High fidelity earplugs for concerts: the official Hearing Habits review
Did anyone ever tell you reading in the dark ruins your vision? And then it didn't? Well, it doesn't work like that with loud music and your hearing! According to the CDC, a lawnmower (80-85 decibels), can damage your hearing in two hours. And when you reach the volume of a rock concert (105-110 decibels), permanent hearing loss can happen in less than five minutes.
So how does loud music or loud noise damage your hearing? Sound creates vibrations, the stronger and louder of which kill the tiny hair cells in your inner ear responsible for carrying an electrical signal to your brain. According to the CDC, up to 50% of those little hairs can be damaged or destroyed before hearing loss shows up on a test.
And that's a reality for 1 in 12 Americans over the age of 12 (read: you or someone you know!) Hearing loss and tinnitus have been on the rise over the last 20 years with the popularity of earbuds and modern headphones. Remember Apple's original iPod? That thing reached up to 120 decibels - the volume of a jet engine!
I know what you're thinking: Why do we love loud music if it's so bad for us? Science says humans are wired to like it loud. Remember that inner ear I mentioned earlier? Right there with those little hair cells is a fluid-filled sac called... wait for it... the sacculus! The louder the music descending on the sacculus... the more endorphins your brain's hypothalamus releases. Furthermore, music over 90 decibels triggers a reflex where the ear canal opens wider, allowing more sound to reach the sacculus. Humans are hardwired to get pleasure from loud music. This is one of many ways modern technology has transcended human evolution.
Being human, I way overdid loud music in my late teens and early 20s. Beyond blasting my iPod as high as it would go, I loved going right up to the stage at any live performance. Having grown up with sensorineural hearing loss, these unhealthy hearing habits further damaged my hearing, and I started using hearing aids at age 23. Hearing aids have changed my life for the better, but I hate paying $5,000 when each pair wears down every 3-5 years.
If high-fidelity earplugs existed when I was younger, I wouldn't have known where to buy them (Amazon was just an online bookstore back then!) and I had no education around high-decibel dangers. Now, I have the knowledge and access I needed all along. With little hearing left to destroy, I'm committed to protecting my hearing!
In the before-times, pre-pandemic, when Hearing Habits was merely a pipe dream, I took four brands of high-fidelity earplugs to four concerts. Here is what I found:
1. Eargasm $39.88
Hanson - Basilica Block Party, Minneapolis, MN - July 13, 2019
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It was my third time seeing the fine-wine legends behind 1997’s song of the summer, and let’s just say I had the eargasm I was promised... and felt like I had no protection at all! ...This brand's name begs for irreverence. But the sound quality preservation is nothing to joke about! I could hear Tay's buttery vocals in all their dreamlike glory, minus only the most dangerous decibels. Not only did they keep every chord and drumbeat clear as the naked ear, they even muted what I didn't want to hear. No crowd noise, no off-key singing, no men reassuring one another that they're "actually not into Hanson." Nothing but the crisp, unmuffled music and my Hanson-loving friend Kim, only when she turned and fangirled to me directly.
I wore the regular size, but Eargasm also makes a small size, a pair with a volume slider, custom earplugs, and lots of other useful products! They even have a quiz on their website to help you choose your pair!
You might be wondering - are outdoor concerts bad for your hearing? Did I really need earplugs at this relatively mellow performance? While it didn't feel as loud as many others I've attended, outdoor concerts are often amped up to 100 decibels - well above the danger threshold.
So just to make sure I got the right impression on my favorite earplugs yet, I wore them again to P.O.D. at First Avenue in Minneapolis, MN on August 21, 2021, where I was indoors and much closer to the speakers. While the volume reduction was more pronounced, the clarity was just as impressive!
Aside from Eargasm being everything you could ever want in an earplug, they've curated the most rad brand identity of any hearing product I've come across. No sterile, geriatric vibes telling you hearing health is something to hide or be ashamed of. With its edgy personality, cool Earfluencers and Earbassadors on social media, and on-point user-generated content (they share all my Instagram mentions!), Eargasm is reaching customers with the most hearing left to lose - young concert-goers, musicians, bikers, and beyond!
