After a combined total of seventeen hours of testing on twenty two different varieties of highly recommended ear plugs, we’ve found five great varieties of ear plugs to fit every situation. We found the Moldex 6800 Pura Fit foam plugs to be the overall best for hearing protection, but things are a litte more nuanced than that. That said, we dug up something for every occasion in our selection and testing process. Read on and find out which is the best for you.
For our money, the product is pretty much perfect as PPE. They’re lightweight, cheap, and provide enough sound dampening to ensure that your hearing remains protected despite chronic exposure to noisy machinery.Buy Now
Table of Contents
How We Selected the Products
While choosing ear plugs would seem to be a simple matter, we decided to kick things up a notch. Our first stop was an extensive dive into the OSHA regulations about occupational noise exposure.
As a general rule 85dB is considered the cut off point where damage begins to occur with chronic exposure in a person with normal hearing. Exposure at this level should be limited, otherwise hearing protection is mandatory.
Once we had a good idea of what was legally required, we sent out some e-mails to ask people what they used. Since we were looking for a wide variety of different ear plugs it took some time to compile a list.
Some of the uses that we looked into were the following:
- Chronic exposure to noise
- Shutting out noise for sleeping
- Protection from sharp, singular noises like gunshots
- Clear but reduced sound for musicians
Since most types of plugs are relatively cheap we basically snagged everything which had good reviews online and seem remotely related to the plugs that we were recommended. We ended up with twenty two different varieties of ear plugs in the end, of which we knew that only five were going to make the final cut.
In this case, we mostly ignored the Noise Reduction Rating. In a previous talk with a safety inspector we’d discovered that the NRR of hearing protection was for perfect usage only. Ear plugs seem simple to use, but we quickly found out that you have to be a bit careful when applying molded or foam plugs to get the most out of them.
Also, some plugs didn’t even have an NRR rating but performed their job to one degree or another, making direct comparisons based on the metric less important than how hard the plugs were to fit in order to get the most protection.
Once they’d arrived, it was time for testing to begin.
How We Tested the Products
Ear plugs aren’t the most gripping subject but testing them ended up being a blast.
Since they’re used in a wide variety of different situation. We eliminated the bulk of the ear plugs in our initial test.
Our first stop was an outdoor range. We used three types of ammunition, amping up slowly to avoid any hearing damage if the plugs weren’t completely effective. Any residual “ringing” meant that the plugs were eliminated from our final selection process.
The final round we fired to test each was a .30-06 fired from a 24” barrel, which comes out to roughly 170dB. We eliminated more than half of the plugs upfront. We’re sure no one took damage, but some of the cheaper models out there seemed a bit sketchy to recommend.
Keep in mind that ear muffs over plugs common than ear plugs when firing a high caliber rifle since the combination provides superior protection. They’re also easier to put on and pull off, which makes them a favorite for those who alternately need to be able to hear clearly and have protection like hunters and target shooters.
That said, we quickly found out that the majority of the plugs dampened the gunshot enough that we were able to pull them out and resume talking in a normal voice immediately afterwards.
Since our primary concern was preventing hearing damage we can confidently recommend all of the plugs that made our list. From there it was a matter of finding the “best fit” for each.
Our comfort test was the next one up: we had people wear their ear plugs for six hours and try sleeping in each pair that had become a potential finalist. Notes were taken and two ear plugs eliminated at this point since long term wear was prohibitively uncomfortable.
We could have stopped there, but we decided two further tests were needed to further differentiate the plugs which we decided were up to snuff.
The first was a clarity test. We picked a song which all of our reviewers were familiar with, “Africa” by Toto, and had them compare the sound with earplugs in to having them out. Most ear plugs provide a lot of muffling, but we found a flanged pair which allowed for hearing to remain close to the correct spectrum.
During this round of testing we brought back a pair of flanged plugs that didn’t quite pan out during the initial test after some debate.
These ended up being our recommended pick for those who like to attend loud concerts or are playing on stage since they were quite clear but we were a little bit iffy about the fact that the .30-06 round still caused a little bit of ringing in most of our testers.
We reasoned that while they may not be sufficient for shooting... sudden exposure to 170dB isn’t a common occurrence for those of us who aren’t in the demolitions field, just skip them if your primary concern is hearing protection rather than selective listening.
Lastly, we found a couple of machinists who were willing to use our finalists for a work day to rate their real world use as PPE with a short questionnaire:
- Were they comfortable for all day wear?
- Did they stay in while moving around the job site?
- Did there seem to be any negative effects at the end of the day?
And, once we’d sorted through the majority of the plugs we were able to bring you our favorites. We determined the following through our tests:
- The Moldex 6800 Pura Fit is an all-around great plug for PPE. They’re cheap, come in big packages, and were the most comfortable of these plug types to wear.
- On the other hand the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs provided great sound clarity at the cost of some hearing protection at the higher end of things. Perfect for live music, since everything still sounded almost crystal clear, but not great for sharp, sudden noises.
- The PQ Earplugs for Sleep is our recommended pair for those who have trouble sleeping due to noise concerns. They were comfortable on the pillow and maintained a reasonable amount of sound dampening.
