Protecting Your Hearing: A Guide to Earplugs

Ear Plug Basics


When looking at earplugs, the most important thing to look for on a package or website is the Mean Attenuation. This refers to how many decibels the hearing protection will reduce the sound, or how much the sound will be dampened based on quality of hearing product. If a given earplug gives you 20 db of attenuation, it will make 100 db sound like 80 db, without lessening the sound.

Proper Insertion

Make sure to insert all earplugs properly. This is done by putting your left arm behind your back and pulling your outer ear backwards from the lobe. Gently insert the earplug with a light twist with your left hand. Repeat for the other ear. This is sometimes called the ‘monkey grip’ (per KillNoise). Do not over-insert into the ear, only to the point where you can remove them successfully.

Proper Care

Keep earplugs in a case (most of those sampled below come with cases) and gently wash with soap and water – earplugs do need to be cleaned from time to time.


Of the brands surveyed below, none of these fell out at any given point, let alone felt like they might slip. They fit in securely and did their job, to varying degrees as seen below. I danced, I rocked out, I raged proper – the earplugs still stayed securely in my ear. While this article is based solely on my use of these individual earplugs, you may have a different experience wearing any of these, but generally and based on multiple experiences, both indoor and outdoor, I rated the earpieces and discuss their benefits and drawbacks.

Matrix Orange (single use) – Howard Leight

This pair is tough to get in but when in they don’t dull the music much, it feels almost the same as not having them in. The one time I wore these, I couldn’t tell if I was getting them in right, at what angle to squish them and how to get them into my ear securely. Although they had the sensation of falling out or not being secure, they never fell out.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 36 db

Rating 2/10


These are the smallest pair yet and very light. They can hide in your ears so well, no one can see them at all. I can almost not feel them at times, but the benefits are amazing, it feels like I am seeing a show without the earplugs in. They can be a bit weird to remove, as there is a tiny rubber end that allows you to pull the entire plug out at once. Removal becomes easier the more you use them. Bonus – these come with an awesome case on a small keychain. One size fits all.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 22 db

Rating 9/10

HEAROS High Fidelity for Small Ear Canals

Yes, I have small ear canals. Size doesn’t matter with ear canals though. I’ve had this pair for six months and love them but at times can feel tight. They fit well and can be angled in at three depths denoted by soft ridges on the plugs. Occasionally they will feel tight, but that could just be me. It comes with a decent case, which is always a plus.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 22.5 db

Rating 9/10

Etymotic High-Definition Earplugs

This is the first pair of earplugs I had and I still use them on a regular basis. They have a cord that attaches the two earplugs together, so that you can put them in and take them out and let them hang around your neck when the music isn’t playing. They fit in nicely, much like the HEAROS mentioned above (Etymotic makes HEAROS) and keep the static out evenly without lessening the music experience.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 20 db

Rating 9/10

HEAROS Xtreme Protection

At first I was skeptical of these, as they are made out of soft squishy foam. They make music easier to tolerate close up, without making it quieter. These ear plugs simply take away the bass and static that you don’t recognize otherwise. When away from the music, it can be difficult to hear so I have to pull one out slightly or altogether. They roll up nicely, fit tight and are soft to touch.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 38.6 db

Rating – 8/10 – no case is the main drawback, but they could easily fit in your wallet

Kill Noise

Developed in Sweden, these small rubbery earplugs fit in easy with four depth levels and a rubber disk to stop them from going in too far. They definitely kill the noise, but only the bad stuff. The music gets through cleanly and clearly. It took a few tries to get them in right, since they were a bit too flexible and could have used more rigidity. Once they were in, they fit just right. They came with a snap-shut case, perfect for carrying them.

Mean Attenuation at 2000 hertz: 23 db

Rating – 8/10

I have a pair of ear plugs in my backpack, a pair in the glove compartment and always have a pair waiting for me to bring to a show. I can’t see live music without them now because I want to continue seeing and hearing live music for many years to come. Taking care of your hearing is the most important thing live music fans should do for themselves, to ensure that the music never stops.

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11 Responses

  1. I am a FOH sound engineer for concerts and I am a Phish fan. I have to agree with what is said through and through regarding hearing protection. It’s part of my job to get my hearing checked regularly to be sure that I am providing the best quality sound to our concert goers. I have a simple rule for mixing audio- “it’s as loud as it needs to be”. What this means is just because I can make the PA louder, doesn’t mean I should. I don’t wear hearing protection at my own shows because if I think that it’s too loud, it is. I use meters and other devices to keep myself in check.

    Oddly enough I wear my ear plugs mostly in non concert environments. We fly a lot to get to my shows so I wear them from the time that I pass through security until I get to my hotel. I had Westone make me a set of custom “musician ear plugs” For basic travel I use a 6dB reduction, it enables me to hear everything fine and most importantly it blocks out certain frequencies thus making the sound of the flight attendants voice more soothing in those tiny 3″ speakers over your seat.

    When I wear these earplugs at shows where I am not mixing, it actually takes the edge of the PA and makes the mixes more pleasure-able. Garry does a fine job mixing Phish, but sometimes Trey can come out of the box with some piercing guitar tones. My Westone ear plugs can really take the edge off.

    It’s important to remember that it’s just not concerts that cause hearing loss. Everyday noise spikes are big contributors as well. For instance, I always put my fingers in my ears when an emergency vehicle goes past- those short spikes can cause real damage even though it’s just a short period.

  2. Great article. As a music-lover and a musician, I can’t leave home without earplugs, whether I’m on stage or on the dance floor. I recommend the Hearos hi-fi’s or Earloves (which is also owned by Etymotic). Both not only protect my hearing, but actually make the music better: without that pesky white noise, you can hear the instruments clearer. win, win.

  3. after years of concert-abuse, in my mid-20’s i had my hearing tested to confirm what i already knew: permanent hearing damage (“you have the hearing of someone in their late-40’s”). i had custom westone musician’s filters made and it was one of the best decisions i’ve ever made. the little filters come in different db levels, so you can buy the 5db, 15db, and 30db filters and just pop them into the earpieces- which are molded to the shape of your ear so they FIT CORRECTLY. i have the 15db’s and they are fantastic. they filter out excessive db’s but none of the music- the sound is not muffled, it’s just not as loud. you can go to pretty much any hearing center, where people get hearing-aids made, and get set up with a pair for a grand total of ~$150. worth every fucking penny.

  4. THANK YOU, I regularly read this blog because of items like this that are comprehensive about an important topic and useful in my life.

  5. Thanks… I’ve been wondering about ear plugs lately because my ears have also been ringing recently after concerts. Thanks again.

  6. i also got a pair of westone musician’s ear protection – they are custom molded to my ears and have inserts i can change between 15db and 7 db reduction. about $200 for the pair from a audiologist. like many of the other comments, the earplugs not only protect my ears but they make it easier for me to hear the instruments. i love my westone plugs and have made my show going experience much more enjoyable. i HIGHLY recommend you get a pair if you are serious about going to shows.

  7. I recently started using the Etymotic High-Definition Earplugs mentioned above. I’ll vouch for them too – they’re great. Drastically better than the soft squishy foam kind. No I’m not affiliated with them…

  8. Fantastic article – thank you. I got a pair of EarPeace ear plugs at a concert and have been using them for nearly everything. They are great for live music and nightclubs – but also the movies, weddings, etc. Any loud entertainment. I like them because they are so low profile and I can hear everything clearly. I have sound better invisible ear plugs with clear sound.

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