Any Suggestions for Ear Plug Filter Strength?

Bladesticks

Junior Member
Hi all-

I'm looking to buy ear plugs- particularly musician plugs with filters. I've read all good reviews on Westones and Sensaphonics and will most likely be going with one of those two. Regardless, I am reaching out with a question regarding filter strength. I play in a few bands- from jazz, to acoustic rock, to dance/party. My biggest concern is the dance/party band where I am doing quite a bit of backing vocal. Does anyone have any experience and/or suggestions on the right type of filter (9, 15 or 25 DB) to use in the plug so that I can hear my vocal blend with the others- and at the same time protect my ears? I have been diagnosed with noise induced tinnitus and am really concerned with ensuring I protect my ears at the right level so that I don't do any more damage. But at the same time, I want to make sure I can hear what I need to (vocals and drums) so I can contine to play with my bands and sound good.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I am interested in hearing about what people recommend for that too. For practice I use those Vic Firth ear muff style, and have been very happy with them, I feel like my drums sound better through the ear muffs, Almost like hearing a marching band from a distance. The PA problem is annoying.
 

Bladesticks

Junior Member
I feel like my drums sound better through the ear muffs, Almost like hearing a marching band from a distance.

Funny- I've been using foam plugs for now until I make a decision on the filters. Definitely not the permanent solution, but at least I'm protecting my ears. One of the first things I noticed was how good the kit sounded. I thought I was imagining things.
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
I would recommend 25db for straight up drum practice and 15db for any band/live situation just because you want to be able to hear with a bit more clarity, but if I had to choose one then I'd go with 25db.

In my opinion 15db isn't really THAT much protection, I've had ringing in my ears after playing along to a loud speaker for extended periods.
 

adamosmianski

Senior Member
I would just go for the 25's straight up. Even in quieter situations you'll be able to hear just fine. In the grand scheme of things 25dB isn't all that much to cut out, especially when you get into exceptionally loud situations like rock concerts, drumlines, etc.
 

Bladesticks

Junior Member
I would recommend 25db for straight up drum practice and 15db for any band/live situation just because you want to be able to hear with a bit more clarity, but if I had to choose one then I'd go with 25db.

In my opinion 15db isn't really THAT much protection, I've had ringing in my ears after playing along to a loud speaker for extended periods.
Yup- I'm definitely leaning towards the 25db. And the 25db plugs are specifically recommended for drummers. I want to make sure I will still be able to hear the vocals (including mine). The foam plugs are challenging in that respect, but I'm thinking I may get better quality, equalization and response with the filters.....even if I do go with the 25db.
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
You will probably never want to use foam plugs again.

You can hear well with 25 but they do force you to listen very closely in some band settings (a bit annoying) and they enhance the bass a little bit. Try and get musicians plugs with changeable filters like I have. I can swap between 15 and 25.

Mine are a couple of years old but the local music shop has some non-moulded silicone ones that are supposed to be great, and much cheaper, I can't remember the brand right now but I'll let you know how I go with them.
 

konaboy

Pioneer Member
You will probably never want to use foam plugs again.

You can hear well with 25 but they do force you to listen very closely in some band settings (a bit annoying) and they enhance the bass a little bit. Try and get musicians plugs with changeable filters like I have. I can swap between 15 and 25.

Mine are a couple of years old but the local music shop has some non-moulded silicone ones that are supposed to be great, and much cheaper, I can't remember the brand right now but I'll let you know how I go with them.
Was going to suggest that too Dre, many options out there that have interchangeable filters. Find a good audiologist and talk to them. I would be leaning towards the 25 as well. If you have the interchangeable option then you can keep the 15 with you if you find you need them for a lower volume venue you are playing.

FYI I wear ear plugs anytime I'm using my lawnmower, leaf blower, circular saw, anything that puts out a loud sound. Protection shouldn't be limited to just drums and music.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
15's have always been enough for me in any situation. Live shows, my own live shows, practice with amps aimed right at me. Cuts the dangerous stuff out unless things are really crazy. You can also get some of the plugs that have two filters you can change out. My Apex plugs have both 15's and 25's, thing is, though... I never use the 25's.
 

