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  • New, active, ear plugs offer advantages over the old passive type

    I hope this is the right place to post this.

    Although I've done my share of extra loud music as a warm-up act for major stars in concert, I find myself playing small, intimate venues at a lower volume level now. This might be of interest to musicians who play small clubs or at moderate volume levels.

    I've been protecting my ears for many years with passive earplugs made by Westone and Etymotic. I get the custom fit type with an ear mold made by an audiologist and keep both 15db and 25db plugs in my gig bag and whenever I think I'm going to hear loud music or other sounds.

    The custom fit earplugs are important because I sing and play sax and if the ear plug is not inserted deeply enough, the internal sound of my voice and sax overpowers the external (I usually run stage levels at around 90dba with peaks up to 95dba).

    The Westone/Etymotic passive plugs I use have a fairly flat frequency response, so it's not like putting foam in the ears, instead it's like turning the volume down. They do a great job of protecting my ears.

    The disadvantage is that in small, intimate venues I have to pop the ear plug out to hear what the audience is saying between songs. A bit of a PITA and I think it draws attention to them which might make some audience members uncomfortable. We're on our 7th year doing a once a week gig where the tables are close to the band and the audience members are like family.

    So a month or so ago I stumbled on a page from Etymotic http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hea...ion/mp915.html

    It advertises active ear plugs that compress the volume when it gets loud and allows 'normal' hearing between songs.

    Looking at the technical specs, I see in order to keep my ears in the safe zone, the on-stage volume must be under 100dba - I keep a sound level meter on stage, and for the gigs I play the stage volume is always under 100dba. I put the mains in front of us and have little 'hot spot' type monitors.


    They offer a 30 day money back guarantee so I thought I'd give them a try.

    I like them.

    I found I don't need custom ear molds for them, and that saves a lot of money right there and makes them cost less in the long run.

    How do they sound?

    They are a little weak in the bass response, but after a few weeks I decided I like that. It allows me to hear the attack of the pick on the guitar strings better which helps me play more dynamically when playing lead. The weak bass response could be a problem for others.

    I turned up the bottom and turned down the treble on my little 15 watt personal monitor until I found a spot I like.

    After I found the right tips to insert into my ears the sax and voice are no more of a problem than with the custom ear mold types.

    They need hearing aid batteries to work, I found I can get them inexpensively at Amazon (>$0.22/ea with free shipping).

    They are zinc-air batteries, and have a little air hole in them. To make the batteries last longer, I replace the adhesive tab over the hole so they don't continue to discharge when I'm not using them. So far 3 weekends of gigging on one pair of batteries (I found the tip about replacing the tab somewhere while googling).

    I've passed the 30 day trial period, and I'm still using them, so I guess I like them better than the passive kind.

    If you currently wear ear plugs on the gig, and you aren't running extremely high volumes on stage, you might want to consider giving these a 30 day trial.

    (Note: I have no affiliation with any of these companies and receive no compensation for posting this - in other words, it's not spam)

    Notes
    Last edited by Notes_Norton; 12-08-2014, 03:36 PM.
    Bob "Notes" Norton
    Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
    Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
    The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

  • #2
    Is there any way of testing the batteries? Are they easy to replace if you needed to do so in a hurry? My concern would be having one die while I was on stage.

    BTW, Great review!
    **********

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

    Comment


    • #3
      Very good questions Phil.

      Unless both batteries die at once, you still will have one ear working. Not the best situation but not critical either.

      I did have one die on stage, it took about a minute to replace.
      1) take it out
      2) open the little door
      3) remove the old battery
      4) remove the tab on the new battery
      5) put the new one in and close the door.

      In my googling I read that you should take the tab off about a minute before you close the door (it was for hearing aids but I suppose it's the same for this), but I didn't have the time. That's when I googled more and found out about replacing the sticky tab after the gig.

      I don't know if there is a way to test the batteries.

      So I googled and found these:

      http://www.hearingaidbatteryshop.com...-tester_2.html

      http://www.ebay.com/bhp/hearing-aid-battery-tester

      http://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Batter.../dp/B0015S14UG

      They are pretty inexpensive so I think I'll get one.

      Notes
      Bob "Notes" Norton
      Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
      Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
      The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

      Comment


      • #4
        Maybe I'm missing something here, but if you're using an earbud to block external noise/excessive volume and using a personal monitor, wouldn't it make more sense to just go with an IEM?
        ______________

        Comment


        • #5
          Wow, the compression thing is really cool! How much do they run?

          Comment


          • #6
            Guido61, These block the sound when we're playing but when the band stops they quit blocking the sound and allow normal hearing as if there isn't an earplug - that's the point.

            (a) IEM means wiring and I switch between sax and guitar a lot - sax with neck strap, guitar with shoulder strap - not good for wiring down my back. Besides,

            (b) with IEMs you still can't hear what the guy in the 3rd table back is saying between songs.

            (c) Plus IEMs cost a lot more money.

            Admittedly these aren't for everyone, but for my gig they work really well.