- For sharp, sudden noises the SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders reduced rifle rounds to near a whisper. For target shooters or those who might be exposed to sudden sounds regularly they’re perfect but the dampening was a bit much for some of our reviewers.
- Lastly, we were impressed with the Honeywell Laser Lite as a cheap, all-day protective gear. They’re relatively comfortable in addition to being low in price but couldn’t quite live up to our favorite.
Top 5 Ear Plugs
|Moldex 6800 Pura Fit||Disposable Memory Foam||33dB||Check Price|
|Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs||Flanged Silicone||16dB||Check Price|
|PQ Earplugs for Sleep||Moldable Silicone||32dB||Check Price|
|SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders||Reusable Foam||24dB||Check Price|
|Honeywell Laser Lite||Disposable Memory Foam||32dB||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Ear Plugs
Moldex 6800 Pura Fit
When it came to overall usage… the Moldex 6800 performed well under pressure. We can confidently recommend them for anything which doesn’t require clear sound.
Using them was easy and once in they remained quite comfortable. They’re one of the highest NRR ear plugs on the market and performed well throughout the testing for prolonged wear, including use as PPE and for those who are light sleepers.
Really, the biggest problem with them is they’re disposable. They’re relatively cheap, however, and come in bulk packages which we feel beats that out unless you’re really concerned with going green.
Other than that it’s just the usual problems with disposable plugs. They take a bit to expand in the ear cavity, they muffle sound to the point that they significantly alter things like music.
But ear plugs are utilitarian sound dampening and PPE for most people. Whether you’re sleeping the night away in a busy city or working in an industrial environment the Moldex 6800 Pura Fit are simply the best disposable plugs around.
- Highest NRR rating
- Easy to wear
- Suitable for most applications
- Cheap in bulk
- Changes sound quite a bit
- Need to be used properly for full benefit
2. Best Ear Plugs for Live Music
Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs
Not everyone is trying to drown out the sounds of work or protect their hearing during exceptionally high decibel levels. For those who want to, for instance, protect their hearing at a metal concert but still enjoy the music will find the Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs right up their alley.
The decibel reduction may be enough for some PPE uses, but we strongly recommend sticking above 20-22 NRR for real protection. These are expensive enough we doubt you’ll be using them too often as well.
They’re designed for those with hearing sensitivity and musicians and out of all of the flanged plugs we tried they performed the best when it came to keeping frequencies “in tune” with each other. They’re not perfect across the board reduction but they do better than any other pair we tried.
If you’re willing to pay, you’ll find these to be excellent companions. They’re also quite durable and should last long into the future with proper care… made easy by the great little carrying case that comes with them.
If you’re looking for ear plugs which preserve the quality of sound while still protecting your hearing, the Eargasm may be what you’re looking for. We don’t recommend them as PPE however.
- Great sound clarity
- Come with a carrying case
- Comfortable to wear
- Not good as PPE
- Most expensive on our list by a big margin
3. Best Ear Plugs for Sleeping
PQ Earplugs for Sleep
Moldable silicone ear plugs are the best for those who regularly sleep with their plugs in and these were our favorites of the three brands we tried. Like all moldable plugs you just shape them by warming them up and sticking them in.
Boom, problem solved. At least for sleeping, they tend to not stay in well during vigorous movement and they provide inferior protection to plugs which aren’t specifically made for high fidelity.
They’re also sticky. These aren't as bad as the other brands we tried, but be careful to keep your hair out of the way when putting them in. The good news? They’re super comfortable once they’re in.
Overall, they provide the most comfortable fit for sleeping and the slightly lower NRR isn’t a big deal for most sleepers. They’re still more than enough to block out most noises.
While they have some disadvantages as PPE, these moldable plugs are excellent for those who need to get a good night’s sleep without barking dogs and blaring traffic driving them to the brink of madness.
- Great fit once molded
- Easy to sleep with
- Good NRR rating
- Last for repeated uses
- Not the best for PPE
- Plugs are pretty sticky
4. Best Ear Plugs for Shooters
SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders
Designed specifically for shooting firearms, these connected foam plugs are excellent for the range, hunting, or any other activity where you’ll need to switch your plugs in and out frequently. They also provide enough protection to keep you safe during the majority of activities.
Here’s the cool thing about these foam plugs: they allow you to “open” them by removing a tab, which restores your hearing to normal without having to remove and reposition plugs. It might even be a bigger protection than higher NRR rated foam plugs, as anyone who’s had a friend take a shot while their plugs were out during a hunting trip can tell you.
They’re attached and stay locked in your ear. They’re also low profile, made to fit under helmets, muffs, and other tight fitting headgear. They provided adequate protection during our hearing tests performed with them.
The fact you can unplug them also makes them great for those who are frequently in-and-out of the noise around them but not exposed constantly.
They’re not great PPE for someone who works in an industrial setting or the construction industry, but for shooters the little advantages are pretty awesome.
