Kids, listen to me (while you still can)

When I was in my teens, 20s and 30s, I never wanted to hear sentences that begin with the phrase, “When I was your age…” And I cringe when I hear myself saying those very words to those younger than I am. But hold on, because I’m about to do pretty much that.

I have some advice for the younger set: Protect your damned hearing already. Like, right now.

Concerts and clubbing are great, but they’re damaging your hearing, even if you don’t know it yet. At your age, I didn’t know it (or notice it) either — and I regret it today. Thankfully, it’s both easy, and now, discrete as well.

At the Winter NAMM Show last week (more on that here), in addition to all the usual musical stuff, I was introduced to a new product by Belgian company Loop. Called simply Earplugs for Music, the product is precisely what it purports to be. More on it in a moment. First, some back story.

As a younger person, I remember going to concerts or dance clubs and coming home with diminished hearing and ringing in the ears. For me, that effect lasted 24, 36 or even 48 hours. It was worrisome; as a music lover and a musician, the ability to hear is pretty critical, and intuitively, I suppose, I knew that what I was doing probably wasn’t that smart.

I started using foam earplugs, the kind used by construction workers, airport workers and the like, but the problem with them is they muffle sound while reducing its volume, dulling the music experience you’re generally at a concert venue or club to enjoy.

I think it was in my mid to late 30s that I first found Etymotic’s ETY Plugs. Billed as “high-fidelity ear plugs,” they’re reusable, easily insertable ear plugs that have a special design that reduces the overall music volume by 20 dB across the frequency spectrum. Instead of muffling the sound like foam plugs, they merely reduce the volume. While 20 dB may or may not be a reduction to a safe level depending on the situation, proximity to speakers, etc., it’s certainly far better than no protection whatsoever.

In any case, I loved them, and began taking them with me everywhere I knew I’d be exposed to loud music. I even used them under my DJ headphones back in the days when I did club work, because when the cans came-off, being in a club was loud. The only problem with the ETY Plugs is that a tube sticks out from your ear, so they look… Well, a little dorky, honestly. Safety is a higher priority than appearance, so I’ve dealt with it, but I’ve longed for a better design. Now I have one.

Loop’s Earplugs for Music have a pretty cool design that is… A loop. Inserted, they almost look like some sort of earring that encircles the ear opening. The function of that loop (or tube) is the same as the one on the ETY Plugs that sticks-out straight: it’s where the filtering happens. The loop is also your “handle” for getting them in and out.

The Loop plugs are rated as providing about 20 dB of reduction as well, they just do it in a particularly stylish package that makes a statement — a statement that is not so much along the lines of “I’m a dork.” And speaking of style, you even get to choose the color tone of the metallic loop itself (I chose silver since it matches my silver loop earrings).

At roughly $29 retail, they’re more expensive than Etymotic’s offerings, but that’s still well within a comfortable price range for something that offers protection for one of our most important senses: hearing.

Honestly, I wish I’d leapt onto the bandwagon a long time ago, so let’s go back to the beginning of this article. If you’re a young concertgoer or clubber, you need to take steps now, not after some hearing loss and permanent tinnitus has already set-in. The hearing damage you’re doing today may not be perceptible — yet. But trust me: The damage is being done now, and the time to act is now.

Photo courtesy of Loop Earplugs. Disclaimer: Loop provided a set of Earplugs for Music for evaluation in conjunction with this article.