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Hearing protection for DB players

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Mar 10, 2018.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Played a stupid loud gig this week that started as a jazz gig and ended at rock levels. My ears are still ringing and while I don’t feel that I should have to wear plugs for a jazz gig, I also realize that I should have some protection in my bass bag for those times when things are getting out of hand.

    I’ve always eschewed wearing earplugs gigs because it makes it harder to hear and feel the vibe of the music, especially intonation. And I still want to do this whenever possible. But when I find myself in the middle of a gig and feel my ears are getting abused and don’t want to start an unpleasant disruption on stage in the middle of a set.... requesting that we keep this about the specific product options available and not sidetrack into “you shouldn’t have to play that loud”. I’m already a convert to that, but sometimes life happens.

    What I would really love is something that fits my ears comfortably and well and has interchangeable filters that allow different levels of attenuation. Does anybody have experience with something like this? If so, please share your experiences and recommendations.
  2. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Also interested for the same reasons.
    Chris Fitzgerald and Tom Lane like this.
  3. I put my earplugs in well before the loud music starts. My brain adjusts. You might try practicing with them too.
    I think for music with a lot of dynamics you will need higher quality plugs than just standard foam plugs. I used to have plugs that claimed to reduce volume but keep a balanced sound. They were better sounding than foam plugs. If you play with horns, piano or violin... you probably need plugs. :)
    Winoman likes this.
  4. oren


    Aug 7, 2007
    I’ve been playing with a fusion band lately that gets louder than I feel comfortable with unprotected. I bought a pair of these Etyomotics and like them pretty well. I’ve also started bringing them along when I go to shows, because you just never know.

    Etymotic Research ER-20XS High Fidelity Earplugs - Universal Fit
    salcott, Jmilitsc and Bassbeater like this.
  5. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I used to use the musicians ear plugs that used to be available at any music store (you know, the tan ones with the little metal insert). I never could keep up with them so now I use the disposable foam ones. If they will work for guys using angle grinders they will work for rock and roll. Frankly I feel that if the other musicians insist on playing stupid loud, then they will get the reduced quality of my playing that comes from having ear plugs in. If they want me to play my best, they'll bring the volume down to where I can take out the plugs.

    At my office the fire alarms are so loud as to risk hearing damage, so every time they have a fire drill I put on the bright red muffs. Partly to protect my ears, but also to make a statement. If I found myself repeatedly struggling with excessive volume and unresponsive bandmates I would seriously consider pulling some of these out of my bag on stage and conspicuously donning them. Makes the point.
  6. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I don't use them much, but some years ago a sax player turned me on to silicone swimmer's earplugs, which you can mold to different shapes and place them in the ear in various ways to allow for some of that selective attenuation.

    The foam and rubber styles I've never been able to tolerate.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I learned something recently. I've had tinnitus pretty bad. At unbearable levels. When it started I tried all kinds of earplugs, and then just decided I was going to go with the drugstore brand because they block out noise the best. And as others have said, you get used to it. I used to do like @Bassbeater and put them in as soon as I entered the club.

    OK, bear with me on this now :)....

    I started a thread a while back regarding "curing" my tinnitus. My tinnitus pretty much disappeared right around the same time I started playing with my current band. Many factors went into the equation of why it disappeared (it was there non stop for a decade), but one of the things I didn't consider was the fact that my current band uses IEMs (don't worry, I'm not going to suggest getting IEMs :)). The IEMs I didn't think could have anything to do with it because they actually make the music louder than what I'm hearing with the big foam ear plugs.

    So.... if anyone read that thread... shortly after claiming the "cure" I realized my tinnitus wasn't totally gone. It still haunted me from time to time. Especially after playing clubs with loud DJs with sub woofers. I would always HAVE TO plug my ears with the thick foam plugs I still carried around. I'm getting to the point any minute now...

    I was watching the Netflix show Atypical about a really intelligent autistic kid, and someone suggested ear plugs for him to be able to go to a dance with loud music. He immediately responded with, "Earplugs cause tinnitus." :bored: I felt like I got smacked with a baseball bat, and I decided to put this to the test.

    Next loud gig I had my earplugs in, and the sub woofered bass was quite literally unbearable! I looked at the crowd and DJ, HATING THEM for subjecting me to this torture, and then I took the earplugs out. It was an entirely different world! It was loud, and I'm certain it would destroy what hearing I had left, but it was much more tolerable than with the earplugs in.

    What I've deduced from this is that cheap foamy earplugs block out all the frequencies that allow only the ones worst for tinnitus to get through :). Or something like that. I do believe that all the time I thought those plugs were helping me, they were hurting me. I was afraid to even attempt "quitting" them, because if my ears were ringing as much as they were WITH the plugs, I couldn't imagine where I'd be without them.

    To sum this all up, I believe there might be truth to the idea that (some) earplugs cause tinnitus.

