If you've read my past reviews about hearing protectors and noise-canceling headphones, you know that I'm careful with my ears. A few months ago, I discovered an ear protection system that was originally designed for watersports but is now being marketed to the music industry. Doc's Proplugs are soft silicone seals that fit over the ear canal opening. They're not like traditional plugs that are placed inside the canal. Instead, they're shaped and sized to fit snugly against the skin of the ear just outside of the canal. There are two versions: vented and non-vented. The vented provides about 15 to 23 dB of attenuation for frequencies above 2 kHz, while providing almost no attenuation below. The non-vented: 10-15 dB below 1 kHz, and 20-27 dB above 2 kHz. I like wearing the non-vented Proplugs when foam earplugs are too much. The Proplugs sound more balanced in the midrange and high end than foam plugs do, so there's less of that "head in a pillow" feeling when I'm listening to a live band. The vented Proplugs are useful when I need to reduce environmental noise but I still need voices around me to be intelligible. For example, when I'm working in front of a computer, the vented Proplugs cut down the high pitched whine from the hard drive and fan but allow me to talk on the phone or have face to face conversations. How cool is that! Also, being an avid SCUBA diver, the vented Proplugs come in handy when I'm diving without a hood. I used to wear an earband to keep the water from splashing into my ears while surface swimming or snorkeling-after suffering from an ear infection that made it hard to record music for a few weeks. The vented Proplugs do a great job of preventing water slaps into the ear, and they don't catch bubbles from the regulator like an earband does when I'm underwater. (John B. should definitely get a pair to prevent surfer's ear!) The manufacturer's website has a good deal of useful information about taking care of your ears, without being too technical, so it's worth a visit, even if you don't plan on making a purchase. (vented or non-vented: $10 w/ leash, $8 w/o; www.proplugs.com)

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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