There are many activities that we engage in that are harmful to our hearing. For some of us it is our professions. Construction, factory and agricultural workers are regularly exposed to loud noise as a part of their job.
For others of us it is recreational activities that put our hearing at risk. Shooters or hunters face a hearing risk every time they fire their weapon. Weekend activities like mowing the lawn can exceed the safe noise threshold as well.
Even events such as concerts or professional sports carry risks as noise levels routinely exceed 100 decibels (db).
It’s important to have an idea of just how noisy the activity you will be participating in will be because it let’s you know how much hearing protection you will require. Any sound over 85db can damage hearing, the higher the noise level above that, the greater the chance of hearing damage, and once your hearing is damaged it doesn’t come back.
So the louder the noises you will be exposed to, the greater the hearing protection you need. Hearing protection is measured in Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), which is listed in db of reduction. So if you are moving the lawn and the sound is 100db and your hearing protection has an NRR 20db, then the sound reaching your ears would be 80db, below the safe threshold.
There are many different types of high quality ear plugs designed for different purposes, let’s take a more in depth look at them.
Different Types of Earplugs
To determine what are the best ear plugs for you, you need to start with the purpose you will need them for. Ear plugs that are designed for a musician are different that those that are designed for sleeping. While there is a lot of crossover and the same earplugs can be used in many situations, they are often designed with a specific use case in mind.
Industrial earplugs are those that are designed for use in a professional work environment such as a factory. They are typically the best foam earplugs for NRR, having an NRR of 32 or 33db, the highest possible.
Industrial earplugs are designed to be disposable and purchased in high quantities. They are made from soft, latex free foam. The lower end versions are usually a simple cylinder while the higher end models have a tapered design for comfort.
These may have a string that attaches the two earplugs together. This is done so that if one falls out it won’t wind up tumbling into equipment that it could damage.
These will generally come in some very bright colors as well. This isn’t an on the job fashion statement. The bright colors assist in safety checks, making sure that everyone on the job site is wearing their hearing protection and complying with the site safety regulations.
Trying to get some rest can be miserable for light sleepers. The smallest noise can wake them up, completely disrupting their sleep cycle. Unfortunately many earplugs cause discomfort that can prevent a good nights sleep as well.
The world’s best earplugs for sleeping are those that give you an outstanding level of comfort, as well as enough protection to drown out the ambient noise around you.
Typically you don’t need much protection for sleeping, just enough to dull the nighttime noises around you, as a result sleeping earplugs tend to focus more on the comfort side of the equation.
Many of them are made from moldable material that forms to the outside of the ear so no pressure in placed on the inner ear canal. Others that are designed for placement in the ear canal are often shorter than the average earplug in order to accommodate side sleepers.
Snoring is one of the most difficult design problems in hearing protection. Imagine trying to drift off peacefully to sleep with a chainsaw running 6 inches from your head and you will have some understanding of the sleep challenges a person who lives with a loud snorer faces.
The best rated ear plugs for snoring are those that provide a high level of NRR to block out as much of the sound as possible, while still being reasonably comfortable.
These earplugs won’t focus quite as much on the comfort aspect as sleeping earplugs that are just designed for ambient noise, but they will still take comfort into account while designing for the highest NRR possible.
The worlds best earplugs for snoring are the ones that block out that wild ox braying next to you, while still giving you enough comfort to be able to sleep.
Swimming earplugs aren’t designed to keep sound out, they are designed to keep water out in order to prevent swimmer’s ear.
Swimmers ear is caused when water does not fully drain from the ear and results in irritation or an infection. It can be extremely painful and prevention is key.
The best ear plugs for swimming are designed from soft moldable material that custom forms to the outer ear to create a water tight seal. Since swimmers ear often affects children many of these will come in bright colors or packaging that appeals to kids.
These are sometimes designed to float for easy retrieval and to prevent them from clogging a pool filter if they fall out.
The most common material used for these earplugs are moldable silicone, however all natural beeswax alternatives are available as well for those needing an all-natural or hypoallergenic alternative.
Musicians have a unique hearing protection challenge. They need to lower the volume on the noise level they hear just enough to be below the safe hearing threshold, but with out loosing the clarity of the sound.
The muffled, distorted sound that many earplugs cause, especially in lower frequency sound ranges can make it very difficult for musicians and singers to perform.
As a result, when musicians look at what are the best ear plugs for them, they make their decision primarily on the audio clarity the ear plugs provide.
Musician earplugs will provide less hearing protection than other types of earplugs, often only around 12db of protection. This is much to low for many activities, but works great in the 90-100 db range.
They provide clarity through a small opening that runs through the center of the earplug to allow some sound to pass through. The result is more “turning down the volume” than the complete sound blocking that is normally associated with earplugs.
Concert earplugs are very close in design to earplugs for musicians; once again clarity is key with this group. However, these will typically have a slightly higher NRR.
The average concert goer can have the volume turned down a bit more since they don’t have a need to perform, and will generally enjoy a little more protection.
Where the average musicians earplugs will be around an NRR of 12, these will typically be in the low 20’s. They will still take advantage of the filtering technology that goes into the musician’s earplugs, letting a small amount of sound through to lower the sound level rather than blocking it outright.
Top 10 Products
Top 5 Best Earplugs
The top earplugs on our list all have one thing in common; they are very good at the purpose they are designed for. Whether that is blocking out the maximum noise in an industrial setting or lowering it a little bit for musicians, these earplugs all do their job very well.
Not only are 3M Tekk the best-reviewed earplugs on Amazon, they are the best selling earplugs in the world.
