Off the shlef ear plugs, vs custom fit

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by kmetal, May 12, 2013.

  1. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I called a couple local ear doctors, and i can get 'musicians ear plug's' for between $125-150, including the cast mold of my ears. this is a very reasonable price given hearing is not like fixing a broken bone.

    Planet Waves Pacato Hearing Protectors/Audio Filters | Etymotic Research ETY-Plugs |

    my question is has anyone used these factory type earplugs that have the filter? and how do they stack up to doctor made? has anyone had a doctor make them some and used them? how do any stack up compared to none. i mean after a while at FOH spot your bodies mechanics start to attenuate things anyway. but to be exposed to such high spls, even just once a week is not helpful to me in the long run.

    i figure i'll get things relatively balanced and feedback free, then put my plugs in for the rest of the gig, and work w/in a few dbs of adjustments to taste over the rest of the gig. if the $20 ones are OK i'll get them for now, surely they must be a step over typical foam plugs, but how much? i dunno. i'd rather not waste money.

    the custom fit ones from the doctor offer the capability to employ two sets of filters, one like -10db, the other like -25. any links, thoughts would be much appreciated. i have next weekend off from gigs, and am looking to get something soon as a can make an informed decision. rolled up napkins aren't gonna cut it if i'm gonna continue 3-5 gigs a month live mixing as i have been lately.

  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    it's a smart move to start protecting your hearing at a young age. unfortunately a lot of us didn't do this when we should have and now we are paying the cost.

    i used the filter things when i was giging but i have never tried to mix with them. i would say try it it might work and what have you got to loose (or not loose in this case). when i played with them it didn't seem to change how i was hearing spectral balance, they just attenuated the levels, but we all know how an unscientific assessment like this can be erroneous.

    Custom fits are going to be better but will cost ... but let me congratulate you on a good desicion to protect yourself before any long term permanent damage is done.
  3. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I wore custom fitted rated @ 78dbs for a while while playing on the road. I also believe in them in industrial settings. My OSHA 30 training confirms this.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I had tried a variety of earplugs years ago. For me, the foam versions only dampen the highs - high/mid, letting the bass through resulting in a muddy sounding mess that made playing very uninspiring and would have been all but impossible to wear while mixing.

    The silicone versions might work for some people, I could not get a very good seal. It would probably depend on the shape of the individual's ear canal. Back then, there was a product called Sonic Ear Valves (or something like that). They looked somewhat like the ones you've linked to with a hard metal filter in the center. I found them to be very uncomfortable and sonically not a huge improvement over the foam.

    Back around 1990 I was in a band that worked a lot, and the guy who was running sound for us took the plunge on custom moulded Westone ER-15s. He's an incredibly smart guy who has very discriminating hearing, so when he told me how good they sounded I was convinced it was worth investing in protecting my ears. Obviously it's not the kind of thing he could loan me to try - they're custom fit, so I had to take his word for it. Back then my bass playing buddy and I had to drive 80 miles to the city to find an audiologist that sold the Westones and did the moulds. When mine arrived a couple weeks later I was not disappointed. It was 1991 when I got mine, and it was the single best investment in musical equipment, or my music-related career, I have ever made.

    They're custom moulded, so they fit perfectly. They are so comfortable and natural sounding, that I have worn them for the better part of a day with absolutely no discomfort or fatiguing sensation. In fact, I can forget I have them in. The sound that passes through is very well balanced top to bottom, but the added bonus is that when you knock the volume down 15dB, EVERYTHING sounds more detailed and clear. If you're like a lot of us who have ER15s, you'll find yourself wearing them doing all sorts of non-musical things too. I take mine anytime I'm going to a arena-size concert, bar-band, or anything in between ANY noisy venue of ANY size. But also mowing the yard, riding the motorcycle, etc. In a noisy club where people usually have to shout in your ear to talk, they'll look at you funny when you pull away because you can hear them without being inches from your ear. Again, whether the show is big or small, you'll hear musical detail you would completely miss if your ear-drums were being pummeled with the extra 15dB.

