As any of you that have been to a concert with me recently have seen, I have become something of a hearing protection fanatic. Back in my younger days I would go to rock shows, leave with ringing ears, be fine by the next morning, and think nothing of it. Unfortunately these days I have realized that anytime my ears end up ringing it takes much longer for it to go away.
This was highlighted last April when Casey, Teddy, and I went up to Atlanta to see the Butch Walker show at The Tabernacle. The show was great, around 3 1/2 hours of entertainment from 3 different bands. Butch Walker put on an amazing show (as always), but the sound was way too loud (and not a great mix either for us in the balcony, but I have heard since that this is pretty common at the Tabernacle). After we left, everyone had ringing ears (medically known as tinnitis). The ears of the two kids (Casey and Teddy) were fine by lunchtime the next day. For me, the ringing did not go away until the afternoon of the day after the day after. So 12 hours to recover for the kids, 36 hours for grandpa (me).
In addition to my steady string of concert experiences, I have also been playing with some friends in a loud rock band once a month. With all of these potential assaults on my ears, you can see how I might start getting a bit more concerned with my longterm hearing.
Now when it comes to hearing protection for use at concerts there are usually two options that people turn to. There are the squishy, disposable foam earplugs and the reusable latex earplugs.
The foam earplugs are handy because they are super cheap (purchased in bulk they can be as little as $0.06 per pair) and are disposable. So you use them, toss them, grab another set. The average foam earplug will reduce the volume by 20-30 decibels which is fantastic and fits well with loud rocks shows. The problem with these in regard to music is that they cut much more drastically the higher frequencies than the lower ones. So you could put in your foam earplugs and then no longer be able to hear the singer or the blazing guitar solos.
Reusable earplugs (such as the Etymotic ER-20’s pictured here)
much more faithfully maintain the frequency response by evenly reducing the overall volume (usually around 20 decibels). The downside is that they are more expensive ($12/pair when bought in low quantities, but as low as $6.50/pair in quantities of twenty-five or more), and you must remember not to lose or misplace them. But if you take a look at the frequency response curve you can see they are much more well suited than foam for use when listening to loud music at concerts.
If you attend very many concerts a year or are frequently in a loud setting, I highly recommend picking up the Etymotic ER-20’s. I can vouch first hand that they do a great job and make the concert experience much more enjoyable. They even make a smaller size (the baby blues) for use in smaller ears. Remember, once you have lost hearing it never comes back, so prevention is the only answer.
If you see me out at a show, I will probably have a little baggy filled with foam earplugs (since they are cheap) that I am always glad to share, just ask. But remember it will hinder your concert going experience slightly (because of them cutting out too much of the high frequencies). I would love to keep a stock of the reusable earplugs on hand to give away, but the higher cost prevents this. 🙁
It is much more preferable to have earplugs and not need them than to need them and not have them.
Which begs the question, why don’t the music venues provide or make available hearing protection at low or no cost? With the low cost of the foam earplugs, it is inexcusable for a venue to not have a quantity on hand for patrons (and a big sign letting everyone know they are there). Even if they didn’t give them away but sold them for $1/pair at least people would have the option. Now those that want the best of both worlds would really prefer the reusable over the foam earplugs, so whey not have a venue also sell the reusable ones too (only $6.50/pair when bought in large quantities). Maybe sell them for $7/pair. A smaller number of patrons would purchase them, but at least they would have the option. I also wonder if a reason for not having them available is that providing earplugs opens the venue up to potential lawsuits related to the volume of their shows (your honor, why would the venue provide earplugs unless they knew beforehand that the show was being performed at an unsafe volume, etc., etc.).
So how sure am I that the message about hearing protection needs to be screamed from the highest mountain tops? So sure that I try to spread the word to anyone that will listen and so sure that I am gathering information to make a case with my local Mobile, AL music venues and try to convince them to make one or both types of earplugs available free or very cheaply to their patrons.
Some of the venues here in the city provide ear plugs for free. I just found this out the other day at a show at the Warfield. You should check the venue next time you go. If it’s a bigger venue, they might have a supply of free foam ones and you don’t even know it.
Great post Doug, I really need to pick up some reusable plugs. Not that I go to that many concerts, but at the cost of concert tickets over here I definately want to hear ALL of the music. If I’m lucky I can have a set of plugs before the Dream Theater concert on the 29th, if not I know I have some foam plugs around the house somewhere…