There was a time not so long ago that many of us would go to gigs without giving our hearing health much of a thought. Rock shows are meant to be loud after all, but the world has moved on and giving some thought to looking after our hearing is now common among live music fans.
In this review, I'll be taking a look at the EarLabs dBud – a set of “volume-adjustable” earplugs that were originally launched by the Swedish firm in 2018, but have since been improved with the help of renowned music accessories company D’Addario.
They can be pricier than some other earplugs on the market, so I'll tell you if they're worth the money and let you known about their design, comfort and the EarLabs dBud's ability to keep your ear drums safe.
EarLabs dBud review: Design
Compact, discreet and printed with the letters ‘dB’ (which, ironically, are also the initials for decibels), the dBud ooze understated chic. The attachable, elasticated leash is handy and prevents you from losing them, while the carry case is great for storing the EarLabs dBuds when they’re not being used. If you do decide to keep them around your neck, magnets on each earplug will keep them clicked together, meaning they won’t swing around when you walk.
In terms of comfort, the EarLabs dBud feel lightweight in the ears, while three different sizes of memory foam tips and five sizes of silicone tips should ensure that you’ll find some to suit your cavities. Once I'd identified the correct fit for my ears, I found the dBuds to be nice and snug, and I'd have no qualms about wearing them for a couple of hours at a time.
Finally, a quick word about the colour options. The EarLabs dBud come in either Charcoal Black or Dusty Pink, and while your choice will obviously come down to personal taste, I found the latter looked too much like prescription earplugs for my liking.
EarLabs dBud review: Features
There's a surprising amount of technology tucked away inside these little things. For a start, the EarLabs dBud feature a distinctive slider, enabling you to choose between two levels of noise reduction: -12dB and -24dB. So, if you’re at a gig and you want to protect your ears but still want to hear what your friends are saying, you might choose the -12dB setting. Taking a long-haul flight and want to get some rest without being distracted by engine noise or chatter? Perhaps the -24dB would be the better here. They're also great if you're looking for a little peace when out and about, making the EarLabs dBud a versatile earplug option.
I've put these two settings to the test in the next section to see if they’re as effective as the manufacturer suggests.
Though EarLabs claims these earplugs offer safe noise exposure up to 110dB, the Swedish firm has worked hard to ensure the quality of music coming through isn’t compromised. The EarLabs dBud feature award-winning, smart acoustic filtering, where attenuation is balanced across all frequencies, helping to reduce that muffled sound you often get with ear plugs.
The fact the EarLabs dBud manage to do all of this without the help of electronics or battery power makes them all the more impressive. Now to find out how well these features work.
EarLabs dBud review: Performance
To test the dBud’s efficacy, I tried them out at a gig at my local pub. Although the volume slider took a little while to get used to, it worked a treat once I got the hang of it. When the band played at full throttle, switching to the -24dB setting muted the din significantly, enabling me to enjoy the music free of anxiety. When I later went to the bar to order a drink, changing to the -12dB setting meant I was able to hear what the bartender was saying while keeping the music at a manageable volume.
The dBuds weren’t without their faults though: whichever setting I chose, the detail in the music suffered somewhat, with the more intricate guitar noodlings and keyboard solos getting lost in the mix. I also noticed the cable the plugs are attached to tended to stick to things which was annoying after a while. On the whole, though, I found they were sufficiently comfy, discreet and effective to make them worth the money.
EarLabs dBud review: The alternatives
If you’re after a cheaper alternative to the EarLabs dBud, then look no further than the Fender Musician Ear Plugs. They may not be the most attractive earplugs on the market, but they offer up to -27dB noise reduction, a decent level of comfort, and of course that Fender stamp of quality – all for a great price.
Slightly more expensive than the EarLabs dBud are the Flare Audio Earshade Pro. Probably the most stylish plugs I've ever clapped my eyes on, these also mute noise to -27dB, while premium memory foam ensures you’ll happily keep them in for hours at a time.
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