Shootout: Earplugs for Musicians (WINNERS Only)

When it comes to hearing protection, you’ll find that there’s a pretty wide gulf between entry-level models and advanced earplugs both in terms of price and technology, so if you’re looking to strike that balance between cost and performance, we think the D’Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs are the way to go. Even though they are passive earplugs, they’re still adjustable between -12 and -24 dB attenuation, giving you truly dynamic performance at a fraction of the cost of an active set. They come with embedded magnets and a detachable leash to help prevent loss should you need to take them out temporarily, and they even come with a range of ear tips, making them suitable for all ear sizes. For these reasons (and more), we decided to name these as our Top Pick.

On the other hand, if you’re playing with a bigger budget and want to go with a pair of pro-grade active earplugs, we highly recommend looking at the Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite Musician’s Earplugs. We loved that they were rechargeable with up to 20 hours of battery life, and their instant attenuation ensured we were protected while still allowing us to hear our own sound clearly. They’re some of the most comfortable earplugs on the market thanks to their foam and triple-flanged silicone ear tips, and that’s why we gave them our Editor’s Choice award.

For those who are looking for basic, no-frills protection, we think that the Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs are hard to beat. These are simple flanged earplugs that offer a massive -27dB attenuation. Because there are no electronics, no switches, and no moving parts, these earplugs are completely washable and reusable, and despite being the most affordable in the entire roundup, they still came with a carry case. Their solid noise reduction rating, easy-to-use design, and ultra-low-cost made them a no-brainer for our Best Budget award.

Read more about our review process.

Editor's Choice
Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite Rechargeable Musicians Earplugs with Active Hearing Pro

Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite Rechargeable Musicians Earplugs with Active Hearing Pro

Features: Foam/triple flanged silicone tips, Low and high modes, Integrated charging case

Benefits: Instant attenuation, Super comfortable, Long battery life

Best Value
D'Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs

D'Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs

Features: 5 Eartip options, Switchable filter, Passive design

Benefits: Batteries not required, Comfortable for ears of all sizes

Best Budget
Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs

Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs

Features: Latex free construction, Neck Cord, Carry case

Benefits: Easy to maintain, Excellent noise reduction rating, Sustainable design

Why You Should Trust Us

I have been playing music professionally for over 20 years, and early on learned the importance of earplugs – it’s why I still have my hearing while many around me struggle. Over the years, I’ve owned every type of earplug, from the disposable foam earplugs everyone hates to custom molded earplugs. This gives me insight into what you need from a pair of earplugs and helps me to translate specifications into reality.

In addition to my own research, I worked with our in-house experts – our team of musicians, producers, and composers – all of whom have had occasion to wear earplugs more times than they could count. We combined our favorites and came up with the list below based on what we could agree on.

Who Should Get Earplugs

While many believe that occasional exposure to loud music won’t have lasting effects, the truth is that cumulative exposure can lead to significant hearing loss over time. According to the CDC, “Listening to loud noise for a long time can overwork hair cells in the ear, which can cause these cells to die. Up to 30% to 50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in your hearing can be measured by a hearing test. By the time you notice hearing loss, many hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.

If you value the clarity of your hearing and want to continue enjoying music without risk, musician-specific earplugs are essential. Many earplugs aim to block sound, whereas a good set of musician’s earplugs will reduce harmful frequencies while preserving the audio quality of the music.

Individual Reviews

Top Pick
D'Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs

D'Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs

Great ear protection from a beloved and respected brand.

D'Addario has developed a solid reputation for making great strings and accessories that musicians of all types have loved for decades. They bring us this set of adjustable earplugs with the same level of quality, flexibility, and functionality as their most popular products.

The D’Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs allow you to choose two levels of attenuation, with settings for -11 dB and -24 dB. Besides these two options that can be chosen given the environment you’re in, you also get protection from SPL level exposure at levels exceeding 110 dB.

This fantastic set of D’Addario earplugs also come with magnets that are embedded as well as a removable leash for great convenience. And you don’t have to worry about size, as the dBud set comes with three sizes of ear tips, basically ensuring a snuggly fit on just about anybody’s ears. 

This company knows a thing or two about accessories and how easy it is for some of us to lose picks, capos, etc. They thought of this as well and included a carry case that not only protects the ear plugs but also helps you be more organized. Just remember to always put them back on the case to minimize the possibility of losing them. 

We tried this set to see how much noise they kept out and how comfortable they were. After trying all three sizes, we choose the second one as it fits the best, giving us that sense of confidence and protection.

We blasted some heavy music on our speakers at high volumes and were happy with how much these earplugs protected our hearing. You can use them not only in loud environments, but also for loud rehearsals, or other situations where ear protection is required.

In short, a fantastic set of earplugs that will fit most people and offer great protection for your ears. They are also well-built and conveniently packaged in their carrying case. 

