Edited: December 14, 2022, 9:21 AM · Practising in a boxroom is giving me tinnitus or making it worse, so I'm wondering which earplugs to buy. I've got some at 35dB, but that's probably too extreme. I'm thinking of trying some at 6, 12, 18dB and seeing what's best for me before getting any custom-mades, but you can start off by recommending stuff.

If you have custom-mades for violin practice, please say how many dB they are.

Replies (26)

December 14, 2022, 9:25 AM · Often i study violin with a plug in my left ear.
I use both Alpine and Etymotic.
Edited: December 14, 2022, 10:07 AM · Avoid further damage with ca.-20dB!
December 14, 2022, 10:41 AM · Etymotic.
December 14, 2022, 11:00 AM · I have made a modest study of this issue. My former violin generated over 90 dB(A) at my right ear. It could be distressingly loud. My current instrument is "quieter" with the same brand of strings (EP Gold), generating about 85 dB(A). For reference, 85 dB (A) is thought to be the level at which extended exposure causes hearing loss.

With my former instrument, I would get tinnitus in about 30 minutes without ear protection. An Etymotic passive musicians' plug in at least the left, or both ears prevented this. I then bought the Etymotic active musician earplugs, and find them comfortable for indefinite periods of practice, and subjectively better than the passive plugs. Maybe it's my imagination, but I think I am more sensitive to my own intonation with plugs in.

If you want to measure sound pressure of your own violin, the NIOSH SLM (sound level meter) is a free iPhone app that you can use. It also has info on hazardous noise. You might find your results surprising!

December 14, 2022, 12:33 PM · Sorry - lost my own thread re your specific question - the passive Etymotic are said to attenuate 20 dB. The Music Pro active earplugs pass through up to 90dB then attenuate 15dB above that.
December 14, 2022, 4:28 PM · Back in the "old days" before my hearing totally collapsed, but when I noticed beginning changes in it, I used the inexpensive wax ear plugs sold at drug stores in packs of 5 (or so). I calibrated the plug insertion depth in my left ear to match my unplugged right ear, which I estimated to represent an attenuation of 12 to 18 DB, depending on how far the surface of the violin was from my left ear (and the distance of that to my right ear). I kept my right ear unplugged when playing. When I noticed troubles hearing human speech, I used the plug in my left ear - that worked too until I finally turned to hearing aids.
December 14, 2022, 4:59 PM · It is known that high sound levels affect perceived pitch, usually lower than with comfortable levels.
December 14, 2022, 8:05 PM · I am 72 years old and have significant hearing loss in both ears at higher frequencies. I got some special filtered earplugs from my audiologist to protect my hearing when I am playing my instruments of in a loud setting. They do a good job with one minor caveat: they make my instruments sound to my ear as if I am using a mute.
Edited: December 14, 2022, 8:05 PM · I am 72 years old and have significant hearing loss in both ears at higher frequencies. I got some special filtered earplugs from my audiologist to protect my hearing when I am playing my instruments or in a loud setting. They do a good job with one minor caveat: they make my instruments sound to my ear as if I am using a mute.
Edited: December 15, 2022, 7:52 AM · Adrian - you are absolutely correct. In fact, I first became aware of my hearing deficit because I had trouble matching the oboe's A when tuning in orchestra. It was because the over-driven pitch my left ear sensed (higher pitch) would not match what my right ear sensed. When I used the left ear plug, both ear's matched.
It had nothing to do with the oboe.

It also causes some violinists to play flat, because the overdriven ear dominates.

P.S. This was all almost 40 years ago. I did an experiment by giving one of those earplugs to every violinist in our community orchesta and the improvement in intonation was immediate and quite remarkable.

Edited: December 15, 2022, 1:30 AM · I am glad to see a broadening of this discussion. I am going away for Christmas today and am taking some foam plugs and have ordered some Etymotic HiFis to be delivered to the address where I'll be staying and practising. It will be interesting to hear the difference.
Edited: December 15, 2022, 5:28 AM · Incidentally, looking at the customer reviews indicates people don't really understand what earplugs do. Every plug will have one-star reviews that say they don't work, because people expect them to make you stone deaf.
It's very simple - if your violin generates 90dB, and your plugs are 20dB, you'll hear the violin at 70dB (assuming all frequencies are equally attenuated and bass/treble balance doesn't come into it - i.e. at low volumes you have lower sensitivity to bass than to treble, hence HiFi has bass-boost at low volumes). Apologies to those for whom this was common knowledge.
December 15, 2022, 10:09 AM · I think that the Etymotic ER-20XS plugs are really great. Some fussing with the fit might be necessary. If the supplied flanges are problematic, a company called Comply has aftermarket flanges that fit Etymotic products. I have the Comply foam tips on my Music Pro plugs, and they are significantly more comfortable than the silicone ones that came with the set. Gordon - if you're flying to your Xmas destination, the plugs also take the edge off the airplane noise.
December 15, 2022, 10:56 AM · I have used the 33 decibel foam ear plugs for the last 20 years whenever playing, would prefer to use 50 db plugs if I could purchase them. Even as a kid and was not aware of earplugs to use toilet paper balled up to cut down the noise from guns or sitting 4 ft from a tractors muffler all day long. With the foam plugs one can easily alter effectiveness by how far in they are inserted.
December 15, 2022, 11:28 AM · Foam plugs are good for impulse noise like shooting sports, or industrial noise like tractors, but I suspect that the acoustic bandpass of plugs designed specifically for musicians is flatter across the spectrum of audible frequencies. I bet what one is accustomed to here is significant. I suspect that 50dB of “flat” passive attenuation would be hard to do, but possibly achievable electronically.
December 15, 2022, 2:04 PM · Another advantage well-designed earplugs is that what we hear is more similar to what others hear.
Edited: December 24, 2022, 8:48 AM ·
QUOTE: Andrew Victor · /15/2022, 7:52 AM
. . . In fact, I first became aware of my hearing deficit because I had trouble matching the oboe's A when tuning in orchestra.
With age, I've had some high-end hearing loss, predominantly in my left ear. (Also the right.) Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be negatively affecting my listening pleasure, nor playing the violin.

