For DJs, one of the most important and irreplaceable tools that we all have is our hearing. One of the biggest on-the-job dangers is loud sound exposure, hearing loss, and potentially tinnitus – so what are the best musician / DJ earplugs that allow you to spend lots of time in high-volume environments? Today we review some of our favorite options on the market.
DJ Earplugs: Testing Notes
I’ve tested a wide array of these earplugs for almost a whole year now in various environments, from small festivals like Desert Hearts and Sunset Campout, rough conditions and massive soundsystems at Burning Man, and in front of fantastic and powerful club systems like at Public Works in San Francisco.
The truth is that it’s next-to-impossible to DJ with earplugs in – if you need to have hearing protection while DJing, we recommend getting in-ear headphones like the Westone UM Pro 20s and combining them with a Subpac M2 – this will let you feel the sound without blowing out your ears via crappy monitors.
But DJs need to spend plenty of time on the other side of the soundsystems in clubs and at festivals – which is why we’ve reviewed these six sets of earplugs in a variety of styles.
3M Classic Foam Earplugs
These are the low-end standard in earplugs, and you’ll find them in factories and construction sites around the world as they’re made first and foremost to prevent hearing damage. There’s no consideration for conserving different parts of the audio spectrum, and they aren’t especially comfortable to squish into your ear (the foam presses out against your ear canal when inserted – as foam always tries to return to it’s original shape.
For the price, these earplugs are good, powerful (29dB!) protection if you’ve forgotten to bring a nicer set with you to a club or festival. But they’re mostly viewed as disposable earplugs, which makes sense as they’re very easy to lose, and get pretty disgusting after just a few uses.Even wiping them down with isopropyl alcohol doesn’t seem to clean them up very well.
Earlove Classic / ETY•Plugs
Historically, this style of earplugs has been one of the most popular designs on the market. Made by Etymotic, and cross-branded as Earlove, these plugs are solid for use in a club because they have such a well-designed reduction evenly across frequencies.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of this three-layer earplug design because they often feel odd in the ear canal. Sometimes they take a bit of twisting to insert and make sure that you’ve got each of the three layers properly seated in your ear. But it’s worth it, as that same design is what allows these earplugs to boast a powerful 20dB average reduction across all frequencies.
They come in two sizes, Standard and Large – and based on their own research, Standard size fits most ears. The back ends of the Earloves do stick out of your ear a bit, which might get some weird looks on the dancefloor, but in general they’re a great workhorse set of earplugs.
Worth noting – Earlove has a new design, Earlove-XO, with a more discreet profile and included strap – we haven’t had a chance to test them for this article.
V-Moda VIP Faders
The V-Moda VIP Faders are probably the most-used set of earplugs in my growing ear protection arsenal, for two main reasons: they’re incredibly easy to have on-hand at all times, and they’re incredibly comfortable to wear for long periods.
When the plastic case is around the earplugs, the attached strap sticks out from the case, allowing the earplugs to easily be worn as a necklace – so at the beginning of a long festival day, throw them around your neck and put them in when you get to each stage. No other set of earplugs has this incredibly useful feature, and it has saved me from forgetting ear protection time and time again.
Having the string attached and a slightly protruding design does make these look more like in-ear headphones, leading to a common dancefloor question: “Are you listening to different music than what the DJ is playing right now?!”
The soft curved tip design of the VIP Faders makes them incredibly superior in comfort to layered filters, and rest comfortably in the ear canal. If you’re concerned that this design might be harder to fit, have no fear- they come with four different fit options.
The frequency response on these are excellent as well – it’s very easy to hear the person next to you asking you a question as well as the full range of the music.
Etymotic Music•PRO Electronic Earplugs
Price: $299 on Amazon
dB reduction: Adaptive: 9dB, 15dB, “sudden noise” protection, and 35dB at high volumes
What Rocks: They actively respond to the sounds that are around you – making them the most proactive (and expensive) on this round up.
What Isn’t As Great: Batteries are a necessary evil on these premium plugs – meaning you’ll need to keep some stocked. The price is steep, but worth it for working professionals and people who spend hours on end in a club.
These are the Cadillac of non-custom molded earplugs, and that’s a big part of what makes them so amazing. They require #10 hearing aid batteries, because in addition to their passive attenuation (the classic Etymotic design), they offer active attenuation that detects when your hearing is deemed “at risk” and adjusts to environments with fluctuating volume levels.
