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I tried 6 popular earplugs at a variety of different price points.
Used them in a variety of situations and provide honest reviews of each.
Also included is a handy earplugs buyer’s guide to help you make an informed decision.
Etymotic Research ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs (Concerts, Musicians, Airplanes, Motorcycles,...
Earasers Hi-Fi High Fidelity Earplugs with Case (Medium)
EarPeace Concert Ear Plugs - Reusable High Fidelity Earplugs - Hearing Protection for Music...
However, the other 5 earplugs I was able to demo for this review are all still solid choices. As with most things in the audio world, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, and so I hope my reviews help you solidify your choice!
Whether you are a musician, attend concerts or are regularly exposed to music played at high levels, Earasers don’t plug up your ears and muffle sound like more conventional earplugs. Manufactured by a 50+ years hearing aid company, and developed by their lead engineer (a musician for over 20 years) Earasers filter out loud noise while still allowing you to hear at a safe, comfortable level.
Musicians have to be able to focus on the different layers of instrumentation. Earasers utilize a unique attenuation “V filter” to provide up to 19dB of protection in the frequencies you need it most. The result is the world’s first flat frequency response earplugs. Check price and specs on Amazon here.
How do the Earasers Earplugs sound?
Earasers’ standard NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) is -5dB (-19dB peak), and though Earasers reduce many of the frequencies that would damage your hearing, I have seen some users report it not being enough to feel ‘safe’ with, compared to something like the Etymotic ER20XS mentioned above, which have a rating of -20dB.
That said, I found no issue with them when I attended the Berlin Atonal night last year at Dark Mofo Festival in Tasmania, Australia. The sound was provided by an L-Acoustics K2 system with a 1:1 element to sub ratio, easily able to produce 130dB Across the venue if you are stupid enough to let it! I found sinking them a bit deeper to provide more of a seal within my ear canal was an ample means to provide protection.
For those still wanting more attenuation, Earasers offer two more options — the NNR-13 (European Standard) and NNR-16 (Max Filter) which both have peaks of -26dB and -31dB respectively.
I was impressed with these earplugs sonically. I wore them for roughly 7 hours and felt no fatigue during the night or the next day. One thing I did note when taking them out briefly was a sharp upper mid-range frequency that I found quite challenging on the ears. I imagined it was roughly around 3khz as it was from a guitar and from experience mixing bands for years.
As two of the most popular on the market, the Earasers vs Eargasm debate is highly contested. For me, the Earasers just edged over for its slightly more natural sound attenuation.
After looking at the graph provided by Earasers it was apparent that these have an attenuation around that area compared to other plugs tested. This may present an issue for some depending on the reasons they are using them but it was an ideal attenuation for me in this scenario as fitting the earplugs back in promptly leveled everything out and removed the discomfort from this frequency area.
Available in several sizes, I went with the large by going off the guideline dimensions on the box. The store clerk told me a medium will fit most adult males quite comfortably but I chose the large as it is the same sized tips for my earphones at the gym — I equate dancing to rigorous exercise so it made sense to me to get some plugs that weren’t going to be disturbed by movement.
The plugs themselves are made of medical-grade silicone and are based on one of the most widely used hearing aid tips in the market. They also feature an open canal shape which allows sound waves further into your ear before they hit the filter and are attenuated. The Earasers are designed to fit tightly into the ear canal and essentially remain invisible once in.
Overall I was happy with the performance of these and found them to be more comfortable than the Eargasm vs Etymotic models, but this is almost a moot point as everyone’s ear shape and material preference will be different.
Eargasm offers up a very fairly priced pair of earplugs to suit modern music lovers of all walks of life, and are one of the most popular choices of earplugs by far.
Housed in a compact and stylish, rounded black canister, the pair of earplugs feel well-made right out of the tin.
Within the package you get two sets of ‘shells’ which are of varying sizes, to ensure a snug fit inside your ear canals. Setup couldn’t be easier — simply insert the translucent filters into the shells that fit your earholes best, and away you go. They are super small and discreet too, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing.
How do the Eargasm Earplugs sound?
Compared to some of the others on this list, the Eargasm earplugs (check price and specs here) are much more forgiving in terms of attenuation of high frequencies. While they do filter out a fair bit of high-end around 5khz, it’s not as drastic, which does give the impression of a more ‘natural’ listening experience.
