The Search For The Perfect Earplug, & Earplug Ratings Explained

The Search For The Perfect Earplug, Earplug Ratings Explained

So there you are, looking for that perfect earplug. You know the one, the one, where in your mind's eye, it squashes all noise that you do not want to hear on your commuter train ride, whether it be the loud-ass people talking on their phones or among themselves or what not. But yet, your foray into the world of earplugs is starting to disappoint you.

It turns out that Yes Virginia, earplugs have ratings. And yes, there are all kinds of earplugs out there that cost from $1-25 a product. But are those expensive ones that look pretty tricky actually worth it? I'm thinking no, and here's why.

It seems that maybe you aren't getting what you paid for when you buy the over-priced earplug.

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First up, because of my experience on Amazon, I will NEVER buy from the seller 'Balanarxx12' ever again. I blundered into this project pretty blind and I believed their sales pitch marketing that said that their earplugs were rated at 36dB. And that they were selling 5 pairs.

Well, there's no such thing as 36dB earplugs and I only received two pair. Aside from the personal issues, there's the lie about the earplug rating.

You see, the best rated earplugs out there seem to be rated at NRR 33. Most ear plugs range from NRR 22 to NRR 33. NRR being Noise Reduction Ratings, with 33 being the best rating.

And that rating is not a true 1-to-1 rating, so to speak, but rather in the tricky dB (decibel) scale.

This rating is explained as follows:

To determine the actual amount of noise reduction in decibels, you..

-Take the NRR number,
-Subtract seven, and
-Then divide by two.

Thus, if you bought NRR 33 (dB) plugs, (33-7)/2 = 13. This means that whatever environment you're in, the noise you experience will be reduced by 13 dB with earplugs.

So then my next question was, why is 33 the highest rating? Man, was I in for a surprise with this answer!

Most earplugs have three things that limit what they block.

-The sound pathway,
-The NRR rating is in decibals (dB),

The amazing thing I learned was that we process sound through two different channels, our ear canals and our teeth and skull. (This is why crunchy food or candy seems so loud in our heads. Our bones are transmitters.) Hearing protection can only attenuate the air-traveling sound waves. At absolute max, one can block 40 dB of noise via your ears.

Because sound is measured in dB, it's hard to attenuate properly because of how db is measured. Increasing the materials or capability of a NRR33 plug by a mere 3dB up to NRR36, would reduce the incoming sound by half. It's like the Star Trek warp scale, it's logarithmic. And such, there's only so much they can do with ear protection, either in or on the ear.

Which leads to the third obstacle and that's comfort when wearing hearing protection. Manufacturers can make better earplugs, but that would consist of making plugs that fit so snug or tight that it would be unbearable to wear.


And there are various options available to consumers. We have disposable or reusable ear plugs, or earmuffs or stereo earmuffs. I have a few earplugs and I have a noise-cancelling set of headphones. In fact, supposedly some of the best on the market. But you can still find something worthwhile.

Despite all the options out there, it would almost seem like simpler is better. For me, the foam plugs you roll up and insert seem to work wonderfully. You roll them between your fingers, insert them into the ear canal, and then they expand in place, effectively blocking out most of the sounds you are willing to want to minimize.

I bought some at a NASCAR track some years ago for a few bucks. I recently thought I could get better ones, but it seems I may have stumbled onto some good ones back then.

So no matter how much they pitch you, keep in mind, that even the biggest sales pitch on sound reduction performance can be a lie.


Resources for this piece: earplugs-noise-reduction why-arent-there-any-nrr-40-earplugs

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