Written by Ryan Jebavy • Photography by Simone Joyner / Stringer, Getty Images • December 30, 2016
If you've been to many concerts or festivals recently, chances are at some point you’ve heard a band so loud they sent you running for the hills—unless you had a pair of earplugs to save the day. And as amplified musicians will tell you, they sure come in handy at band practice. Scientists have also warned concert-goers that earplugs play a critical role in hearing preservation and avoiding conditions such as tinnitus. Now, with advancements to earplugs in recent years, it's getting increasingly difficult to ignore the benefits of this underrated accessory.
From softened beeswax to Vaseline-charged cotton to plastic to silicone, earplugs have come in all forms and shapes over time. Recently, the digital revolution has prompted innovations to the earplugs market, leading to several new options for concertgoers and music professionals. Some of the latest advanced earplugs cater specifically to noise reduction for concentration or inducing sleep (like Hush), there are plenty for devoted front-row fans.
Some musicians opt for earplugs custom-fitted to their ears, with attenuation filters based on their instrument and venue acoustics. Reduction usually ranges from about 9 to 25 dB. Those who play louder instruments (like the drums) tend to require more reduction. Doppler Labs' DUBS, Vibes, Etymotic Research, Earasers, and LiveMus!c lead the pack in modern earplugs, offering reduction filter systems that target specific ranges of low and high frequencies, aiming to reduce harmful decibels, while maintaining a true sound.
Meanwhile, some companies, like Doppler Labs, are attempting to revolutionize earplugs far beyond their current capabilities. Their new active or “smart” earplugs, Here One, are set for release in spring 2017 and will have the ability to digitally optimize the listening experience, fine-tuning frequencies based on environmental specifications and user preference (all controlled by smartphone app, natch). And as Doppler partners with music festivals like Coachella to provide customized festival-stage listening, don’t be surprised if smart earplugs suddenly become the latest must-have tech accessory.