By Phil O'Keefe |
Music is an auditory art, and our ears are crucial to us. They are also easily damaged by overexposure to loud sounds, and once you lose part of your hearing, it is gone for good - which makes protecting our hearing absolutely essential.
There are several options. (Fig. 1) Foam plugs are inexpensive and effective, but many musicians dislike the muffled high frequency sound quality. Muffs suffer from similar sonic gremlins. They are also more expensive, and look funky on stage, although for other noisy environments, such as mowing the lawn, they offer excellent protection.
Fig. 1: A variety of hearing protection products, including muffs, foam plugs, and high-fidelity ear plugs
Custom fitted plugs that are made from impressions of your ears are the most comfortable. They can be fitted with drivers so that they can serve double duty as in-ear monitors, but they tend to cost in the hundreds. Companies such as Etymotic and Hearos make high-fidelity, reusable earplugs that attenuate all frequencies by approximately 20dB, and provide much more natural sound quality than foam plugs. Best of all, they cost about the same as a pack or two of guitar strings. When things are loud, many people find it's actually easier to pick out individual sounds, such as their own instrument, while wearing such plugs, as opposed to when wearing no protection at all.
There are even "designer" hearing protectors, like the ones by V-Moda that provide significant protection yet sit unobstrusively in your ears, and look like you're wearing regular earbuds (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: V-Moda's "Faders" are tuned earplugs with a detachable cord and carrying case.
Regardless of which option you pick, it is important to always wear protection when you are exposed to loud sounds. Hammering nails, mowing the lawn, high-volume gigs and practice - whenever it's loud, protect yourself. Your ears will thank you for it!
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.