It's been a dark time for live music, but things are finally looking up with bands scheduling shows and tours for throughout 2022 and into 2023. Summer festivals are go, and music fans can once again look forward to seeing their favourite artists. But after so long away, it's easy to forget how important it is to protect our hearing at live shows – so, with that in mind, we've picked a range of the best earplugs for concerts to help minimise the risk of damage to your hearing.
To understand why hearing protection is important and to get some useful advice, we spoke with Emily Broomhead, the Campaigns Manager at the British Tinnitus Association after the charity reported that 30% of people will experience the condition at some point in their lives.
Emily stressed: "Keep taking and using earplugs. Take a spare pair of earplugs too, in case you lose one or both. And importantly, if you feel uncomfortable you can always walk away. No live event is more important than your hearing. Never be afraid to leave. We get so many people telling us, 'If only I had walked away.' Don't let that be you."
And don't worry – wearing hearing protection at live shows won't hamper your enjoyment of the music – the best earplugs for concerts are designed to safeguard your ears while letting all the good stuff in.
It’s also worth pointing out that not every earplug is created equal – some offer all day comfort for those long festival weekends, while others will protect your hearing to greater levels than others. In fact, some of the best earplugs for concerts are so good at filtering incredible sound into your lugs that you'll hardly notice you're wearing hearing protection.
For more information about tinnitus and how to protect your hearing at live shows and festivals, visit the British Tinnitus Association's website.
Best earplugs for concerts: The Louder Choice
Protecting your hearing at live shows and festivals, and if you’re playing an instrument, is something you should take seriously, but it’s important that on your quest to save yourself from tinnitus, you don’t completely shut out the thing you enjoy the most: music.
There are plenty of earplugs out there that will help protect your hearing while letting you enjoy your favourite music – and I particularly like the Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs which offer 27dB of NRR and are available for a great low price.
Another great option are the Vibes High Fidelity earplugs which protect without dampening the sound – and they also look pretty good too.
For these and further options, take a look at our product list below.
Best earplugs for concerts: Product guide
Our first entry is from one of music’s more familiar brands. The American-made Fender Musician Series plugs are built to withstand the full force of stage volume, delivering an impressive 27dB NRR. They’re also reusable, inexpensive and didn't make me look like an alien while attending a recent concert.
If heavier music is your thing – and as you're on Louder, I suspect you do – and the shows you attend are typically loud, then these could be the best ear plugs for you.
Read our Fender Musician Earplugs review
The Vibes Hi-Fidelity earplugs focus on reducing (attenuating) volume, employing special filters to fine-tune certain damaging frequencies. Overall noise is reduced, but without muffling the sound too badly. If you're used to using cheap foam options, you'll know what we mean by 'muffled'. We didn't find the muffling to be too distracting with these earplugs.
The design and build is super cool too. Once they're in your ears, I found that the low profile and clear plastic housing meant I barely knew they were there, and neither will anyone else. I found them comfortable during long band practices and multi-band bills, too.
Read the full Vibes Hi-Fidelity review
Admittedly, there isn’t a huge amount of scope for innovation and technology in the world of earplugs, which is why it’s good to see something new from the Flare Audio Isolate Pro earplugs. The innovation comes in the shape of a small plastic, aluminium or titanium block (we tested titanium) which is inserted into the memory foam tips, which help reduce noise levels but still deliver detail within music thanks to bone conduction.
In practice we found this worked really well, and the fact they're among the smallest plugs on display in our guide meant we scored them highly on almost every count. That said, they're so small that we're a little worried about losing them – so make sure you use the supplied mesh storage bag and keep a good grip on them in dark venues!
Read the full Flare Audio Isolate Pro earplugs
The reusable Loop Experience High Fidelity Ear Plugs are perhaps the most stylish in our list thanks to their cool ‘loop’ design. Not only do they look great, but they also come in a variety of colours: Black, rose gold, gold and silver. But of course the real test is what they can do to help protect you when out and about and at concerts.
They offer an 18 decibel reduction in noise and the pack contains XS, S, M and L silicone tips to ensure a good fit along with a keychain carry case so I could stow them away safely after use – and not go desperately scrambling through my pockets to find them when I got home.
Not only do these dampen the decibels, but they also manage to let the sound in and don’t muffle live music like some foam plugs tend to do… and they stay firmly in place! In my opinion – and taking cost into consideration – having a set of these on hand when you head out to see live music is definitely worth it.
As one of the bigger names in ear and hearing protection, the Alpine MusicSafe Pro ear plugs are always worth checking out. The good news is that they are superb for most applications, with interchangeable filters ensuring differing levels of noise attenuation depending on the situation.
