The Best Concert Photography Earplugs

The Best Earplugs For Concert Photography HTBARP

Which are the best concert photography earplugs? When I was starting out as a concert photographer, I always thought it was cool to be in the photo pit without any earplugs or hearing protection. I loved the loud music, being in the pit in front of the speakers. I saw the security guys wearing those yellow foam earplugs, but how uncool was that?! After the concerts, my ears were always ringing, but it’s Rock n Roll, right?

I was very wrong and if you´re a someone who thinks the same way I did, this article is for you.

Tinnitus and hearing damage

I first came into contact with the topic of hearing damage when I read that musicians such as Neil Young, Bono, Thom York and Sting suffer from Tinnitus.

Tinnitus is defined as „noise that you hear in one or both ears or in your head that has not come from an external source, especially following exposure to loud music (due to the damage to hair-cells in your ear)“. About 10% of the population has constant tinnitus. (http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/)

Spending over 30 minutes in a noisy club where you need to shout to hold a conversation could already be damaging your hearing. We all know that holding a conversation during a Rock concert is almost impossible which is why it can be dangerous to your ears.

How Loud is too loud?

The safe and statutory limit to which your ears may be exposed is 80 decibels (dB). Regular noise above 80 dB will lead to irreversible hearing damage. For instance, at concerts, noise levels of up to 120 dB can sometimes be measured. For rock musicians, the harmful levels of noise are mainly produced by the drums and the amplifiers.

Maximum exposure without hearing protection (The NIOSH standard: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

85dB8h
88dB4h
91dB2h
94dB1h
97dB30min
100dB15min
103dB7,5min

The following infographic shows how soon the maximum exposure time is reached:

Concert Photography earplugs

Now we know that we need to protect our ears to avoid tinnitus and hearing damage at concerts, the question is, which earplugs work best?

I am a former researcher and I love doing experiments. Therefore, I decided to test some different earplug brands on the market in a concert photography environment.

The following earplug review is by no means meant to be a scientific essay, nor do I have the knowledge to discuss technical aspects in the way audio engineers can. I have tried my best to give you an overview of the most commonly used earplug brands concert photographers use.

Remember, it’s not about which brand you choose, it´s way more important that you´re actually wearing earplugs!

I got the earplugs from the companies for review purposes and I have no affiliation with them. This review reflects my personal opinion.

Types of hearing protection

Here’s an overview of the different types of earplugs.

Foam Earplugs

These types of earplugs are the ones you can buy at the drugstore/supermarket or are often given to security guys in the venues. Foam earplugs are cheap and you should only use them once. They do protect your ears, but the sound experience is terrible. Voices become extremely muffled, and everything is finished off with booming “fluffy” bass. They’re certainly safe, but arenít designed for you to enjoy the music.

Wax balls

Wax balls are similar to foam earplugs as they completely seal off the ear canal and you get the feeling of being closed off from the outside world. You can get them from the pharmacy, but I never liked the feeling of them. It¥s difficult to insert them properly into your ear and youíll get sticky fingers.

Filter earplugs

These are the most commonly used earplugs on the market. They completely seal off the auditory canal, but a filter system prevents the sense of being shut off from the outside world. This has the big advantage that these filter earplugs reduce the volume without sacrificing the clarity of the sound. It¥s like youíre dialing down the volume.

Customised Earplugs

Customised earplugs fit perfectly because they are produced using an mold of your ear. You can get a mold made at an ophtamologist. They are the most expensive type of earplugs.

Concert Photography Earplugs

Alpine Hearing Protection

Alpine Hearing Protection is a dutch company that specialised in ear protection for musicians, children, travellers, water sport enthusiast, clubbers, motorists and people with sleep issues. 

Alpine MusicSafe Pro

The music Safe Pros are the only earplugs on the market that offers three exchangeable filter sets for low, medium and high protection while preserving excellent music quality. They are produced from a soft, flexible and durable material which the company refers to as AlpineThermoShape which due to the warmth of the ear adapts to the shape of the auditory duct. the Music Safe Pro comes in one size fits all only. Should the earplug be too big, you can easily adjust it to the right size. These earplugs won the Red Dot Award for their design in 2015.

Alpine MusicSafe Pro Earplugs

  • NRR=8-16
  • plastic storage box (you can personalise it with your own photo) that includes
  • three filter sets
  • three earplugs (one spare earplug)
  • strap
  • three color options: white, silver grey and black
  • one size fits all

Price $29

Party Plug

The Party Plug earplugs are the smaller brother of the Music Safe Pro and are target to party, clubbing and festival goers. They have the same design as the Music Safe Pro, but have only one filter set.

Alpine PartyPlug

  • protection up to 25 dB, NRR=16,5-21,5
  • 2 earplugs including fiter set
  • Miniboxx
  • plastic carrying case
  • four color options: transparent, black, glossy silver grey, white
  • one size fits all

Price $15,99

Downbeats

Downbeats is a company based in Chicago, USA which is specialized in hearing protection for concerts. DownBeats don’t stop sound in its tracks, instead they filter sound, ensuring that the highest quality sounds are reaching your ears while the harsh noises and feedback are left out with the crowd. The silicon flanges mold to the ear canal for a perfect fit. 