Verdict: The D’Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs offer flexibility by providing two levels of attenuation for different situations. You get either -11 dB or -24 dB as well as protection from high SPL level exposure exceeding 110 dB.

Best Budget
Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs

Fender Musician Series Ear Plugs

A simple and straightforward solution to protect your hearing.

Fender needs no presentation among musicians. They made this set of earplugs as a good alternative for beginners that want to preserve their ears while staying on budget. These are convenient and well-built, keeping the Fender tradition of well-made products alive and well.

The Fender Musician Series EarPlugs are a great choice for folks that are looking for their first earplugs. They come in a single size and are made from silicone in order to fit well on most ears. 

This set of earplugs offers up to 27 dB of protection, and comes in a package to facilitate transportation and remain convenient. Another great feature of these is that they are reusable and washable. In other words, you can use them for a while and then clean them for the next time you need them. 

Are you allergic to latex? Fender thought of that too and made the Musician Series EarPlugs latex-free. This set of earplugs comes in a box with a small string that you can attach to your backpack or your guitar strap, in order to always keep it in the same place and have it ready to use at all times. 

For our tests, we plugged our strat into our Marshall Plexi amp, dialed in some distortion, turned it way up, and started to play. We were happily surprised by the level of protection these earplugs gave us. It felt like we could play for quite a while before any ear fatigue would appear.

These earplugs were also comfortable, especially considering what they cost. In short, a nice option for folks that want ear protection that is comfortable, effective and affordable. 

Verdict: The Fender Musician Series EarPlugs are a good option for musicians that are in the market for their first earplugs. They come in a single size and offer up to 27 dB of protection, are convenient, and are sure to fit any budget.

Editor's Choice
Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite

Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite

The ultimate hearing protection tool for the professional.

If you are looking for a superior set of earplugs to truly protect your ears, it is hard to beat these Etymotic Music Pro Elite. Besides fantastic protection for a variety of situations, they are also comfortable and convenient.

The Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite Earplugs have switchable modes so you can choose your desired level of attenuation. The first one is labeled Low mode and provides 15 dB of attenuation to sounds over 90 dB

One of the great features of these earplugs is that sounds under that threshold remain unaffected. In other words, you hear everything clearly.

The second mode is labeled, High mode, and offers you 9 dB of attenuation on sound over 90 dB. High mode is also designed to boost quiet sounds by 6 dB. These earplugs also squash sounds above 90 dB while they stay at an unsafe level. 

For instance, percussion peaks that are above 90 dB get zapped with an immediate shot of attenuation. On the other hand, more consistent sounds, for example, a loud amp, are attenuated until they get to a safe level again. 

These features give these earplugs remarkable versatility while effectively protecting your hearing. You can use them for loud rehearsals, rock concerts, as well for protecting your hearing from other unpleasant situations like construction work. 

The Music Pro Elite Earplugs come in a durable and water-resistant charging case that monitors case battery levels, as well as earplug battery levels. You get up to 20 hours of use and the case can provide you with 15 charges, making these earplugs ideal for remote work or touring. 

These earplugs come in two different materials for you to choose from. Whether you prefer foam or Etymotic’s triple-flanged silicone tips, your comfort and safety are basically ensured.  

In short, a superior choice for ear protection for the discerning musician. From high levels of attenuation, to comfort and formidable convenience, these earplugs are for those professionals that want the best and are willing to pay for it. 

Verdict: The Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite offers ear protection for professionals that value quality and convenience. With two switchable modes, a water-proof carrying case, and up to 20 hours of battery life, this set truly protects your ears while allowing you to hear everything clearly.

Also Consider
Etymotic Research MP 9-15 Music Pro Electronic Earplugs

Etymotic Research MP 9-15 Music Pro Electronic Earplugs

Fantastic ear protection for the modern musician.

These earplugs give you the best of both worlds: you can hear clearly at low levels, and get effective protection at unsafe levels. You get natural sound, this set of earplugs offers great protection with hearing accuracy.

The Etymotic Research MP 9-15 Music Pro Electronic Earplugs offers you a natural-sounding solution to hearing protection that also allows you to hear low-level sounds. You can choose between 9 dB and 15 dB of attenuation, with activation happening when sound starts approaching uncomfortable levels, typically at 70 to 75 dB. 

These electronic earplugs function via zinc-air batteries that offer stable active attenuation. This makes them great for performers, music teachers, and FOH crews, all of which often have long work sessions.

Another great feature of these earplugs is that sounds below the threshold of 70 to 75 dB are boosted by 6 dB when it’s on the 9 dB setting. This improves clarity at lower levels. On the other hand, transient spikes are attenuated immediately, ensuring effective ear protection that is very effective, and dare I say “smart”. 

