If you're looking for the best earplugs to use for loud events, I've got you covered. As a professional music photographer, working around loud music is literally my job — and I have used just about every type of earplug out there, from the cheapest foam options to custom-molded earplugs that cost hundreds of dollars.
This article breaks down my recommendations for the best type of earplug for every kind of event, based on the noise protection you need, ease of use, and comfort.
Why Wear Hearing Protection?
The threshold for physical pain from loud noises is 120 dB. Hearing loss can occur from extended exposure to nearly any noise, but anything at or over 100 dB can cause hearing loss within an hour or even minutes.
Earplugs For Concerts
For concerts, where you're looking at about about 3 hours of live music, I'd recommend a “musician's earplug”. These include the Earaser or Etymotic ER20XS and the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs. These models are designed to allow you to hear and enjoy music simply at safer levels. Musicians earplugs attenuate sound without the muffled sound and distortion of traditional hearing protection. In addition, these earplugs are re-usable, which is helps make the cost a better value if you are a regular concert-goer.
In addition, I love this style earplug because, unlike foam options, they're relatively easy to insert and remove. This is ideal for a concert, where you will have time in between sets where you will want to take the earplugs out as you talk to friends.
For me, the comfort level of these models isn't as high as custom or foam for very extended use. However, they are plenty comfortable for a concert that only lasts a few hours. If you're a regular concert fan, you owe it yourself and your hearing to use hearing protection. For everyone who says earplugs ruin live music, you simply haven't tried a pair of high fidelity options like these.
Earplugs For Music Festivals
For festivals where you are moving between stages to see different bands and relatively far from the stages, I highly recommend the above musician's earplugs.
However, if you're very close to the stage for long periods of time, I'd recommend foam options like the Hearos Ultimate Softness Series. The reason is that for extended use, they will be much more comfortable than the Earaser or Etymotic otions (in my experience). In addition, the Hearos Ultimate Softness models offer 32-dB of noise reduction. Since sound levels at the front of the stage near the speakers can be extremely loud, the added protection of the 32-dB reduction will be something that you will appreciate for the long-haul of a music festival. This is even more true if you're attending a festival for multiple days in a row.
For motorsports and general sporting events, the Earaser and Etymotic ER20XS are great options. They will safely reduce noise levels and have the added benefit of being able to insert and remove when you need to. Same with the Eargasm High Fidelity.
At most motorsports and stadium/arena sports events, the sound level is generally not dangerously loud at all times. Still, peak noise levels will add up and can still contribute to hearing loss. Hearing protection is still your best defense and worth having on hand at these kind of events.
If you're a musician or in the live music industry, custom hearing protection is the best recommendation
The industry standard for most custom earplugs are to use custom filters by Etymotic Research. These filters are available in a variety of noise-reduction strengths. This range of filters is great because it allows you to change the strength of attenuation just by swapping filters. Just as with the ER20xs, these sonic filters are high-fidelity. This means that they will not distort or muffle music like cheap foam options. The sound will come across as natural, just at a reduced level.
In addition, one massive benefit of custom hearing protection is that they blow every other option away in terms of long-term comfort. Custom options require that you see an audiologist and have impressions of your ear canals taken. These impressions are then used to create your custom earplugs. Because the silicone forms are simply occupying the space of your ear canals, nothing is pushing out to cause discomfort. This aspect of the wear makes a tremendous difference if you wear earplugs for extended periods.
In summary, most everyone would benefit from a pair of Etymotic Research ER20xs for almost every occasion, or the Hearos Ultimate Softness Series earplugs for when you need maximum noise protection. If you're a musician or professional music photographer like me who is around a lot of loud music, it's worth the $200 to spring for custom earplugs.