The Original Downbeats
  • protection up to 18 dB
  • 2 earplugs with filters
  • anodized aluminium carrying case blue (including carabiner)
  • one size fits all

 

Downbeats

Long Stem Downbeats
  • longer stem for easier insertion and removal
  • protection up to 18 dB
  • 2 earplugs with filters
  • anodized aluminium carrying case black (including carabiner)
  • one size fits all

Price: $13,95

Etymotics

Etymotic Research, Inc. is an engineering-driven research, development and manufacturing company based in Illinois. The name “Etymotic” (pronounced “et-im-oh-tik.”) means “true to the ear.” They sent me

ETY Plugs

ETY•Plugs® are the world’s highest fidelity non-custom earplugs. They reduce most noise to safe levels while preserving the clarity of speech and the richness of music. ETY•Plugs are configured to replicate the natural response of the ear canal so that when sound enters the earplug, it is reproduced unchanged, exactly the same as the ear would hear it, only quieter.

Etymotics Etyplugs

  • protection up to 20dB
  • 2 earplugs with filters
  • Neck cord with storage case
  • different sizes: standard and large fit

Price: $12.95

ER-20XS

The new ER•20XS is the highly-awaited next generation of Etymotic’s industry-leading ETY•Plugs® High-Fidelity Earplugs. ER•20XS eartips are interchangeable. ER•20XS earplugs can also be used with foam eartips with essentially no change in response.

Etymotics ER-20XS

  • protection up to 20dB
  • 2 earplugs with filters
  • Neck cord with storage case
  • different sizes: standard and large fit

Price: $19.95

Music Pro

Music•PRO circuitry automatically changes output levels as sound input levels change. Hearing is natural, as if nothing is in the ears, until sound exceeds safe levels. As sound levels increase, earplugs gradually provide 9- or 15-dB sound reduction. Natural hearing is restored when sound returns to safe levels.

Etymotics Music Pro

  • provides either 9dB or 15db protection at the flip of a switch
  • 2 earplugs MP with different shapes and sizes
  • Flexible Neck cord
  • Cleaning tool
  • Protective case
  • Batteries
  • User manual

Price: $299

Dub Acoustic Filters

DUBS Acoustic filters are dynamic ear plugs engineered for sound fidelity. They use an intricate mechanical configuration to lower the level of the sound you hear while retaining the proper balance and clarity. The DUBS are designed for use in loud environments. Wear them at a concert, in a stadium, on a plane or around the city.

  • NRR 12dB
  • 2 earplugs with special design
  • plastic carrying box
  • one size fits all

Price $24,97

 

Earasers Musician HiFi Earplugs

Manufactured by the 50 year old hearing aid company, and developed by their lead engineer – a musician for over 20 years – Earasers filter out loud noise while still allowing you to hear at a safe, comfortable level. The Earasers soft silicone design is based on one of the most widely used hearing aid tips in the market. The Smart Seal technology conforms to the shape of your ear canal for a more comfortable fit that you can wear all day. Earasers can be cleaned and reused, and when the silicone tip starts to get old, they can be “Renewed” with new silicone sleeves.

  

  • provide up to 19dB
  • 2 earplugs
  • plastic carrying box
  • different sizes: XS, S, M, L

Price: starting at $39,99 up to $79,95 (Pro Kit)

FlareAudio

The company states that their earplugs block all sound from entering your ears including bass frequencies for the first time ever without any batteries. So far only active earplugs were able to do this. The Isolates use a solid metal core (Aluminium or Titanium) that is almost all the way through the tip which creates a sonic barrier deep inside your ear to block noise. The only sound you hear while using ISOLATES is from bone conduction which results in an enjoyable and balanced experience with safe sound detail.

Isolate Pro Titanium

Flare Audio have taken a radical new approach to noise reduction Metals have always been good conductors and so convention would suggest they are not a good choice for blocking sound. However, metal has to have a direct connection to conduct sound. So isolate the metal with a soft foam inside your ear and you end up with the Isolate Pro Titanium

Isolate Pro Titanium

  • protection up to 33dB
  • 2 titanium earplugs 
  • replaceable EARFORMS (3 pairs in 3 sizes)
  • Flare carry pouch

Price $69,99

Decibullz

Kyle Kirkpatrick is a Olympic level gymnastics coach, extreme athlete and a tech nerd. But he was fed up with headphones because they wouldn’t stay in, sounded awful or hurt his ears. Kyle consulted audio engineers, material specialists and high-level athletes to develop and test hundreds of designs, formulas and prototypes in order to create an easy and affordable custom molded earplug. In February 2012 Kyle created the worlds first thermo-fit custom earplugs and Decibullz was born.

Decibullz

  • provide up to 31dB
  • Two Decibullz Thermoplastic Custom molds,
  • Three Sets of Triple Flange Tips S, M, L
  • One Set of Max Protect MEDIUM Foam Tips
  • Carrying Pouch

Price $25,99

EARWEAR

The Austrian family business Neuroth has been amassing experience in the manufacture of hearing protection systems for more than 105 years. All of this knowledge has gone into EARWEAR. And so has its unparalleled attention to detail.