    As a musician, I haven't played without earplugs since 1991. Honestly, it took a while to get used to hearing everything so well. In particular, it took a while to learn how to sing with them in. You get that 'when I plug my ears, all I hear is my own voice' effect - so at first I wasn't singing with the same force, just because in my head (literally) it seemed like I was singing entirely too loud. [added benefit, it takes little to no monitor volume on stage to make me happy when I'm playing/singing] After a couple weeks I got used to it and found it so much easier to sing. Mostly because I can hear myself better and can concentrate on the vocal delivery rather than just straining to be heard like I would through blaring loud wedges. As an electric rock guitar player, there was a short period of adjustment to playing at what sounds like a reduced volume. But my tendency has always been to blend with the band on stage, rather than let myself, or any other member, overpower the rest of the band. So when, to my ears, they are quieter - so am I.

    As a soundman, I would feel very confident mixing with them in, but seldom do. Philosophically, in most cases I don't feel right about making the audience endure a volume I could not tolerate myself. I've got a great PA that can sound silky smooth, while punching you in the face. I can easily fill a big club or auditorium without ever being harsh, and at my age I'm not doing music that is well-served by excessively high volumes. I'm fairly selective about who I work with, so the insane volume issue rarely comes up. If I were working bigger / louder venues, or with ego-maniac / volume whores, I'd have the Westones in from the minute I stepped in the door. If I was mixing the same rock band 2-5 nights a week (like my soundman buddy was in the 90's), I'd be ear pluggin it as soon as the band was smoothly underway. Last year I had to mix a weekend at a really loud rock club that included some up-and-coming bands who tour the smaller arenas and festivals. They can't play quiet. When the bass rig and guitar stacks individual stage-volume is between 115dB - 120dB range from 75ft away before the PA is even turned on, I WILL BE WEARING EARPLUGS. (I was especially thankful for earplugs during the obnoxious loud house DJ they had between bands.)

    As a dad who has a son who is a drummer, I was happy to lay out the cash a few years ago when all he asked for for his 17th birthday was custom ER15s. His also came with solid moulds for maximum attenuation if you're doing something crazy loud. Money well spent for both of us. Especially considering the fact that the drummer from that early 90's band didn't wear earplugs and has had to wear hearing aids since he was about 40.

    More good news, as I found out when looking for Westones for my son, we don't need to drive to a big city anymore. There are several audiologists to choose from in small towns all around us here in rural PA. The audiology / ENT community has really stepped up the crusade to protect your hearing. You should have no problem finding a bunch of them in the Boston area.

    Good luck.
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I believe that was the company who built mine. Sadly they disappeared in a equipment box that walked off a gig somehow....They had the tube that wrapped around the ear and, as I said , were custom fitted. At the time a whopping $150 well spent dollars.
  6. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    thanks everyone, seems like the er-15's are the way to go, i'm going to look into a bit more, and call some area audiologists to see if they deal w/ them, i'll drive as far as i need to. I'm very happy to see positive reviews of this type of ear plugs. it's nice to know i don't have to sacrifice my hearing to do my job.

    me neither, and while the rock band is very self-less about stage volume, the drummer has no volume knob, and hits very hard. in small bar rooms the sound just has nowhere to go. it's just loud.

    also, i'm usually tucked to one side next to a wall, like 5 feet in front of one of the speakers/subs, so it's quite a bit louder to me than the bar patrons 15 ft away, and i'm listening more diligently. i very rarely am awarded a 'proper' mix position, although the studio live/ipad combo has help w/ that. i still like using the mixer better tho.

    so i'd say it's not as much a matter of me being absurd w/ the volume, or even the band being loud (except drummer), just more my position w/ in the room, and the fact that there's a full on rock kit in a relatively small room. I've learned thru experience that if you go too loud, people will leave, and bar managers will not call you back. i try for a full range hi fidelity mix, and make it so people don't have to scream at each other to socialize, because that's what they're there for, and keep it thumpin enough so people on the dance floor can feel it, w/out being deaf when they leav. The best mix i ever heard in my life was not even that loud, it was just remarkably clear, it was hubert sumlin, in a local theater a few years ago. it was truly inspiring to me as to how pleasing live sound could be, been chasing that since.

    my parents are gonna spring for a couple pairs of the pre-fab plugs, so i'll probably try one of each brand i linked to, or another if i find some w/ a good rep, until i can scrape together the cash to go to the doctor, which should be w/in a few months.