GET 10% OFF YOUR PURCHASE AT EARGASM.COM WITH PROMO CODE: HEARINGHABITS
"Been There Before" - Hanson
2. Eardial $27.87
Incubus - The Armory, Minneapolis, MN - August 4, 2019
In my basic desire to try a bunch of different earplugs, I begrudgingly bought these from a sponsored article that assured me I wouldn't "look like a Melvin" wearing them. When I clicked through to the item description, it literally said, "Ear plugs are decidedly not a cool thing to wear at concerts." Seriously! Why do so many hearing brands do this?! Stop thinking you're going to sell your product by saying it's not cool!
Perhaps instead of roasting itself in its own marketing, Eardial should highlight its best feature: comfort. It doesn't take long to forget about the ultra-soft silicone keeping your ears safe from hearing loss and tinnitus.
And if you do want your earplugs discrete for any reason, these are the least visible pair I tried. I just don't think anyone should be told to feel embarrassed about protecting their hearing.
I would like these earplugs a lot more if not for the stigmatizing marketing. Eardial was very good in terms of fidelity. Incubus was gorgeous and these earplugs didn't compromise the sound quality. Much like their COOL AF competitor, Eargasm, Eardial took the edge off the volume while keeping the music clear.
"Wish You Were Here" - Incubus
3. Vibes $23.98
Alice In Chains - The Armory, Minneapolis, MN - April 19, 2019
Vibes come in small, medium, and large and are on the less-noticeable side, if that is the aesthetic you are looking for. I ordered a pair of Vibes after my WCCO-TV colleague Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield did a story on their Minnesota creator. Originally designed for concerts, Vibes turned out to be highly effective for people with noise sensitivity from autism.
I'm glad the company has pivoted toward helping neurodiverse folks, because Vibes weren't my favorite earplugs for live music. I found myself removing one Vibe to "sneak" a clearer listen, despite the high fidelity.
However, it's entirely possible that I'm not giving Vibes a fair shake due to the band I was seeing. Alice In Chains music is the kind I feel in my bones and my soul, that makes me feel alive. Remember the sacculus? Jerry Cantrell's guitar solos take my sacculus for a ride!
"Your Decision" - Alice In Chains
4. Vic Firth $18.95
Bring Me The Horizon - The Armory, Minneapolis, MN - February 6, 2019
This was the first high fidelity earplug I decided to document because I was familiar with Vic Firth as a musical instrument brand. They're about the same as Vibes, to the extent that they didn't wow me as much as Eargasm, and the concert itself may have skewed my experience. Bring Me The Horizon was EXTRA LOUD. Feel-it-in-your-chest, bone-rattlingly, unnecessarily loud. Sacculus-thrashing loud. At this concert, Vic Firth earplugs weren't strong enough! I was pushing them into my head for dear life!
The truth is that the EQ was awful. No Vic Firth earplug-wearing musician would have been impressed with the mix whatsoever. There was so much bass, you couldn't hear any of the instruments, nor singer Oli Sykes. In fact, the band canceled the rest of their tour just a week and a half later due to Sykes rupturing a vocal cord. Supposedly, Twitter accused him of using the wrong screaming technique. But I blame the sound booth for making him scream over his own speakers!
CONTENT WARNING: LANGUAGE! "Happy Song" -Bring Me The Horizon
If you found this post interesting, or want to share your favorite earplugs, comment below or create a post in the Hearing Habits Forum!
The reviews in this post are my honest opinions. Eargasm did not pay me for the stellar review! I obtained the 10% off promo code by applying to be an Eargasm Earbassador. The links to Eardial, Vibes, and Vic Firth earplugs are Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase at Amazon from any of those links, or use the Eargasm promo code, Hearing Habits gets a small commission. Proceeds help Hearing Habits Founder Erica Jansen cover the costs of owning and operating a website, and raise capital to become a nonprofit. If you'd like to make a separate donation, click here!