EARWEAR Intro Line

EARWEAR Intro Line Music reduces noise to a safe level: A range of linear filters – offering different insulation levels – ensures that you hear everything in proportion. Just a bit more quietly.

Earwear Intro Line

  • provide up to 20dB
  • Three silicone earplugs
  • Sizes M and L included
  • Two interchangeable filters

Price: $60

EARWEAR Design Line (Custom Fit)

The best idea is to arrange an appointment with a local Neuroth partner store to get an impression taken of your ears. Everything else happens on-site at Neuroth. You’ll work with a specialist to identify the hearing protection that is best suited to your individual needs, and choose the best filter for you. You’ll be able to pick up your EARWEAR directly from the specialist a few days later (Europe only).

Earwear Design Line HTBARP Logo

  • provide up to 20dB
  • Two custom fit earplugs
  • 3D printed from acrylate
  • storage box

Price: $215

Marketing

The earplug business is a competitive space and so companies try to come up with cool taglines for their products. Here are the taglines for the ear plugs I tested:

Alpine Hearing Protection: Love your ears

Downbeats: Get the killer concert experience you want without killing your ears, Cut the noise. Keep the sound.

Dubs: Go louder longer

Earasers: clearly your hearing matters

Flare Audio (Isolates): Switch off your ears or Long Live Ears

Decibullz: Heat and Shape

Earwear: the right kind of sound at just the right time

 

The Verdict

 Fit of the earplugs

The challenge of every earplug manufacturer is to find the right fit for every user.

The anatomy of our auditory canal is unique to us so it´s tricky to release a product that fits everyone. All ears are different. It’s impossible to predict the size of an ear canal by the appearance of the outer ear, or by a person’s physical size, age or gender.

Manufacturers have designed different shapes of earplugs or provide different sizes from which you can choose the best fit. I want to make clear that an earplug that fits my auditory canal might not fit yours. However, by reading this review, you´ll get a good idea of what might be the best fit for you too. If you already use earplugs that fit well in your ear canal, this review will help you with your choice of other earplugs.

Double Silicone Flange: Alpine Party Plugs, Alpine MusicSafe Pro and Downbeats (both short and long stem) use a double flange form and are available in one size only. Both the Alpine and the Downbeats fit my ear canal comfortably and successfully block out the noise.

Triple silicone Flange: Etymotics (ETY Plugs, ER-20XS and Music Pro) and Decibullz come with a triple flange design.

For the Etymotics you have to select either standard or large fit with their ETY Plugs and ER-20XS models. The Music Pro set comes with 7 different ear tips to make sure you´ll achieve the right fit. From my experience, the large eartips fit best in my ear canal. The standard size was too small and they didn´t remove noise completely whereas the large size ear tips fit perfectly. The ETY Plugs are built with a really long stem (where the filter is housed). It looks a bit weird when you wear them, because 1/3 of the earplug sticks out of your ear. The ER-20XS are the updated model and are a bit more discreet as they’ve shortened the filter and you can only see the handle to insert and remove the earplug.

The Decibullz are the IKEA version of custom molded earplugs. This means you have to do the molding process yourself. It might sound complicated, but it´s a fun way to get your custom molded earplugs in minutes in your kitchen. The package contains S, M and L silicon flange tips, a pair of foam tips and two molds. You place the molds into boiling water, wait 5 minutes, remove them with a metal spoon, place the earplugs into your ear and gently shape the molds to your ears. After 5 minutes, the molds harden and are ready to use. The Dezibulls triple silicone flange size M fit my ear canal the best.

The Intro Line (Earwear) uses silicon triple flange tips and M and L sizes are included. I chose size L and they’re comfortable to wear.

Silicone Ball-head: The Dubs are designed to fit a ball-head shape into your ear canal and come in a one-size-fits-all. Personally, I found that they didn´t fit well and were uncomfortable to wear. They look fancy, but I couldn´t wear them for a long time.

Silicone ear canal shape: The Earasers are formed to the shape of your ear canals and are available in sizes XS, S, M and L. I tested M and L, but I was not able to get a comfortable fit compared to the double/triple flange shape. The L ones fit better and were usable. However, the noise was not blocked out completely and they were not as comfortable to wear over a long period of time.

Foam tips: The foam earplugs from Moldex (Mellows, Spark Plugs) come in one size and are easily adjustable to use. They fitted quite well and are comfortable to wear.

The IsolatePRO Titanium also use foam tips which get placed onto the titanium stem of the earplugs. The Earforms (which is what the company calls the tips) are included in the sizes S, M and L. Interestingly, the small sized tips work best for my ear canal and they successfully blocked out noise.

Acrylate Custom fit:

Custom fit earplugs are the gold standard, because they are custom molded to your auditory canals. I tested the Design Line byNeuroth, a company based in Austria. Here’s how it works. First you have to get a mold taken of your ear canals by an auditory specialist. Then Neuroth will produce the earplugs and ship them to you. The fit should be perfect for your ears.

