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25th February 2016

Hearing Protection: The Modern Music Taboo?

Is hearing protection for the paranoid, or unfaithful to the quality of music? Is it something we should all be considering? Have a listen to Adam Rogers…

Being university students of a city as rich and diverse in its music history as Manchester, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of us are familiar with the same all too common sensation after a night out—tinnitus. Whether it’s a gig or a club night, a DJ set or even a house party, that ominous drone starts to sink in as soon as your head hits the pillow. You groan, you roll your eyes, and then you turn over and ignore it. At some point you really have to ask yourself the question: Is it really that bad? Can I really afford to keep ignoring this? What can I do about it?

Bluntly, the answers are yes, no, and hearing protection! Tinnitus actually stems from the sound of your sensitive inner ear cells dying. I hear you cry, “But Adam, I really enjoy music, and wouldn’t want any perceived quality loss listening to my favourite blackened ska crust punk artist! Also, I don’t want to look like a knob!”

Well, my reply is simple: Let’s keep it so you can still listen to your favourite blackened ska crust punk artist, and nobody is expecting you to wear those huge over-ear defenders. Let’s instead consider some vaguely subtle ear plugs, of which there are three main options.

The first option is foam ear plugs. These are by far the cheapest of the lot, but you’ll certainly know it. These are the sort that builders wear on construction sites or grumpy spouses wear because their significant other snores like an earthquake. These aren’t for everyone as there’s a significant drop in quality, and sometimes the attenuation can be too heavy, as well as there being an issue with occlusion (hearing your voice inside your head when you plug your ears with your fingers). They’ll also have to be replaced every few nights out as they wear out pretty easily, although you can nab 50 pairs on eBay right now for £7.50 delivered, so it’s hardly an issue. Comfortable, affordable, disposable—they’re better than nothing.

The second option is silicon ear buds, and these usually clock in at about £14 for a decent pair. Probably the most popular option, they balance cost, performance and style (most of them are barely visible). Silicon ear plugs attenuate the spectrum of frequencies much flatter than foam earplugs, alongside going a short distance to solve the occlusion problem so you can still have conversations. The only downside is that over several hours these will cause your ears to become achy and sweaty, but unless you were planning on a 24-hour session at Berghain, this isn’t really an issue.

Finally, the big expensive custom moulded option. These are the sort of plugs that session musicians go for and tend to come in at a revolting £140—but hey, what’s the price of hearing loss? To obtain a pair you first have to go to an audiologist and have moulds taken of your ear canals (it’s a very bizarre sensation). They’ll get sent away and the pretty casts of the inside of your head are returned about a week later. These are by far the superior option, allowing for the filters to be chosen for the flattest frequency spectrum (hint, hint, audiophiles), a tailored amount of attenuation (looking at you, speaker fiends), and effectively unlimited comfort (albeit it does take a little getting used to). As these can be cast in clear silicon, they are effectively invisible too. Speaking from personal experience, these are the only option I thoroughly recommend and are totally worth the financial hit—you can even find 20% off vouchers for certain companies as a student. Everything just sounds as if the volume had been turned down, although I do tend to mumble when talking because of it.

To sum up, if you’re heading out clubbing every week, then the recommendation on nabbing a pair of ear plugs is high, and if you’re a regular gig goer it’s pretty imperative. The ubiquity of music nowadays from iPod’s or otherwise means you’re already consistently hammering your ears anyway, and leaving permanent hearing damage to chance might not be the best course of action.

Besides, having music slowly ruin music for you is some pretty crap irony, don’t you think?

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