And unlike your run-of-the-mill foam plugs you get behind the bar, the Eargasms do a great job of still allowing you to hear conversations clearly, including crowd noise — which was a pleasant surprise. All in all, they’re silent where they need to be, without compromising sound quality.
The design of the Eargasm earplugs is well thought out and features an ergonomic ‘tapering’ off which makes them super comfortable to wear. As they are made using hypo-allergic soft silicone, I was able to wear them for hours on end without any irritation. I’d go as far as saying these are some of the most comfortable earplugs I’ve had the opportunity to try.
Etymotic is a brand that has long been popular for its high-quality in-ear headphones and line of hearing protection products. The ER20XS boasts a very simple design that packs a lot of functionality into a very small unit.
ER20XS earplugs feature a low-profile, stem-less design that sits snugly in the outer ear without protruding. This makes it especially comfortable to wear under hats, helmets, and other headgear.
How do the Etymotic ER20XS Earplugs sound?
ER20XS use a tuned resonator and acoustic resistor to replicate the natural response of the ear canal. This unique construction, combined with Etymotic’s proprietary sound path, reduces sound levels evenly across the frequency range without changing the sound quality. Result: Music and speech remain clear, but quieter and safer.
TheER20XS are considered high-fidelity due to their ability to reduce sound evenly, rather than only reducing higher frequencies which often leads to a lack of clarity in the audio and an overall poor listening experience. They claim their advanced technology evenly reduces sound up to 20 decibels with the use of plastic chambers which cause an energy loss in the air as it maneuvers around them, through the stems and into the triple-flange silicone ear tips.
I took these along with the original ER20 model to road test at a drum and bass gig I went to a few weeks back. While I’ve always liked the feel of the originals (you really forget you are wearing them sometimes), I often found I still had some slight to moderate reduction in hearing the morning after an event. Thankfully, this seems to have been fixed with this new design.
ER20XS earplugs are discreet and have the identical response of ETY Plugs through 4 kHz. Above 4 kHz they have improved high-frequency clarity without compromising protection. – Etymotic Research
There were points in the night where I was pretty close to the blaring Funktion-One stack for extended periods of time, yet I experienced no noticeable loss the following day. It was also nice to be having pretty coherent conversations without struggle even with the plugs in. If anything, I found the reduction in high-end to be perfect for making speech more audible and easier to understand.
I am one of those weird people that has one ear canal larger than the other so I opted for the ‘universal’ package that contains both sizes of the silicon flange ear tips, not to mention the alternative foam ones. It costs an additional $5.00 for this option which was a fine price for some peace of mind.
I found the foam ones to feel like the classic orange construction earplugs — uncomfortable and annoying, so I went with the large size flange tips. These were fine for the night but I did find myself taking them out periodically due to some agitation, although this may have been because I didn’t ‘moisten’ them before insertion, which is recommended on Etymotic’s website.
If comfort is your main concern, and you’re tossing up between the Eargasm vs Etymonic, the Eargasm earplugs were the winner in this department.
Hearing protection earplugs that deliver crisp, clear sound at a safe volume. Medium, High and Max filters provide in-ear protection for noise reduction, making them essential anywhere that noise reducing earplugs are needed.
Designed to protect musicians and fans in Europe, EarPeace HD is the most versatile and robust hearing protection in EarPeace’s universal fit line. EarPeace HD comes with three high-fidelity ear plugs (two plus a spare), two sets of attenuation filters (NRR 11/14), and a premium anodized aluminum carrying case. The latest design features a reinforced pull tab, and the second set of filters provide the option of improved sound clarity in loud environments where more protection is required.
The clear option offers medium protection (NRR -11dB) and are suitable for most loud events such as nightclub gigs, band practice, and music festivals.
If you’re after a little more serious protection you can opt for the higher protection red tips (NRR -14dB) or the maximum protection black tips which offer an NRR of -19dB — good for constant exposure to loud noise such as motorcyclists and factory workers.
For the purpose of this review, I chose the standard consumer ear tips (clear) as they have been the baseline for the other earplug reviews I have done in this article. I also believe this pair to be more than adequate for most applications that people will find themselves needing these for. Check out more photos and price information by clicking here.
I found the Earpeace HD to be very clear in the mid-range and actually found them to somewhat tighten up the low-end. At their peak the volumes were relative and these just seemed to ‘shine’ a little more. I still found the Earasers to offer the best clarity, but for the lower price-point that these offer, they are a really good deal.
