“Anyone who knows me, knows I am a front left speaker girl.”
That’s SYREETA talking – British DJ, producer, and HE.SHE.THEY resident. But when she went to see a friend play at a club with dodgy sound levels, she ended up with more than just a ruined night out.
“My ears were ringing for hours afterwards.”
Two years later, she’s evangelical about wearing earplugs on nights out – as is Polly Money, songwriter and session musician who’s currently touring with the 1975.
“I’m pretty vigilant,” says Polly. “For me, it’s the difference between walking out of a venue with ringing muffled ears or not – and especially for the job I do it’s really essential to be careful as early as you can.” Earplugs can sometimes feel a bit like an afterthought. Head up to the club, realize your eardrums are nearing explosion, grab some foamies off the bar.
What are the best earplugs in 2023?
While any ear protection is better than no ear protection, investing in decent protection that A) stays in your ears and B) actually filters the music will not only protect your hearing, but also level up your experience of a night out too (more on that later…).
But finding your ideal earplugs can feel kind of bewildering. So, we’ve quizzed a roster of pros to get the latest recommendations whether you’re an ad-hoc gig-goer, or a 24-hour rave beast.
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Best earplugs for artists: ACS Custom Pro plugs
For those serious about their hearing, ACS custom earplugs are pretty much the industry standard. UK organization Help Musicians even offers subsidized access to these earplugs through their Hearing Health scheme. SYREETA, Polly Money and Everything Everything drummer Michael Spearman all keep a set on them.
“A lot of my job is playing live and generally being around loud instruments, therefore earplugs are absolutely essential in protecting my hearing,” says Polly. “I use both ACS and Read Audio… My ACS ones are a little softer on the ear and so I like that sometimes, for comfort. The main draw for me is that I no longer walk out of a venue or a club with ringing ears.”
SYREETA also prefers ACS’s approach. “They are made specifically for you... you visit the studio, they fit the mould, they add filters, depending on your requirements. You can personalize them, you pick the colour – and mine have my name on them which is pretty cool!”
AYA is also a full-time DJ, began wearing earplugs last year after noticing sensitivity in her ears. “It’s unbearable, it starts hurting and you get really tired.” She also uses custom plugs, but had hers created using German brand Hörluchs.
“You can buy different filters that you can swap quite easily yourself… you can still hear everything crystal clear, but all the highs are reduced to a healthier level.”
Best cheap earplugs: Alpine PartyPlugs
If you’re new to earplugs and want to test the waters before dropping serious cash, Dr James Schuster-Bruce – an ENT specialist registrar – recommends grabbing some earplugs from Alpine. “You can take these to a festival – but you can also lose them and maybe not be so upset about it.” He adds that they increase in both price and quality from here, but that Alpine earplugs are his favourite cheap and cheerful approach to ear protection.
Best statement earplugs: Loop Experience Plus
Loop’s own mission to spread the word about hearing health is clear from its signature style alone: a stylish hoop that rests coolly in the ear canal. They’re a favourite of Berlin-based DJ and producer hape., who previously relied on cheap, foam earplugs.
“I’ve experienced tinnitus, which started to feel recurrent. That’s why I bought earplugs, and these really saved me during DJ sets,” says Berlin based DJ and producer hape., AKA Arthur Porro.
“They are more practical, – and clearer in terms of the frequency response – than basic earplugs you buy at the pharmacy.” Since regularly wearing Loop earplugs in loud spaces, he noticed that his temporary tinnitus disappeared. “I can just go to sleep without having the feeling my ears were hammered… I can’t live without them now.”
He also wears them to protect his ears in other noisy contexts, like when he’s socializing in loud spaces – and he likes that they’re accessible for anyone keen to protect their hearing.
“I bought them for my partner, my brother and sister and my parents — I would encourage everyone who is a fan of music to wear them.”
Best adaptable earplugs: Dbuds
Even the most seasoned earplug wearers sometimes get caught out at times – whether it’s deep and meaningful chats in the toilets, heading out to the smoking area, or trying to order at the bar. It’s tempting to pull out your earplugs in these situations – but that can often lead to forgetting to put them back in (or worse – losing them forever to the splash of a club toilet).
That’s one of the reasons Dr James is also pretty enthusiastic about Dbuds – an award-winning adaptable earplug that allows users to toggle between different levels of noise control.
“They have two switches and a lower decibel attenuation, for if you're outside or want to hear people talking. And then, when you're in the crowd, they have like a 24 decibel setting that you can flick to, so you have a bit more protection in that kind of environment.”
For earplug misplacers: EarPeace Music
To Nadia Younes – a music journalist who specializes in club culture – earplugs aren’t just an essential part of her life and career – they’re also essential for her enjoyment of the music.
“[They] make things sound better because they filter the sound, so it's clearer and you hear different parts”. Nadia’s worked in loud environments for over 10 years, and got her first set of earplugs five years ago when she began to notice bouts of temporary tinnitus. She’s now evangelical.
Nadia prefers EarPeace ear plugs partially because of the convenience they offer. “They come in a little compact case which you can attach to your keyring – they’re now with me everywhere I go, so I never have to worry about forgetting my earplugs.”
She warns that, from experience, they’re tricky to find if dropped in a club (much like all earplugs), but here’s where Earpeace’s clever design comes in: “You get three – and there’s a screw-hole where you can fit a third earplug, so if you lose one when you’re out, you’ve got the spare with you already.”
Best for front row ravers: Minuendo
For those with extra cash to spare and a serious commitment to their ears, Dr James suggests Minuendos – a Norwegian earplug brand whose premium earplugs allow you to toggle anywhere from 12dB protection to 25dB protection. “I've been trying them out recently and they're really good,” enthuses Dr James.
“It's all sort of mechanical so there's no kind of electronics,” he continues, “but they have a little bar that you slide back and forth… you can actually slide to whatever kind of hearing you want, from completely see-through, 25dB of protection.”