We tried this set while playing some guitars at different levels. We really liked how natural the transition from lower levels to high volume levels felt. When playing clean, we could hear everything well. On the other hand, with noise distortion past the threshold, we got immediate protection.  

Regarding convenience, the batteries on the ear plugs provide approximately 300 hours of use, so you don’t have to worry about recharging often. 

The MP 9-15 Music Pro Electronic Earplugs come in a case that features several accessories. You get a flexible neck cord, extra replacement eartips, a cleaning tool, a replacement filter and a test set of batteries.

In short, a great set of electronic earplugs that give you nice protection and flexibility. Naturally, some may want to look at more affordable options.

Verdict: The Etymotic Research MP 9-15 Music Pro Electronic Earplugs offer two levels of attenuation and a natural-sounding hearing protection experience. They allow you to hear clearly at lower levels but kick in sharply when the threshold is reached.

Also Consider
D'Addario Pacato Full Frequency Earplugs

D'Addario Pacato Full Frequency Earplugs

A convenient and practical option for hearing protection.

These earplugs are for folks that favor simplicity but still want a viable option for ear protection. They come in two sizes to accommodate most users, and are effective, easy to use, affordable, and made by one of the most reputable companies in music.

The D’Addario Pacato Full Frequency Earplugs offer straightforward and comfortable option for hearing protection, while remaining affordable. This set of earplugs is reusable, pliable, and with durability that D’Addario accessories are known for. They are easy to clean and maintain and are made to fit snugly on most ears.

They feature an open-air-passage design that maintains circulation throughout your ear, ensuring comfort and significantly reducing low-frequency distortion. These Pacato earplugs also have the very important feature of preserving a full-frequency balance while decreasing sound pressure to safe levels.

These earplugs give you 12 dB of frequency-balanced attenuation to protect your ears and at the same time effectively curb distortion. They ship with a convenient carrying pouch so you can store them safely and keep them away from the elements. 

We tried these earplugs while playing some loud guitar and moving about our room. Besides getting ear protection and feeling secure at all times, we also noticed that the frequency spectrum remained relatively balanced with these earplugs. 

This set is well-built and gets the job done. Although they are a good buy for the money, professionals looking for more significant ear protection may wanna look elsewhere. 

Verdict: The D’Addario Pacato Full Frequency Earplugs are a comfortable and simple option for hearing protection. They come with an open-air-passage design for making sure that air circulates throughout your ear for comfort while offering 12 dB of frequency-balanced attenuation.

Also Consider
Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs 

Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs 

A discreet and effective set of earplugs with a mission.

These earplugs feature an effective design that lets you hear what you need to while protecting your ears. You get solid construction, simplicity, and a smart design that makes a difference.

The Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs feature about 22 dB of sound reduction while avoiding the pitfalls of typical foam earplugs like dull or muffled sound. They come in three sizes of interchangeable tips to ensure that they fit you well while providing comfort.

Thanks to their clear plastic housing, these earplugs are a good choice for musicians that want a more discreet option for ear protection. Besides, they come with a pocket-size carrying case for convenience and safe storage. 

The Vibes High Fidelity earplugs feature a design that focuses on attenuating while relying on special filters to fine-tune certain frequencies. This principle is what reduces noise without producing muffled sounds, which makes them great for rehearsals. 

Another neat thing about these earplugs is that Vibes donates to Hear the World Foundation, which provides hearing healthcare, hearing aids, surgeries, and more to children in need. So if you buy these, not only will you be protecting your hearing in style, but also contributing to a beautiful social cause. 

We tried Vibes High Fidelity earplugs and really like how well they fit in our ears. Because they offer three different sizes, the user is able to pick the best and avoids the comfort issues that may arise with some of the one-size-fits-all earplugs. 

We also really liked how discreet these earplugs are, as not to distract from your carefully crafted rock star outfit. In use, these earplugs delivered good ear protection, while allowing us to hear what we were playing clearly. In short, a nice set of earplugs for the working musician.

Verdict: The Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs are a good choice for ear protection, offering about 22 dB of sound reduction. They also do well on the comfort aspect, as the package includes three sizes of interchangeable tips so you can choose the best one for your ears.

Also Consider
Vic Firth High Fidelity 

Vic Firth High Fidelity 

A convenient and cheap way to protect your ears.

Drummers are among the musicians that need ear protection the most. Although Vict Firth is one of the top companies among percussionists, this set of earplugs offers a convenient option for guitarists willing to take care of their precious ears.

The Vic Firth High Fidelity Earplugs feature a soft foam construction that is designed to simulate the role of your ear canal and provide unmuffled sound. With these earplugs, you get 12 dB of attenuation in all frequencies in order to ensure consistent ear protection.

