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When you get right down to it, an earplug is a simple thing — an object you stuff into your ear to block or muffle sounds. As such, you might think it unnecessary to spend any substantial amount of money, and for many applications, you might be right. But by attending concert after concert, you might not realize you’re actually damaging your hearing (something you cannot get back). For that reason, it’s crucial to get a proper set of earplugs, some that attenuate a good amount of volume but don’t muffle the music so much that you can’t enjoy the show. That’s why we’ve compiled a rundown of our favorite live music earplugs for different budgets, lifestyles, and applications.
Groan-worthy name aside, the Eargasm High Fidelity Ear Plugs were kind of a toss-up on this list — they could have very easily earned the top spot. At first glance, they offer basically everything that the other plugs do, except they don’t offer quite as versatile a fit (they only send two sizes, instead three, like others) and they claim 21 dB of sound reduction, as opposed to higher counts from others. They do, however, offer a slightly more subtle profile as they employ an interesting little side tab design for placing them in and removing them from your ear, rather than the central rod design.
They operate with a tiny, center-oriented attenuation filter that fits inside two different sizes of tapered rubber outsides. What’s interesting about these is they seem to be a full body design, which should last a good amount of time. But, if the rubber casings do wear out, you should also be able to pick up replacements. What’s important here is the blue inner filter. They come in a variety of colors, charmingly themed around different summer music fests, and while the aluminum case is a little clunky, it is included. They’re a bit on the pricey side but will serve most users pretty well.
Just like most other categories, we’ve really come a long way with earplugs. This set from Vibes is a great all-around choice for a lot of different music-lovers, from festival-goers to musicians themselves. The key point with any earplug is actually how much sound is attenuated, and at up to 22 dB of padding, these Vibes plugs offer some of the most dramatic reduction we’ve seen throughout the field. They’ve also put in some proprietary filtering that they claim will offer a more well-rounded frequency spectrum, not subject to the usual muffly high-end attenuation of more standard earplugs.
The outside of this pair is made of a firm polycarbonate plastic that should hold up to a good amount of wear and tear. They’ve also included three different sizes of comfortable silicone tips so you can make sure they fit snugly in your ears. Plus, they offer a low-profile design, so you will look most natural with them in, too. They come with a hard carrying case, so they’ll be a great thing to throw into your festival bag.
Differentiating yourself in the earplug space is hard to do — not because earplugs are particularly complicated, but because of just the opposite. It’s such a simple concept, and so much has been done with the limited manufacturing options, that a brand coming up with a new fresh idea for earplugs is surprising to see. EarDial has drawn our attention for a couple of reasons. First of all, their proprietary filtering system has been lab-tested under EN and ANSI standards to promise that their filters leave the frequency spectrum of the sounds the plugs are attenuating largely intact. EarDial doesn’t lean a whole lot on marketing-speak because they seem to have the science to back it up.
The plugs are made of hypoallergenic silicone and also come with an interesting little internal port system that they promise will defy ear wax buildup, allowing you to wear them longer and keep them cleaner. They also happen to be one of the lowest-profile sets we’ve seen, sitting snugly and invisibly in the ear. But the coolest part is they come with a proprietary mobile app that lets you test the sound levels and frequencies around you to determine whether you even need earplugs (their rule of thumb is that any sound over 85 dB can cause damage in as little as 15 minutes). It’s all a nice package, albeit a little complicated. But if you’re looking to really understand the earplug space, this would be a good way to go.
The ETY earplugs from Etymotic are probably the most well-known in this category, particularly if you’re looking for an affordable option that is a step above budget. They come in two sizes: the clear is a standard fit meant for most users and the baby blue color is meant for more narrow ear canals. The standard fit is built in a traffic-cone style shape tapering into a rubber ear insert. There are no removable ear pieces here, it’s all one construction, which is both convenient but not as long-lasting.
Etymotic themselves admit that with heavy use, you’ll need to buy a new set after about six months. Like many of the high fidelity plugs out there, these purport to reduce sound volumes (up to 20 dB, a pretty respectable number) while maintaining an accurate frequency spectrum. They do this, however, not as much with filtering components but with an internal resonator.
It’s an interesting take that appears, to our understanding, to reduce the volume heavy-handedly, but then add a bit more of the mid- and upper range back into the sound passed to your eardrums. It’s a smart design that, for around $10 with a cord and a carrying case, will work well for the price-range-conscious buyers out there.