Fit of the Earplugs (1: don´t fit at all, 5: fit perfect)

Foam Earplugs3/5
Alpine Party Plugs5/5
Alpine MusicSafe Pro5/5
Downbeats5/5
Eytmotic ETY Plugs4/5
Eytmotic Music Pro5/5
Dubs1/5
Earasers3/5
Isolate Pro5/5
Decibulls5/5
Earwear Intro Line5/5
Earwear Custom5/5

Make sure that the earplug fits perfectly into your ear canal, otherwise you will still be at risk of damage to your hearing.

 

Protection and Sound

There are 2 important questions for me as a concert photographer and music lover. First, do the earplugs protect my ears and second, what’s the sound like in the photo pit.

Protection

As I mentioned, the safe and statutory limit to which the hearing may be exposed is 80 dB. Regular noise above 80 dBs will irrevocably lead to hearing damage. What does this actually mean for us as concert photographers? I wanted to get some real world data when in the photopit and so I used the app „Sound Meter“ on my iPhone to measure the Decibel levels directly in front of the stage. I measured the Decibel levels at the Thievery Corporation concert in a large concert hall, at the New Model Army concert in a smaller club and at the Asking Alexandria show in a bigger club. In all cases, I measured values of between 90 – 95 dB.

There are 2 standards for determining the effectiveness of earplugs. SNR (Single Number Rating system, European standard) and NRR (Noise Reduction Rating, American Standard). This can easily get confusing as the different earplug manufacturers use either one of these standards. Therefore I’ll refer to the average dB values that get reduced by the earplugs. This data can be found on the manufacturers’ homepages or on the packaging of their product. Earplugs attenuate lower tones differently to higher tones. To understand that, you need to compare earplugs at different frequencies, using High (between 2000 and 8000 Hz), Medium (1000 and 2000 Hz) and Low frequencies (63 and 1000 Hz). However, my point is to give you an idea of how these earplugs can protect your hearing, so let´s keep it simple.

Let´s assume you´re in the photo pit of a concert where you measure 95dB in front to the stage. You´re wearing earplugs which reduce 20dB of harmful high frequency sounds. Thus, the acoustic pressure on your ears is on average 95 – 20 = 75dB so it´s safe to be in this environment for a long time.

Here’s a list of earplugs with their reduced dB values

Foam Plugs-32dB
Alpine Party Plugs-18dB
Alpine MusicSafe Pro-16 to -18dB
Downbeats-18dB
Eytmotic ETY Plugs-20dB
Eytmotic Music Pro-9dB or -15dB
Dubs-12dB
Earasers-19dB
Isolate Pro-35dB
Decibulls-31dB
Earwear Intro Line-20dB
Earwear Custom-20dB

All earplugs I tested are suitable for concerts with an average sound level of 95dB (for the complete concert) and up to 110dB (110 – 15 = 95 dB for 10min in the photo pit).

The Sound

At this point you might wonder why you shouldn´t just get cheap foam earplugs with -30db sound reduction. They will protect your ears even at a Manowar show at 130dB!

I’ll tell you why. You want to use earplugs not only for protection but also because you want to experience the awesome sound from your favourite band when working in the photo pit. In addition, you still want to talk to colleagues in the pit without having to remove the earplugs every time.

I strongly believe that if you have a great sound experience in the pit, your photos will be better quality as well. So, let´s have a look at which earplugs get the job done best.

The following ranking reflects my own opinion and refers to the sound experiences I had. For me, it was important that I could clearly distinguish the different instruments and only experience a decrease in volume.

Foam earplugs are really bad at attenuating lower frequencies. With music lacking bass attenuation, it´ll lead to a „muffled“ unpleasant sound experience. They are great to protect your ears (up to 32db), but are simply not built for a pleasant sound experience.

Dubs. I heard a lot of people raving about the Dubs on the internet, but they delivered disappointing results. Their ball-head shape ear tip only comes in one size and I didn´t like wearing them too long as they became uncomfortable. The first time I tried them, I thought they were damaged. The sound was similar to that when wearing the normal foam earplugs the security guys offer at the entrance of a venue for free. I did test them on a couple of other occasions, but the sound was always „muffled“. I didn´t test a second pair, so I can´t be certain if my pair was working properly. However, if this is the case, then the Dubs are simply a marketing gag

Decibulls. The Decibulls don´t use filters in their earplugs (the newer model will include percussive filters) which results in them losing the high frequencies from the sound of, for instance, guitars. To be fair, Dezibulls are made to protect users from the peak sound pressure of gun shots, artillery fire and explosions. So they’re not perfect to enjoy a good sound experience at a concert, as they’re not made for that purpose.

The Alpine Party Plugs, Alpine MusicSafe Pro, Downbeats, Etymotic ETY-Plugs, ER-20XS, Music Pro,Earwear Intro Line and Design Line, Earasers and IsolatePro earplugs effectively “turn down the volume” without affecting the sound experience. I’ve tested them over the last few months and am satisfied with the results I got in the photo pit. The sound experience is fairly subjective and it´s hard to tell which ones performed better. What I can say is that I could clearly distinguish the different instruments and I had no ringing in my ears after the concerts. So, all of the above did their job.

 

Which are the best concert photography earplugs?

