Tuesday, February 01, 2005

hear ye! hear ye!

by bpositive ~ Today's high-end sound systems pump out an amazing amount of sound. My own ears tell me that often sound levels in public locations such as night clubs are no longer safe for the unprotected ear. If you have spent any time at all in the average night club or rave, you have almost certainly accrued some damaging effects.

According to an organization called H.E.A.R, "a non-profit information source for musicians and music lovers," if you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone less than three feet away you should be wearing hearing protectors (ear plugs). Now, tell me the last time you DIDN’T have to raise your voice at almost any club or bar in Kansas City? These damaging levels of sound have been going on in most clubs and bars every weekend, a trend that has been steadily increasing over the past year. And, if you go out to a club or concert two nights in a row, you are dramatically increasing the risk of damage to your hearing.

How many of us think about what our hearing will be like when we are 70? Or, even when we are 50? Have you ever pictured your life without music? I sure can't. When I am 80 I want to be still rocking out to my favorite music, whatever it is. I want to grow old experiencing the joy of music in all it's wide range of tones and sounds and damaged hearing is not a part of that picture. I am sure it is not in yours either.

But, as I mentioned in a previous article on this site, protecting your hearing doesn't have to compromise your comfort or listening enjoyment. Nor, does it have to cost alot. It used to be that custom fit musician's ear plugs for upwards of $150 were the only real alternative to stuffing foam plugs in your ear canal and suffering through muffled music and hearing yourself talk overly loudly.

I take my hearing and my nightlife pretty seriously, so I spent the money and bought professional musician's ear plugs. But, the place that made mine didn't get the shape just right, so one of them hurts my ear and I rarely wear them. Plus, I found they actually block out more sound than is needed on a regular basis.

But, I know alot of us don't have that kind of money to spend. So, I have been researching other options out there and putting some ear plugs through my own, informal testing process. And, I have come across some excellent, comfortable, low-cost hearing protectors that can be easily carried around and don't muffle sound at all.

The best options I have found are listed here:

ER-20s made by Etymotic Research

These little plugs attenuate (reduce) the sound by a critical 16-20 db that H.E.A.R.'s research shows is often enough to prevent damage in today's average music environments. They are also pretty cool looking and, based on my own testing, really work. They have a specially engineered sound filter on the end that keeps the full range of sound frequencies. These are my top pick for the average night club and party. You can wear them in a night club and hear conversations clearly and not get that annoying muffling sensation. Depending on which color you choose, no one need even know that you have them in. The white ones with clear tips camoflauge pretty good. Cost: $10-12.00 pr. depending on where you order them (see below).

Mack's Hear Plug

When you are going to be in a louder environment, or be exposed to loud sound longer than just one night (research shows that exposure on multiple days is when damage can happen more easily), these are a good choice. They don't look quite as stylish sticking out of your ears (they are green and black), but they do cut the sound down even more than the ER-20s (21-21+ db, according to the manufacturer). They are also smaller in diameter and so are even more comfortable to insert deeply and wear for long periods. The one drawback is that in less-loud night club settings, you might notice some muffling of conversation. But, the music still comes through crystal clear and without muffling. Cost: $6.00/pr.

You can order both here on HearNet.com:
You can also order the ER-20s at Etymotic, which is also a good site for info on hearing protection:

I really hope all of you who go out regularly will treat yourself to a set to ring in the New Year, and then wear them whenever you get around loud music. Consider ordering a couple sets for friends since you only have to pay shipping once for an order of multiple sets. I ordered a set of the ER-20s for all of my friends this year for Christmas. If protecting our hearing is as easy and cheap as these options, why wouldn't we take advantage of it?

A Quick Hearing Test 
courtesty of hearnet.com

Before the show, set the volume of your car radio to a level where you can barely hear the words. A talk show works best, as sometimes it is hard to understand lyrics in music. After the concert, turn on the radio to the same setting. Can you still hear and understand the words? If not, you're experiencing a form of short term hearing loss called temporary threshold shift. When this happens too many times, the damage can become permanent.

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