The active/adaptive noise reduction is fantastic – think of the earplugs as a microphone that is constantly passing the audio of the world into your ears, but regulating the audio to protect your hearing at dangerous levels. This includes “impact noise protection” – which means the circuit in the earplugs cap the output of the audio in moments where the sound gets really loud. This is perfect for sudden percussive noises – screeching microphones, sudden cymbal crashes next to your ear.
There are two modes on the Music•Pro earplugs:
- 9-dB Mode: This mode provides a 6-dB gain for softer sounds (helps when you need to hear something that’s excessively quiet), up until
- 15-dB Mode: This mode allows a natural hearing level until the sound starts to get out of a safe level – then it applies a 15-dB protection to protect your ears.
Both modes have the impact sound protection, and offer gradual increases in protection (meaning that it doesn’t suddenly activate the 15-dB protection as soon as volume hits a certain level). In both modes, when the sound input goes above 110dB, the Music•Pros act like a 35dB passive earplug.
We like these earplugs because they’re designed for people who are in loud environments all the time. Have you ever been at a soundcheck for a band or DJ and had your ears temporarily destroyed because of a sudden screeching microphone coming through the PA? The Music•Pro earplugs actively defend against those moment.
In terms of comfort, they’re pretty comparable to the normal ETY earplug design, but Etymotic has included a number of alternate tips (various sizes, materials, and shapes) to allow a full range of options for people who don’t like the default feeling.
One final note: these come with an attached flexible neck cord – which like a soft clear fishing line between each plug. Personally, this was a bit too distracting of a feeling (compared to the fabric cord on the V-Moda faders), so I removed the cord, but I can’t recommend doing that and risking losing these high-end earplugs on the ground.
Alpine Musicsafe Pro Earplugs
DB reduction: Variable
What Rocks: Three interchangeable filters for variable dB reduction, comes with a keychain-ready case
What Isn’t as Great: Earplugs with a lot of small elements to them tend to get lost easily – replacing the filters on the fly isn’t that realistic for most DJs (or anyone in a dark environment)
Alpine has one of the more unique solutions on the market for non-custom musician’s earplugs in the Musicsafe Pros, which come with three sets of filters that can be swapped out based on personal preferences and the sound environment that you’re in. The three filters, Low, Medium, and High, all have different dB reductions – and while it’s only a few dB of difference between each, it’s cool to have this level of customization.
These earplugs are more comfortable of a fit than Etymotic’s three layer design, but nowhere near as nice to wear for extended periods of time as Dubs or V-Moda Faders. They do have a more profile/discreet look than most other earplugs. Having the three different filters is a nice touch – but realistically I never found myself taking the other filter options with me to events after I dropped the Medium filters and lost them in a club early on in testing.
Have a set of earplugs that you think are vastly superior? Let us know in the comments below what model, and why!
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I am honestly not impressed with the V-Moda faders.. Everything gets muffled except for snaps and i.e talking. But i can’t hear a damn thing what’s happening in the music which is counterintuitive tbh!
I love my Dubs. I have bought several paris for friends over the past year. Im probably on my 3rd or 4th pair as they do tend to break over time.
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[…] Price: $20 (in the DJTT store, other options) […]
I been using Bellman and Symfon’s ER earplugs since I was 14 years old. Been using them for almost 16 years. They are a bit steep but they rally are the best when it comes to wearing them as a working dj. They are custom moulded and comes withe three different filters. 9, 15 and 25db. I often use the 9db just because I always try to work the sound in the venue so it sounds perfect even if it not so loud. And it also means that I don’t need to raise the volym so high in the headphones. But a big up to the whole ER line, they got non custom fitted earplugs to! ( http://bellman.com/en/ )
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I spent my teens and 20s ruining my hearing and have tinnitus now. It doesn’t drive me crazy, like some people, but it’s a constant reminder of how stupid I was (mowing lawns all summer with headphones blasting louder than the lawnmower engines, for instance).
Anyway, the one thing I did that was somewhat smart was during my enlistment in the US Navy, while stationed on a busy aircraft carrier, I always kept my ears (and pockets) full of those yellow E-A-R brand foam earplugs.
Throughout my 30s I conditioned myself to lower volumes (car stereo, home stereo, etc.) and avoid noisy situations but the smartest thing I did was start buying bulk boxes of those yellow foam earplugs. I keep handfuls of them everywhere. They are super effective. I admit that mixing with them is a pain but I see it as a necessary evil. I also play-out with my beasty puke green Koss 4AA’s that also block out a lot of sound. Former aircrew vets probably remember the term “double hearing protection”. That’s how I mix in clubs. I set the levels, make a few transitions, then pop in those yellow earplugs for the rest of the set.
