The Best Earplugs for Concerts & Live Music

If you love live music, you should also love your hearing enough to protect it. Live music features amplified sound and levels of sound that can be extremely damaging to your hearing. If you've ever experienced ringing in your ears after a concert, you already know the effects of exposure to loud sounds. Tinnitus is the chronic form of this, with a ringing in the ears that never goes away.

To prevent hearing loss, your best protection is to wear earplugs. If you've ever been concerned that live music won't sound as good, you're in luck. There are now countless varieties of earplugs that are designed to preserve the sound of live music in high fidelity. These are the best earplugs for live music for the concert-goer.

Why Listen to Me?

I'm a professional music photographer, and I work and photograph a huge number of concerts every year. Because of this, I take my hearing protection with extreme seriousness.

I rely on my hearing for the cues to capture those rock-star moments, and I'm always looking for the best ear plugs to use for concerts. Here are my picks for the best earplugs to use for live music that will protect your hearing and help prevent the onset of tinnitus.

Why Wear Earplugs to Concerts?

So, why wear earplugs when attending concerts? The answer is really simple, and one you already know: hearing loss. That ringing in your ears after a show? That's damage to your hearing, something you can never get back.Most live music reaches levels of between the range of 100 to 120-dB. At this level, hearing damage can occur in less than a minute. Needless to say, you risk hearing damage in a timeframe far shorter than a standard concert, let alone a song.

So if you really love live music, the smart thing to do is to wear earplugs to protect your hearing. Now that we're covered why you should wear earplugs, let's get into your options.

Types of Earplugs

There are a few main types of earplugs, ranging from your dollar-store variety to custom earplugs that can cost you a couple hundred dollars. All have their pros and cons.

Foam

When you think of earplugs, most people will immediately think of cheap, disposable foam earplugs. The benefit of foam earplugs is that they are widely available at any drug store and they are the cheapest kind of earplug you'll find.

The foam earplugs must be compressed and inserted into the ear canal, where they then expand to fill the ear canal and block noise. The most effective foam earplugs, like the Hearos Extreme, can block up to -33dB of noise, among the highest of all earplugs.

The downside is that proper insertion can greatly affect the fit, comfort, and effectiveness of this style of earplugs. In addition, because of the need to compress and allow for expansion, they are not an ideal choice if you need to repeatedly insert and remove earplugs quickly.

Flanged 

Flanged earplugs reply on two or more collars in a cone-shape that conform to the shape of your ear canal. Unlike foam earplugs, flanged earplugs are generally much faster and more user-friendly, as long as they are inserted into the proper depth in the ear canal. The downside to flanged earplugs is that they may not be as comfortable to use for extended periods of time, as the pressure against the ear canal is focused to more specific parts of the ear canal where the ridges seal. Some flanged earplugs are available in multiple sizes, which enhances fit, comfort and performance.

The Etymotic ER-20 is a classic example of a quality flanged earplug, which is also a high-fidelity earplug, though it's important to note that not all flanged earplugs are musician-quality. In addition, Eargasm are another brand of very high quality earplugs that use this flanged design.

High-Fidelity/Musicians Earplugs

High-fidelity earplugs are designed for musicians and performers. Unlike traditional earplugs that can muffle and distort sound, the quality of the sound remains clear — the volume is simply attenuated to a lower level. This effect is achieved by special acoustic filters that lower noise levels in a uniform way across the audible sound spectrum, in contrast to other materials like foam that lower noise levels unequally (which results in muffled sound quality). High-fidelity earplugs can come in reusable, universal fit as well as custom-molded versions.

Etymotic Research and their ER-20 was one of the first high-fidelity earplugs, but now there are many options, including the excellent Earasers and Eargasm high fidelity earplugs.

Custom

Custom earplugs are made from a custom-mould of your ear canal. An audiologist or trained technician creates moulds of each of your ears, which are then sent off to be cast in silicone. Since custom earplugs are truly custom to your ears, they promise a perfect fit and exceptional comfort. The downside is that custom earplugs generally run $100 or more, making them 3-5x more expensive than most universal fit, high-fidelity earplugs.

Custom earplugs are offered by companies specializing in high-end audio and hearing devices, such as JH Audio, Westone, Sensaphonics.

Custom earplugs are divided into two main types, solid silicone and high-fidelity musicians earplugs. The latter use attenuating filters, the majority using those by Etymotic Research, which produce a flat attenuation for natural, clear sound that is safe on your ears. The filters for musician's earplugs come in varying levels of attenuation, so you can choose the degree of sound protection that is appropriate for you. For music photographers like myself, I recommend the ER-25 filters, which offer maximum protection.