The kit comes complete with a carrying case, cleaning fluid and a cable to hold them safely together, making this a pretty compelling package.
If you’re a musician who is looking for a cracking set of earplugs, then the excellent Earos One are a great fit. Sure, they can also be used by live music fans, but musicians will see the biggest benefit as they were conceived by a former Director of the MIT Acoustics And Vibratory Lab.
I found them to be a little bit unwieldy, but they were comfortable when fitted and they'll make your time on stage much more bearable thanks to their Medical grade TPE tips.
Look on any large online retailer and you’ll find countless, almost identical models or earplugs, but the Eargrace High Fidelity stand out for a number of reasons. First among them is the combination of attenuation filters, which ensured I could hear the full musical frequency spectrum live but at a reduced volume. They also come with a number of handy accessories like a case, cleaning brush and connecting cord.
I don't think they would give you years of live music and festival outings without falling apart, but as an entry point into hearing protection at a sensible cost, the Eargrace High Fidelity earplugs are very easy to recommend.
Sitting a step above the cheap and cheerful models, yet not quite in the high end, comes the EarLabs dBud earplugs. I really like the combination of both foam and silicone buds in a range of sizes, which meant I was able to easily find a perfect fit.
The overall construction and durability on these earbuds is high, meaning the dBuds could feasibly last a few years of shows and festivals before they need replacing.
As a very low-end option, the Wowtech Super Soft Foam Earplugs could be handy to keep in the car for use in emergencies. A pack contains 60 pairs, and each offers a highly respectable 38dB of protection from external noise. They come with a keychain travel case which can be popped in your pocket and keeps the earplugs clean and debris free.
While I wouldn’t advocate them as a long-term solution, they're definitely worth a look as they're a handy back-up to have to hand if you've left your other earbuds at home.
At the top end of the line-up we have the Etymotic Music Pro active ear plugs. These employ an electronic circuit which automatically adjusts to changing sound levels. In practice, this means that noise below a certain level passes through freely, but then if the plugs detect a raised volume level they spring into life.
Yes, they are the priciest models on display here, but with them comes a level of technology and smarts that the other models can’t compete with.
Best earplugs for concerts: Buying advice
If you’re looking at earplugs for concerts, it’s likely for one of two reasons. Either your hearing is perfect and you’d like to keep it that way, or your ears have taken a battering over the years and you don’t want to make things worse and land yourself with tinnitus.
Whatever your reason, dedicated hearing protectors are a very wise purchase for anyone who loves live music – or works in a noisy job. As with the best headphones, most hearing protection tends to fall in one of two brackets: over-ear and in-ear. We’re not going to dwell too much on the differences as they should be fairly self-explanatory, however in this best earplugs guide we’ve, rather obviously, opted for in-ears instead of bulky ear defenders.
Within those two brackets, however, there is a fair amount of difference, and you get what you pay for too. You could put a small amount of cash into something cheap, yet ultimately disposable, or you could invest in something that will see you through many years of gigs and festivals.
A decent barometer of performance comes in measuring the levels of noise a product offers protection from. For example, any ear protection sold in the United States must be tested according to American National Standards (ANSI), upon which it is given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR).
However, attending a concert with a decibel level of 100dB and wearing 33dB-rated earplugs doesn’t mean the new level is 67dB. No, that would be far too simple! Instead, there’s a formula: deduct 7 from the NRR rating and divide the resulting number by two. This is the amount of protection on offer.
So, continuing the same example; a 100dB concert would be reduced to 87dB by wearing ear protection rated at 33dB.
Best earplugs for concerts: Custom earplugs
With a wide range of earplugs available, there’s much talk about the benefits of custom moulded earplugs and the difference they can make when it comes to protecting your hearing, either at a live show or in the work environment.
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach like most earplugs, like the name suggests, custom earplugs mould themselves snuggly into the shape of your ear canals to provide a comfortable fit and keep unwanted noise levels out.
Some, such as the Decibullz custom moulded earplugs, allow you to mould each bud at home. Granted, it can be a bit of a faff to get right, but it does mean you’ll get a good fit which is really what we’re after. You can also remould them should the results not be perfect the first time around... so no worries about messing things up straight out of the box.
If you want to go that extra mile, you can visit a hearing healthcare professional who should also be able to create moulds for earbud use.
It’s also worth pointing out that custom moulded earplugs can be priced higher than other earplugs due to their individual nature, with guidance suggesting that new ear canal impressions are taken every four years as your ears continue to grow as you get older.