Believe it or not, you can pack versatility into something as simple as live music earplugs. While the V-Moda Faders are the flashiest on the list — something we don’t normally support as opposed to something less visible in the ear — they come with an interesting feature set. They offer a layered, multi-stage filtering component set on the inside, much like earbud headphones do, that V-Moda claims are better than even custom molded earplugs because they don’t require you to set them so far inside your ear. The jury is still out on that debate, but V-Moda has employed sound professionals to tune these ear plugs at least in principle.
They’ve built the plugs out of aircraft-grade metal, so you can be sure that the housing will last through many a concert. They’ve also included four different sizes of silicon tips, giving you the most options we’ve seen when it comes to fit. What’s more, those tips appear to be pretty similar to the tips you probably have laying around from earbud sets, just in case you lose these. Finally, the string system attaching the earbuds to each other is really smart. Most earplugs employ a pressure-based, “cram the cord into a slot in the earplug” design. These allow you to screw in or unscrew the cord, letting you choose, on the fly, whether you want them connected or not, without damaging the mechanism.
While these earplugs from EarPeace ostensibly do much the same thing that the rest of our top picks do (attenuate around 20 dB of sound while attempting to maintain a true frequency spectrum), their differentiating factor is more focused on the comfort of the wearer. The company’s claim is that most three-tiered, traffic cone-shaped plugs sit too far inside the ear and are made with too rigid and too harsh a blend of silicon.
The internals are similar to some other options as the plugs are built around a central plastic filtering device. But instead of the three layers, they are built of a dual flange system: an inner one that molds to the ear right at the point where the canal first bends, and an outer one that flexes to fit your ears’ edges. They’ve molded the whole thing out of what they’re calling the “softest medical-grade aluminum available.”
That all amounts to a passable amount of hearing protection that will feel as comfortable as possible when it’s in your ear. Like a few other brands, they’ve also partnered with bands and music festivals so you can customize the carrying case to your tastes, as well.
When you’re talking about things as small as earplugs, it can be hard to decide which is more portable than another. But, we’re giving the edge in this category to Alpine’s all-around PartyPlugs because of what’s included in the pack. You get the standard small plastic flip case you get with others, but they’ve also included one of the slimmest keychain cases we found in our search — seriously, it basically just fits the earplugs.
Sure, most of the plugs on this list include a keychain case, but most of those are too thick and too bulky and we wouldn’t recommend putting them on your keychain for any extended period of time. This case is slim enough to fit in most people’s pockets or purses. The plugs are made out of a proprietary Alpine rubber that the brand promises to be soft and malleable, so they should fit most sizes of ears adequately.
There aren’t any specific decibel reduction promises made by Alpine, as the brand has other earplug models more aimed at musicians and louder applications. But for the price and the versatility of these, we’d recommend tossing a set right on your keys for all those impromptu shows.
With all the research and development with the rest of the earplugs on this list, it’s easy to skip over the simplest solution: foam, expandable earplugs. Yes, even those squishy things you shoved into your ear during shop class have some interesting features to consider, and while the offerings from Mack’s are commonly seen in most drugstores, this set from Mpow is our favorite.
For around $10, you get 60 pairs of high quality, hygienic earplugs that are perfect in a pinch. Sure, these aren’t the same frequency-molding plugs as the other, reusable ones on this list, but sometimes you need something more disposable to offer to friends, or shove into your pocket on the way to the show when you can’t find your better earplugs.
These will attenuate about 34 dB of sound, and they will admittedly muffle things a bit. But the pack comes with a keychain carrying case and with a tub of 60, they’ll be perfect to keep in your band practice room or to have on-hand as a backup to your main earplugs.
Sound reduction - You’re popping in earplugs in order to save your hearing, so you want to ensure you’re actually blocking out enough sound. Most earplugs designed for concert use attenuate (industry term for "reduce") around 20 decibels (dB) of sound. However, others offer as much as 22dBs of attenuation.
Tip sizes - Not all ears are created equally, particularly when it comes to size and shape. That’s where having a good range of earplug tip sizes to choose from comes in handy. Having the right size tip will help protect your hearing and it also makes wearing them a lot more comfortable.
Durability - If you don’t want to simply buy a jar of disposable earplugs, you’ll want to consider the durability of your reusable earplugs. After all, if the earplugs wear out earlier than expected, you might not get the same amount of hearing protection as you’d intended.