What are the best earplugs for concerts?

How exciting is it when you are standing in a crowd chatting with your friends, waiting in anticipation and then suddenly the venue goes dark, the stage lights come up and you hear the first note of your favorite song?

For a music lover, not being able to have this experience — the ability to enjoy listening to live music — is devastating. 

And why might you not be able to enjoy listening to live music? Because you have hearing loss or tinnitus caused by going to too many concerts without hearing protection! 

Spoiler alert — concerts are loud! 

It’s not news to tell you that concerts are loud. The average concert, depending on the venue acoustics and type of music, is about 100 dB A or louder.* The amount of time you can be in an environment that is 100 dB A before it can cause damage to your auditory system is 15 minutes! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to a concert that lasts only 15 minutes.

That’s why it is very important to protect yourself if you want to enjoy loud music. 

Earplugs are the answer

The most affordable, in-a-pinch solution are disposable foam ear plugs. Nowadays, they are usually available for purchase right at the venue. When inserted correctly, they can be effective at protecting your hearing and, depending on the specific brand, can offer anywhere from a 22 to 32 dB Noise Reduction Rating (NRR).

So why do most people still not wear them? Often because they alter the rich sound quality of music. Or, as my now-hard-of-hearing concert-going friends used to say, “But it doesn’t sound as intense with earplugs.”

Inserting foam earplugs.

Noise protection without the sound distortion

Luckily, there’s a solution. The best ear plugs for concerts are called musician plugs. Not because they necessarily provide more protection than disposable foam plugs, but because they provide protection while preserving music fidelity. 

 Musician plugs are custom fit and have filters inside that flatten the frequency response so that music is minimally affected as it goes through the plug into your ear. Starkey Hearing Technologies offers musician plugs with three different filters designed for music: 10 dB, suggested for singers or string music; 17 dB, for acoustic music, jazz, clubs, bars or stadiums; and 26 dB, for rock concerts, heavy metal, or very loud DJ’s. You can find information on them here

Pick one or the other – just protect your hearing!

So, in short, for comfort and sound clarity while still protecting your hearing, I recommend musician plugs. You choose the filter based on the music you listen to, or get multiple filters and switch them depending on the type of concert you are attending. The process includes seeing a hearing professional to get an ear impression so that custom devices can be made for you. And yes, they are more expensive than foam plugs. 

If cost is a concern or you are not interested in going through this process, over-the-counter foam ear plugs will provide adequate protection and they are certainly much better than damaging your hearing — and losing your ability to enjoy future live shows.

*The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines dB A as a weighted scale that describes the relative loudness of sounds as perceived by the human ear with a correction for frequency. 

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By Starkey Hearing