  7. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    just used the planet waves version in a new room tonight, w/ a band i'm fairly used to. plugged after the first few songs of the 2nd set. it was a bit strange (as expected). the lows were pronouned just like most plugs i've used. top, a bit tame, usual. mid-s this is the crucial area, especially blending an electric guitar (clean, clean boost, dirty, lead) sounds w/ vocals. vocals popped a bit, but the (i guess) 3-5k range (telephone frequencies.?) were just like, ,modulated? it was very 'new'.

    so i didn't mess w/ eq or balance, much, it was a new room too. it was very strange to me that kind of the 'un-pleasing, or perhaps 'odd' harmonics' were being let thru the filter. i placed my finger over the ear plugs filter opening and it actually sound more 'realistic', as if a better freq response.

    either way, i gotta use some sort of attenuator for my ears. i removed these things, (one ear at a time) to get an overall sense, during the show.

    i think, so far, that the 'universal' type filtered plugs are quite a bit more 'tweaky' in their placement in the ear. turning them, and press/pull, ect. they're particular spot made a huge difference, and is where i think the form-fitting type errrs toward consistency. pretty common sense. i don't think current ear plug tech, will simulate a 'non-plugged' experience, but does offer a 'plugged consistency', which could be learned faster than otherwise.

    bottom line, i'll tey the other pair, i purchased both. just like it usually is w/ any mix question, ya gotta know what your hearing. i like plugging up, even w/ napkins, or the usual yellow foam construction types. after tonight my ears don't seem too overwhelmed, but the 'telephony sound' of the filtered plugs was weird, think it's about just kinda moving/turning them around, till it sounds 'normal-ish'. moving them in the ear made a big diff. again something i'd be 'stuck w/, if i had forms made...

    Attenuated hearing, i think, (i'm a nobody), should be addressed.

    i have another pair to check out, and i'm gonna use some sort of attenuation for live stuff, it's only reasonable to do so. the varying sounds of the plugs were interesting, maybe its just a matter of, get it good, and move the plus around till it sounds similar, and don't go hi-deaf, early.
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Back when I was playing drums in a club band, I tried them, several different types in fact, but man, they sure messed with my groove. I felt like one of those little wind-up monkey cymbal bashing toys... I could not lock down... no matter how much I tried, my sense of groove and pocket were gone.

    I'm predominantly electric and acoustic rhythm guitar these days for my solo act and with a band that does a handful of large scale shows every year... but our stage volume is so in control and workable these days, that I don't feel I need to use them. The days of me playing in club bands where the on stage level was 8000 db are long gone. LOL

    I do applaud your awareness regarding your hearing though, K. Those FOH gigs can take their toll on your hearing pretty fast.

    Considering that you are also doing quite a bit of mixing in the studio these days as well, it's a great idea to protect those money-makers. ;)

    Let us know what you ended up using and your experience(s) with them?

  9. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Now imagine earplugs that drop the volume substantially and are almost perfectly neutral in regard to tone.....

    .... those are Westone ER15s you're imagining.

    That good sound with the filters in just the right place for your specific ear canal is the sound you'd be 'stuck with' when someone who knows what they're doing makes the moulds.

    There is no noticeable change in tone, it's just as if someone just turned the volume down 15dB especially for you. Any change in tone that you DO hear with the ER15s, can be attributed to the fact that you've taken away the excessive sound pressure mechanically overloading your ear. As a result you can hear more detail again, just like pulling the mains on that 110-115dB live band down to a more comfortable and clear 95-100dB. - rather than the foam earplug muffling effect of duct taping a heavy moving blanket tightly around your head.

    So, why do we rockers play & mix so loud in the first place? It's because of the primal response your body has to loud noises. The self-preserving 'fight-or-flight' adrenaline rush when you experience a loud noise is hotwired directly to your central nervous system, with virtually zero brain processing necessary. We have no control over this survival response, so as a result, the audience will be measurably more amped and excited when the volume gets above a certain threshold. It becomes an experience rather than just a sound. If you mix/play below that threshold, their adrenaline levels are normal - is if they were listening to that same song on the stereo system in their living room. At which point, you are going to have to play one hell of a great song to get the girls to lower their inhibitions, get out of their seats, and start dancing to that smooth 'stereo system' sound. Once they (the ladies) stop dancing at a rock club, you might as well turn off the beer lights, make Last Call, and swap the Open sign with a For Sale sign. Again, most of my experience would be with rock venues, so please take that for what it's worth. Jazz clubs, acoustic coffeehouses, etc., can be quieter because they are (supposedly) presenting a more cerebral kind of music. They're just as interesting in mating and selling stimulating beverages, but their vehicle for that, is provoking thought more so than just inciting a riot within your endocrine system.