Lastly, I’ve come to realize that sometimes earplugs won’t help in some situations. When I have to talk a lot, I end up with ringing ears because the earplugs cause your internal sounds (that vibrate through your bones and stuff to be amplified). It’s called the Occlusion Effect and it’s a bummer. If it weren’t for that, I’d live with yellow earplugs in at all times.
I have very very narrow ear canals, therefore I’ve always had issues wearing earplugs. I got two pairs of the ETY plugs (for me and the wife)… she was able to wear them with no issue, but for me no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t fit it on my ear canals. I guess that my only option would be the soft ones, but I would think that music-wise those are not the best options…. any advise?… is there any option you guys know for crappy designed ears canals like mine 🙂
Extra-small, for 2% of the population. (I hope it let’s me post a link which isn’t spam, otherwise, go to earasers dot net and look at catalogue / musicians hifi plugs.)
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Great list, but you forgot Earasers!
I’m amazed that acs custom ear protection hasn’t made the cut. I had some of these made, hands down the most comfortable protection I’ve ever tried, amazing.
Fantastic that you included response curves. With a little education, a consumer can choose an earplug with a flat response and even attenuation, two things that earplugs made for music should have.
Earlove XO was made for DJ’s and for those who prefer a discreet profile. The response is a little bit better in the highs than the Classic. They are the next best thing to Custom Earplugs because of the low profile. Plus if you lose them, it’s only $20 instead of $200.
I own Earlove, I am happy to send you a few sets of EarloveXO. I worked at Etymotic when the XO were in development, I am also a DJ in a DJ/Live String Collective and I manage a band so I had some input. I have been associated with the Etymotic crew since 1994. One of the owners was my original Audiologist. I now wear hearing aids in both ears from overexposure to sound. I am profoundly deaf.
I have attached a graph comparing some of the response curves to help users understand a little better. The curve should be flat with a boost in the highs which mimics the acoustic response of an open ear. If an earplug doesn’t attenuate evenly it is not made for music or safe to wear around music for long periods of time. Low frequencies damage hearing as do mids and highs. It is not the frequency of sound that damages hearing, it is the intensity and duration. If you are only getting 5dB attenuation in the lows, and 26dB in the highs, the earplug with this curve is not going to have enough protection to be safe in a club for more than 15 minutes or will it deliver hi-fidelity sound. It’s science.
My v-modas lasted me 2 trips out to the club before the cord unscrewed while i had them hanging around my neck and I lost one 🙁
Something about these V-Modas must be really incredibly… as you used the word 6 times in 6 sentences 🙂
A friend of mine actually owns Alpine company (which is Dutch btw). Nice to see one of his products reviewed, so I’m sure if people have questions about them he’d be happy to answer them.
EARasers are clear, sit flush with the ear and are designed so musicians/DJs can wear them under headphones. Perfect for DJing with on loud stages. I highly recommend them.
This. I’m surprised EARasers didn’t make this list.
Hi, I want to buy a pair of earasers. Are they comfortable to use under the dj headphones ? Can i insert them so deep do not be able to pull them back ?
Yes they fit under most headphones.
No you can’t push them too deep into your ear.
But wearing plugs under phones is a unique feeling takes a little getting used to but worth it in the long run (ie. not getting tinnitus).
Earasers like all good plugs reduces the harsher frequencies more (1-3k) so the sound from your phones will have a dip in those frequencies, but you get used to it in about 15-30 mins.
thanks brother !
the alpines are great, but it is really easy to lose the spare filters, which is a shame because sometimes, you need the ones that reduce the volume more but they are a pain to change let alone find in a club environment indeed
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I have a pair of custom ACS earplugs (http://acscustom.com/us/) that are amazing. They are great to DJ in and I can wear them all day.
My back-up earplugs are Ear Peace HDs (http://www.earpeace.com). They are super comfortable (in fact, they are the only earplugs that I can get my girlfriend to wear) and are also DJ friendly.
Which ACS earplugs do you use? I do live mixing and im looking for hearing protection.
I wear the Pro 17.
I use Downbeats. They sound and feel similar to the Alpines with the Gold filter in, but maybe a tiny bit more attenuating, which I appreciate. They’re very discrete and can be worn comfortably under DJ headphones (for when the stage monitors are too loud and out of your control). I usually use IEMs though, and even sometimes use one IEM and one downbeats plug while DJing when I don’t trust the house sound enough to mix completely in IEMs. They come with an awesome small aluminum cylindrical case similar to the Earlove case pictured, but a little shorter. They’re cheap enough (~$12 USD) that I bought a few pairs and keep a spares in my car in case I lose one.
