Earplug vs mute

Edited: October 22, 2019, 12:07 PM · hi guys, i'm finding it increasingly difficult to practice for more than an hour a day due to ear fatigue with my left ear ringing and impaired. i thought at first it was just my ears need to get used to it. but after an decibel app reporting well above 90db with max of 97db(yes i know an app is not the most accurate thing but it gives me a general idea)

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i originally wanted to switch to quieter strings, but was told by another member here not to castrate the violin and buy earplugs. however i'm not too fund of using earplugs, and was wondering if a mute can do the same job without castrating the sound. i used big rubber and metal ones that sits on the bridge, and these completely killed the sound.

i believe my question would be, what other recommended mutes that can tone it down 10-20db without castrating the sound. or is a musician earplug the best compromise. thanks in advance for any advice i can get.

Replies (29)

October 22, 2019, 12:14 PM · A musician's earplug would be a better choice for your aural health.
October 22, 2019, 12:47 PM · Earplugs for sure! Mutes change the overtone distribution of the instrument so you become like a singer whose voice has been destroyed.

But before you spend a lot of money on earplugs you might try the wax-infused earplugs that are very inexpensive at every drug store. You can fit them loosely in your ears to vary the amount of sound attenuation. In fact you can first try one just in your left ear. The increased distance to your right ear already provides an additional 12 to 18 decibels of attenuation (depending on how you hold your instrument).

If you have over-the-ear headphones you can use this test ( https://hearingtest.online/ ) to actually determine the attenuation the plugs are providing.

October 22, 2019, 12:58 PM · Thanks for that link Andrew :)
Edited: October 22, 2019, 1:45 PM · I always play with an earplug in my left ear. I use an Alpine musician earplug with the strongest filter.

I’m so prone to get headaches that I can’t stand a violin near my left ear without the earplug for more than 10 minutes if I don’t want to end up in pain for a couple of days. I also use the earplug in my left ear when I practice at home, even when I use the practice mute. I’ve observed that the mute alone doesn’t prevent my headache.

So I’m my case, the earplug has been a lifesaver. I have no problems with intonation while using it. And I know I’m protecting my left ear as an extra benefit.

Edited: October 23, 2019, 1:22 PM · I absolutely have this problem too. My unmuted violins, in combination with my unprotected ears, are simply too loud for my hearing. The sound distorts. So I either use musician's earplugs (D'Addario Pacato - inexpensive and effective), or mutes on my violins, depending on my circumstances and/or mood.

On another message thread I recently admitted that I have about three dozen mutes, and it seems a bit excessive but there's really no other way I could have known which designs suit me, and which ones don't. I know I'm not the only person who's ever done this, and I think it's worth the effort. You wind up with a wide pallet of "colors" to choose from, to suit the mood, room or circumstances.

I didn't have this hearing problem when I was younger. It's a bit disconcerting. I wonder, to take one example, how I can evaluate new violins when I must either mute them or wear hearing protection. But such is life.

October 22, 2019, 2:09 PM · thank you guys for the advice and i'm glad i'm not alone in this, i previously consulted with my teacher and my luthier, and both them of claim they have never heard of this issue. so for the longest time i thought i was just being silly. i have earplugs but they are basically silicon foams that blocks everything, so i guess i'll just have to look into musician's earplug, any brand recommendations?
Edited: October 22, 2019, 2:35 PM · "I thought at first it was just my ears need to get used to it"

When that happens, you are actually deafening... not good!

Get musician earplugs. More expensive up front, but last a long time, are more comfortable to use, hence more likely to wear it.

As for mutes... make your pick

October 22, 2019, 3:04 PM · I have just measured the sound pressure of my violin at left ear. It’s in the realm of 96-99 dB continuous with peaks at 102-103 dB.
That’s as loud as our live band’s PA at parties. It will not significantly damage your hearing, but it is really unpleasant.
Cheap earplugs unfortunately attenuate highs much more than lows, which sucks for violin. Alpine earplugs (while costing about 25 EUR) are much more linear. YMWV.
October 22, 2019, 3:15 PM · Those foam earplugs can work, but the musician earplugs are worth in my opinion, both in sound quality and in the long run (since they’re washable and reusable).
October 22, 2019, 3:37 PM · I use the Vater brand with the larger filter (plug?) - they seem to be similar to the Alpine brand. I have used these for years and really love them.

I'm really sensitive to loud noises, and even wear noise cancelling headphones out on the street to minimize exposure to the extent possible.

I do not use mutes to practice if I can help it, unless there is a request from my spouse or if it is too late at night to practice without the mute.

October 22, 2019, 3:54 PM · There is another problem with "overdriving" one's hearing; the overpressure in the ear can result in perception of higher pitch than the actual pitch. The result of this can be a a sense of discord since the left and right ears no longer sound the same to us. The common result of this is playing flat since we tend to correct the pitch heard loudest - in this case the overdriven one heard by the left ear.
October 22, 2019, 5:06 PM · @tony, what do you mean by linear, as in frequencies? do you have the alpine earplugs? how do they fit.i don't have a 3rd hand so these db recordings where from my desk 2 feet away from me. i'm pretty sure it would be even higher db if someone held the phone next to my ear.

right now i'm playing without shoulder rest which i believe muffles the volume of my violin a bit.

@andrew, i used the ultra and heavy metal prior, these mutes from my experience completely castrated my violin, but it does make a good practice at 2am in the morning. but on the flip side, how does the leather mute sound out of curiosity.

another person suggested earpeace in another thread.