            Before I found these I was also thinking about sensaphonics - IEMs with a microphone in the earpiece that would work between songs. If you need IEMs instead of ear plugs and want to hear between songs, that seems like a decent solution too (but much more expensive and those pesky wires again)

            http://www.sensaphonics.com/3d-aaro prices start at $2,000 (the active ear plugs are less than 15% of that).

            Phil O'Keefe, I just ordered a battery tester from Amazon, less than 6 bucks with shipping - thanks for the heads up

            philboking, they run $299 http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hea...ion/mp915.html

            I would suspect these would be best for people playing in small clubs where they need to hear the audience between songs.

            We do an weekly outdoor gig at a marina on a dock. There isn't a dance floor although there is a small area in front of the band. Were on our 7th year now. We have a core group of people who come, and are like extended family. We celebrate funny holidays, they participate, and there is a lot of banter between the the duo and the audience. So for 6 years between songs I'm pulling out my ear plugs (and would be pulling out an IEM if I used one) to converse with people a couple of tables back. Like I said it's PITA and I even broke the handle off one of the ear-molds a couple of years back, requiring a replacement (couldn't easily get it out of the ear).

            Now I have both ears between songs pretty close to normal hearing without taking anything in and out. That is the main advantage of these gizmos.

            No wires:


            Notes
            Last edited by Notes_Norton; 12-08-2014, 07:51 PM.
            Bob "Notes" Norton
            Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
            Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
            The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

            Comment


            • #7
              Ok. Those sound like a good option for you then. I'm sure many others would find them good as well!

              . FWIW, I'm on and off with guitars a lot and don't find the IEM cable to be an issue. Trick is run it inside your shirt or jacket.
              ______________

              Comment


              • #8
                That could work, but my sax strap goes around my neck. I don't know if it would work for that, I don't even like the back of my neck shaved a day or two before a gig. But if I ever need IEMs, I'm sure I'd find a way to cope with it.
                Bob "Notes" Norton
                Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
                Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
                The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

                Comment


                • #9
                  I had to check the date to see if this was an old thread. I wrote a review of those a bit more than 2, or maybe it was 4 years ago. They were passing them out to reviewers at a San Francisco AES show. I thought that they worked OK but that for protection, the cheap passive ear plugs were both more effective and more comfortable. The theory is good, but the application wasn't so hot. They may have modified the compression curve since the initial release.

                  They're expensive to maintain, as batteries are about $10 for a pack of 8, or 10, or 12 (maybe there's a cheap on-line source), you use them two at a time, and even with little use they only last a month or so. If you're gigging every night, or even every weekend, you'd best be getting paid more than gas money in order to feed the ear plugs. They're standard air-activated hearing aid batteries, which you can buy at just about any drug or grocery store if you need to get some in a hurry.

                  I don't think that covering the air hole actually helps. I'm pretty sure that once these cells take their first gulp of air when you remove the sticker, that's all they need. They don't "breathe" in operation. But I could be wrong about that. Trust your source or run a controlled test.

                  If you're going to put $300 into ear protection, you're probably better off with a good custom molded passive set. I didn't at all like what they did to headphones, particularly with my own voice through the headphones. There's enough delay there to do some comb filtering.


                  --
                  "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
                  Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Interesting. Thanks for posting! I have the cheap Etymotics, and they're great, except I can't use them gigging because I need to hear the top Hammond drawbars, and with them on I simply can't. If I was playing only piano it wouldn't be a problem.

                    But I've used them plenty for other shows. I bet I'd like these even better, and I'd probably use them at home to avoid turning the TV louder than other folks want (which is a clue that I really need a more specific solution ...)
                    Last edited by JeffLearman; 12-09-2014, 10:02 AM.
                    learjeff.net

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                    • #11
                      Hmmm.... for 2 bills I'll sit it out. Thanks for the info though

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Different people with different experiences.

                        I've used the custom molded ear plugs that MikeRivers prefers for years and years, and I quite prefer the active ones. As Mike pointed out, perhaps they have improved the active ones in the years since he tried them.

                        I agree with the battery issue, but I've now done a month (3 days per week) on a set by plugging the hole back up. The first week I didn't plug the hole and one went dead by the second weekend.

                        Did a small gig yesterday with a very close audience, took requests, ran running gags which lead to back and forth talking with the audience, and never had to take out the ear plugs like I did with the passives. If they said something immediately after a song ended I could hear them first time without pulling the plug out and asking them to repeat. That's worth the price for me right there.

                        At less than 22 cents per battery, I could use a pair every gig and wouldn't notice a noticeable difference in my take hope pay.

                        And for me $299 for the plugs isn't a bad deal. I believe I paid close to $400 for the custom molded passives. As a vocalist and sax player, I needed the custom molds to keep the internal voice and sax sounds from overpowering what I was hearing through the passive ear plugs. Fortunately the active ones come with a variety of ear tips and I found one that does as good of a job as the custom molds did for me (something an off-the-shelf passive doesn't offer).

                        But then I make my living playing music, so any tool expense is an investment. I paid $200 extra to have Parker make my guitar with the pickups I wanted, I paid extra to have my sax plated with two coats of nickel, I use a Sennheiser MD421 because it sounds better than the Sure SM58 on my sax, and so on.

