If you're looking for the best earplugs to use for loud events, I've got you covered. As a professional music photographer, working around loud music is literally my job — and I have used just about every type of earplug out there, from the cheapest foam earplugs to custom-molded earplugs that cost hundreds of dollars.
This article breaks down my recommendations for the best type of earplug for every kind of event, based on the noise protection you need, ease of use, and comfort.
The threshold for physical pain from loud noises is 120 dB. Hearing loss can occur from extended exposure to nearly any noise, but anything at or over 100 dB can cause hearing loss within an hour or even minutes.
Earplugs For Concerts
For concerts, where you're looking at about about 3 hours of live music, I'd recommend a “musician's earplug” like the Earaser or Etymotic ER20XS or ER20, or the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs. These earplugs are designed to allow you to hear and enjoy music as it was meant to be heard, simply at safer levels, without the muffled sound and distortion of traditional earplugs. In addition, these earplugs are re-usable, which is helps make the cost a better value if you are a regular concert-goer.
In addition, I love this style earplug because, unlike foam earplugs, they're relatively easy to insert and remove. This is ideal for a concert, where you will have time in between sets where you will want to take the earplugs out as you talk to friends.
For me, the comfort level of these earplugs isn't as high as custom or foam for very extended use, but they are plenty comfortable for a concert that only lasts a few hours. If you're a regular concert fan, you owe it yourself and your hearing to get a good pair of earplugs. For everyone who says earplugs ruin live music, you simply haven't tried a pair of high fidelity earplugs like these.
Earplugs For Music Festivals
For festivals where you are moving between stages to see different bands and relatively far from the stages, I highly recommend the above musician's earplugs.
However, if you are the kind of festival goer who commits to a single stage for long periods of time up at the front near the stage, I'd recommend foam earplugs like the Hearos Ultimate Softness Series. The reason is that for extended use, they will be much more comfortable than the Earaser or Etymotic earplugs (in my experience). In addition, the Hearos Ultimate Softness earplugs offer 32-dB of noise reduction. Since sound levels at the front of the stage near the speakers can be extremely loud, the added protection of the 32-dB reduction will be something that you will appreciate for the long-haul of a music festival. This is even more true if you're attending a festival for multiple days in a row.
Earplugs For Racing and Sporting Events
For motorsports and general sporting events, the Earaser and Etymotic ER20XS earplugs are great options. They will safely reduce noise levels and have the added benefit of being able to insert and remove when you need to. Same with the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs.
At most motorsports and stadium/arena sports events, the sound level is generally not dangerously loud at all times, but more intermittently. Still, peak noise levels will add up and can still contribute to hearing loss. Earplugs are still your best defense and worth having on hand at these kind of events.
Earplugs For Musicians and Other Professionals
If you're a musician or otherwise a professional whose job involves being around loud music regularly, I cannot recommend custom earplugs highly enough.
The industry standard for most custom earplugs are to use custom filters by Etymotic Research (the same makers as the ER20xs mentioned above), and these are available in a variety of noise-reduction strengths. This range of filters is great because it allows you the option of changing the strength of the earplugs just by swapping filters. Just as with the ER20xs, these sonic filters are high-fidelity, meaning that they will not distort or muffle music like cheap foam earplugs — the sound will come across as natural, just at a reduced level.
In addition, one massive benefit of custom earplugs is that they blow every other option away in terms of long-term comfort. Custom earplugs require that you see an audiologist and have molds of your ear canals taken. These molds are then used to create your custom earplugs. Because the earplugs are simply occupying the space of your ear canals — and not trying to expand like a flanged earplug or foam earplug — nothing is pushing out or otherwise causing discomfort. While this comfort factor is only an issue for longterm use, it makes a tremendous difference if you wear earplugs for extended periods.
Your audiologist will like have different vendors that they use to fulfill custom earplugs, or you can send your molds to a vendor of your choice. I personally recommend the folks at JH Audio, but have great experience with Westone custom earplugs as well.
In summary, most everyone would benefit from a pair of Etymotic Research ER20xs for almost every occasion, or the Hearos Ultimate Softness Series earplugs for when you need maximum noise protection. If you're a musician or professional music photographer like me who is around a lot of loud music, it's worth the $200 to spring for custom earplugs.
Want to know more about earplugs? Check out my article on The Ultimate Guide to the Best Earplugs for Concerts and Live Music where I break down different types of earplugs in detail.