@pamela is this the one?

and lastly.
are you guys recommending the alpine pro or classic

October 22, 2019, 7:24 PM · Etymotic has good, flat-frequency musicians earplugs for about $17 USD on amazon. I use those, or my Wiessmeyer Prisma 3D mute, for a lot of practicing. My violin is simply too loud, and overdriven is exactly how I’d describe it in forte passages.
Edited: October 22, 2019, 10:56 PM · 102-103 dB.
That’s as loud as our live band’s PA at parties. It will not significantly damage your hearing, but it is really unpleasant.

At 103 dB, permissible exposure duration before hear damage can occur is 7 1/2 minutes! The likelyhood of hearing damage by sound is a function of time. Exposure to 50dB over a long enough period of time will damage hearing too. The keywords were "not significantly damage", it isn't saying that it will not damage your hearing. Repeated exposure beyond safe levels will in most instances damage hearing.

October 22, 2019, 8:57 PM · Kyle,
From my experience with leather mutes I would say they are real "player's" mutes. For the least sound attenuation you can just slide it along the string afterlengths into contact with the bridge. If you place it over the mute there is much variation in the sound you can get. Because the leather is flexible it can hold to the mute just gripping ~ 0.5 cm of the top or an amount to full "insertion." The sound quality you get will depend on how much of the mute is in contact with the bridge wood. This allows the player to situate the mute to taste for musical and venue matching.
Edited: October 23, 2019, 5:45 AM · Thanks Andrew - now I have a rational explanation for why I love listening to violin but infinitely prefer plaguing viola...

One the subject of earplugs, one of my teachers always wears happy ears plugs when performing. They don't twist the sound like the foam ones.

October 23, 2019, 5:49 AM · I have real soundmeter. With my daughter holding it 3 inches from my ear, my viola went over 100dB, in theory for many hours a day!

A 20dB drop is not too much.

A mute will hide clumsy bowing, and when we remove it......

October 23, 2019, 5:22 PM · @Kyle
Yes. More linear frequency wise. They fit well. I have an idiotically shaped right ear. Nothing fits and stays in there. Alpines did. And Sennheiser earplugs don’t. I have unfortunately lost my Alpine set.

102-103 was the peak I measured on a fortissimo chord. It was not sustained. Violin stays below 100 dB most of the time. It also does not create a wall of sound, so exposure is significantly less severe than it sounds(!) like. Pun intended.
But yes, that’s freaking loud in my book, but I have had my hearing checked last summer and my hearing’s quite good still.

October 23, 2019, 6:01 PM · Tony, glad that you check your hearing once in a while and that things are looking good still. I sometimes wonder if no apparent damage in the short term can still come and bite you later on when you get older though, i.e. end up with premature hearing loss.
October 23, 2019, 6:26 PM · Musician's earplugs work quite well, but be aware of a couple of things: each ear will set you back $125 or more, and due to the long profile that fits way back into the ear, they can push any wax buildup back where you have to visit an ENT to get it out.

I'd try the Etymotics first and see if they work. Might be all you need.

October 23, 2019, 6:45 PM · I like to use occasionally a wax-infused earplug (as described by Andrew Victor in one of the early posts), but only in the left ear. I find that if I do this, what I now hear from my non-plugged right ear is closer to what a listener would be hearing - and is therefore instructive.
October 23, 2019, 10:20 PM · Trevor, I used the wax-infused earplug in my left ear for all my playing for about 15 years starting 30 - 35 years ago. Then I "graduated" to a non-prescription hearing enhancer only in my right ear when playing violin- it provided about a 10DB boost at 1KHz (and in my left ear for conversations because my left ear was a little better. And I finally graduated to "full-digital" hearing aids in both ears about 4 years ago - when I was 80.
October 24, 2019, 4:10 AM · What Scott writes about earwax is very true. Some people produce more earwax, others less, this is natural variability. If you are one of those types who produce more earwax, and you routinely practice with musician's earplugs (which is highly recommended anyway) then indeed each time you put them in you will shove a bit of earwax down the ear, and after a year or so you will have a plug in your ear. However, this is an absolutely routine thing to remove, any nurse can do this. When you feel you have a plug buildup you go to the pharmacy and ask for oil eardrops, apply these twice a day for a few days. Then your plugs have softened, then visit the nurse. They use a syringe to pump warm water in your ear and by the water pressure the plug comes loose. It is a yearly part of my life :-)
October 24, 2019, 8:01 PM · Unless you're using a mute for late night practicing to avoid disturbing those around you (or the passage calls for it), you really should not be practicing with a mute. It doesn't just make the instrument quieter - it literally deadens the resonance and changes your instrument's response. When I put a practice mute on my violin, it becomes less sensitive to my bowing technique and I can get away with certain types of sloppiness I couldn't normally. If you can't handle the loudness of the violin, the suggestions involving earplugs seem good. Just please, for your own sake, don't make a habit of practicing with a mute. It will make you weaker as a player.
October 25, 2019, 8:48 AM · Kyle - that's the one.

I tried the Etymotic ones and did not like them - they did not filter enough sound to not leave my ear ringing by the end of a one hour practice session, likely because they are a slim profile and the Vaters are a bit wider.

October 25, 2019, 9:11 AM · I am using the Alpine classics and happy with them.
October 25, 2019, 12:29 PM · I have custom earplugs from Westone. The process can be down in line. There are several "filters" than can be used. I have a 9db one for use in normal playing and with an orchestra (to tone down the trumpets). Not cheap at ~170, but well worth it. Flat frequency response, and 9db is perfect. Reduces audio levels enough to avoid ear ringing for me.
October 25, 2019, 12:41 PM · What?
October 30, 2019, 9:40 PM · Here are some recommendations that are cheap to play around with. I often use one in my left ear.
V-Moda Faders (12db)
D'Addario Planet Waves (12db)
Etymotic High Fidelity ER20 (20db)

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