Ear Protection for Musicians

Without a doubt, one of the best purchases I have ever made was my ER-25 musicians earplugs (by Etymotic Research Inc.). While playing in a ska band during my Uni days, the drummer had a pair and swore by them. Let’s just say it got pretty loud playing in the bass player’s parent’s garage and the standard foam earplugs didn’t sound that great.

Avoiding all the jargon, let’s just say that a pair of decent earplugs will dampen the volume evenly across all frequencies meaning that everything sounds the same, just quieter. The problem with a pair of cheap earplugs is that they typically quieten the higher frequencies more than the lower therefore leaving you with all the muddier sounds.

I bought the earplugs about 13 years ago now and I remember it costing me a small fortune. For some reason $300 NZ comes to mind, which seems crazy excessive but the process of getting them was a bit involved. I had to get a mould of my ear canals which would be sent to Australia so that the earplugs could be custom made for my ears.

I arranged an appointment  with Bay Audiology to get moulds done but being the professionals they are, they insisted on first testing my hearing. Sure enough, my left ear was slightly worse off that my right courtesy of my music students sitting to my left; nothing to worry about though. Then the audiologist said that he couldn’t take moulds at that time because my ears had lots of wax in them and it needed to be removed. He couldn’t do this personally (no idea why) so I had to book another time to get some kind of ear-wax-remover-specialist to get it out of there. Imagine that.

With the wax removed (a strangely cleansing experience), the original audiologist stuck this massive toy syringe into each ear and filled them full of putty. The moulds were sent to Aussie and in a few weeks I got my earplugs.


ER-25 earplugs.JPG

Red for right and ‘antennas’ to help get them out. I really should clean them.

Why so loud anyway?

Given this strange culture we’ve adopted whereby the music in clubs get so loud that no one can have a conversation without shouting at their neighbour, the earplugs found use well beyond practising in the band or playing gigs, I used them while an audience member at the likes of The Kings Arms Tavern where, despite being a great venue for gigs, the low ceiling makes the venue incredibly loud. I got to experience the awesome The WBC and Reel Big Fish in all their glory but thanks to my ER-25s, my ears that didn’t know all about it two days later.

All these years later, the earplugs have found more use again with the West City Concert Band. Our brass players are great but gosh they’re loud. Sometime it’s to hell with the rounded mellow tonality and in with that penetrative blare they use. Then there’s that damn piccolo which seems to be impossible to play below 120 dB and cuts straight through my brain. The earplugs fix that.

Down Sides

Unfortunately the ER-25s aren’t perfect for a wind player. The nature of wind instruments mean it’s in contact with your mouth and the vibrations play a big part of the sound one hears. The result is that the player gets a somewhat weird audiological experience when wearing earplugs. It’s not bad, bad, it’s just different. In my experience, saxophone and clarinet sound better than trombone but that may just be due to my lesser confidence with playing brass. As a trumpet player said to me though, you just play by ‘feel’ anyway.

Sometime the West City Concert Band gets so loud you can’t even hear yourself and good luck keeping yourself in tune if you can’t hear yourself. The earplugs, despite making you sound like crap at times, actually helps for tuning and strangely makes you concentrate on tone too, given that if you’re sounding pretty good with earplugs in, it’s probably sounding pretty good.

Facebook ads

Have you noticed Facebook’s increased used of Suggested Posts i.e. Advertising; Ad Block Plus isn’t filtering them. Well, funny enough the ads actually worked on me because it pointed me in the direction of Flare Audio‘s Kickstarter campaign for their new Isolate Titanium earplugs. It was good timing on their part because I’ve been shopping around for earplugs to use with my motorcycle and I’m running out of cheap foam earplugs that I’ve been using. I figured using $300 musicians earplugs for my motorcycle riding wasn’t a good idea given the frequency I drop the foam ones on the ground.

So Flare Audio’s new earplugs came about and after a couple of days umming and ahhing, I’m bought them. It felt impulsive and they cost about $100 NZ but curiosity pretty much got the better of me and they’ll be arriving a week or so.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they compare to the custom moulded ER-25 earplugs so watch this space for a subjective review.

Worth it

One of the questions you get asked when buying a new motorcycle helmet is “how much is your head worth?” I suppose the same can’t really be said for earplugs because a pair of foam ones still do the job. Still, having some expensive ones would certainly encourage one to use them more. I think I’ve got my dollars worth out of mine (gosh, did I really pay $300?).

Get earplugs people, you don’t want hearing like my dad’s (blame that on using .303 rifles in the airforce with no ear protection).


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