Earpeace HD Earplug Comfort
I liken these to the Etymotic ER20XS in terms of sound, but to me, these took the cake in terms of comfort — these are REALLY comfortable. I forgot they were in and my ears felt somewhat naked after the event. I did take into account that I was perhaps being a little biased as these earplugs were indeed helping me to drown out the concert and go to my happy place, but nonetheless, I was very impressed with their comfort factor.
EarPeace earplugs are made from medical-grade silicone, which gives you a really snug fit in the ear canal and enough grip that they don’t move around.
Hearing protection earplugs that deliver crisp, clear sound at a safe volume. Medium, High and Max filters provide in-ear protection for noise reduction, making them essential anywhere that noise reducing earplugs are needed.
Vibes' clear design makes them virtually invisible, allowing you to be discreet about wearing hearing protection. Each pair also includes a pocket-sized carrying case and three sizes (S, M, L) of interchangeable ear tips to ensure a comfortable fit for any sized ear.
I had read a lot of recommendations on the Vibes High-Fidelity Earplugs, mostly on Reddit’s many audio-related sub-forums, and also due to them being on Shark Tank — which is apparently an important factor in rating the legitimacy of a product? I’m pretty skeptical of anything that titles themselves ‘high-fidelity’, so I thought ‘why not see if they live up to the hype?’
Via their “sound-enhancing acoustic filters”, Vibes (check specs and prices here) claim to have a 22dB attenuation (NRR-15) which is more than ample for the discerning musician or fan. I put these in my ears during sound check as I was busy and knew I would forget to wear them once the night kicked off.
They handled speech well and I did notice there an even filtering of frequencies for both music and speech. The overall volume was lowered and somewhat dull-sounding, and I wasn’t able to pick any separation of elements. I’d say that the clarity sat somewhere between the Eargasms and generic foam earplugs.
The Vibes do a decent job and are obviously going to be better than the foam plugs, but they do have a more muted and dull sound, filtering more of those mid and upper ranges than I would like. I did notice that they are quite clear around the 3khz (ish) range but that wasn’t enough for me to be wowed by them. I will say that the 22dB attenuation was good enough to warrant a recommendation for people interested in protecting their hearing. They really do block out frequencies well, albeit a little too much for my personal taste.
Vibes High-Fidelity Earplugs Comfort
A minimalist design and a clear outer sound tube, Vibes are designed to be easily accessible and virtually invisible. The issue I found was — yes, the tubes are clear, making them harder to see, but at 22mm in length they are far from unobtrusive for anyone that uses them for things such as — under a helmet when riding a motorcycle, under headphones when DJ’ing, and under a beanie or hat when… well just about any time you are wearing one of these things and are requiring hearing protection.
In terms of comfort, Vibes feel as soft and pure as they look. What I have been noticing over the course of these tests is that pretty much any reusable earplug these days are going to be up to a certain standard in terms of construction and comfort, so it’s hard to keep going on about how all of them feel ‘oh so lovely in the ears’.
That said, they are really comfortable.
The hypoallergenic silicon sits tightly and gave me no irritation over the course of the night during the periods I used them. I do have to say though — the comfort factor doesn’t make up for the loss of sonic quality that the other earplugs tested in the similar price range possess.
I am always intrigued by any ‘smart’ tech, so it was only fitting that I gave the EarDial earplugs consideration when doing a series of reviews and tests like this. Sure, we probably can’t really call these ‘smart’ as they are essentially just regular reusable earplugs that come with a companion mobile app that will tell you the approximate sound level pressure you are currently exposed to, and it will tell you how long you can stay at that level without risk of hearing loss.
To check out more photos and the price of the EarDial Earplugs, click here.
Some may say this is gimmicky but for what it’s worth, I think the app is pretty useful as an educational tool for raising awareness to those who aren’t like us audio nerds and don’t really consider the repercussions when it comes to protecting their hearing for the future. Heck, even if you don’t purchase these you should still grab the free app (Android & iOS) as it functions as a pretty nice dB meter with a simple interface.
How do the EarDial Earplugs sound?
EarDial claims that their noise filter blocks harmful decibels without sacrificing any sound quality. Offering a flat 20dB attenuation (NRR-11), the Eardial’s seem more than adequate for multiple use-cases (music events, shooting, motorcycle riding, band practice, construction work, etc.)
