Should I wear earplugs at concerts?

“Should I use earplugs at concerts?” For anyone who attends a lot of concerts, or who has ever come back from a show with ringing ears, the question of whether or not to use earplugs at concert is almost an inevitable question.

As a music photographer, I am keenly aware of the dangers that concerts can pose to hearing, and I whole-heartedly recommend wearing earplugs if you attend live music. Here's why you should use ear plugs for concerts and my recommendations for how to enjoy live music and still protect your hearing.

Why use earplugs?

So, why use earplugs? The main reason is simple — the risk of permanent hearing loss. Most live music is amplified at levels that are unsafe. Not just hours, but minutes of exposure can result in irreversible hearing damage. 

The average concert falls between 110 and 120 decibels. In this range, safe exposure levels are 5 minutes or less before hearing loss is a risk.

Live Music Can Still Sound Great With Earplugs

The main argument against earplugs by music lovers is that the music doesn't just doesn't sound the same. This is true with most conventional earplugs, which can result in muffled acoustics due to their noise-dampening characteristics.

However, earplug technology has come a long way from the cheap foam plugs that make everything sound like you're underwater. There are earplug options that allow for both safe enjoyment of live music and high-fidelity sound quality. Below are my best recommendations.

Etymotic ER20XS

Etymotic is a company that pioneered hi-fidelity earplugs. In fact, custom earplug manufacturers like JH Audio, Westone, and many others all use Etymotic Research filters. They are essentially the industry standard for hi-fi earplugs. In addition, ER is a company that makes audiophile-quality earphones and audio equipment, so they really know their stuff.

Etymotic Research has developed acoustic filters that safely attenuate sound. Unlike normal earplugs, Etymotic's earplugs don't sound muffled or distorted — the sound levels are simply lowered to safe levels. In other words, there are no excuses not to wear earplugs if you've said live music doesn't sound as good. I've personally used Etymotic's ER20 earplugs for years and they are a great option.

Furthermore, Etymotic's acoustic filters are used in custom earplugs costing hundreds of dollars, so it's nice to know that you can get similar benefits for a fraction of the price in the ER20XS.

Pros:

  • Quick to insert
  • Live music still sounds great, just at safer levels
  • Re-useable and still relatively inexpensive
  • Interchangeable tips for flanged and foam options

Cons:

  • May not be as comfortable as custom options for some people
  • May have to be replaced after a few months use

Shop ER20XS

Earasers Musicians Plugs

Earasers are a Hi-Fidelity earplug that has two goals:

1) Provide level of fit and comfort of a custom earplug without the expense and need to see an audiologist

2) Create a hi-fi experience at safe sound levels.

Unlike flanged or foam plugs, the Earasers are shaped with a slightly oval shape, which is more closely fitted to the natural shape of the ear canal. This means that the silicone molds very closely to the ear without as much pressure to friction fit, which translates into increased comfort. This is huge for events like festivals, where earplug fatigue is a very real thing.

The parent company is a manufacturer of hearing aids, so I feel that they are able to provide a level of expertise on extended comfort and the performance of their products. The design of the Earasers are based on hearing aid tips.

Earasers offers three levels of decibel reduction — -19dB, -26dB, and -31dB reduction at peak reduction. This is all at a “hi-fidelity” attenuation, where sound levels are reduced at flat frequency response. In addition, Earasers are offered in four sizes: x-small, small, medium, and large. I really love the ability to customize the attenuation and size for the needs of each individual.

Pros:

  • Quick to insert
  • Live music still sounds great, just at safer levels
  • Very small/discrete
  • Easily cleaned/washable
  • Increased comfort over other universal earplugs

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Proper fit may require trying different sizes

Shop Earasers

Summary

If you want to protect your hearing at concerts (and you should), I highly recommend the  Etymotic's ER20 or Earasers. They will protect your hearing will still giving you a great sounding music experience, so you get all of the thrill of live music without the danger of permanent hearing loss.

Want to go more in-depth with earplugs? See my article on the Ultimate Guide for the Best Earplugs for Concerts for even more choices to protect your hearing at shows.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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