Tech Features

TRIED AND TESTED: PROFESSIONAL EARPLUGS By Ben Gomori

02 February 2012
  • Tech
  • Tech Features
TRIED AND TESTED: PROFESSIONAL EARPLUGS

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Human nature often dictates that we have to learn from experience and often don’t see to a potential problem until it’s a reality. But if you’re smart, you won’t let that be the case when it comes to your hearing. The likes of Gilles Peterson and Goldie have been protecting their hearing for years now-so why don’t you?

Whether you’re a clubber or a DJ/producer/musician/singer, you need to protect your hearing. The sound levels in the vast majority of clubs are dangerous to your ears. Many of you will know the pains of tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears after a stint of clubbing. Some of you won’t and will say “I’ve never had that problem”. Don’t be fooled though – you might not have experienced the symptoms yet, but that doesn’t mean you’re not causing irreparable damage to your hearing.

Protect yourself

Moulded musicians earplugs are a godsend. Increasingly embraced by DJs, musicians and clubbers alike, they are perfectly designed to fit your ear canal for maximum comfort and efficacy, and have special filters which attenuate all frequencies by the same amount - which gives a result akin to turning the volume down rather than muffling things. No discernible loss in fidelity, and no horrible ringing in your ears when you come out of a club.

Speaking of which, lack of education about professional quality earplugs when I was younger and a lack of knowledge of the dangers mean that as a 27 year old man, I have had tinnitus for 10 years now. It’s not pleasant. Although I’m barely aware of it most of the time, I can never hear silence, and it can get quite prominent when I’m trying to sleep or relax. Prolonged exposure to earphones and speakers or unprotected exposure to soundsystems make it worse. I can’t listen to headphones constantly any more, and my ears feel really sensitive to higher frequencies. Although at last count I had experienced no hearing loss, it’s likely to lead to higher-than-average hearing loss when I’m older. It sucks, big time.

Previously when I’ve had custom made earplugs created, I’ve had to take time off work to go to a frequently inconveniently-located clinic. What a find Monika Schumacher was then - if you’re in the London/Essex area that is. This ACS-certified specialist does home visits at the weekend - meaning you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to get your plugs moulded.

The science and the myths

As way of explanation as to how your ears work - and their natural level of ‘protection’ - Monika offers up a sliding scale of efficacy. “If you’re listening to music at 85dB, your hearing is safe for eight hours. Then when it goes up by 3 dB, it cuts the safety time down by half.” So if you consider that the average nightclub soundsystem is around 106 dB, the maths tells you that your ears are safe in such an environment for around 4 minutes. And while hearing protection doesn’t make you immune to the perils loud sound systems, it increases this recommended safety time to 2 hours - a vast improvement.

“People think that tinnitus will never happen to them or that it is just experienced for a short while when they have come out from a club” Monika continues, “and because it goes away after a few hours, they believe it will never get to the point where it may well end up with the condition forever. If they do have it constantly but just in a mild way, they believe that it will not ever get any worse, it can and does unfortunately.

Getting plugged up

When you book a session to have your ear impressions taken - with Monika or any other certified hearing protection specialist - the first thing that needs to happen is that your ear canals need to be clear of wax. Tasty, right? Everyone’s ears produce wax naturally, and it’s advisable that you book a appointment with your local GP or practise nurse to take a quick look in your ears to make sure you are free of any great wax build up, it would take them 2 - 3 mins or you can just take pot luck and hope you are clear, but Monika may charge a cancellation fee of £20 if she cannot take the impressions, if you do have a large build up of wax you can either go to your local GP to have them syringed or Monika will give you contact details of a specialised ear clinic who will be able to get rid of your ear wax using the most up to date equipment. It’s a quick and slightly uncomfortable process where they insert a tiny hoover into your ear and literally suck it out. I paid a visit to just such a Central London clinic, I was then ready for my impressions to be taken. Monika arrives for the second time on a leisurely Sunday lunch time, and gets straight to work. First, foam stoppers are inserted into my ear canals, then a soft impression material is slowly squeezed through a canulla into my ear via a plastic syringe. The impression material slowly hardens and sets in my ear after about 3 -4 mins, Monika then slowly and gently retrieves the impression mould. The mould is then ready to be sent off to the lab, to be used to make my earplugs.

The end result

I’ve opted for the Pro17s with -16 dB cut filters which offer a medium strength of noise reduction. I’ve found this is about the right level to keep my ears feeling protected in front of a loud soundsystem, but without taking things down too far. But there are - 15 and -20 dB filters in the Pro's or 9, 15, 25 in the ER range available too if you find that you’re not quite getting the level you want. After a few weeks, my plugs get delivered to my house by Monika, who wants to make sure they fit OK - and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Snug as you like, they come in a zip-up carrying pouch with a tube of ‘ear lube’ for if you find them uncomfortable to insert at times.

Including delivery and impressions, these ear plugs cost £140. plus some postage and packing. When you think about the price tag you would place on your hearing, it’s a trivial amount. I couldn’t live without these after getting accustomed to them, and I can even DJ with them in (albeit with the monitor and earphones having to be cranked up a bit, but still to a level that’s less severe on my ears). It’s nothing like using foam or latex earplugs - it’s a vastly superior experience in every sense.

I can’t urge you enough to take this simple precautionary measure enough. If you don’t want to end up with a permanent ringing in your ear like me - someone who lives for music above and over anything - get it sorted.

Check out Monika’s website here for more information and to find out how to get your plugs made.

TAGS: EAR PLUG / MONIKA / REVIEWS / TECH

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