Years ago, after playing professionally for many years, both live and studio work, lots of acoustic jazz, but also a wide range of musical styles, but none at what would be considered excessively high volume levels, I went to Michael Santucci of Chicago’s Sensaphonics for the test. I was disappointed to learn at the time, when I was in my forties, that I indeed had a hearing loss in my left ear, with the right happily being unaffected. This loss, fairly common I believe, is a “notch”, meaning the damage is in a certain specific frequency range, in my case 5K-7K, roughly the area in which the ride cymbal frequencies tend to reside. Above 7K it was found to be normal and the same below 5K. From that time until the present, I have been a consistent user of hearing protection.
The pro plugs can be fitted with filters in different levels of noise reduction, usually -15db and -25db the most common. I had some -9db filters at one point, which I really like, but mostly used the -15db ones and they work well for the range of my work. The bottom line for me is that I love playing music wearing the earplugs and do not find them to be detrimental to me in any way. I think wind instruments are more of a challenge and so I defer to those players but will say that I enjoy playing flute, which is my only wind instrument, with the plugs, though it’s different. Playing bass, guitar, piano, etc. is a blast because I hear a good representation of the sonic image, just softer, and at the same time I can sing along with my playing which, in some cases at least, gives me a bit of a stronger sense of self image and presence. So, I highly recommend earplugs for your health and musical longevity.
Recently, I lost one of my pro plugs, and so had to resort to over the counter products and want to report on the two brands I purchased. I think both work very well, though I do plan to eventually get a new set of pro plugs. I think, for students on a budget, it’s important to state that these products are very close, if not the equal of the pro product. The main criteria I would mention are getting a good seal while being comfortable to wear, providing a reasonable representation of the sound (not muffled) and providing sufficient protection.
I purchased a set of “Earasers” plugs, at around $40 and also a set of “Hearos Rock and Roll” at around $8. I’m finding the Hearos to work well for general gigs with some degree of volume. Vendors like Guitar Center also sell other variations of the Hearos which are less noise reduction, so surely will be even more enjoyable. They are -26 db, so a little more than I would like, but I’m doing ok with them. In other instances, the Earasers are giving me more detail, so they are worth the extra money I think, but might not be enough protection for some gigs. The most important thing to notice is that they come in different sizes so you need to choose carefully. Go to their website and go over the video instructions. https://www.earasers.store.
So, my advice is to protect your hearing and do it today! If you have the money ($150 for the plugs along + an exam) the pro plugs are the best, but just don’t lose them! In the meantime, I think the over the counter products, the right brands at least, are very close, and so I highly recommend you consider them. There are other brands out there, so my report is not scientific, but just on the two I chose to buy. Feel free to comment with your own experiences with earplugs or related questions.