The question is, which earplugs will work best for you as a concert photographer? There are dozens of earplug manufacturers on the market who claim they have the best product, with prices ranging from $2 – $299.

Finally, here they are! My suggestions are based on the fit, protection, sound and price of the earplugs.

The best entry-level concert photography earplugs

1. Downbeats $13.95

My number 1, entry-level earplugs are the Downbeats. There are two versions – short and long stem versions. I found it easier to remove the version with the long stems. They come in one size, and fit my ear canal perfectly. With a -18db sound reduction and a good sound experience in the photo pit, the Downbeats are a good choice if you´re on a budget. And you´ll get a metal case that keeps your earplugs safe in your photography bag.

2. Alpine Party Plug $15.99

The Alpine Party Plugs are the smaller sister of the Alpine Music Pro. They come in one size and their fit and sound experience is similar to the Downbeats (with a -19dB protection). They’re a great choice if you`re looking for entry-level earplugs at a fair price.

3. ETY Plugs $12.95 and ER 20XS $19.95

The ETY Plugs (and their successor, the ER 20XS) are the cheapest earplugs from Etymotics. They come in two sizes: standard fit and large fit and the question that immediately arises is: which size do I need? I tested the standard fit which didn´t fit well. The large size did it´s job, however they didn´t seal my ear canal completely. I found that most of the triple silicon flange earplugs didn´t fit me very well. However, with -20dB sound protection and the cheapest price in the ranking (ETY Plugs), they´re worth a try.

 

The best advanced concert photography earplugs

1. Alpine MusicSafe Pro $28.16

I’ve worn the Alpine Music Pros for the past few years and they’ve never let me down. They’re the only earplugs on the market that offer three exchangeable filter sets for low, medium and high protection. I use the last filter the most. With their double silicon flange, they fit perfectly and are comfortable to wear for a long time (I had them with me on tour). The Alpine Music Pro comes in one size only, have a sound protection of -16 to -18 dB and include a plastic storage box. If you want to invest in good earplugs, the Alpine Music Safe Pros are a winner (and also won the Red Dot Award 2015!). Read an in depth review from my colleague Rui Bandeira here.

2. Earwear Intro Line $60

The Earwear Intro Line from the Austrian-based company, Neuroth, comes in 2 sizes (M and L, both of which are included) with a fixed filter similar to the Downbeat, Alpine Party Plugs and ETY Plugs/ER 20XS. I enjoyed wearing them, but they have a hefty price tag of €50 ($60).

3. Earasers $39.99

I like the concept of the Earasers as they don´t use the normal double/triple silicon flange shape but have a special ear canal shape. Earasers is a 50 year old family business and they will refund the full purchase price back to you if you’re not happy with their product. This is obviously great, but you still have to decide between four sizes. They are available in sizes XS, S, M and L! I tested M and L, but I wasn’t able to get a comfortable fit. The L ones fit better and were usable. However, the noise was not blocked out completely and they were not that comfortable to wear for a long period of time. They get great reviews on the internet though, so definitely check them out. Personally, they simply didn´t quite fit.

 

The best pro concert photography earplugs

1. Isolate Pro Titanium $69.99

Flare Audio are currently the Rockstars of the earplug market. The company raised $580.000 through a crowd-funding campaign (on Kickstarter) which is simply unbelievable in this overcrowded earplug market! Isoloates have a solid metal core of Titanium (although they’re also available in cheaper versions made from Aluminium) which creates a sonic barrier deep inside your ear to block noise. The earplugs come with Earfoams in small, medium and large sizes. Interestingly, the smallest sized Earfoam fit me best. I tested them at the Asking Alexandria concert (95dB in the pit) and was surprised by their performance. The sound experience was great and I could clearly distinguish the different instruments, just at a lower volume. During the concert, I removed the earplugs to hear the difference and wondered how the girls in the first row could survive a 95dB blast without any ear protection! The Isolate Pro Titaniums feel solid and the Earfoams have a comfortable fit. Personally, they will become my go-to earplugs at future concerts.

2. Etymotic Music Pro $299

The Etymotic Music Pro automatically change output levels as the sound input levels change using batteries. As sound levels increase, the earplugs gradually provide a -9dB to -15dB reduction of sound level. The overall sound experience was superb and natural and the 7 different filter tips which are delivered with the earplugs, will ensure you’ll find the right fit for you. I used the triple flange shape in Large which fit my ear canal perfectly. The drawback of the Music Pro is the amount of work you have to go through to enjoy their benefits. As they’re active earplugs, they need #10 batteries (1.45 V and 180 mAh) to work. The earplugs don´t have an “on/off” switch, which means you either have to remove the batteries from their compartment in the earplugs or open the small battery door to interrupt the power supply. I lost one of the batteries in the photo pit when I took the earplugs out of their case one time because the battery compartment was open. I also found that the batteries died after 2-3 concerts. The batteries are cheap, but I simply don´t like the way the ear plugs work. Yes, the Music Pros are great earplugs and they do a great job, but you have to keep in mind that they’re more cumbersome to use than others on the market. Read an in-depth review on F Stoppers here. Read an in-depth review from my colleague Sean Molin on F Stoppers here.

