Invisible Ear Plugs for Concerts, Clubs, and Loud Bars
Foam ear plugs are the most common type of ear protection and can be made totally invisible for others when properly used, cut, and painted. Sounds too good to be true?
Unfortunately, foam ear plugs are only available with high sound reduction and they muffle sound. Alternatives are reusable ear plugs and custom made earplugs.
Some of the reusable earplugs are almost invisible. Realistically, nobody will notice them. They are especially useful when the environment is not extremely loud. Foam earplugs are often too strong for not-so-loud environments.
Custom made earplugs are expensive and more visible than either foam or the best reusable ear plugs. But they provide superior sound quality.
Why wear earplugs anyway? Having a ringing or high pitch sound in the ear after a visit to a concert, club or loud bar is nothing enjoyable. Usually the ears recover for the most part within a few days and the ringing goes away again.
But if you do it often enough, at some point you will have irreversible hearing damage and if you are unlucky, the ringing stays one day and you got permanent tinnitus. Even without experiencing the ringing or high pitch sounds, hearing takes damage from loud noises as time goes by.
That is bad news if you want to go to concerts, clubs, or other loud environments without having anything to regret afterwards.
So, why do not all people wear ear plugs? Wearing earplugs has two disadvantages: other people can see them and you may not want that, and many plugs have a poor sound quality. This makes music less enjoyable and makes it more difficult to talk with other people, as it gets more difficult to hear and understand what the other person is saying.
The perfect earplugs would have the following properties: invisible and completely undetectable and make the music more silent without any distortions in sound quality, just like turning the volume knob down on a sound system.
Below, the following types of earplugs will be discussed: foam earplugs, reusable earplugs, custom made earplugs, and wax or silicone plugs.
Option 1: Foam Earplugs
Foam plugs offer high to very high sound reduction.
Foam earplugs can be hidden very well, so that nobody notices them unless it is well lit and they look directly into your ear canal for whatever reason.
If you are very serious about hiding your earplugs and go so far that you have to use tweezers to take them out again, then they will even be invisible to someone looking directly into your ear canal unless he or she is intimately close and uses a flashlight.
The sound quality of foam plugs is not great. If you are in a quieter environment then it will be more difficult to hear and talk with other people.
In contrast, if the environment is loud or very loud, you will probably hear and understand other people better than without plugs. This is because the plugs reduce the sound down to where the ear can process it better and this outweighs the sound quality reduction the foam plugs cause. This also means, if you have a conversion with a group, you can understand the others better than they can understand you, because they are not wearing earplugs.
Because foam plugs have a high noise reduction, you will have to take them out if you change to quiet place and want to have normal conversation with other people. Else you will not hear what people say.
Unfortunately, I have only found foam plugs with high or very high sound reduction. The lowest I have seen is 24dB in sound reduction.
The picture below shows a well hidden foam ear plug. The black point in the ear is really an ear plug.
Read the other article for instructions on how to hide foam ear plugs. It includes inserting the plugs properly into the ear canal, cutting them shorter, using flesh-colored plugs or painting them, and other techniques.
Another article describes how to choose which ear plugs to buy when looking for best sound quality. Much about the sound quality can be guessed by looking at the dB figures. The differences in sound quality for different brands are large, even for foam ear plugs. The Bilsom 303 foam ear plug has a good sound quality (for foam ear plugs) and is also available in many countries. But it is also one of the strongest earplugs (approximately 32dB).
Summary: foam plugs can be well hidden. There are plugs available from high to very high noise reduction. They are best if the environment is loud. With foam ear plugs in a very loud environment, you will be better able to talk with other people than others who do not use ear plugs. The drawbacks are that the sound quality will not be as good and if you change to a quiet environment, you will have to take them out.
Option 2: Non-Custom Reusable Earplugs
There are many brands of reusable earplugs available. Most have a large stem that sticks out of your ear. Often this stem is also colored in violent yellow, blue, or green. These earplugs will be ignored in the following and the focus will be on the most invisible plugs.
The big advantage of these plugs compared to foam earplugs is that they provide less sound reduction. They are therefore suited for not-too-loud-environments. Foam earplugs are just too strong when it is not really loud. Some of the reusable earplugs also provide good sound quality.
In the following I am going to focus on four brands.
The Alpine PartyPlug is nearly invisible when worn. The picture below shows the plugs.
And next picture show the plugs being worn.
