07 February, 2010

Keeping my ears safe

I like going to see live music and well it is loud, the AC/DC gig last week apparently had the loudest PA set up NZ has ever had. Music this loud hurts your ears.  The first time I really realised about looking after my ears was after a Muse Gig in 2004 my ears were ringing for a few days afterwards. Turning down the music at gigs I personally don't think is the thing to do as is still like the feeling of feeling the music through my body along with actually hearing it.

Over the years I tried a variety of earplugs but was never that impressed with them as they seemed to reduce of the volumes of different frequencies differently. This is kind of like some playing with the equaliser settings rather than the just volume knob. I later found out that most ear plugs do not give you flat attenuation. Attenuation technically is the reduction in intensity. Most ear plugs attenuate the different frequencies differently.

In 2008 or so I came across Etymotic ER20 Earplugs. This non custom fitted earplug gives near flat 20dB attenuation. They sound much better regular ear plugs and is just like someone has turned down the volume knob and not touched equaliser. The one thing I did find about these was they sound good but they were a little difficult to put in and got a little uncomfortable after after wearing for longer periods of time. Even given this for $31.50 they are really good if you want something that sounds better than normal ear plugs and given they last longer than foam ear plugs its price really isn't that bad and in the long run would be cheaper than getting foam earplugs for each gig you go to.

At the end of 2009 I was looking at the first few months of 2010 which was going to involve Big Day Out, AC/DC, Them Crooked Vultures, Homegrown and The Pixies gigs. Knowing that I had a few gigs lined up and that the ER20s were a little uncomfortable for longer periods of wear I shelled out $315 and got some ER15s from Pacific Ears. ER15s are custom moulded to fit your ear and offer 15dB of attenuation.

Even though they are custom moulded it is a very quick process and simple process. It starts off with an ear nurse taking impressions of your ear canal. The first step is placing a piece of foam with a string attached next to the ear drum, this is to stop on goo going all the way into the ear. The placing of the foam was the bit of the process I found the most uncomfortable as when the foam was being pushed in it caused some discomfort but once it was in place it was fine. The next step was injecting some blue goo into your ear canal. This blue goo cured and formed an impression of my ear canal. While the goo was in ear it was a very weird sensation as I had no hearing what so ever from that ear. After 10 minutes or so the goo had cured and was removed from the ear canal and the same process was done for the other ear. Elacin has some photos of the impression taking process. It was a Friday afternoon and I placed the impressions in a courier bag and sent them off to Pacific Ears.

By Wednesday the next week I received the packages from Pacific Ears which contained my new Ear Plugs. So it is a very fast turn around. Though one thing to mention is that the impression making kit travels the country and from memory is only in Wellington for instance every fortnight, so you might have to wait a little while for the impression to be taken. Edit 2010-02-08: I have been informed that this is now no longer the case and the only waiting time is getting an appointment time, as each place has their own impression kit.

So I opened the box and tried them on. The ER15s are far more comfortable than the ER20s are they are moulded to fit my ears. Putting them in a breeze as they want to sit in the correct spot due to all the curves and contours of the ear. I have never had a feeling that they are going to fall out or anything because of this. Seeing they are the right size there is no sensation of them stuffing your ear and actually pushing outwards against your ear canal. The ER15s moulds are clear and sit behind the tragus so unless someone is actually looking in your ear they are not going to notice that you are wearing earplugs and far less noticeable than the brightly coloured foam ear plugs due to the colour and that they don't protrude from the ear as much.

My ER15s

NZ $1 coin for size


At Big Day Out I wore them all day and I barely noticed that I had them in and they caused me no trouble what so ever. And even straight afterwards there was no ringing in my ears :D I personally think it was a very good $315 spent and am very happy with them.

One thing to also note is wearing ear plugs actually makes it easier to talk to people around you. This mightn't seem intuitive but this is to do with the fact the ear is better at differentiating different sounds at lower dB and the fact there is less acoustic shock on the ear.

My recommendations:
  • If you go to gigs or loud bars/clubs and don't wear anything please wear some type of ear protection.
  • If you currently wear or have tried normal ear plugs and find that they they distort the sound too much have a look at the ER20s they aren't too expensive and sound far better than normal earplugs. As I said before in the long run will work out cheaper than getting foam ones every gig.
  • If you have tired the ER20s and would like something more comfortable try the ER15s.
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