3. Custom-Fit (Neuroth) $215

Custom-fit earplugs might be the best option available, because they are custom-molded to your auditory canals and, as a result, are often used by professional musicians. However, the procedure involved in getting them is also more complicated compared to other earplugs. First, you have to go to an auditory specialist to get a mold taken. Then the manufacturer will produce your unique earplugs (you might also be able to print your logo on them, which is pretty cool!). If they fit perfectly, they’ll last a lifetime.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it doesn´t really matter which brand of earplug you’re wearing, it´s more important that you´re wearing earplugs!

My suggestion is to invest in earplugs that fit your ears perfectly and do the job they’re supposed to do. If they happen to be the cheap Downbeats, Alpine Party Plugs, or Etymotics ETYPlugs/ER20XS, just wear them. If you want to have the flexibility of changing filters and experiment with the sound quality, get the Alpine MusicSafe Pros and if you’re not bothered about budget to get great sounding earplugs, get the Isolate Pro Titanium. In my opinion, there’s no need to spend $300 for earplugs that you´ll mostly not wear for longer than the first 3 songs of a concert.

Keep in mind that you can easily lose the earplugs in the photo pit. I’ve lost an earplug in the darkness a couple of times when getting them out of my photo bag. If it’s a $15 earplug, it´s fine, but you definitely don’t want to lose a $200-300 product!

Give yourself a healthy gift and get one of the above – your hearing matters!

Let me know your earplug experiences in the comments.

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  • Rebecca

    Very insightful! Thank you for creating and posting this- unnecessary hearing loss can and should be prevented

    • thanks Rebecca! Yes, hearing loss can be 100% avoided by using good earplugs

  • Ivan Romero

    I have used the foam ear plugs, when i remember, which was not often. After a recent event i shot from which my ears were ringing for days, i decided to order ear protection. I ordered the Alpine Music Safe Pro. I should have them this weekend….

    • Hi Ivan, thanks for your comment. The Alpine MusicSafe Pro are one of my favourites. You´ll like them

  • Jörg Gollenbeck

    Thank you, Matthias!
    For me, only the Alpine Party Plugs can be considered, because as you said – the ears (especially mine) love them. I wore it at a KREATOR concert and also at the Rock in Vienna. Absolutely awesome. 😉

    • Hi Jörg. These are great and cheap earplugs and they wok as they should

  • David S Davis

    I have the isolate pro titanium ear plugs and they are amazing. They are also comfortable. I also highly recommend them especially at that price.

    • Hi David. I also love the Isolates. They come with a higher price tag, but it´s worth to invest in them. Interestingly I need the small Earforms whereas when using other brands I almost always need the large ones

      • David S Davis

        Interesting because I use the mediums and I have small ears. They had a sale on the replacement ear forms and I must have ordered twice because I have way too many now (each package has 3 pairs) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b5416db869f09d66aede40d38d26320ca74b177d2849f08b5713873d57c66006.jpg

        • haha, at least you have a good stock of them now 😉

        • Richard Bolwell

          The isolate earfoams should last about 2-3 months so having spares is crucial. I used the medium foams until I ordered replacements and now I use the large ones and they fit me a treat. Great plugs, I love the ‘pinch and roll insertion method and how they seal the canal when they expand.

  • Christopher Purdie

    I’ve been using Earasers for a few years. I got them when I was playing with my band. Oddly enough, I didn’t like them while I was ON stage. Now that I’m OFF stage, I love them. I get all the clarity of each instrument at a lower volume. They happen to fit my particular ears very well. So well in fact that I’ll leave concerts and forget I have them in and wonder why I can’t hear while I’m driving. Great article. I’d like to check out a few other options and see what I like. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction.

    • Thanks Christopher, great to hear that you like the Earasers. I have no clue, but somehow they are not fitting my ear canals as good as other brands (especially the double flange earplugs). I tested them on several concerts, but I was never 100% satisfied. However, they got great reviews as well, so it all comes down to your personal preference.

    • Richard Bolwell

      I do the very same with my Isolates, walking around after the gig with them still in my ears. They’re really comfy and I don’t want to take them out.

  • Rui Bandeira

    Great work my friend
    Really loved Tue review.
    I was really curious to read your conclusion.

  • Rock NRobins

    So. I never wore earplugs either until I hung out with Metallica back in the justice for all days. One of the guys in the band handed me earplugs, and I looked at him like he was crazy. “We all wear them, Robin.” That was good enough for me. I’ve been wearing them ever since, and glad of it. Don’t blow your hearing with tinitis. Not worth it. Tinitis actually hurts. Bless up!

    • Awesome story Robin, thanks for sharing! So, Metallica also know to use earplugs ;). Which one are you using?

  • Stéphane Gallay

    Thanks, that’s an article that’s coming at the very best time. I have a concert – more like a mini prog rock festival, actually – next Friday and I’ll make sure to get some protection.

    On the other hand, I’ve been going to metal concert for the past 35 years without ear protection, so it’s probably a major miracle that I can still ear anything at all. 😉

    (And, on the third hand, I live in a country – Switzerland – that has a 100dB legal limit to concert sound.)

    • Hi Staphane, happy to hear that you like it. 100dB can already cause hearing damage after 15min exposure. You can try earplugs at your next concert and make sure to tell me how you liked the experience. I would be interested.

  • Great article Matthias! I use Alpine MusicSafe Pro and i’m pretty happy with them, but I’m considering in ordering some custom ones.

    • Thanks Miluta! Yeah, the Alpines are performing very well. Let me know if there is any difference once you get your custom ones.

  • Kerri Clarke

    Great article. I personally use the Etymotic ER20. No muffling and they work well round my ear piercings.

    • Hi Kent, thanks. Cool to hear that you use the ER20XS. Unfortunately they send me a smaller size that didn´t fit well, but I like the ETY Plugs which are the older version.

  • Dean Birkheimer

    Holy Smokes!! Incredibly informative article. Well done. Already suffering from Tinnitus (due to 20 years in the communications field in the U.S.A.F.), hearing protection during concert photography is an absolute must for me. I already have been known to blurt out “WILL SOMEBODY ANSWER THAT DAMN PHONE”. due to the constant ringing in my ears. I use HEARO’s High Fidelity long stem ear plugs. They work great for subduing sound, but keeping it’s clarity.

    • Hi Dean, thanks for your great feedback. I am happy you like my article. I don´t know about the HEARO´s, but there are so many brands out there. Another challenge was to get them shipped from the US. I wanted to try others as well, but some companies were not able to get it to Vienna/Austria ;). I am sure the HEAROs work great as well

  • Clint Burton

    Great article Matthias! Hearing protection is so important. I personally use custom fitted. They seem to be more comfortable especially when you doing 2-3 show a week.

    • Thanks for your comment Clint! Custom ones are definitely the pro option

  • Anatholie

    Thanks for that very comprehensive article Matthias, well done!
    I was using Alpine PartyPlugs until I tried the Isolate Pro Titanium (with the small earforms, too). I just love them, and not just for concerts, but whenever there’s ambiant noise I want to get rid of.
    Also, as you mentioned it’s to lose your earplugs, and I appreciate that Alpine sells a cord you can attach your earplugs to. I wish Flare would offer one, too, even though it’s possible to just tie some thin cord to the Isolate Pros.
    I’ve done 2 shootings in a recording studio lately, and each time the musicians asked if I had ear protections before allowing me in the room where the drummer was playing, so they seem to be well aware of the issue 😉

    • Thanks for your comment Anatholie! I like both the Alpines and Isolates. I used the cord on the Alpines, but removed it again after it got some knots in the chord. I didn´t like the handling. A small ballchain might be a better solution.
      I have the feeling that everyone is aware of hearing protection (musicians, Security..) but not so many concert photographers are using them. Therefore I felt the need to write this article.

  • Chris Patmore

    The first festival I shot, which rekindled my love of music photography, wouldn’t allow you in the pit without ear protection. Luckily, they hand a huge box of foamies for security people that gave me to use. For a long time I just used foamies (Howard Leight Laser Lite were my choice. Very comfortable, and very cheap when bought in bulk – 20 for £2). As i got more serious, I decided to splash out on some better ones and got some Ety Plugs, which were pretty good. After a lot of use (I shoot at least three gigs a week), I needed to replace them and went for the Downbeats, which were better than the Ety Plugs and their container is really good. I keep a pair attached to my camera and one pair on my keyring, so I always have them with me. My wife then bought me a set of the Flare Isolates Titanium on their Kickstarter. I didn’t like them at first as I was used to feel of the Downbeats, but now I use them all the time. I still carry the Downbeats, and have loads of foamies in my bag, which I will give to any photographer I see not using plugs. I seem to have instinctively gone with the ones Matthias recommends, which is good to know. Not sure I would fork out for custom ones, as I would be too worried about losing them, not that I can afford them anyway.

    • Thanks Chris. Awesome, great to hear that you are using some of the earplugs I was testing. I do love the downbeats (The Alpine MusicSafe Pro are similar) and the Isolates.

  • Jim Kendall

    Very useful article.

  • Martin Bone

    Great information Matthias. I suffer from Tinnitus as I fractured my skull in 200 which also burst my left ear drum. I was also a DJ for many years and as we are so close to the speakers we need to protect our ears, and yes our eyes too. Eyes, Ears and Mouth all connected. I have the sponge cheap ones but I will need to look at a more pro set or custom product and thanks to your reviews I now know exactly what to get and its all clear without having to research long and hard and not knowing the best earplugs to have. Thanks buddy..

    • You´re welcome and thanks so much Martin. Sorry to hear about your Tinnitus. Try the Downbeats or Alpine MusicSafe Pros if you´re on a budget or the Isolates if you want to invest a little more in your earplugs. All of them work great and will protect your ears

  • William Richards

    Thanks for doing this research Matthias! I have had tinnitus since I can remember so I seem to have been born with it, but I always wear ear plugs to concerts because I don’t want it to get any worse than it already is. I use the alpine music pro buds and am very happy with them. I also keep some foam plugs in my camera bag just in case I lose the alpine skier or forget to pack them. Always good to have a backup 🙂 I find wearing them whilst shooting allows you to work in a much more zen-like way, as your brain isn’t being splattered around your skull by the music.