I placed the EarDial’s in, pulled out the EarDial’s app, and pressed the measurement button. Within a few seconds, I had my first readout of 81dB — decent enough for the purpose of this test.
The app recommended I could stay within this environment for 8+ hours while wearing the earplugs and not risking any damage to my ears — pretty cool I thought. +1 points to EarDial’s on this, I felt like I had a guardian angel in my pocket that always had my ears best interests at heart.
Now let’s talk sound quality – I’m impressed but also feel it’s an unfair advantage. I am testing these in my acoustically sound music studio through some excellent monitor speakers so I decided not to compare them to any of the other earplugs in this article for the sake of candor.
There is indeed a nice and balanced attenuation across the frequency spectrum. Not once did I notice an overbearing low/low-mid muddiness, nor did I feel the high-end was ever overly compromised.
EarDial Earplug Comfort
EarDial’s design has been mastered so that you have a blend of comfort and discreteness. The earplugs are made from soft medical-grade silicone which allows long periods of use without irritation (sound familiar…?)
The only minor grievance I have against them is how tricky they were to get out. I found myself fidgeting longer than I had with the others, which while not a dealbreaker, was still something to note as I imagine that could get troublesome when out in public.
Another small pain-point was that I had to push these further into my ears at points to ensure proper attenuation, which can make it sound like your ears are clogged vs sound just being dampened.
All in all, these trade-offs weren’t enough to change my view on these earplugs as a great value package. The sound is excellent, the app is unique, simple and convenient, and the addition of the small-form carry case is always welcome on my keyring so that I’m never caught off-guard.
Hearing Damage From Loud Music: Don’t Let It Happen To You
Let’s start with the good news. Hearing damage is almost always a process caused as the result of repeated exposure to high noise levels for extended periods of time, so it’s preventable.
Ringing or buzzing in the ears are commonplace after attending a show, but these are warning signs and should absolutely not be ignored. Like a coin with both sides tails, ear damage from loud noise can manifest as hearing loss, a well-known concept, or its equally nasty counterpart, Tinnitus.
Scary Facts About Tinnitus
15 years ago, the BBC posted an article with the results of a survey stating “eight out of 10 young people who go to clubs and pop concerts regularly” were unconcerned about their auditory health.
At a concert or festival, however, noise levels often exceed 100 and even go up to 120 dB.
For noise levels that high, safe exposure ranges from around 10 seconds (120 dB) up to 15 minutes (100 dB), well before the end of just about any concert.
Many concerts and festivals go on for hours, more than enough time to cause damage.
How To Choose The Best Earplugs: A Buyer’s Guide
The complexity arises in deciding what earplugs you need, so let’s look at a few factors that are going to affect your choice.
Noise Reduction Rating
The sound levels within a venue will vary, dependent on where you’re standing, where the speakers are located, and the direction(s) in which the music is being played. Even the shape of the room can affect volume in different areas.
For the sake of safety, 120 dB is a good reference volume level. It’s a bit on the high end of what a music fan will typically encounter, but aiming to be safe in 120 dB conditions will ensure that you can safely handle the vast majority of events without any trouble.
Preservation of Spectral Balance
Noise reduction is the primary function we’re after when seeking out earplugs, but that’s not all. It’s important to consider what sound is actually going to make it to your ears.
In the case of 99 cent foam earplugs, you’re going to receive a muffled, but significantly muted, version of the world around you. If you’re trying to sleep, perfect. If you’re trying to enjoy a concert, perhaps not.
To avoid a ruined concert experience, keep your eyes open for the words “flat frequency response.” What this means is that all audible frequencies are reduced at the same amount, or as close to it as possible. It’s the best of both worlds: a detailed, high-quality listening experience, but at a volume suitable for extended periods of time.
Earplug Design Considerations
It’s necessary not just to address the sonic effectiveness of a pair of earplugs, but also to determine if they’re going to be usable in the situations that you’ll actually use them in.
Some earplugs will need a case; some won’t. Carrying ability may not be the most crucial consideration, but it should be one the list.
So, another aspect of design that you need to address is the potential to vary your noise reduction. Events are not a one size fits all affair, and for many people, neither should your earplugs be. To satisfy this, some flanged earplugs have the ability to swap filters in and out for varying levels of gain reduction.