These earplugs are designed with an NRR of 29, which means they are appropriate for light industrial applications such has heavy machinery noise, or recreational uses such as mowing the lawn or shooting.
They are made from slow recovery foam that ensures you have plenty of time to properly position them in the ear canal before they expand.
They have a bright orange color for visibility and safety checks and are flame resistant for those working where there is a potential of arc-flash.
These are only available for bulk purchase so if you just want a couple of pairs of earplugs these may not be the option for you, but if you need to outfit a workplace or want enough to make sure you always have some on hand at home at all times these are an outstanding option.
Howard Leight is the second biggest name in hearing protection for the workplace behind 3M. Their expertise in hearing protection really shines through with these earplugs
These are made of smooth foam and have a contoured “T” shape that allows for easier insertion and long-term wear. The wings on the end also allow for easy removal. These are designed to fit nearly every user, so unless you have very narrow ear canals these should give you a comfortable fit.
The Laser Lite earplugs offer a robust NRR of 32db, which is only one less than the maximum 33db of the worlds best earplugs in terms of maximum protection. This makes these earplugs appropriate for heavier industrial uses such as factories, oil and gas, and welding.
These are only available for bulk purchase, but are very affordable even at a bulk purchase volumes. Pairs are individually packaged in a polybag for easy storage and transport.
Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs are designed specifically with the musician in mind. They provide 12db of protection, which is just enough to lower most music to a safe level, while still giving outstanding clarity.
They achieve that clarity with a patent pending attenuation filter that still allows some of the sound to pass through. This gives full range of sound, just at a lower volume level and prevents any of the muffled effects you get at lower sound ranges with foam earplugs.
These have a triple flange design and come with two shell sizes to ensure that you can customize to get a perfect fit for you.
They also have a custom removal tab for easier gripping while removing from the ears.
While designed for musicians these are great for concertgoers as well, or anyone who just wants to turn down the volume a little bit without the distracting muffled effect you get from regular earplugs.
If you want the NRR and design of a pair of industrial earplugs, but without the requirement to make a bulk purchase of 200 pairs, then the Ear Buddy Premium Soft Foam Earplugs may be for you.
These provide an outstanding NRR of 32 and they are made of extra soft foam that is the most comfortable on the market and appropriate for everything from mowing the lawn to sleeping next to a snoring loved one. Should you want to use these at work they come in a bright orange color for easy identification in the ear.
Ear Buddy goes the extra step of offering a 60-day no question asked money back guarantee. Although judging by the over 500 5-star reviews on Amazon there is a very good chance you won’t need it.
For the same protection the pros use in a package designed for home look to the Ear Buddy Premium Soft Foam Earplugs for your hearing protection needs.
If you are going to be attending a concert then Live Music HearSafe Earplugs are going to be the best ear plugs on our top 5 list for you.
These use the same type of filtering technology found on the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs reviewed above, but with an overall level of protection that is much more appropriate for the concertgoer in the audience.
These come as a set with two different filter levels at an NRR of 23 and 29db. This means that you’ll still get the clarity of other earplugs designed for musicians, but with the noise level turned farther down.
These have a comfortable triple flange design, which should fit comfortably in almost any ear. They are clear which means you won’t stand out or look awkward while wearing them and listening to your favorite band.
They also come with a convenient carrying case that can attach to your key ring to ensure you don’t loose track of them while on the way to or from the show.
Other Quality Earplugs
- Flents Quiet Please – These are a basic, quality earplug designed with the sleeper in mind. They are well rated by users and comfortable for all night wear.
- Moldex Drift to Sleep – These are the highest NRR rated sleeping earplugs on Amazon. If you have a loud snorer in the house these may be your best option.
- Mack’s Pillow Soft – While also marketed for sleeping, these are primarily a swimming earplug. They are the most popular swimming earplug on Amazon as of the time of writing.
- Mack’s SafeSound Slim Fit Earplugs – Designed for people with smaller ear canals, if you’ve experienced discomfort or pain from inner ear earplugs before consider giving these a try.
- Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs – These are combination inner ear and moldable outer ear earplug solution that is reusable.
The best earplugs ever are the best earplugs for you and your unique situation. The first thing you always look at when determining what are the best ear plugs for you is just how much hearing protection you need.
For musicians you may only need a slight reduction, around 12db. While for light industrial or recreational uses you will need an NRR in the 20db or above range. If you work in an extremely loud environment you may need near the maximum protection of 32-33db.
Once you have determined how much protection you need next you need to find the design that is the most comfortable for you. Hearing protection is typically worn for hours on end and sometimes as much as a full day. Earplugs that put too much pressure on the ear canal and cause pain can be a serious annoyance.
Finally look at other features you may need. Do you want brightly colored earplugs that you can see in a coworker’s ear? Or would you prefer clear so that they are not noticeable in your own ears?
Perhaps you need a tab to make the earplugs easier to remove, or a string to link them together in case one falls out. Maybe they need to be waterproof and NRR isn’t a consideration at all. All these factors and more may influence your decision.
Knowing your needs and the variety of product features out there will let you focus in on the best type of earplugs for you.
There are a lot of great earplug options out there for your needs and budget. This review has given you a guide that you can use to hone in on the product that is right for you.
Just remember to focus in on protection and comfort. If you get a product that doesn’t provide the protection you need then your hearing could still be at risk. If the earplugs are too uncomfortable to wear then they won’t do you any good either.
However, if you properly consider your needs and follow the guide I’ve given you today then you should be able to find the right product with the right fit at the right price and enjoy long term hearing protection as a result.