Best earplugs for concerts: Are foam earplugs worth it?
On the list above, we included the Wowtech super soft foam earplugs – one of many similar products on the market. These foam tips are at the cheaper end of the scale and in our opinion should only be used as a backup. Unlike some of the other options, foam earplugs muffle all sounds and don’t let much audio through unlike the more expensive models. As such, they’re better suited to getting a good night’s sleep than rocking out in a crowd.
On my gig travels, I’ve seen similar foam earplugs given away free at the bar but the uptake has never seemed that high – although at a Swans concert several years ago, I was only too happy to see a cup of red foam earbuds perched on a table. In all my years of watching live music, I had never experienced music so loud, and I gratefully stuffed a couple into my lugs.
It was a memorable live event for all the wrong reasons as I couldn’t really pick out any intricacies in the music. Still, it was that show that prompted me to invest in a good pair of earplugs and I haven't looked back.
So foam earplugs are better than nothing if you’re in a pinch, but remember that each pair should only be worn once and then disposed of. The shape will change with repeated use and they’re not the most hygienic option available.
Best earplugs for concerts: Advice for musicians
With live music making its long-awaited comeback, it’s not just fans who need to look after their hearing – musicians who are constantly on the road are well aware of the risk of hearing loss.
I recently spoke with Liam Hennessy, the head of health and welfare at Help Musicians, and Paul Checkley, who is partner and clinical director at Harley Street Hearing & Musicians Hearing Services about what steps musicians can take to better protect themselves. They both stressed the importance of preventing career-threatening hearing issues and highlighted the Hear For Musicians initiative for members of The Musicians’ Union.
Liam also spoke about the “rising issue” of hearing loss within the industry, saying: “Help Musicians is seeing an increase in the number of musicians getting in touch for help; the British Tinnitus Association also saw a 47% surge in those seeking help for tinnitus during lockdown.
“Speaking openly about these issues helps to remove the stigma and encourages others to seek help, as well as prompting those without symptoms to regularly check their own hearing health. We would encourage all musicians to take preventative measures to protect their hearing in order to sustain a long and healthy career in music."
Paul added: “The key here is to ensure your hearing is protected. There are now special flat-response musicians earplugs, which reduce the level of the music entering the ear but maintain the fidelity by attenuating all frequencies to the same level. Most standard earplugs attenuate more high frequencies, which can result in a dullness of sound and make speech difficult to understand. The flat response plugs simply reduce the volume without affecting the sound quality.
“If you are struggling with tinnitus there are a number of techniques and therapies that can help. The best place to start is with your GP who should be able to direct you to someone who can help.”
Best earplugs for concerts: How we test earplugs
The Louder earplug review process is editorially independent and not influenced by any third parties. Our review samples are sourced directly from the manufacturer or purchased via a retailer.
We’re music fans here at Louder. Therefore, we test our plugs in the only proving ground we know – live music venues and band rehearsal rooms.
Our testers evaluate the earplugs in the following categories:
- Comfort and fit
- Build quality/materials
This enables us to produce accurate, well-balanced and real-life reviews to help you easily figure out whether the plugs you’re interested in are really the best choice for you.
Our testing criteria in detail:
- Comfort and fit - Do the plugs come with multiple tips to allow for different size ear canals, or are they shaped in a way to provide decent levels of isolation from damaging frequencies? Are the earplugs comfortable for long periods of wear or do they fatigue the ears quickly?
- Features - Does the package include things like a carry case, a string to connect the earbuds together or any products to clean them?
- Build quality/materials - In a nutshell, are they built to last, or will they need replacing quickly?
- Performance - To what extent do the earplugs reduce the damaging frequencies of the sound you're listening to? Then, just as importantly, how do they impact the quality of the sound you’re hearing?
Testing team: who are we?
- Louder’s reviewers are a collective of music fans and musicians who have been attending and performing gigs for years – from the noisiest AC/DC stadium shows to ear splitting club shows from bands like Swans – we know how bad gigs can be for long-term ear health.
- Some of us are also musicians – including gigging drummers and guitarists – who have spent more time than we can remember squeezed up against Marshall stacks or ear height with a ride cymbal. We know the impact this activity can have on your ears when you don’t use protection, and we know the protection that works best.
- "No live event is more important than your hearing."
- Living with tinnitus: "We all love music – why would we want to lose that?"
- Help Musicians offer support to artists over "rising issue" of hearing loss
- Best concert ticket sites: Don’t miss your favourite artists
- How we test and rate products at Louder