    Anyway.... All other things being equal except for volume - are you in danger of losing some adrenaline rush when good earplugs get the volume in your ears down to a comfortable level? - Sure. Some may lose their edge in the raw adrenal excitement, but for someone like me, it can easily be replaced with A) the pure pleasure of never struggling to hear everything on stage and B) knowing I'll be able to hear my own voice, no matter how large or small the stage is, with or without monitors and C) NOT getting my ears drilled by ear-splitting feedback, no matter how much of a bozo the in-house sound/monitor guy might be, and most importantly D) knowing I'm extending every facet of my musical career significantly.

    Those Sonic Ear Valves used to advertise in Guitar Player magazine back in the 70's-80's, and as near as I can remember the ad, their slogan said it all - "There isn't much demand for deaf musicians." That's the bottom line. And no matter what kind of plugs you end up favoring, there will be a period of adjustment while you get used to working with them in.

    I have friends 50 and up who have been blessed with long / loud careers with no significant hearing loss into their 50's-60's and beyond. Those guys who can tolerate high volumes for 30 - 40+ years without noticeably impaired hearing are as rare as any other lottery winners. The vast majority of that same crowd have at the least partial hearing loss, or at the worst, effectively deafened themselves by their mid-late 30's. The clock is ticking. For most of us, age will effect our hearing as surely as it will change the prescription on our glasses - and that is BEFORE you factor in any occupational hazards.

    Donny, I'm curious if you ever plunked down the cash on a good pair of custom moulds at the audiologist?
    I tried the foam plugs and likewise could never play well with them. The plugs back then that were like the ones Kyle is trying now [Sonic Ear Valves] were an improvement over foam tonally, but barely, and really uncomfortable to boot. So after being disappointed with all other earplugs, I was pretty leery about spending $125 back then. I just knew I had to do something, we were playing 2-5 times a week and the venues were getting bigger/louder. I took the word of a life-long musician/soundman friend that the ER15s performed as advertised and I still contend it's the best money I've ever spent.

    <kicking the soapbox back under the desk and getting back to work>
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    To be fair, no.. I never did. I went with the standard go-to models that were available on the cheap at that time.

    The thing is, oddly, ear protection doesn't seem to mess with my sense of groove or pocket while I'm on guitar... just when I playing drums, which, due to a chronic back problem, I'm not doing much anymore, beyond session work. I can't really do a 90-100 minute show anymore on drums.

    At least as a drummer in a session scenario, I can get up, stretch, walk around a bit between numerous takes - but as we all know, ya don't really have that luxury when you're playing a live show. ;)
  11. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    well i've been working alot lately so, hopefully i should be able to set aside some money to get the moulds. while i didn';t find the planet waves tyoe uncomfortable, i like the idea that i'd get consistency of fit/attentuation with moulded ones. and an improved response is welcomed as well! if for some reason i don't lke them, i've wasted 150 dollars on a lot less important things. i'm gonna give those er15's a shot, they have to be an improvement over what i have now, and will make a good investment in my work.

    if they come even close to just 'turning down the volume 15db' i'll be elated! as far as adreniline and loud goes, yeah it's cool, but i'm not a beast on the volume control cuz it pisses poeople off who are trying to conversate. i let plenty of lows go thru the subs, helps the dance floor, and i love the chets pounding thump that is best achieved live. the plugs actually make the lows more prevalent, and that's cool w/ me.

    studio is my main interest, so i have no problem working around whatever diffencies the plugs cause, in order to preserve my ears for the studio, which i mix rarley above conversation level. just pegg it once in a while for a half a minute to make sure nothing is distorts at full listening volume.

    i'll update when i have a chance to compare both sets of plugs, as they are constructed differently.

    thanks all!

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