Captain Bash

Silver Member
I have played in some loud bands, heavy bass, feed back guitars, and cutting synth sounds and have always found the 15 filters just fine, no ringing and no ear fatigue even after 2 hr show. Everyones hearing is different, I can't imagine playing in a loud band without them. The 15s don't cut everything, so you keep the vibe.

The worst experience I have had is not from live situations but when recording and an engineer fed feedback into my phones -wahhhhhhhhhh very painful.

Protect your hearing, forget that cymbal /snare this is a better investment.
 

JimFiore

Silver Member
Generally, more is better. I teach a college natural science course called Science of Sound and we have a section on noise exposure. OSHA requires hearing protection for levels above 90 dBA with an 8 hour exposure. NIOSH (under the CDC) uses an 85 dBA threshold with a 3 dB time/level tradeoff (meaning a 3 dB change in level for a factor of 2 change in time, thus 4 hours would allow 88 dBA and 2 hours at 91 dBA). At 100 dBA NIOSH recommends less than 15 minutes of exposure per day.

Here are some links that are useful. The first is for the layperson and is from OSHA, the second is a bit more technical and from CDC/NIOSH:
https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/98-126/

You need sufficient reduction in the protective device to bring you below the stated thresholds. If you're playing loud rock music, a 15 dB class plug may not be sufficient for a 2 or 3 hour gig. It would be great if you could borrow or rent an instrument-quality SPL meter so you'd have a better idea of stage sound pressure levels. (I can recommend the Acoustilyzer made by NTI as we use them in our lab- I'm not so keen on the cheapie units like the one Radio Shack used to sell.)

It is also worth noting that hearing protectors are rated by "class". This is an overall effectiveness, not the precise level reduction. For example, a device rated for 20 dB (NRR=20) does not reduce all frequencies by 20 dB. In general, it will not be as effective at the lowest frequencies (not a huge problem because the human is relatively insensitive to low frequencies when compared to midrange and upper midrange frequencies). This device may exceed 20 dB reduction at some frequencies. It is best if the device you buy gives you reduction values for specific octave bands. The human ear is very sensitive in the range of about 1 kHz to 5 kHz and many of the things we like to hit (snare drums, cymbals) produce a lot of energy in this band.

The downside of most of these devices is that everything sounds muffled. The reason is because the typical device (e.g., most ear plugs) produces greater attenuation of the mid-high frequencies than the low frequencies. It would be ideal if all frequencies were attenuated equally, but even then the results would not be perfect due sound propagation via bone conduction.


Probably more data than you asked for, but I suggest you err on the side of caution, initially at least. You only get one set of ears.


Ooops, forgot one thing: Do NOT simply subtract the NRR value from your environmental dBA value to get the effective value at your ear. This only works if you have C-weighted measurements, not A-weighted measurements. If you're measuring in dBA (dB-SPL A-weighted) which is typical, subtract 7 from the NRR first. In other words, if the stage level is 100 dBA and your plugs have an NRR of 20, the effective value is 87 dBA, not 80 dBA. There are good technical reasons for this and if you're interested, go here: http://www2a.cdc.gov/hp-devices/pdfs/calculation.pdf
 
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Bladesticks

Junior Member
Generally, more is better. I teach a college natural science course called Science of Sound and we have a section on noise exposure. OSHA requires hearing protection for levels above 90 dBA with an 8 hour exposure. NIOSH (under the CDC) uses an 85 dBA threshold with a 3 dB time/level tradeoff (meaning a 3 dB change in level for a factor of 2 change in time, thus 4 hours would allow 88 dBA and 2 hours at 91 dBA). At 100 dBA NIOSH recommends less than 15 minutes of exposure per day.

Here are some links that are useful. The first is for the layperson and is from OSHA, the second is a bit more technical and from CDC/NIOSH:
https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/98-126/

You need sufficient reduction in the protective device to bring you below the stated thresholds. If you're playing loud rock music, a 15 dB class plug may not be sufficient for a 2 or 3 hour gig. It would be great if you could borrow or rent an instrument-quality SPL meter so you'd have a better idea of stage sound pressure levels. (I can recommend the Acoustilyzer made by NTI as we use them in our lab- I'm not so keen on the cheapie units like the one Radio Shack used to sell.)

