB. At that volume, noise exposure without hearing protection will cause immediate and potentially permanent damage to your hearing.
Hearing loss is extremely common amongst musicians, with some studies (see here and here) suggesting upwards of 40% suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re performing for a crowd, you need hearing protection. This is especially important if you’re playing a traditionally loud type of music, such as rock or metal.
That’s not to say that hearing protection isn’t important when practicing as well; drums, electric guitars, and even violins have the potential to damage your hearing over extended periods of time.
How to Protect your Hearing
Depending on what the hearing protection is for, you may be able to get away without spending a small fortune on ear plugs. That being said, the most effective and most discreet option is always a pair of flat-attenuation in-ear ear plugs in our opinion.
If you’re performing regularly, you may wish to have a pair of musician’s earplugs moulded for your ears. Otherwise, there are relatively inexpensive pairs of musician’s ear plugs such as those reviewed above that can be purchased off-the-shelf or ordered online.
There are a variety of hearing protection products available on the market, though most are designed for workplace protection, rather than for musicians. There are two key things to look for in hearing protection for music:
- Audio fidelity – The best ear plugs will reduce volume evenly across all frequencies, resulting in a sound that doesn’t sound muffled or distorted
- Noise reduction – A higher noise reduction rating (NRR) or single number rating (SNR) means that the ear plugs offer greater protection against noise. See which ear plugs have the highest SNR ratings here.
Flat-attenuation earplugs aim to reduce the volume of a noise as evenly across the range of frequencies as possible. They may also be referred to as flat-response earplugs or flat-frequency-response earplugs. These types of earplugs can be found for a wide range of prices.
If you’re a professional musician, you may want to invest in a pair of custom-moulded ear plugs. For those on a lower budget, musician’s ear plugs can be found considerably cheaper than that off-the-shelf, though the audio fidelity and protection will likely be worse.
Electronic Musician’s Ear Plugs
Though very pricey, there are a select few electronic options for your hearing protection needs, such as these from Etymotic. Unlike typical flat-attenuation earplugs, they make use of a microphone and speaker that picks up the music, reduces the volume when necessary, and plays it back to you. This has the advantage of allowing you to hear conversation without needing to remove the earplugs.
At the moment, they tend to slightly modify the sound compared to how it sounds without any protection at all. Though not objectively bad, it will alter how you play slightly. Hopefully future versions of these products will be better in that regard.
Noise is a threat to all musicians, but it depends heavily on the instrument being played. Many instruments, such as acoustic guitars, are too quiet to cause hearing damage on their own. But other instruments can be extremely loud. Depending on the instrument being played and your budget, you may find that cheaper earplugs are sufficient.
If you’re a drummer, or even if you just happen to stand near a drummer on stage, you absolutely need hearing protection. Drums are very loud, occasionally clocking in at upwards of 125dB.
Due to the volumes involved, you drummers will definitely want something fairly heavy-duty. Whilst an expensive pair of custom-moulded earplugs are certainly an option, you may prefer cheaper hearing protection such as ear defenders that are designed for workplace protection.
Whilst the audio fidelity will be considerably worse, you will still be able to hear your drums well enough to keep a beat. We recommend trying out a few cheap brands and seeing which offer the best sound.
See the best hearing protection options for drummers here.
Even a symphony orchestra has the potential to damage your hearing, clocking in at roughly 110dB. At those volumes, permanent hearing damage can occur in a matter of minutes.
If you’re performing in a large orchestra, you should invest in some very powerful hearing protection. Since audio fidelity is likely to be important to you, a pair of custom earplugs might be worth the investment for you.
Electric Instruments & Amplifiers
Amplifiers are extremely important when performing for large crowds, or even when simply practicing an electric instrument.
If you’re using an amp to perform for a crowd, never position yourself directly in front of the amplifier, instead stand behind it or to the side of it. This will reduce your noise exposure massively. You should also strongly consider reducing the volume on the amplifier where possible.
If reducing the volume to safe levels is not an option, then you need hearing protection. If audio fidelity is important, then getting custom earplugs made is the best choice.
Being a musician exposes your ears to loud noises on a regular basis, which is why musicians have such a high rate of noise-induced hearing loss. As such, it’s absolutely critical that all musicians keep hearing protection as part of their gear; whether you’re a DJ or a violinist, hearing protection is crucial.
Hearing loss is especially devastating to musicians. Thankfully, there’s a vast range of hearing protection products for musicians available on the market today.
There’s no single best pair of ear plugs or ear defenders that will work for everyone. The right ear protection for you depends on your unique needs and budget.
Unless you get custom-made ear plugs, you might just need to try a few different pairs of ear plugs to get the best fit and experience.