We’ve all been there: things are getting hot and heavy, you’re in the middle of a writhing mass of bodies enveloped in the moment, and you’re too overjoyed to think about using protection. Still, I promise your ears will thank you in the long run for using ear plugs.
Raving is all fun and games until you experience an auditory temporary threshold shift with a nasty bout of tinnitus that never fully recovers, or in layman’s terms, a constant ringing that never goes away. It’s an easy way to ruin your life, and it’s completely preventable with necessary precautions. Especially considering that caffeine might be linked to hearing loss, frequenters of live music should absolutely be using some kind of volume reducing ear plugs.
Along with Steve Angello and Zedd, I have permanent hearing damage. The tipping point was during Zeds Dead’s performance at EDC Las Vegas in 2014, and hearing in my right ear hasn’t been the same since. It was certainly a culmination of exposure which led to that point, but hanging out near stage left all night was enough to cause physical pain and an overall impairment to that ear. I now use hearing protection at every single event, and am sure to bring extra plugs for my friends and anyone who may need them. And you know what else? They nearly always express immense gratitude and end up using them for the entire show. So why do we still not see widespread use of earplugs at events?
The biggest factor in the decision to not use earplugs is because they’re thought to reduce the overall experience. Sure, you can still feel the bass, but that once overstimulated ear canal is reduced to an underwhelming muddling of frequencies that barely resembles what you should be hearing. The solution? Better earplugs, and better does not have to mean more expensive.
So you want to get serious about protecting your hearing? To help you on your journey to getting the right product, we’ve tested three products from Etymotic Research, the foremost authority on volume reducing, high-fidelity earplugs. If you want to be an old school badass raving with your grandchildren when you’re older, read on to see which product best fits your needs.
The industry standard in hearing protection, Etymotic’s ETY-Plugs are Etymotic’s best-selling ear plug. Rated for 12 dB reduction, the ETYs offer solid, standard passive protection, and when used properly, they provide an actual reduction of 20 dB. The ETYs only cost $12.95, making them the best overall value in the earplug market. If you don’t like your ears ringing after a show, these are your answer.
Pros: No frills here, just hard working acoustic filters. Of course, you have to clean them of earwax every so often, but that’s super easy. Also, when your friend leans over to tell you something in the middle of a crowd, you’ll actually be able to hear what they’re saying with the ETYs in. Check out Etymotic’s decibel sliderule to get a better understanding of the ETY plugs’ volume protection.
Cons: They reduce frequencies across the board, at all times, so you’ll experience reduced volume even when walking through a quiet forest.However, if you’re listening to quieter music, the noise levels are likely below harmful levels and you wouldn’t want to have the plugs in anyway. As a result, you might find yourself taking them out every so often in a less noisey area – just a minor inconvenience.
An improvement on the success of Etymotic’s ETY-Plugs, the ER-2oXS package the same protection in a more discreet, low-profile design. Rated to 12 dB noise reduction, they feature improved frequency clarity above 4 kHz.
My personal auditory experience was absolutely the same as the ETYs, but I took solace in the fact I didn’t look like a Frankenstein with clear stems poking out of my ears. They cost $19.95, just a bit pricier than the ETYs.
Pros: No maintenance, simple function. I personally didn’t notice a huge improvement over the ETYs, other than smaller stems for a more low-profile look.
Cons: Again, the constant attenuation at all times, I tended to take them out when not around loud music. Also, if the music wasn’t blaring, the reduced volume is a bit too-noticeable, and did reduce my listening enjoyment (easily fixed this problem by getting closer to the stage).
This is where we step into the big leagues. The Music Pros are Etymotic’s actively attenuating model, and can switch between 9 dB and 15 dB reduction modes. You get a snazzy carrying case to protect the plugs when not in use, and an assortment of ear fittings and cleaning utensils to maintain your investment. They’re perfect for music professionals who need constant protection and can’t be worrying about taking ear plugs in and out to hear conversations. Here’s Etymotic’s statement regarding how their active attenuation works:
“Music-PRO’s circuitry automatically changes output levels as sound input levels change. Hearing is natural, as if nothing is in the ears, until sound exceeds safe levels. As sound levels increase, earplugs gradually provide 9- or 15-dB sound reduction. Natural hearing is restored when sound returns to safe levels.”
Pros: Having the option to switch between reduction levels to find just the right volume is huge. Of course, with such a nifty feature, the Music-PRO’s were my favorite of all the plugs tested. Not needing to take them out to hear my friends when walking from stage to stage at a festival was delightful, and the active equalizing almost provided another dimension to the music. Even running through a photo pit during a Skrillex performance, these prevented any fatigue or tinnitus. Many factors go into curating the sound quality of a stage, and sometimes you can’t prevent a screeching high note, sudden percussion, or a piercing element in a track. Even in those situations, I could count on the Music-PROs to step up and protect me from those painful surprises.
Cons: Mainly that they require batteries to operate, specifically Zinc-air batteries, which become depleted after exposure to the air after 7-10 days. The best option is to go for a bulk deal at Costco or Amazon where you can find 40 batteries for as low as $7.99. But you should be more concerned about the price of what you might spend on club drinks than the price of some batteries to save yourself from lifelong hearing loss and tinnitus…
For the average person, you’ll get the best value out of the Music-PRO’s when they’re used at a music festival, where you’re around high noise levels for several days straight. Still, with the Music-PRO’s $299 price tag, it may still be hard to justify such a large expenditure, only to use them a handful of times per year. But if you’re a professional in the music industry, or an avid event-goer, these will more than make up for their cost.
For the average listener, either the ETY-Plugs or ER-20XS models are the way to go. Their price point is exactly what you should be willing to spend on quality plugs, and their high-fidelity response doesn’t detract from the live experience. The key is to have the plugs in as soon as the music starts, and after a couple minutes, you’ll forget they’re even in your ears.
If you’re a bit of an audiophile snob and need the absolute best, unadulterated listening experience with accurate frequency response across the board, then the Music-PROs are going to be your best option. Their many fitting options ensure a proper fit for any ear, and they come with all the bells and whistles to maintain the plugs for lasting use. Sure, you could get custom molded earplugs for the same price, but they won’t have the impressive active attenuation features of the Music-PROs.
Whatever you decide, take responsibility for your health and prolong your raving career with a quality set of ear plugs. Click here to check out Etymotic’s full range of products, and if you’re looking for the ER-20XS but want a swanky metal carrying case, head over to Earlove.