I finally bit the bullet and bought custom-molded Westone earplugs. Because when I DJ, often times the club is so loud, I have to crank the headphones in response. Foam ones cut out too much highs, the Earlove plastic bits stick out too far to wear under headphones, and the Dubs just sound horrible. I don’t regret it at all. Now I can be in the club and DJ for multiple hours under punishing volumes but still protect my hearing. I can’t recommend them enough for anyone who’s a working musician, DJ, or anyone who spends too much time in venues! Sure, $200 is steep, but when you compare it to a lifetime of irreparable hearing damage, that’s CHEAP.
Excellent round up here, I’d like to share some of my experiences:
You can, indeed, DJ with earplugs in. It requires using some higher volumes on the headphones you’re using, and sometimes some clever EQ’ing on the cue channel. I purposely get headphones that are better suited for this purpose since I know I’ll always be wearing earplugs. But the only time I DJ without earplugs is at home where I can control the volume.
Get your friends into wearing earplugs as well. The way they cut down on different frequencies when the music’s loud, it’s way easier for two people with earplugs in to have a conversation than two people without. Beyond that, one person with earplugs talking to another with earplugs is the hardest.
The foam earplugs are a live-saver the few times I’ve forgotten my real earplugs. I would add that if you roll them up in your hand rapidly they take a longer shape so you can shove them in your ear a bit deeper for a better fit.
Lastly: The ear canal seems to be a very individual thing. The ETY three pronged earplugs linked above always give me issues with earwax. I use the two-pronged ones by Downbeats, but have also used the V-Moda VIP Faders without issue, while other people have no problem with the three pronged ones. Something certainly worth experimenting with before heading out.
Ohropax Classic. Made out of wax. Can be formed how ever you want. dB reduction up to you can hear hardly anything (if you want that). You could fall asleep in front of a Funktion One. Not too expensive. Doesn’t matter, if you loose some of them, each pack has 8.
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great article! If only I could stop losing all my earplugs…
It would be nice to know how the reduction of typical in-ear monitors compares to these. If I’ve totally forgotten to bring proper earplugs, I think I’ve been able to get away with just wearing whatever IEMs I have on me, I’ve never had ringing or noticed signs of progressing tinnitus after a loud night out using IEMs as protection but I’m not sure if they really are up to snuff compared to proper musicians plugs.
When I do have proper earplugs, its usually earpeace, standard etys, or cheapie foamies.
Get a pill container keychain from a pharmacy. Since I started carrying my earplugs in a good container on my keychain I haven’t lost a pair.
Nice roundup! I personally used a pair of Etymotic Research Musicians earplugs (25dB version) which were custom moulded by an audiologist. IIRC they were around $150ish but this was about 5 years ago. They’re still going strong when I bring them out for the occasional gig.
As they’re custom moulded they fit perfectly and are comfortable even after wearing them for 5 hours or more (My average gig time). I decided to get them when I took up DJing full time after coming home with ringing ears. By far the best decision I made in relation to DJing.
Look after your ears and don’t be afraid to spend a bit of cash on them!
I also have custom molded Etymotic earplugs although I use the 15 dB filter. They’re amazing. They’re very transparent; everything sounds just about the same but quieter.
Etymotic custom earplugs are a much cheaper solution than quality in-ear monitors. I haven’t used IEMs myself, but I suspect that DJing with earplugs is more intuitive because it doesn’t require any changes to the way most DJs mix. You can still use headphones the way you do now, but you can turn them way up to drown out the PA without hurting yourself. It’s nice to be able to take off your headphones, go off stage, check out the sound, and not destroy your ears on the dance floor. They fit fine under my headphones (A&H Xone XD2-53). I keep them in a pill container keychain that I got at Walgreens attached to my key ring. It’s great to have them everywhere I go because I never know when I’ll end up around loud music. 🙂
A nice attribute of custom molded earplugs compared to generic earplugs
are that custom molded earplugs don’t have as much of an occlusion
effect. That is, custom plugs don’t amplify the internal sounds of your
body as much. Your own voice still sounds nearly the same, you
won’t hear bass thuds so much when walking, and if you play a wind instrument the mix of your own instrument compared to outside sound is the same as without earplugs.
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