Hearing Protection

I'm a listener from Lima, Peru, and I love your podcast. In episode 71, you said that you use hearing protection when you go to the movies or concerts. What do you use, specifically? I am very concerned about protecting my hearing, as I have a relatively low tolerance to loud sounds, compared to other people. I tend to cringe and almost feel pain when I'm in loud environments, more than anybody else. But I like music, so I bought a pair of in-ear monitors (Etymotic ER4s) some years ago. I like the isolation so much that I sometimes leave them in my ears with no music, just to hear nothing.

I recently ordered a pair of ER20 "high fidelity plugs" from Etymotic, a universal-fit, low-cost option ($12.95) that the company claims to reduce sound by approximately 20dB in all frequencies. Have you ever tried them? I have also ordered a pair of custom-fit sleeves for my ER4s from ACS Custom. (When I was in the US, I went to an audiologist for my ear-canal impressions.) Because I had my impressions taken, I can also order a pair of custom-fit plugs with filters. However, they are more expensive ($185). Do you recommend the custom-fit ones?

Marcos Murayama

Glad you enjoy the podcast! And I applaud you for protecting your hearing; I wish more people would do so. Sensitivity to loud sounds such as yours can be an unfortunate result of exposure to high sound-pressure levels called hyperacusis. Another potential result of such exposure is temporary or permanent ringing in the ears, technically called tinnitus.

I absolutely recommend custom-fit earplugs if you can afford them, but you're right, they are very expensive. When you add the cost of having an audiologist make the molds and the cost of creating earplugs from those molds, you're talking about several hundred dollars.

I use a pair of custom-fit plugs made by a company called Sensaphonics, which I chose because it uses a more durable material than that used by most other companies I've seen. As with most custom-fit plugs, mine accommodate interchangeable Etymotic filters (the round blue part in the photo of a custom-fit earplug above) that attenuate sound by different amounts; I use the filters with maximum attenuation, which is 25dB across the frequency spectrum.

I believe that custom-fit plugs provide better protection than universal-fit models because they form a more complete seal. Also, they exert greater control over the sound, so the attenuation can be flatter across the frequency spectrum, resulting in better fidelity. However, no earplugs are perfectly flat, since they can do nothing about bone conduction, which acts like a lowpass filter, allowing low frequencies to enter the inner ear more than higher frequencies.

If you can't afford custom-fit plugs, by all means use universal-fit ones—something is better than nothing! And the Etymotic ER20s are far better than the cheap foam plugs you can get at any drugstore, as I have verified myself.

I haven't tried using custom-fit in-ear monitors as earplugs, but I would think it might be somewhat inconvenient to have the wires dangling from them. Plus, I don't know if they provide as much protection as earplugs.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askhometheater@gmail.com.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
If you need protection more than anything else, and don't want to spend a lot, buy silicon gel earplugs from your local pharmacy. Mack's is the brand name. Some chains, such as Duane Reade, offer their own generics. I wear them to protect myself from honkers on the streets of NYC and, as needed, at concerts and movies. You can adjust the fit to let in a little more sound if you want. The looser fit is a must on planes during takeoff and landing due to the changes in air pressure.
doyall's picture

Radians Custom Molded Earplugs are DIY custom-fit versions and can be had for ~$12 with some shopping around. Even saw someone on an electronics blog put a pair of in-ear monitors into some.

alfonsojarvis's picture

Absolutely impressive! It is really so important post for me. I am very happy to read your informative post. It will help me and my ear from the loud sound. I am thinking for take a device for my ears. Thank you8 so much for the info.
Gary Bo