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I'm rehearsing and playing live with a band who work at very high sound levels that I find uncomfortable, and after some discussions it's obvious that I'm going to have to get used to it (or leave, which I don't want to do).

So I'm looking at musicians' earplugs, and my goodness there's a lot of jargon and claims and marketing flummery. I'm not looking for in-ear monitoring, purely volume reduction and protection.

Obviously individual gear recommendations are out of scope for MSE - but what high-level technically should I be looking at? Is it all about a clean, across the frequency range, reduction of 10-20 Db, or are there certain frequencies that should be particularly reduced? As someone without a degree in acoustic engineering, what are the keywords and/or numbers am I looking for in an effective product?

And will the same product also protect my ears as an audience member at very loud concerts, or are there different requirements / specs for plugs for performers compared to plugs for audience members?

TIA

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  • I’d say it depends on what your task is, but if you intend to listen to music with volume attenuation you should probably look for something designed to be somewhat neutral. It think what is quite important is that you feel comfortable wearing these for a longer period of time. If they make your ears hurt after an hour they are probably not the best choice. Such plugs are not insanely expensive, and any protection is better than no protection. So why not try out a few options?
    – Lazy
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 10:42
  • It may help to know what you're playing (instrument and music wise). If you're the drummer, you should already be using plugs! For rehearsals, there's really no need for ear-splitting volumes, but on the (odd, very odd) occasions I used ear defenders that look like over ear cans.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 11:31
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    I still maintain that the sound pressure on stage doesn't need to be excessive! I know some here will agree with me. Imagine Glastonbury, with trying to produce, on stage, the amount of sound to reach everyone! It's never going to happen! So, instead, clever and careful positioning of p.a. speakers and foldback make it all work sensibly. You need to educate your band members about sound distribution, - or leave..! (or go prematurely deaf).
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 11:50
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    Aside: I'd recommend getting a cheap decibel meter and keeping it near you. (Or checking to see if your phone/smartwatch can measure for you.) This way you have a better idea of the actual loudness on stage and can adapt accordingly.
    – DukeSilver
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 22:48
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    If you think playing in loud environments may become a long-term situation for you, consider having your hearing tested now, to establish your baseline hearing level. Without a past point of reference, gradual hearing loss may go undetected.
    – Steve V.
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 3:43

1 Answer 1

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Good earplugs for performers and audience have quite similar specs: Relatively flat frequency response, attenuation that is suitable for the listening environment (usually somewhere around 15dB) and good enough fit that the plugs are comfortable enough to wear for the duration of the concert or rehearsal, and that they work as intended and do not leak. The comfort part is more important if you wear them for rehearsals several times per week than if you wear them for concerts every now and then.

Custom molded plugs have usually the best fit, and I would recommend having a pair made if your budget allows. Otherwise the best bet is to try out different "musician's earplugs" until you find a model that works for you.

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    To add to this: because musicians earplugs are aimed at a flat attenuation curve, they will often have a lower decibel rating than you might find on regular PPE earplugs. This is because the standard rating scale looks for more high-end attenuation, rather than a flat line. Just something to remember if you notice those plugs regularly having a lower attenuation rating than standard PPE plugs.
    – DukeSilver
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 22:46
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    @DukeSilver the normal foam earplugs mute higher frequencies more than the low end. The most important reason for lower attenuation is however that musicians' earplugs are intended to let you hear the music at safe level but not blocking all sound. This is different from plugs intended for operating loud machinery or sleeping, where blocking all sounds is a good idea.
    – ojs
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 6:02

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