According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders "musicians face nearly four times greater risk of developing hearing loss than the rest of the public." If you haven't thought seriously about hearing protection, hopefully this review will be the catalyst.
To avoid damaging your hearing, you don't need to crank the playback volume in the studio. When I interviewed Dave Jerden [Tape Op #86], he stated he prefers setting the playback at around 84 dB; "On the Fletcher-Munson curve that's where you get the proper balance (of our hearing) between the high and low end. I will listen at that level, but when I'm fine-tuning I'll go really low." In a controlled environment like the studio, it's not difficult to find a setting that allows for both balance and hearing protection. In preproduction, rehearsals, and especially in live concert settings, you will find yourself in a less controlled environment. In such cases, consider protecting your hearing with the Sensaphonics ER Series Musician Earplugs. Designed specifically for musicians, the ER Series are custom-fit earplugs with interchangeable filters.
One set of interchangeable filters and a handy zippered plastic pouch come with a pair of earplugs. You can purchase other filters separately ($70 pair). I chose the ER-15 filters which offer 15 dB of protection – perfect for rehearsals and concerts. There's no comparison between the ER Series and cheap foam earplugs, or even a $20 pair of earplugs. Before switching to the ER Series, I used the V-Moda Faders earplugs [Tape Op #89], which are better than cheap foam plugs, but don't compare to the protection and sound quality of the ER Series. While the ER-15 filters offer good sound quality, you will notice a significant loss of transients. I am going to try the ER-9 filters, which offer 9 dB of protection. Hopefully, this will allow an increase of transients just enough to provide the balance I am looking for. I really don't want to be in a situation where I would need the ER-25 filters, which offer 25 dB of filtering – if I need to cut out that much sound, then I am in the wrong environment.
The ER Series Musician Earplugs are custom fitted, so ear impressions are required. This can add to the cost of the earplugs, but let's face it, preserving your ability to hear is worth the investment. In-ear impressions can vary in price from $50 to $150 so check with your audiologist. The impression allows for the snug fit around the outer ear, as well as creating a mold of your inner ear canal. If possible, get your impressions done with an audiologist that works with musicians. I had my impressions done by a Sensaphonics audiologist. When administering the ear impressions, the audiologist asked me to replicate any faces I might inadvertently make when playing my instrument. Changing expressions alters the shape of your ear canal as you move your jaw. Replicating these movements while the ear impression is drying is necessary to create a snug fit. A snug custom fit combined with the filters and ear canal mold is a big part of what makes the ER Series so effective. If you have your impressions done by your own audiologist, you'll need to send them to Sensaphonics. The impressions will be used to make molds for your earplugs. Your earplugs and molds will then be shipped to you. If sound quality and hearing protection are what you need, Sensaphonics delivers.