The Best Earplugs for Concerts and Live Music

Now that you're familiar with the types of earplugs and the general differences between them, here are my recommendations for the best earplugs of each kind. I've tried a lot of earplugs, from premium options like the Flare Audio Isolate to more disposable earplugs than I can count, but the following four options are my best recommendations.

Hearos Ultimate Softness Series

Hearos makes great foam earplugs and the Ultimate Softness plugs are just as advertised — extremely comfortable. In addition, they block a ton of noise at -32dB reduction. These are a fantastic option for long events where lower noise reduction options would not protect your ears as well, and where comfort is key. I recommend these earplugs for very long events like music festivals where comfort and high decibel reduction is more important than sound quality.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Extremely comfortable for extended use
  • Massive reduction in sound levels

Cons: 

  • Fiddly (foam has to be compressed and allowed to expand for best fit)
  • Low-fidelity sound experience
  • Disposable
Shop Hearos

Etymotic ER20XS

Etymotic is a company that pioneered hi-fidelity earplugs. This is a company that makes very hi-fi audio equipment, so they really know their stuff. 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. As an alternative, the Eargasm high fidelity earplugs are similar and worth consideration in this space.

Pros:

  • Quick to insert
  • Live music still sounds great, just at safer levels
  • Re-useable and still relatively inexpensive

Cons:

  • May not be as comfortable as foam or custom options for some people
  • May have to be replaced after a frequent and extended use
Shop ER20XS

Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs

Eargasm are a high fidelity earplug that is worthy of serious consideration. Like the Etymotic ER20xs and Earaser earplugs, Eargasm promises an ideal earplug experience for concerts in that they produce a natural sound response. The old excuse not to wear earplugs because the music “doesn't sound good” doesn't apply to these earplugs.

The thing I love about the Eargasm earplugs is that they come with two differently sized outer ‘shells' — so you can pick the size that fits your ears, and simply drop in the sonic filter. While the Eargasm earplugs cost a little more than the similar Etymotic ER20xs, this feature of providing two sizes is huge. The comfort of earplugs — which really can make or break your willingness to use them — is super important, and here Eargasm nails it.

The Eargasm earplugs offer -16dB of sound reduction.

Pros:

  • Two sizes included with every set
  • High fidelity sound quality, so music still sounds great
  • Re-useable

Cons:

  • May not be as comfortable as foam or custom options for some people
  • Slightly less noise attenuation than ER20xs (-16dB vs -20dB)
  • Slightly more expensive than other hi-fi earplugs
Shop Eargasm

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. Earasers also allow for exchanges within 30 days if you end up ordering a size that doesn't fit ideally.

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Proper fit may require trying different sizes
Shop Earasers

Custom Earplugs

If you are a live music addict or work in the music industry, I would highly recommend a set of custom earplugs. The one massive advantage of custom earplugs is that they provide a perfect fit time after time and for extended use. This benefit cannot be overstated, especially for users who need reliable, professional hearing protection.

For custom earplugs, you'll need to get fitted by an audiologist. They will create custom impressions of your ear canal, which are then sent off to a manufacturer.

Custom earplugs come in two main types: solid silicone and musicians earplugs with high-fidelity filters. The solid plugs are also called sleep plugs — they will offer the most sound attenuation, roughly around -30dB.

I can highly recommend getting your earplugs from JH Audio, who make high-fidelity IEMs for some of the biggest musicians in the world. Earplugs are not their bread and butter business, but the JH Audio people are just fine folks, so I have to give them a shout out.

Aside from JH Audio, Westone is one of the biggest fulfillers of custom earplugs. If you go to an audiologist for custom musicians earplugs, there's good bet that they will send your impressions off to Westone for production. Both Westone and JH Audio offer solid and musicians earplugs.

Pros:

  • Highest degree of comfort, even for all-day festivals
  • Quick insertion
  • Highest fidelity (with “musicians earplugs”), so music sounds
  • High degree of sound attenuation
  • Durable, lasting for years

Cons:

  • Cost is about $120-150

Summary

There are a wide variety of earplugs, including a ton of universal fit options that should allow for comfortable hearing protection for just about everyone. Furthermore, with high fidelity options becoming increasingly prolific in recent years, now wearing earplugs doesn't mean choosing between protecting your hearing and the sound quality of a concert experience. The choice isn't whether or not you should protect your hearing for concerts, it's simply how.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D850:
I use two Nikon D850 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all DSLR with amazing AF, fast response, and no shortage of resolution.
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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