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We’re All Ears…

Last week on #TheBookshelf, I mentioned that when I’m working, I often try to drown out distracting noise with music. But there are some days when even music is too much and I need to lower the volume completely.

When that happens, I escalate to ear plugs. This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ll introduce you to five different styles of ear plugs (all under $40 CAD). I’ll give you my pros and cons, pricing, noise reduction levels, and my final verdict for each one.

(“Ear plugs” by 4nitsirk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

When you’re looking for a good pair of earplugs, it’s important to understand that they’re not all created equally. There are foam ones, silicone ones, some that go in the ear, others that cover the ear. Some block sound (passive noise cancelling) while others eliminate it (active noise cancelling). They can be cheap and disposable or expensive and last for years. But whatever the type or style, most earplugs tend to be good for one type of use, but maybe not as ideal for others.

For instance, if you want to sleep, but you have a snoring spouse or noisy neighbours, you need earplugs that not only block noise, but are also comfortable for sleeping–after all, you’ll be using them for several hours and if you’re a side sleeper, you don’t want something that pushes into your ears.

If you need to focus in a noisy environment, you need earplugs that dampen the sound around you, but you don’t need to worry so much about them sticking out of your ears.

If, like me, your anxiety spikes when you’re surrounded and overwhelmed by too much sound (think busy house and happy kids playing, or a noisy workplace for instance), then earplugs are an absolutely brilliant solution to dampen the sharper sounds (shouting, or loud noises for instance) while still allowing you to hear what you need to. In this situation, comfort is key, but so is the right amount of attenuation.

For hearing protection, you need whatever has the highest decibel rating. Seriously. Because when it comes to protecting your hearing, you do not want to mess about.

But wait you say! What I’m you’re listening to my favourite band perform live (which, fingers crossed, we’ll all be able to do soon) and I want to hear every note, but not damage my hearing in the process? Well, there’s an earplug for that, too.

So let’s get to it.

First up, are the cheap and cheerful bright orange foam earplugs that you roll between your fingers and then cram into your ears. If you do it right, they expand to fit snugly in your ear canal. You can find them at most drugstores. They come in several different shapes and sizes.

Pros: They’re cheap. Shopper’s Drug Mart sells 4 pairs for $4.79 CAD

Cons: It’s not always easy to get them in your ear. They may not comfortable for side sleepers (They weren’t for me) because they tend to stick out of the ear. And finally, the pressure of the expanding foam pressing against the insides of your ear can be uncomfortable over long periods of time. Plus, you can only use them a few times before you have to throw them away–and if you can reduce waste, you should! Rated at a noise reduction of 33 dB.

Final verdict: Better for occasional earplug users, or users who need hefty hearing protection.

Next, we have these mouldable silicone earplugs from Mack’s.

These earplugs are interesting because they do not go into the ear canal. You mould them to cover the opening of the ear canal only (which also makes them great for swimmers, although I’ve never tried them in that capacity). These are slightly pricier per pair than the foam earplugs, and I had to get mine on Amazon because none of my local shops carried them. Price: about $20 CAD. Rated at a 22 dB noise reduction.

Pros: They’re comfortable and they can form a waterproof seal. Nice and flat for side sleepers. You can reuse each wad of silicone several times before having to throw them away.

Cons: The seal can be too good! On occasion, if you’re using them while sleeping, the seal can cause a slight suction effect that can be uncomfortable. Plus, they stick to hair.

Final verdict: Reasonably comfortable and easy to use. A bit on the pricey side for (somewhat) disposable earplugs. I like that they don’t go inside my ears.

Now, these intriguing-looking little earplugs are called Happy Ears. They’re made in Sweden but shipped from Canada. They don’t change shape or size to fit or cover your ear, so it’s up to you to buy a size that will fit. The Happy Ears solution to the fit issue is an introductory three pack, featuring one pair each of small, medium, and large size. This three pack will set you back $40 CAD. Rated at a 25 dB noise reduction.

Pros: Small, comfortable, and fit well. Reusable. Not too bad for side sleepers, but they do press into your ear quite a bit.

Cons: The initial cost is fairly steep, but once you find a pair that fit, you’re good to go. Shipping is fast and free. The hard stem is small, but can be poky for the side sleepers.

The Final Verdict: Having to buy 3 pairs to figure out what size you need is a bit of a pain, but these are comfortable and work well. Not great for side sleepers.

The last earplugs on my list are both from Loop and they take the earplug game to a whole new level.

The Loop Experience model is made up of an ear tip, a filter and an acoustic channel (the loop!). Sound enters the acoustic channel goes around the loop, through the filter (that reduces sound by 20 dB across all frequencies), and into your ear. The result is sound that is quieter but maintains it’s integrity.

Pro: Comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and they sit quite flat against the ear, so not bad for side sleepers, too. They work well to attenuate noise. I purchased an additional accessory, the Loop Mute (that’s the little mint-coloured ring in the photo), and when you insert it into the centre of the Loop, it reduces sound by another 5 dB. The Loop, the ear tips and the Mute accessory come in a variety of colours for mixing and matching. Price for the basic model is $38 (CAD). Can be reused.

And I have to say it–they look really, really cool.

Con: A bit stiff for side sleeping, but definitely more comfortable than any of the others I tried…well, except for one…

…The Loop Quiet. This earplug looks a lot like it’s flashier sibling, but instead of an acoustic channel, it has a solid silicone loop that acts more like a traditional earplug. It reduces sound by 25 dB and is priced at $23 (CAD)

Pro: More flexible than the Loop Experience, good for side sleepers.

Con: None.

Final verdict: The Loops win! I use the Loop Experience for work, and Loop Quiet for sleep.

These are just five of the many kinds of hearing attenuation and/or protection that are out there. I hope this review helps you to get started toward finding the quieter solution!

Do you have a favourite kind of earplug? I’m all ears! Let me know in the comments below.

Join me again next week on #TheBookshelf when I explore Roy Peter Clark’s new(ish) book, Writing Short.

Disclaimer: unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed on #TheBookshelf are those of the author. Reviews on this blog are unsolicited unless otherwise stated.

Featured cover image: “Sudden Loud Noises” by STML is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0