    If you're going to go the earplug route, get really good ones that allow all the frequencies through, and maybe even consider going to an audiologist to have custom one's made. With the money I spent on plugs over the past decade it would have been cheaper to go the best possible route, and it would have saved me a lot of misery.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
  8. -Actually they block the damaging frequencies, which is where the tinnitus manifests, so you hear your tinnitus better when you protect your ears. Try wearing isolation headphones with no music and your tinnitus will go crazy. Please wear earplugs @Joe Nerve. You're a very good bassist, you need your hearing.
    Leo Smith likes this.
  9. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    I have tried close to everything on the market including etymotics electronic plugs. It is really hard to hear your own intonation with plugs, they are not linear no matter how much they claim to be. I suspect they do not compensate for Fletcher-Munson.
    On a whim I tried a pair of cheap plugs that compress acoustically. They let more bass through and progressively compress the sound as it gets louder with more suppression in the mid range and up.
    For me, they last about a year with 20-25 hours a week of use. After this the rubber gets compressed and they start being a loose fit.

    Brand is Surefire EP3 sonic defender - hunters earplugs.
    On loud programs I keep one in on the brass side more or less all the time. These cost something like $20. I am considering trying to have a molded version made.

    EarPro EP3 Sonic Defenders® Earplugs from SureFire
    Bassbeater likes this.
  10. I visited an audiologist a week ago and she recommended Westone earplugs for musicians; what I noticed on the website had variable filters, as you requested.
    mtto, koricancowboy and Winoman like this.
  11. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Thanks. And I hear you (pun intended :)). I've been keeping my IEMs in, still use the foam plugs when necessary, and just sit in my car between sets whenever I can. I am though going to look into getting better ear protection for myself. Stylistically, isolation headphones won't cut it at the club gigs we do.

    I agree that the earplugs block the damaging frequencies, but the ringing kicks in AFTER the fact. I think the tones, at least in my case, that aggravate my tinnitus most are the ones the foam is allowing to seep in. Kinda hard to explain, but loud subwoofers with earplugs for me are unbearable, and the after effect is 2 days of loud ringing. Without the plugs though, I realize I'm causing much more damage. Hence, what I said in the first paragraph here :).

    Again, I appreciate the concern as well as the kind words.
  12. MDrost1

    MDrost1 Supporting Member

    Oct 16, 2009
    Grand Haven, MI
    Michael Santucci, Sensaphonics makes great, comfortable custom mold ear plugs with interchangeable filters.
  13. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I have something like this. Purchased many years ago. I do use them and I would say that they're superior to the foam earplugs all around because they decrease the volume but preserve most of the sonic spectrum. Cheap to try. Interestingly, I find I mostly use them when I go to the movies! but I'll use them anytime I think a band is getting kinda loud. Your question has me looking for something better yet. I think I noticed that Goldsby has something that he uses.
  14. DONZI97


    Dec 24, 2008
    Algonac Michigan
    The $160 custom molded Westones with interchangeable filters was the best music purchase I have made. Use them all the time for the electric band, but have not used them for a DB gig yet. Fit great and cuts the frequency’s evenly,-9/15/30 db filters. The -9 would be best for you.
  15. ErikP.Bass

    ErikP.Bass Supporting Member

    Nov 23, 2004
    I have these too. I’ve had them for about 14 years and they still work great. Some of the best money I’ve ever spent, hands down. Very worthwhile investment.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
    mtto and Winoman like this.
  16. DONZI97


    Dec 24, 2008
    Algonac Michigan
    Yep, I think I have all 3 sets of filters. One band the -9 was good enough, but another I had to switch to the -15.
  17. Hearos and Etymotics ER20's are basically the same with the rubber flanges (Christmas tree shape).
    HEAROS High Fidelity (Musician's) Ear Plugs
    (The Etys have two sizes - regular and a smaller size if you have small ear canal diameter). I like the ones with the plastic stem sticking out as I can adjust them quickly at a gig to vary the attenuation.
    eg. if my left ear is right next to the ride cymbal.

    I very much prefer using IEMs - mixing bass signal in one channel and one ambient mic in the other channel. You get better isolation, improved intonation (DB, Fretless), best clarity of live sound, plus control the blend/volume by quickly turning a knob.

    You can even set the ambient mic AWAY from the drum kit to hear the frontline instruments better. Try it with a small mixer at home/college and see if you like it. Sealing earbud-type headphones can work great too.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
    Bassbeater likes this.
  18. Jmilitsc

    Jmilitsc Supporting Member

    Sep 22, 2013
    Fairfield County, CT
    Have also been using the etymotics for years after trying many brands of non molded plugs, and they work the best for me - I hear enough frequency range to play in tune and also enjoy listening (use them when I go to concerts too). One day I will probably try the molded westones tho.
    RRR likes this.
  19. Last summer I had earplugs fitted for my ears and have the Etymotic Research musician grade filters installed on them. Those filters are really helpful as they lower the decibel level in such a way that things aren’t too loud, but you still can hear things pretty well. It’s been a good investment.
    isolated likes this.
  20. tsheldon

    tsheldon Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2005
    Western New York
    I have a pair of custom Westone musicians earplugs which were $140 (including audiologist visit to have impressions made). They are not perfect but my ears adjust quickly. Within a few minutes I don’t know they’re in except for the amplified effect on your own voice.