If you club, live event, perform music live or DJ regularly then your ears will be copping to some pretty harsh treatment, so there is nothing wussy about protecting your valuable hearing. If you have experienced ringing in your ears after a gig, then that is a sign you have pushed your ears too far. So what are the options?
Typically you have between 2 minutes and 1 hour safe exposure time in a club!
1. General purpose Noise Reduction: These will reduce the sound level by 22 - 33 dB and can be had for around 15 cents a pair, when purchased in bulk, and can be reused a couple of times. Throw some in your gig-bag, car or helicopter. The down-side is that if you need to make critical mix decisions then these will significantly skew the frequency response of the music to the low end. If you are mixing then you should look at the next two options.
Low cost: You can buy boxes of 200 quality foam earplugs on eBay for $30 USD
2. Special 'flat response' earplugs: These are designed to reduce the noise levels but do so with a relatively flat response. Rather than losing the highs as the foam style do. Surprising to most, they allow you to have a relatively normal conversation with another person in very noisy environments, as the voice cuts through the background noise once the extreme treble and bass are filtered. You won't even need to shout, just speak normally at a close distance. These cost between $10-20 USD for a few pairs and should last 6-12 months with heavy use (and regular cleaning). The Etymotic design is the most practical. They will be the easiest to use under circumstances where they need to be repeatedly removed and inserted over a session, or its importrant management can see you are wearing protection at a glance. Althernatively the skin tones and low profile of the EarPeace models and fashion-first approach of the Loop earplugs encourages compliance with more self concious users and so wider adoption.
NOTE: 'Musician' style earplugs may not block noise as effectively as standard NR earplugs, so take care and definitely don't use these for industrial NR purposes.
Products from Etymotic, EarPeace & Loop
3. Custom moulded earplugs: These are popular with music professionals and include a soft silicone shell with a flat frequency response filter positioned in the best place for your ear. These cost around $100-200 not including the audiologist's fees for making an ear moulding. Your local audiologist will be able to recommend some brands to you. If you want to see an example Etymotic make these. They should last years with good care.
Custom moulded earplugs are the next step up
4. In-ear monitors: These are becoming very popular for stage performers as they block out the direct house sound and deliver a custom mix in your 'ear-bud' style headphones. A good set of these will set you back between $199 - $1500 USD. Respected brands include - Futuresonics, Sennheiser & Shure. Like the NR style earplugs there is a hierarchy of standard fit to custom ear-moulded designs, explaining the rather large price range.
In Ear Monitors block the live sound and replace it with your own private mix
IMPORTANT NOTE: Protection is only useful if it's used correctly in accordance with manufacturers instructions. All exposure times are indicative, please consult the recognized health authority in your location for the official safe sound level exposure charts. Use your brain and look after your most valuable asset, don't lose the beat!
Want to discuss this topic see the 'Am I going deaf???' thread in Looptalk.