The plugs are invisible for someone standing in front of you
The Alpine PartyPlugs have a sound reduction ranging from a low of 8.8dB (63Hz) up to 25.4dB (2000Hz). They are best used when the environment is not very loud.
The Etymotic Research ER20XS is a high fidelity earplug. High fidelity stands for high sound quality. The newer version 20XS has a reduced stem, that does not stick out as much of the ear. However, my small ears, these plus are visible from a frontal view to my head. Maybe if you have large ears, they will not be visible.
The plug has a noise reduction of 14dB, which is good for a normal bar and some quieter clubs, but insufficient for bars with loud music or other loud environments.
The high fidelity claim for the product is justified. I used them for testing in a silent modern train and people where talking at normal loudness and I could understand them with the plugs in my ears almost as good as without. The sound quality is really good. It is like the volume knob turned down a bit.
Below is a picture of the plugs being worn.
There is an additional small stem on the plugs intended to make it easier to take them out of ears. This small stem is not necessary and can be removed, making the plug a little less visible. I also tried cutting away the front to get them deeper into my ear, but it did not help.
Summary: really good sound quality but they are somewhat visible and may provide insufficient sound reduction in really loud environments.
The EarPeace HD plugs are available skin-colored (aka white). See the picture below.
These earplugs are a bit more visible than the Alpine PartyPlugs. The picture below shows them from the side. They are not difficult to remove again even with the piece of plastic designed to make removal easier cut away.
They are not visible for someone standing in front of you. See the picture below.
The plugs come with 2 exchangeable filters. If you use the stronger filter, then you get a decent amount of protection of approximate 20dB (low of 18.6dB up to 29.6 at 8000Hz). The dB curve is also somewhat flat, so the sound quality should be good.
The Earasers earplugs are the most invisible reusable earplug I have found. However, once I got them I saw that they provide only 5dB of sound reduction (with a low of only 1.2dB at 500Hz). This is insufficient for any usage. I do not use them at all.
They have a small stem to make it easier to take them out again. This small stem is cut away in the picture below.
Option 3: Custom Made Earplugs
Custom made earplugs are what professional musicians use. They are fitted to the individual ear.
They are usually also high fidelity earplugs, meaning they resemble a volume knob turning down the volume and preserve a high sound quality. This makes music more enjoyably and makes it easier to understand and talk with other people.
The most popular brand are the Etymotic Research (ER) products. They are available in three levels of sound reduction: ER9 (9dB), ER15 (15dB), and ER25 (25dB). They seem to be sold under many different brand names, depending on in which country you live. The same company also produces the above mentioned reusable earplug ER20XS, but these custom molded earplugs are the professional line and have an even better sound quality.
Unfortunately, they are somewhat more visible than well hidden foam earplugs and the most invisible reusable earplugs.
The local ear specialist fits them to your ears.
They often cost up to a few hundred dollars, but it can be a worthwhile investment.
In much of Europe, the ER product seem to be sold by Elacin.
The picture below shows the Elacin custom molded earplugs.
And the picture below shows them being worn.
The plugs are somewhat visible for someone standing in front of you. See the picture below.
The sound quality is very good with these plugs. With the ER15 filters, having conversation with other people is still perfectly possible in an otherwise quiet environment without the other raising their voice. With the ER25 filters, the other person must speak directly towards you so can understand them, but they still will not need to raise their voice. And music also sounds very good.
The custom made earplugs with filters by Etymotic Research are best earplugs you can have, if you can accept that they are somewhat visible.
Option 4: Wax and Silicone Plugs
There are also wax and silicone plugs available for molding by yourself. They are placed in the outer ear and will probably get noticed even when bought as transparent. The sound quality is also not good. The other types of plugs discussed above are more suited for concerts, clubs, or loud bars.
If the environment is very loud, then foam earplugs are the best choice. The reusable earplugs provide insufficient protection in really loud environments. Choose foam earplugs that have a good sound quality (e.g. Bilsom 303) and hide them according to the description above. Well hidden foam earplugs are the most discrete of all types of hearing protection.
If the environment is not too loud, then reusable earplugs are the best choice. Foam earplugs are too strong in this case. The EarPeace HD using the strong of the two filters is a good choice with decent sound quality. An alternative are the Alpine PartyPlugs or the ER20SX.
If you can live with somewhat more visible earplugs, want to enjoy the best possible sound quality, and are willing to spend a little bit more, then custom made earplugs are a good choice.
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