For convenience, this set of earplugs comes with a heavy-duty neck cord, so you can tie them together to keep it practical and avoid losing them. As expected, they also come with a carry case that you can attach to a strap or just keep in your gig bag.

We tried the Vic Firth High Fidelity earplugs and liked how simple and to the point they were. We quickly attached both earplugs to the chord, put it in our ears and were ready to rock! Although they only come in one size, they fit comfortably. However, it is possible that it won’t fit everybody.

During our tests, we played through some mean distorted riffs at loud volumes. This set of earplugs gave us good protection throughout our practice session, and can certainly do a good job of preserving your ears.

They are easy to clean, effective, convenient, and inexpensive. That said, they do muffle the sound a bit, particularly for guitar players that don’t have the fast transient attack that drummers deal with. In short, a good set of earplugs that guitar players can use with the understanding that these were specially made for drummers. 

Verdict: The Vic Firth High Fidelity Earplugs feature a soft foam construction and give you 12 dB of attenuation. They are very convenient, well-made, and affordable, offering a simple solution for ear protection with the quality that Vic Firth is known for.

How To Choose The Right Earplugs for You

It is a given that hearing well is fundamental to what we do as musicians. It is also important to understand a few basic facts about how fragile our ears can be.

Professional musicians are about four times as likely to develop NIHL (noise-induced hearing loss) as the general public. Besides, those musicians are also more prone to tinnitus, a condition that produces ringing in the ears. 

Exposure to loud sounds is particularly harmful, and all too common among gigging musicians, engineers, producers, etc. Loud sounds can irreparably damage the cells of your inner ear, directly affecting your interpretation of sound. For this reason, drummers typically require the additional protection of earplugs specially made for drummers.

As harmful as they can be, loud sounds and environments are only part of the equation. The other is how long one is exposed to these unhealthy levels of sound. Naturally, the longer you are exposed, the greater the risk you pose to your hearing. 

Understanding Noise Levels

To be a bit more informed, it is important to understand the amount of sound that can be present in any given environment, measured in dB. For instance, your typical quiet room has ambient noise that is around 40 dB. A hairdryer is a louder source that is manageable for short periods of time and clocks at around 90 dB.

Getting into dangerous territory, a lawn mower produces about 110 dB, and hearing protection is a must in this case. This is particularly true if you are the one doing the mowing, as you will be exposed to this sound for a long period of time. 

And as painful as it is for me to write this, a rock concert in the front row can produce levels of 120 dB or more, especially if you’re close to the speakers. 

Finally, the threshold of pain hits around 140 dB. All of that said, experts recommend no more than 8 hours a day at 85 dB. Additionally, for every 3 dB increase, the recommended safe listening interval halves. In other words, you only get four hours of 88 dB exposure, if you want to stay within healthy levels.

So in that 120 dB rock concert, you get 7 seconds. After that, you’re at risk of permanent damage to your hearing, unless you have good protection. Discreet earplugs don’t sound so bad now, do they? 

Material and Fit

The material used on earplugs and how well they fit your ears are the two most important considerations. The materials can determine how much protection you get, and also have a direct impact on the cost. 

Foam earplugs are very common, and the most basic models are sold in just about any supermarket or drugstore. Although they do offer some protection, foam earplugs tend to reduce higher frequencies. This results in a muffled or muddied sound that makes it challenging to use them for rehearsals and similar applications. 

A better choice is to get earplugs specifically made for musicians. These tend to reduce all frequencies equally and preserve a sense of reality in sound but at a safer volume. 

Another important factor is how earplugs fit on your ear. Models that come in just one size may be a risky gamble for some, as they may not cover all of your ear holes, or be too tight in some cases. You want an earplug that fits snuggly and protects you well, with no gaps.

Final Thoughts

It is worth noting again that without our ears we simply cannot play or enjoy music. And just like most things health-related, prevention is far better than a cure. And the best time to start taking care of your ears is right now. 

Thankfully, there are options to fit just about anybody’s situation and budget. A professional touring guitarist will have different needs than a weekend warrior playing rock covers. However, both can experience damage to their ears with the passage of time, and earplugs are a great first step to take.

To recap our choices, the D’Addario dBud Universal Fit Volume Adjustable Earplugs are our Top Choice and give you two levels of attenuation for enhanced versatility. They are also comfortable and well-built. The Fender Musician Series EarPlugs is our Budget Choice and a good option for those looking for their first earplugs. Finally, The Etymotic Research Etymotic Music Pro Elite Earplugs is our Editor’s Choice, with switchable modes with different levels of attenuation and superior quality, convenience, and comfort for the professional musician. 

  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín. For over ten years, he's been an editor/writer for Recording Magazine, and spent a year as head of translation for Brazilian magazine Musica & Mercado.