It is also worth noting that hearing protectors are rated by "class". This is an overall effectiveness, not the precise level reduction. For example, a device rated for 20 dB (NRR=20) does not reduce all frequencies by 20 dB. In general, it will not be as effective at the lowest frequencies (not a huge problem because the human is relatively insensitive to low frequencies when compared to midrange and upper midrange frequencies). This device may exceed 20 dB reduction at some frequencies. It is best if the device you buy gives you reduction values for specific octave bands. The human ear is very sensitive in the range of about 1 kHz to 5 kHz and many of the things we like to hit (snare drums, cymbals) produce a lot of energy in this band.

The downside of most of these devices is that everything sounds muffled. The reason is because the typical device (e.g., most ear plugs) produces greater attenuation of the mid-high frequencies than the low frequencies. It would be ideal if all frequencies were attenuated equally, but even then the results would not be perfect due sound propagation via bone conduction.


Probably more data than you asked for, but I suggest you err on the side of caution, initially at least. You only get one set of ears.


Ooops, forgot one thing: Do NOT simply subtract the NRR value from your environmental dBA value to get the effective value at your ear. This only works if you have C-weighted measurements, not A-weighted measurements. If you're measuring in dBA (dB-SPL A-weighted) which is typical, subtract 7 from the NRR first. In other words, if the stage level is 100 dBA and your plugs have an NRR of 20, the effective value is 87 dBA, not 80 dBA. There are good technical reasons for this and if you're interested, go here: http://www2a.cdc.gov/hp-devices/pdfs/calculation.pdf
Thanks Jim- all great info. I'm going to do some research based on the info you provided and am going to try to get a sound level that we are playing at (both stage and practice) to help ensure I choose the right plugs.
 

Starship Krupa

Senior Member
My favorite plugs are Earasers. They fit better and sound as good as (if not better than) my audiologist-fitted ones.

I don't know what their attenuation is, but I used them when performing in an orchestra of 100 electric guitarists and they did just fine.
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
I just went and bought some Earasers...

I just did an hours playing and I compared them back to back with my moulded plugs and they're much louder. It's great to have all the hi-hat and snaure nuances but I'm not sure if they do enough?

I just emailed earasers to get their opinion, this is my message (I will report back with their response when I get it).

''Hello, I just bought a set of your earasers musicians hi-fi plugs (Medium). The short version of my question; do these protect drummers ears enough? I am a drummer and I read on the front of your package that it has a -19db peak. However when I tried them they didn't reduce volume anywhere near the amount that my moulded musicians earplugs (with a -15db filter) does. I did notice the flatter attenuation and did enjoy the sound more than my moulds.

The little booklet inside the package has a white EPA label that says they have a 5 decibel noise reduction rating, so I feel a little misled by the "-19 dB peak" on the box. I play and practice drums (also with other musicians) for up to 3-4 hours in any given session and I need to know that these are going to protect my hearing well."

I would like them to tell me that these are fine for what I do because I think they sound great, if a bit loud.
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
Had another play with them.. my ears didn't ring or hurt but it just seemed too loud not to be harmful.

FYI A rep got back to me, copy + pasted answers from the FAQ page on their site.

Another Great Question! There are several reasons why your EARasers will provide amazing listening clarity for you. First, most earplugs, including Custom, place the filter outside the opening of the ear canal. Sound is filtered and then still has to travel through a narrow tiny curved tube (or canal) to reach the ear drum. EARasers patent pending revolutionary open design was created to let sound travel farther more naturally before it reaches the filter which is strategically placed at the tip, near the eardrum. By reducing the travel distance, EARasers naturally achieves clarity. Secondly, EARasers use an innovative "V" (variable) filter. EARasers focuses on the most damaging range of the ears natural resonance (around 3150 Hz) and filters approx. 19 dB. For most people this keeps concert sound and loud music underneath the uncomfortable and harmful range. EARasers filter less in the range 1000 Hz and less, so that most of the sound can come through, and also above 8000 Hz where cymbals and "S"'s & "T"'s in speech are heard. By reducing less in these ranges where heavy filtering is not necessary, it creates a clearer more natural sound instead of an "underwater" or "muffled" sound. No more "plugged up" feeling!
******************************************************************************************************************

The most common experience we have found with people who have used earplugs in the past, is that they now "expect to hear that "muffled" or "plugged up" sound". When they don't, their brain tells them the earplugs are not working. The true test for anyone, however, is if you experience any discomfort or ringing due to loud sound exposure during or after wearing them. If so, then you would need a stronger filter. The 19dB reduction, where the open ear naturally resonates the most, is quite comfortable for most people. It is important to also note that while the 19dB relates to an average open ear, some individuals have more of a sensitive ear, and/or play/listen at a level in which a stronger reduction would be better suited. We find this to be true for those enjoying "heavy metal" and for those with a more sensitive ear. If this sounds like it might apply to you, feel free to contact us toll free, and we will be happy to work with you on providing a stronger filter.