But, tuning the violin is a different story. I'm fine with tuning the D and G in fifths to an A. By paying very close attention, I can tune my A to my 440 piano A. Tuning my E string accurately eludes me. I'm not quite sure if it should be this or that.

All that changed, when my teacher told me about a tuning app; and then, I purchased the following:


Someone on this site referenced a similar product, and I checked into it. The above is a terrific for me. It responds only to the vibrations in the violin, not to sound. So, I can check my violin during orchestra rehearsal. It has a little color screen that's bright and east to see at close distances. One can also set the frequency for the desired A. (440, 441, 442, etc.) It's very easy to change batteries, so I keep a spare in my case. This tuning device stays permanently on my violin. While I use it only for G-D-A-E, it can display how close one is playing to any note. (Sharps/flats included.)

With this device, I tune the A, then I tune D and G via fifths to my taste, and finish by tuning the E using the fine tuner. I've checked it against my SoundCorset tuning app on both my phone and tablet, and it's spot on.

In orchestra, winds first tune to an Oboe's 440 A, and then the concertmaster tunes to the same Oboe's A. Thereafter, strings tune to the concertmaster's A.

But, I short circuit all of this and tune strictly to my tuning device. In orchestra, I think that both the oboe and and the concertmaster should tune to a device. We might sound better, because I sometimes question the A to which the orchestra has tuned.

Ain't technology grand? :-)

December 24, 2022, 9:39 AM · Neil, my experience exactly - including complete agreement with "Sound Corset" within 1 cent. I've had my d'Addario clip on tuners for years. I clip them on for rehearsals and concerts so that I can check tuning even when the full orchestra is playing.
Edited: December 26, 2022, 10:48 PM · Hello all and merry Christmas! I use LifeMusic earbuds I believe and they work great!
Edited: December 31, 2022, 9:02 AM · I've lived with tinnitus since my early 20's when I was assigned to a US Navy squadron that deployed on an aircraft carrier in the early 1960's. While we were all told to wear protection, most of us not assigned to flight deck or hanger deck duties did not have them.

I have foam earplugs that I kept after my semi-annual MRI's (a whole different topic) and after reading this thread tried one in my left ear. The only hearing in my left ear with the plug in was bone conduction. It was strange to only hear the violin from my right ear. More like what I imagine others hear when I'm playing.

I bought a pair of Etymotic plugs and tried one in my left ear. Some attenuation, but nothing like the foam plug that comes with the MRI's. (FWIW: I refer to the MRI experience as the Stephen Reich concerto for MRI and Violinist.)

In my mid 70's a lot of damage has been done but I'll continue to use the Etymotic in my left ear.

January 2, 2023, 4:42 PM · I got EarPeace for a Christmas gift. I went with that one because they sent two sizes as part of the set and the review said they are recommended by Berklee School of Music. I have never worn the in ear headphones so had no idea what size my ear canals are. (Turns out I need the small size.)

They are not custom made. They are affordable. I didn't think I needed to go with custom made for what I will be using them for. (Mainly my own practice.)

They are comfortable. I can hear nuances with them - just quieter.

They are much much better than the foam drugstore ones I have sometimes used in the past when my ear drums felt numb after practicing high passages on violin. . Mostly I don't use anything but have decided I should. These ones are going to be very usable for me and now have a home on my stand.

January 2, 2023, 5:03 PM · I remember reading somewhere that a discussion of long term risk to hearing, and measures to manage it should be a part of every violin student's basic education. Symphonic musicians are much more aware of this than before, and I believe there was recent legal action in UK about hearing loss as an occupational risk. Is "hearing health" something that is covered in private lessons and/or conservatories? While recommending routine baseline audiometry seems like going to far, raising some awareness of the issue seems reasonable. Your thoughts?
Edited: January 2, 2023, 5:54 PM · I went to an audiologist three or so years ago and got custom molds made, like so:


I practice with the 9 db filter, and there are probably some drawbacks, but I also probably hear my violin a little more objectively, so I can dig in for the sound. If I'm going out somewhere, I might use the 25 db filter, but I have some other 30 db plugs that I usually wear to any place with amplified music, and it improves the experience immensely.

I'm only 35 and my generation is going to be a disaster of early hearing loss. I think early awareness needs to be taught. Unreasonable volumes coming from speakers are everywhere. One of my bigger regrets in life is not taking better care of my ears from an earlier age.

(I also bought some stock in a biotech company that is working on some miracle drug for hearing loss, but the less said about that stock's performance, the better)

Edited: January 4, 2023, 8:46 AM · In theory the frequency response is flat, but in practice, when I take out my Etymotics, my violin sounds rougher than a bear's arse. This is subjectivity at work - I had noticed the same "ear adaptation" with mutes. After a while without a mute the ears readapt. It looks to me as though d'Addario Pacatos are likely to be just as good as Etymotics. I now only use an earplug in my left ear to try to reduce ear adaptation.
Edited: January 6, 2023, 4:11 AM · "I'm only 35 and my generation is going to be a disaster of early hearing loss."

Absolutely. I have a friend who is a bassist and goes to a lot of gigs, and he was at one on the balcony in the audience and the music was so loud that he could feel the legs of his jeans vibrating. (He wears earplugs, though - he's in his 50s and his hearing is good)

January 10, 2023, 10:25 AM · My Amazon review of the Etymotics

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