Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Darned Adults: Music Too Loud

I'm always wearing earplugs at classes and the clubs, and people regularly ask me about them so I decided to republish this article. Mine are not the cheap foam ones, and many don't notice I'm wearing them at first. 

The article below was originally published over 5 years ago. This was actually the second article published on earplugs and the first has additional details about the high-quality alternatives available at most music stores for under $20. If you've never had any earplugs or you're not ready for custom plugs, check out the first article here (the same links are below.)

I don't mean to brag, but I have my own audiologist! I now feel superior to many others who (like me) didn't even know that word recently. While I still can't spell audiologist without looking on her card, I have one and you should too.

I'm one of the few people who have others ask me to turn down the music if we are driving in my car. Being a drummer, I love dynamic music, ranging from a whisper to a roar. That said, I'm also very protective of my ears, because I read the studies of hearing loss and my ears used to ring the next morning after going to the club. If I do listen loud, I'm careful to not do it too long, and make sure I give my ears a break after a few minutes of intensity. I really don't want a set of hearing aids along with my AARP membership when I hit retirement age.

Over two years ago, I invested in musicians grade earplugs, and I blogged about it in the article named "Practicing Safe Salsa - Ear Protection".

Recently I lost one of my custom, musicians earplugs (shown below), using the ER-15 filters. They are designed to reduce the overall volume by 15dB, but not change the overall sound quality.

It's hard to complain as they have served me well for a couple years, but when I noticed one was lost, I realized I just spent around $180 dancing that evening. For what you invest, they give you a free little pouch to keep them in and I faithfully used it 3-4 days per week over the last couple years.

After losing one plug, I danced for about two weeks with one earplug, and left the other ear unprotected. What an amazing study in contrast. I would leave the club and one ear felt like I'd just gotten off an airplane, when my ears hadn't equalized yet and everything was still muffled. The ear that had the plug, however, was hearing clearly and comfortably.

Your ears partially shut down to protect themselves when sounds are too loud for too long, and the next morning I could hear a slight ringing after I woke up, but only in one ear! Seeing the difference, I started using a swimmers ear plug for the one plug that was lost. They block way too much sound and change the nature of the music so I used my remaining good plug and put up with the swimmers plug until my new custom fit plugs arrive.

After years of dancing, I still maintain that most of the DJs and sound engineers are partially deaf AND/OR they stand behind the speakers, so they don't get the direct effect of their volume.

This week I went back to "my audiologist" and had new molds made for a new set of plugs. She took another mold of my ears and they've been sent to a lab in Colorado where they use the mold to make my custom set. Since my original set was created a couple years ago, they have found that by opening your mouth during the fitting process, the plugs fit a little tighter and do a better job. They have this little block to hold your mouth open just the right amount to make the plugs fit better. In theory this means my new set will work even better than the old.

If you are in the LA area and want custom fitted plugs, you can contact my audiologist, Jami Tanihana (M.A., CCC-A) via "JamiTani AT" or send me private mail for her phone number. She does an excellent job and takes pride in getting the mold exactly right for you. Jami fits plenty of famous musicians with their custom in-ear monitors and she knows how to get them right. (I don't use complete e-mail addresses as spammers look for the @ sign and grab addresses used on the net. Substitute my "AT" with the "@" sign and remove the spaces to get her real e-mail address.)

My previous article also references some less expensive (under $20) plugs that are not custom, but work great for ladies with longer hair. With very short hair (mine) they are noticeable, but that is better than losing your hearing from dancing.

While I hate having to spend a couple hundred on new ear plugs, after using my old set for two years, I'm convinced that they're worth every penny. Once you've worn them a few times, I guarantee you'll never go back to unprotected ears. Years from now, you'll thank me, and you'll be able to hear me say, "you're welcome!"

Practicing Safe Salsa - Ear Protection
We were incompatible in a lot of ways. Like for example, I was a night person,
and he didn't like me.
-Wendy Leibman
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  1. Out of curiosity, what level of attenuation are you using for your earplugs?

  2. In both pairs I've used the ER*15 filters. (In theory a 15dB reduction.) I'll add that info to the main article.

    I originally thought I'd purchase the other filters, but so far I've stuck with the standard, middle range and been very happy with them.

    I don't think I need more, and conversations are fine with the ER*15 in so I haven't invested in the ER*9. I have wondered if I should test them out.

    I found a site selling replacement filters at under $25 each, including shipping.

    (Scroll down a little to see the different filters.)

  3. Thanks for getting me to stop and think about my hearing! I've been social dancing on my scene 2-4 times per week non-stop for the past year, and I'm sure I've already suffered a little hearing loss.

    I'd like to keep hearing the clave and the tumbao of the conga, even when I'm an 80+ year old salsero!

  4. Thanks for these postings;I have been reading and rereading them. Next week I will go and check what music shops can offer here! Never thought that possibility.

    Your ears did behave logically mine do not! Anyhow I do not understand why my resting ear is reacting instead of the listening ...

  5. Having to wear hearing aids at any age is no joke, but I never dreamed when I cranked up the volume so I could feel the music, that it would be before I was 50. They're expensive ($6,400 for my pair) and even the top of the line don't return your hearing to what is was. Unlike the 20/20 correction you can get with glasses, there are so many sound nuances that can't be fixed with hearing aides. Thanks for drawing attention to such an important subject.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero