Filtered earplug buying guide: How to find the best earplugs for you
We'll help you choose the right earplugs for your lifestyle and environment.
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Key facts about filtered earplug:
- Filtered earplugs can protect your eardrums from short- and long-term damage.
- Whether you're flying, at a concert or just trying to sleep, the greater the number of decibels an earplug can block, the better.
What are filtered earplugs?
Filtered earplugs reduce sound. More specifically, they lower the number of decibels (dB) that reach the back of your ear. Filtered earplugs reduce noise without sacrificing clarity, unlike noise-cancelling headphones, which just cancel or muffle as much sound as possible.
When should you consider filtered earplugs?
Filtered earplugs are best suited for the following situations:
- Flying. Planes are inherently noisy. Engines emit a constant drone throughout the flight, peaking during take-off and landing. Throw in loud and chatty passengers and you're guaranteed a noisy environment. If you fly often, need to get some sleep or just want to protect your eardrums, consider picking up some filtered earplugs.
- Concerts. The average concert or club can pass 100dB, which is well over the healthy limit. If you're out and about every weekend, or you play in a band, you may want to consider filtered earplugs. Many professional musicians opt for filtered earplugs over noise-cancelling versions, as they allow you to hear sound clearly, but at a reduced volume.
- Sleep. If your partner snores, you may want to consider reusable filtered earplugs. They'll dampen noise without leaving you ignorant of other important sounds. Getting a good pair of filtered earplugs also means you won't have to spend time moulding disposable plugs to your ears each night.
- Other. Life can be loud, whether you're heading to a big sports game, stuck in the middle of a heavy traffic jam or doing some work around the house. Protecting your ears now can help prevent future hearing loss.
There are also occasions when filtered earplugs may not be the best option. These include the following situations:
- Worksites. Jackhammers, drills, saws and other heavy machinery are all loud. Ear mufflers are a mainstay of worksites around the world for a reason. Blocking sound as much as possible is the best course of action when operating heavy machinery.
- Swimming. Earplugs for swimming are not about noise reduction. They are to lessen the risk of ear infections or the worsening of perforated eardrums. If you're worried about swimming in a dirty body of water or your child's ear infection, then totally sealable earplugs tend to be the best option.
- Shooting ranges. Shooting ranges are loud places. If you're going to be around people firing weapons or you'll be shooting a gun yourself, noise-cancelling headphones are a better option.
Healthy volume range
Ear damage can occur instantaneously, say from an extremely loud explosion, or gradually over time. Long-term exposure to loud noises is a preventable form of hearing loss.
While there is no definitive marker of "too loud", 75-85dB is widely considered to be the tipping point. Prolonged exposure to noises reaching this volume is inadvisable, as this is the point where your ears begin to be damaged.
Below is a table that demonstrates the average volume of common events:
|Kerbside heavy traffic||80dB|
Statistics sourced from Safe Work Australia
What types are available?
There are two main types of filtered earplugs:
- Active. Active filtered earplugs operate using technology that is similar to the technology in noise-cancelling headphones. They have tiny built-in microphones that work to hold onto sound quality while minimising volume.
- Passive. Passive filtered earplugs rely entirely on design. They are shaped and sculpted to absorb and filter noise, so they dampen volume without sacrificing clarity.
How to compare filtered earplugs
The main point to consider when it comes to filtered earplugs is "attenuation" value. This is the number of decibels that the earplugs can reduce noise by. For example, if you were using a lawnmower that made a sound of 90dB and used filtered earplugs with an attenuation value of 20, you would be hearing 70dB.
Different brands have different attenuation scores. It can be hard to compare products when they don't use the same scoring systems. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the better. High numbers mean your ears are being exposed to a lower number of decibels.
Australian products are not required to produce an attenuation score, however, when they do, it appears as a sound level conversion rating, or an "SLC80" score. American products are required to put an NRR (noise reduction rating) on packaging, while European producers use an SNR (single number rating).
Other ways to compare filtered earplugs include the following:
Filtered earplugs can range from as low as $10 to as much as $300 for high-end models.
While protecting your ears is the number one priority, clarity is a close second. If you're considering filtered earplugs over noise-cancelling headphones, then chances are you care about clarity. You don't want your favourite band to sound muffled, just a little softer. Read user reviews to get a feel for filtered earplug clarity.
Ears come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. You want your earplugs to fit your ears. Having a snug fit is good because it means the filters will work properly. Tight fitting earplugs are also ideal if you're headed to a concert, a game or any activity where you might be moving around. Your favourite pair of music earphones should give you an indicator of your ear shape and size.
Filtered earplugs tend to be reusable. If you're the type to lose things, a case can be a big benefit. There's not much point in only having one earplug.
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