Hearing is the most important tool we have as bagpipers. Being able to tell if your bagpipes are in tune, to hear if you are playing in time with the rest of the band, even to hear the judge compliment your playing (hopefully.) Part 1 of this article discussed the mechanics of hearing and how damage occurs. Part 2 discussed how sound interacts with the ear and how best to protect it. In Part 3 we review a few different types of available ear plugs for musicians.
Musicians' ear plugs are designed to match the equal-loudness contour of the human ear. They are designed to protect the ears from the constant barrage of sound waves in a band or orchestral setting, yet allow a wide band of frequencies to be heard. It's worth experimenting with different types to find the set that is right for you.
Alpine Hearing MusicSafe Classic Earplugs - I love these earplugs, but it might just be because I am so familiar with them. The are made of a soft vinyl that fits the ear well. They also come with two sets of filters, little pieces that fit in the end. The silver set reduces the sound by 14-19 dBA. The gold reduces it by 18-22 dBA.
Etymotic Research Earplugs - Etymotic research makes a wide range of musicians earplugs. From an informal Facebook and band survey they seem to be very popular. I have used the ER20 model. They come in 2 different sizes and fit well. The various models have different sound reduction. I prefer the 20dBA version. They have an optional string that connects them so you can hang them around your neck when they are not in. I have lost several pair of earplugs so this feature is very nice.
Vic Firth High Fidelity Earplugs - I have not personally tried these, but from talking with other players these are very similar to the Etymotic Reaseach plugs. This is probably because the were “Developed in conjunction with Etymotic,” according to their website. They have 20 dBA sound reduction and have a cord, just like the Etymotic ER20s. Several people have said that they have better clarity than the ER20s.
Reverbs High Fidelity Earplugs - I just started using these plugs. They are very similar to the Etymotic ER20s. I find the plastic a little stiffer than the ER20s and they tend to make my ears itch. The set I bought came with two pair, one with 20 dBA reduction and one with 28 dBA. I find that when I’m standing in the circle right next to the drums having the 28 dBA plug in the ear facing the drums, and the 20 dBA on the other side works well. They also come with a cord.
EarPeace Earplugs - I have not tried these but I have heard really good things about them. The pair I handled seemed to be similar to the Alpine Hearing set. The plastic is soft and is reported to be very comfortable. They normally come with two sets of filters, Medium 14-19 dBA reduction and High with 16-21 dBA reduction.
Flair Audio - This is the newest set that I have tried. They use a different type of sound reduction. Made from milled aluminum or Titanium with a small amount of foam they actually completely block all sound (sound waves). What happens is that the metal vibrates in connection to the sound waves and this vibration is transferred into the bones of your head. The bone vibration allows you to “Hear” the sounds. They take a bit of getting used to, but work well. The only thing I have found is that I have to take one out so I can tune.
Professional Musicians Earplugs - This is really a category of earplugs, not a specific brand. To get these you need to see an Doctor or an Audiologist. The audiologist will take a mold of your ear canal and use this to create an an earplug that fits perfectly in your ear. They come in many different styles and strengths but the best ones will have replaceable filters. These will allow you to select the amount of dBA reduction you would like. Everyone that I have talked to who use this style find them the most comfortable.
Author's Note - I received a free sample set of the Flair Audio Earplugs from the manufacturer. This free set had no influence on my review.