                        Any ear plug involves a compromise. It depends on how you play, and how important your hearing is to you. Some will choose no protections, some will choose passives, some will choose IEMs, and some will find these best.

                        I'm not selling them or trying to convince anyone to use them, just offering them up for those that they might help.

                        Notes
                        Bob "Notes" Norton
                        Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
                        Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
                        The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Notes_Norton View Post
                          At less than 22 cents per battery, I could use a pair every gig and wouldn't notice a noticeable difference in my take hope pay.
                          Where are you buying the batteries that cheaply? I didn't really go shopping for them, but what I saw hanging on a rack in the drug or grocery store was about $8 for a package of 8 or 10. I just confirmed that, though in packs of 60, I found them for a bit under 30 cents. I wonder what the shelf life is.

                          But then I make my living playing music, so any tool expense is an investment.
                          That's the key. If you use them all the time in your work, the cost becomes just part of doing business. But I use ear plugs maybe 3-4 times a year. I did try the Etymotic active ones when mowing my lawn but they weren't very effective against the engine noise. The "headphone" ear protectors or passive ear plugs are much more effective.

                          One thing that I did notice, and probably mentioned in my review, was that they didn't suppress low level sounds very much, so, yes, they're good for when you want to hear your audience or talk to other band members on stage. When I go around the drums and guitars at the NAMM show, I always put in ear plugs, and if I forget to take them out when I get near someone I want to talk to, I notice that I talk softer with the ear plugs in. Or maybe the person I'm talking to has gone deaf.


                          --
                          "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
                          Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post

                            Where are you buying the batteries that cheaply?
                            Here

                            Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
                            That's the key. If you use them all the time in your work, the cost becomes just part of doing business.
                            Exactly. Even if I used two batteries for each gig, $0.44 isn't going to make a significant difference in my take home pay.

                            And the price of the ear plugs themselves are less than the custom fit Etymotic or Westone plugs, but even so, it's less than $6 per week.

                            Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
                            But I use ear plugs maybe 3-4 times a year. I did try the Etymotic active ones when mowing my lawn but they weren't very effective against the engine noise. The "headphone" ear protectors or passive ear plugs are much more effective.
                            I use the foam type for mowing the lawn. I perspire a lot and I don't want to get the passive ones wet, and I'd never even think about using the active ones for that. The foam ones block a lot of sound, and when they get wet or dirty, they are disposable.

                            I also think the fact that I've been wearing ear plugs almost weekly since the 1990s helps with my adaptation to them. I even take them along when I go on vacation. So my ears/brain are adapted to them.

                            Plus with my experience using custom fit ear plugs, I new what I was listening for when I tried out a few of the different ear tips Etymotic provides with the plug (it took 3 gigs to figure out which one was best for me).

                            Actually, when I think about it, I started wearing them in the 1980s and I've been through the kind that trap shooters wear, the squishy foam ones, the OTC hi fi ones, and when I discovered them, the custom fit Westone/Etymotics.

                            I had an off-on relationship with all of them until I discovered the Etymotic/Westone plugs. I've worn them on almost every gig since then. The exception is a Yacht Club we play where we are sonic wallpaper, our average SPL is 65dba there. Good paying gig, and nice people. They don't really react to the music until they leave and then they give you an applause, thumbs-up or make a comment like, "The music was wonderful."

                            Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
                            One thing that I did notice, and probably mentioned in my review, was that they didn't suppress low level sounds very much, so, yes, they're good for when you want to hear your audience or talk to other band members on stage
                            That's exactly why I got them.

                            Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
                            When I go around the drums and guitars at the NAMM show, I always put in ear plugs, and if I forget to take them out when I get near someone I want to talk to, I notice that I talk softer with the ear plugs in. Or maybe the person I'm talking to has gone deaf.
                            I play in a duo using backing tracks that I make myself (I play sax, flute, guitar, bass, keys and drums) so the stage sound is very controllable. If I were playing with a live drummer who was using anything but brushes, I'd probably put 25db Etymotic or Westone custom fit passives.

                            Different tools for different situations.

                            Notes
                            Bob "Notes" Norton
                            Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
                            Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
                            The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Notes_Norton View Post
                              --snip--
                              How do they sound?

                              They are a little weak in the bass response, but after a few weeks I decided I like that. It allows me to hear the attack of the pick on the guitar strings better which helps me play more dynamically when playing lead. The weak bass response could be a problem for others.

                              --snip--

                              Notes
                              I've looked into these as well to use when I run sound but the lack of low-frequency response (reported by others as well) has so far scared me off. My plan would be to get things dialed in the first set or so with bare ears and then put them in but am not sure I'd like losing most base response for the rest of the evening. Any thoughts on how they'd work for FOH duty specifically?

                              Background: I'm a hobbyist and therefore reserve the right to refuse to inflict myself or the audience to much more than 100 dBC (~95 dBA) but even at that volume a four-hour gig standing front and center facing the mains thirty feet away starts to add up on my 62-year-old ears. I just had impressions made for a set of Etymotics (only $150 total here in the boondocks of Montana) but being able to talk to folks without having to remove them would be a distinct advantage. Thanks for the excellent review Notes.
                              ...dave

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