Secondly, You referenced the NRR rating which can be misleading. The NRR testing process, which has not changed from the 1970's, is a design which can easily test product which are "Flat Attenuators". This testing, while required by law, is not at all designed to accurately test our revolutionary new "Variable" filter. The testing is designed to see if the "same" decibel reduction occurs at each frequency and how consistent it is. EARasers are specifically designed to "not" do that since it is the major complaint of musicians and one of the main reasons they go without ear protection. Since the NRR testing results are displayed as a single number, this number does not accurately represent the performance of EARasers earplugs.

__________________________________________________________________________

I would probably get the moulded earplugs but now that I have these (and have been told I can't get my $$ back) I will at least be able to use them when I go to watch live music, they're perfect for that.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
I have the Westone's in 9E and the audiologist recommended the lowest nrr rating for musicians. I've had two different sets made up over the years and I've used the Westone's for about 15 years. The also come with a plug if you want to change the filter for a stopper.
I'm sure the others are just as good. I just got what the audiologist suggested when I had a hearing test.

I would not go for anything higher than the 9.
I use double plugs at the gun range, foam and muffs, but you need to have some dynamics when playing music.

Put them in a half hour before playing and your brain will adjust.
They fit your skull better as they get older for cleaner bass.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
Yea, these NRR ratings are absolutely obsolete. The plugs these days don't just cut sound, they cut certain frequencies, namely, the most harmful ones.
 
Yea, these NRR ratings are absolutely obsolete. The plugs these days don't just cut sound, they cut certain frequencies, namely, the most harmful ones.
Exactly

A transparent earplug that doesn't start deforming sound is a good investment.
Does cost around the 200$ mark for a pair though.

The ones around 30$ mark (vater, alpine, ...) and earmuffs like the vic firths do their job aswell at the cost of sacrificing the mid frequency.
 

Trip McNealy

Gold Member
I have the custom molded clear Westone's and my audiologist gave me a choice of filters to get along with them. I believe I have the 25dB filter and 33dB (full stopper). I've never had an issue with either one while I'm playing. Go at least 25dB.

I bring mine along to concerts or even bars when hanging out with friends and there are bands or DJs there. They are one of the top 5 best things I ever bought.
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
I have both Sensaphonics molded plugs and a set of Earasers as spares. Previously I had some Westones with 15dB inserts.

The Westones weren't molded well and altered the sound too much for me.

When I first got the Sensaphonics I followed the audiologist's advice and went with 25dB inserts. The first gig sounded like the rest of the band was outside. Very awkward to play. I got a set of the 9.5dB filters and that's what I use all the time. It's not the full amount of protection I should have, even though I don't play that loud. Typical stage volume is around 90-95dB But more attenuation just sounds weird and remote to me. The 15s are good for concerts and such where it's just too ridiculously loud. Maybe I should even get another set of 25s for those. As it is, I'm sure I'm getting some degradation over time with the 9.5s but as long as my tinnitus doesn't get aggravated, I'm happy with that compromise. I will say that I can't stand being around live music without them. It just sounds harsh and unnatural. There's probably something in my ears akin to tinnitus that gives harsh overtones when assaulted with high levels. I don't get that listening for pleasure at home at moderate levels. I've heard that tinnitus for some people can be raspy or distorted sound which may be what I get from the high levels. Otherwise what I have is the typical permanent ringing. Which is why I started (too late) to use hearing protection in the first place.

The Earasers don't attenuate as much in the low end. Look at the curves in the literature. Works okay for drummers in not too loud gigs as you get a bit more bass while still getting the tone of your drums and being able to balance the cymbals against the kit.
 
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