How many different levels of reduction do you need?
Can you optionally buy more filters separately?
Each of these questions should be going through your mind before pulling the trigger on a pair.
Earplug Comfort Considerations
No two people have perfectly identical ears. They’re all a little different. I refer not only to my weirdly squared off left earlobe, and how it contrasts with my much more attractively rounded right, but also to the shape of my ear canals, and how they differ from yours.
Some people have ear canals shaped like rigatoni, straight and open, and others have more of a cavatappi sort of shape, small and corkscrewing.
There are probably even some people whose ear canals can’t be described by pasta. As a result, your friend may find some earplugs that they love and wear consistently, but you can’t keep them in for 5 minutes without feeling a headache on its way.
The perfect pair of plugs for you should be comfortable, but entirely fill your ear canal, to create a seal that prevents unwanted sound leakage.
Which Types of Earplugs Are Best?
Foam earplugs are everywhere, and of course they are. They’re cheap — many would argue that they’re even too cheap. Unfortunately, they’re not really the ideal pair of plugs for the concert attendee, though. Remember that “flat frequency response” thing from earlier? These don’t do that, and the reason is simple.
Foam plugs aren’t designed for listening, they’re designed for sound elimination. Obviously, they can’t perfectly remove all sound, but they are very effective at preventing vibrations in the air from making it all the way to your eardrum.
Though you won’t want to take them clubbing next Friday, they’re perfect for when you’d like to sleep (but the construction crew next door has decided that their jackhammer takes precedence over your Sunday afternoon nap).
Simply twist a couple of these memory foam cones to make them tight and then insert the resulting tube into your ear, holding it in place until you can feel it seal with your inner ear. You get your nap, and your neighboring laborers (say that 5 times fast) can peaceably go about their work.
The downside is that the foam creates a slight increase in air pressure between the foam and your inner ear, which can be uncomfortable on the eardrum and the ear canal itself. Also, once properly inserted, external sound is pretty well obfuscated, but sounds within your body are more obvious, such as your heartbeat, or the popping of your back.
Moldable earplugs were the first earplugs available on the market, introduced by the company Ohropax back in 1907.
To be fair, those earplugs were basically chunks of beeswax stuffed in the ear to block out sound, but moldable plugs have come a long way since then. In the modern era, they are far more likely to be crafted from silicone putty, giving the advantages of being waterproof, and far more resistant to melting in heat.
So what makes them special? Why am I going to pick moldable earplugs over any other?
Most importantly, and as the name suggests — they’re moldable. In other words, you know, it’s going to fit. All you have to do is roll up a chunk of putty and stick it in your ear. This design, like foam earplugs, is indiscriminate in its sound blocking, because it utilizes the same method of simply inhibiting all possible sound from entering the ear. However, due to being waterproof, it’s also popular amongst swimmers looking to protect their ear canals. Neither of these are ideal for the musician though, so let’s take a look at one more type of earplugs.
Unlike foam or moldable plugs, flanged plugs are designed for hearing.
They aim to reduce the volume of the world around you without sacrificing quality.
These plugs are often constructed from silicone or plastic, and shaped like a mushroom, with progressively smaller mushrooms growing out of the cap, a description which was not influenced by any form of chemical augmentation, believe it or not.
Given the higher quality of materials, flanged plugs are more durable, whereas foam plugs tend to be for just a few uses per pair.Also, you can clean your flanged plugs during the few months of use you get from them, which is not really an option with foam.
Most importantly, the sound quality of flanged ear plugs is a vast improvement over foam, as it aims to preserve the detail and frequency response in sound at a reduced volume. Flanged earplugs may even offer the opportunity to swap out the filter for varying levels of noise reduction, allowing for utility in a wide variety of situations with a single pair of earplugs.
All of this comes at a price though.
To be more specific, that price will probably range between about $5 to $40, if not more. Of course, those are mass-produced earplugs that are easily available online. As with anything, the pricing for something more personalized, or even fully custom, can vary greatly.
The world of earplugs is full of choices and things to consider in your decision-making. Ultimately, the biggest things to keep in mind are what you want, and when you’re going to want it. Don’t buy foam earplugs for clubbing, and don’t buy shooting earplugs for sleeping. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to try a few options to see what fits you best. Good luck!
What earplugs do you use? Let us know in the comments!
Last update on 2021-02-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API