Best hearing protection for music and musicians

There are more and more entrants into the hearing protection market making claims about their product being targeted at musicians and people listening to music, but are they actually any better than the existing, and often much cheaper, products on the market?

Why musicians need hearing protection

When excess noise starts to have an impact on hearing, it doesn’t just make everything sound quieter. What happens is that you start to lose hearing in the 4-6kHz frequency range first, then as it progresses other surrounding frequencies also start to be impacted. This means that noise induced hearing loss is particularly important for musicians as it not only makes things sound quieter, but it also changes the way the music actually sounds. Hearing protection is therefore crucial for both professional and amateur musicians and for people working generally in the music industry or around loud music. Without it, over time they will start to hear the music differently to everyone else, with no way to undo the damage.

How to identify good hearing protection for musicians

With hearing protection for music and musicians, what is most important is that it does not distort the sounds, keeping them natural, just quieter, with the noise reduction being the same across the full frequency range. So how do you identify which protectors are good for this?

Hearing protection manufacturers have to give what is called HML data, this is the noise reduction in High, Medium and Low frequency bands. For example, the E-A-R Classic has HML figures of 30, 24, 22, which is the decibel reduction at each of the frequency bands.

This means we can use the range of HML figures as a good indicator of which has the least impact on music - the more even the reduction (and therefore closer the figures) the less of a distorting influence there is on music.

The E-A-R Classic has HML data of 30, 24, 22, meaning a difference of 8dB between the low and high frequencies. The E-A-R Ultratech by comparison has HML data of 18, 18, 16, meaning only a 2dB difference between the high and low frequencies so barely any distortion on the music.

Best ear plugs for musicians

Why ‘ear plugs’? Simply because no ear muffs are anywhere near as good as the available ear plugs.

HML range of 1dB
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Arco Premium Plugs (disposable, approximate cost £0.12)
👍🏼 Howard Leight Max Lite (disposable, approximate cost £0.16)
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Howard Leight Multi Max (disposable, approximate cost £0.19)
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Keep Safe Moulded Plugs (reusable, approximate cost £0.55)

HML range of 2dB

👍🏼 E-A-R Ultratech (reusable, approximate cost £17.50)
👍🏼 Howard Leight Max (disposable, approximate cost £0.17)
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Uvex X-fit plugs (disposable, approximate cost £0.14)

EarPeace Musicians Smaller.png

Ear plugs marketed as for musicians

There are many ear plugs marketed as being good for musicians and for listening to music such as Flare’s Isolate plugs or the EarPeace Its range of plugs, but are they sales guff or actually uniquely good?

👎🏼 Flare Isolate - HML range of 6dB, approximate cost £25
👎🏼 Flare IsolatePro - HML range of 4dB, approximate cost £50
👎🏼 EarPeace (high) - HML range of 5dB, approximate cost £16
👎🏼 EarPeace (medium) - HML range of 7dB, approximate cost £16

Both these plugs have the marketing push of being somehow uniquely good for musicians and music, and EarPeace actively market theirs as “the best musicians ear plugs for loud entertainment”, but they are pretty average, are out-performed by hearing protection from the traditional manufacturers and out-performed by ear plugs costing a fraction of the price. Both the EarPeace and Isolate plugs have more distortion on how music will sound than at least 28 other forms of hearing protection on our already-limited Hearing Protection Performance Data page.

Their total noise reduction is nothing special either and again, they are out-performed by the traditional manufacturers, whether you want the strongest possible, in which case get the Leight Max which has a lower level of distortion on music and also a much stronger total noise reduction, or you want a medium level of protection so it doesn’t reduce volume too much, in which case get the E-A-R Ultratech which is within 1dB of the EarPeace but with a much lesser distortion of the individual frequencies.

It is hard to refrain from going too much into the annoying marketing hype of these two companies, for example, EarPeace say of their strongest ear plugs, their Max plugs, “These filters are total block for when you need real quiet.” The SNR for these is 26dB, which is pretty mid-range for ear plugs and nothing special at all, much less a ‘total block’.

Both Flare Isolate and EarPeace market as being the best protection for musicians but you are better off with one of the alternatives from the more traditional manufacturers.