How we test earplugs

Man at a live musi venue surrounded by people with earplugs in his ears
(Image credit: Future/Chris Barnes)

In our opinion, earplugs are an absolute essential for anyone who attends live events of any kind, but particularly for those of us who are often exposed to live music at volume. Earplugs are affordable, discrete and the main line of defense between you and long-term hearing damage and ailments such as tinnitus. What's more, nowadays wearing earplugs at live shows has nowhere near the same stigma as it did decades ago.

Here at Louder, our team of writers and freelancer contributors have tested a huge range of earplugs over the years, from free foam types and pocket-friendly options, to higher-end plugs and custom moulded hearing protection, which act as a base for product selection in our buying guides. We use a rigorous process when conducting our reviews, carefully testing each product to ensure an accurate insight for the consumer. We always take our test earplugs to the appropriate proving ground – live music venues up and down the country. Between us we attend multiple gigs each week.

We use this testing to inform our reviews and, in particular, the products we include in our best earplugs for concerts buyer's guide.

On this page we'll go into detail on our selection and testing process.

How we select products

All of our recommendations are made based on the product’s merit alone – no one tells us what we should say in a review, or which products we should or shouldn’t cover. The opinions in our reviews and buyer's guide entries are that of the writer. We select our writers because they have experience in particular fields and have tested alot of products in that category. 

We never take money to create a review and we’re never afraid to highlight the flaws and areas of improvement in a product.

Typically we are in direct contact with manufacturers or local distributors who will send us sample earplugs for review. If we’re unable to source a sample by going down this route, we will buy them with our own money. We often request multiple samples so that different members of our team can test them in various environments.

When selecting products for consideration, we rely on our own experience of the brands and features that most users will be looking for, as well as discussions with other editorial staff to determine the most popular or top-performing products that are worth reviewing.

How we test

Flare Audio Isolate Pro earplugs

(Image credit: Future/Chris Barnes)

All of the earplugs we test must meet a certain barrier when it comes to quality, and we are always careful to test products thoroughly. Here are the aspects that we'll examine during testing:

Comfort and fit

This is a really important aspect of all earplugs. It's quite possible you'll be wearing them for a number of hours – whether it's for the duration of a 3-band bill, or an all-day music festival – so it's crucial that the earplugs we recommend don't put undue pressure on the ear during use, or cause excess fatigue. This means testing them for comfort during use, but also for any impact they have on the ears once they've been removed. Some pairs we've tried have overstretched our ears to the point where we've felt it for a period of time even after we've removed them.

Regarding fit, we test how easy the earplugs are to insert and to create a good seal. We also test whether they stay put over time, including experimenting with different movement from basic head turns and conversation to vigorous headbanging. 

We explore whether the earplugs come with multiple tips of different sizes and materials to allow for an optimal seal. Conversely, if they're a one-size model, does this work across the different ear canal sizes of our team members?


Music is incredibly important to us, so we want to know how little or how much the earplugs will colour the sound of our favourite artists, whilst still removing those damaging or jarring frequencies that are the main cause of hearing loss. We test these products while listening to a range of musical styles so we're exposed to different frequencies to see how the earplugs cope.

We don't just evaluate how the earplugs work during the concert itself, but also see how our ears feel in the subsequent days – we listen out for any ringing in our ears, or any discomfort post-removal that might suggest the plugs have placed extra pressure on our ears.


Earplugs are pretty basic items, but many come bundled with extra accessories, so we look at what else comes with the plugs. Do they include a carry case, a cord to connect the earbuds together, or any cleaning products? 

We weigh up the quality of these items, how useful these extras are, whether they add any value to the package or if they feel like an unnecessary gimmick.

Loop Earplugs

(Image credit: Future/Chris Barnes)

Build quality/materials

In a nutshell, are they built to last, or will repeated uses lead to rapid degradation in performance?

We evaluate build quality out of the box, before assessing any damage that occurs from initial use. Then we look ahead to predict how a set of earplugs might perform after time. 

We will continue to use earplugs after our reviews are published and will update a review if we notice any changes in performance.


Let's face it, looks matter, and these are items we will be wearing out and about, amongst our peers, so we assess how stylish and discrete (or not) each pair of plugs is. 

Aesthetics are subjective, of course, but we aim to give our take in balanced way.


With all of the above factors taken into consideration, we then analyse whether the cost is justifiable. We take into account competitor products in the same price range and what is typically offered at each level. If we think something is wildly overpriced for what it is, we don't include it. 

Meet our experts

Louder’s reviewers are a collective of music fans and musicians who have been attending and performing gigs for decades. For our buyer's guides and reviews we bring together their expertise to select and test earplugs that they rate for this guide.

Scott Munro profile pic
Scott Munro

Louder's eComm Editor Scott Munro, who maintains this guide, doesn't suffer from tinnitus, but now wears earplugs regularly after a torturous experience at a live concert several years ago which sparked him into action to do more to protect his hearing. He regularly tests earplugs for Louder.

Chris Barnes
Chris Barnes

Chris Barnes is the eCommerce Editor for Guitar World, MusicRadar and Louder, and is also a drummer. With the sound of crash cymbals permanently ringing in his ears after 20+ years of playing, and with 26 years of attending and playing live gigs under his belt, he knows the importance of quality ear protection and has used everything from free foam earplugs to custom moulded in-ear monitors.

Eleanor Goodman
Eleanor Goodman

Metal Hammer editor Eleanor Goodman has been living with tinnitus since she was a teenager and has relied on earplugs when attending concerts and festivals and has spoken about the importance of looking after her hearing and how she deals with the issue.

Paul Dimery author photo
Paul Dimery

Paul is a regular freelance contributor to Louder, primarily testing and reviewing products. He covers alot of audio equipment, from turntables to Bluetooth speakers, and live music fan Paul has also tested a number of sets of earplugs for Louder.

Emily Broomhead: British Tinnitus Association
Emily Broomhead

For our earplug and hearing protection content we also consult with outside experts from organisations including Harley Street Hearing & Musicians Hearing Services, Tinnitus UK and the American Tinnitus Association.

Chris Barnes

Chris is Louder's eCommerce Editor and has been a metalhead ever since he saw Machine Head destroy the London Astoria in '97. He manages buyer's guides on the site and it's his job to help you find the raddest merch, collectibles and music-listening tech, at the best prices. Chris has spent over 10 years testing gadgets and music gear - reviewing everything from turntables, headphones and speakers to electronic drum kits - for brands including T3, MusicRadar and Guitar World.