    • Hi William, sorry to hear that you have tinnitus. Good tip to have foam plugs with you in addition. It´s really easy to lose those earplugs (mostly black in color) in the pit or concert.

  • Dave O Hara

    Cracking read mate, I have been using a cheap set of Vater plugs for about 2 years now, but seriously considering the Isolate Pro’s now after reading this. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you Dave! Yeah, try the Isolates if you have the budget for it. Otherwise the cheaper options are great as well

  • Melanie Ashton

    This is the most comprehensive product comparison article I’ve ever read! fantastic effort and thanks as I’ve been wanting to buy some plugs for a while but I was unsure which brand to get. I’ll give the downbeats a whirl first!
    After reading this very thorough article, I’m curious to know what sort of research that you used to do Matthias?

    • Thank you Melanie, appreciate it! The downbeats work great for concert photography. I am a former molecular biologist specialized in immunology 😉

      • Melanie Ashton

        Oh wow! Man of many talents! No wonder you can write such a comprehensive review! 🙂

        • haha, I learned how to write and structure such texts form my Ph.D thesis 😉

  • Stephen Lavoie

    Perhaps one of the most thought out, down-to-earth earplug reviews I’ve read… Now I’m looking for the Alpine Music Safe Pro…

    • thank you so much Stephen! Yeah, let´s try them and let me know how you like the Alpines

  • Ivan Padilla

    Great article Matthias!!! When I was buying my earplugs this is the article I needed to decide which one to buy. From that research I ended buying two earplugs the ALPINE MUSIC PRO and another cheaper one called TOURBON just to have something to compared. Im glad I bought the ALPINE and u gave rank it very well. I feel they are very clear and u can still get a good sound from the overall mix. Anyhow definetly a great article to help make your choice. Awesome!!

    • Thank you so much Ivan. Cool that you also got the Alpine Music Pros!

  • Andrea Kronos Massazza

    Love this article! I’ve seen a lot of photographers working without protection and I honestly ask myself how they can do it (probably because I’ve always suffered from otitis as a child, but still). When I decided to be serious about concert photography, earplugs were the first accessory I bought. I’m using Alpine MusicSafe Pro with the strongest filter and I love them, they’re so comfortable I forgot I’m using them, sometimes!

    • Thanks you for your feedback Andrea! I agree, sometimes I even forget to take them out after the concert 😉

  • LisaJarema

    Terrific article, Matthias! I realized I needed hearing protection when I was at an outdoor concert last year, and I was herded into the “photographer’s area”, which was directly in front of one of the main speakers. I bought a set of Alpine MusicSafe Pros right after that experience and never looked back! Glad to know now that I made a good decision. Thanks!

  • Allphredphoto

    I play in a band, at rehearsal its important the earplugs, since I been in concerts, playing or enjoy them or taking pics, I use my Earphones as earplugs, just getting rid off that loudy extra noise. and avoiding that extra damage and also headaches and stuff.

  • I have and use EarPeace and I’m pretty happy with them. Perfect for shoting concert in front of the speakers!

  • Richard Bolwell

    Great article Matthias. I use Flare Audio Isolate Titanium with the large earfoams. I used to use Alpine MusicSafe Pro which were great but the Isolates are a step up for me and the best I’ve tried to date

    • Thanks so much for sharing you story Richard. Good to hear that you got good earplugs for your work as concert photographer.

  • DafOwen

    I’ve tried a few and found ones with a short stem like the Alpines or Downbeats to be far to difficult to get out.
    So have gone for long stem ACS ER 20 – which look identical to the ETY ER 20 – maybe just re-branded.

    I saw the Isolate Pro campaign and thought it was just a marketing fad – but at an extra 10dB – I might give them a go.

    • DafOwen

      Hmm the Isolate Pro are not great on reviews on Amazon UK: 20x 5* but also 10x 1*

      • At amazom.com they got better reviews. Anyhow it all depends if they fit your ear canal and if you want to spend $70 for earplugs. If the ACS ER 20 provides -20dB you should be good.

        • Chris Patmore

          The main downside to the Isolates (apart from initial price) is the cost of replacing the foam parts at £10 for three, which is more or less the same price as a pair of Downbeats. I’m going to do an experiment and replace the foam with the rubber ear buds from earphones. I have loads of them from dead earphones. Got to be worth a try.

          • thanks Chris, this is a valid point

          • Chris Patmore

            I’ve been using them with the earbuds from old earphones, and they seem to work as well. They are actually much more comfortable than the foam and feel like Downbeats do, but weightier, and cut the volume down just as well.

          • Thanks for the update Chris!

    • I also prefer the long stem Downbeats compared to the short ones.

  • Ronald Valle

    per your suggestion I bought the Alpine MusicSafe Pro and the Etymotics ER-20XS ( I’m always misplacing them so I needed two). The Alpine are great but they need that adapter to help push them in. I prefer the longer stem of the ER-20XS, even though Alpine are a little better at noise reduction

    • Hi Ronald, thanks for sharing your experiences. I never needed the adapter to push the Alpines in, but I do prefer to have a longer stem as well.