- Excellent design for shooters
- Relatively flat profile
- Corded construction
- Comfortable to wear
- Expensive although reusable
- Could have higher NRR
5. Best Cheap But Effective Ear Plugs
Honeywell Laser Lite
These were the cheapest plugs that we felt comfortable recommending, making them an excellent PPE item. The high viz colors only enforce that, allowing you to easily find the plugs once they’ve been discarded.
That said, they weren’t quite as comfortable as our favorites and seemed to not squish quite as well. In practice, as long as you tolerate ear plugs well you’ll be fine with either for sleeping or using them as protective equipment.
The colors were apparently easier to find than the usual “orange” that’s seen in cheaper plugs when they were put down in the workplace as well.
They are shaped a bit oddly, but we found that in the end the wide base made them easier to pull although they were harder to insert properly.
While they’re not quite as awesome as our favorites, the 32NRR and relative comfortability makes these our choice for those who are looking for disposable ear plugs.
- Exceptionally cheap per unit
- High-viz colors
- Molds to ear readily
- More comfortable than most
- Not as comfortable as our favorites
- Slightly odd design for foam plugs
Figuring Out Which Ear Plugs Work for You
The inner ear canal is surprisingly varied. There’s no real way to point to a “one-size fits-all” solution here.
Instead, you’ll need to figure it out based on your usage. Those who are trying to sleep on a busy city street will have different needs than someone who is running a drill press through their entire work day.
In general, there are three types of ear plugs:
Foam earplugs are the most common and cheapest. They’re generally considered disposable and without a bit of care you may not be able to get the full benefits of the NRR but they’re surprisingly effective and quite cheap. The best rated foam plugs actually beat out ear muff designs when it comes to sheer noise reduction.
Flanged plugs allow for more clarity but aren’t as good at reducing noise. They’re mainly used by musicians and safety-conscious concert-goers. They tend to be more expensive but they’re also much more durable than foam plugs which often only have two or three uses in them.
Lastly moldable plugs are quite comfortable for sleeping, but don’t provide the clarity or the sound dampening found with flanged and foam plugs respectively. Excellent for sleeping, not so great for any other use.
We were actually surprised at just how much variance there was between plugs in the same class. It seems like a wedge shaped piece of memory foam should function the same as any other but in practice this simply wasn’t true.
Once again we ran into an obstacle: our favorite plugs for loud noises were also extremely uncomfortable to wear on the pillow in spite of being fine for all day usage in most of our reviewers.
The inner ear canal varies quite a bit between different people, so making sure that the set you go with fits properly is extremely important. If you can’t stand the way they feel you’ll find yourself much more likely to not fit your plugs properly.
Since most plugs are meant to expand in the ear canal when applied properly conformation to the ear canal isn’t as important as the comfortability of the fit. If you’re looking for a daily, disposable ear plug you may want to try a few different brands with similar NRR to see which works best for you.
Included with the fit is whether your plugs have a tether attached. For those who are frequently in and out of noisy areas a tether can be quite handy, allowing you ro remove the plugs and put them back in easily.
Properly Using Ear Plugs
When we were questioning people during the selection process, the fact that you can put in ear plugs improperly came up twice. It seemed laughable at the time, but in the field we found that most people really aren’t familiar with making sure that they get the best fit possible.
Foam plugs are the worst about it. While many people just stick them in their ear and hope for the best we quickly found this to be uncomfortable and often ineffective.
Instead, roll the foam plug between your index finger and thumb to make the whole thing smaller before insertion. Then insert the rolled plug into your ear canal, it can help to stretch the ear by pulling back along the top. Once inserted, the memory foam will swell to the size of the inner ear, providing hearing protection.
Flanged plugs are put in much the same. There’s just a bit less rolling involved and you may need to rock them a little bit depending on the exact shape of the plug you’re working with.
Lastly, moldable plugs just need to be shaped by heating the material in your hand and rolling them. One thing to be aware of with moldable plugs is their stickiness. If you’ve got long hair get it out of the way or you’ll be snapping up any rogue strands you may come across in addition to protecting your hearing.
In any case where protecting your hearing, as opposed to simply shutting out noise, is a primary concern you’ll want to ensure that they’re working properly. Try speaking and make sure the noise is muffled before you expose yourself to loud noises.
Ear Plug FAQ
Q: Is it safe to sleep in ear plugs?
A: As a general rule, we’ve found that it seems to be safe to sleep with ear plugs in. There are only two issues that arise. The first is the fact that ear wax can build up if you’re sleeping with them regularly, which just means a more thorough ear washing. The second is the fact that the porous material used in memory foam ear plugs can harbor bacteria. To prevent ear infections you should be using a new pair every night, or at the very least switching out your plugs every two or three nights.
Q: How do ear plugs compare to muffs for sound protection?
A: Plugs are usually rated higher than muffs since they fit entirely in your ear canal. This isn’t true in all cases, but the highest NRR ratings in the business all belong to plugs.
Q: What happens if I put muffs over plugs?
A: Few people are exposed to noises that will require a pair of muffs placed over regular ear plugs, but in some cases it’s a good idea. If you’re frequently firing high caliber rifles, for instance, it’s good to have the extra level of protection. There’s a caveat, however, in that the NRR ratings don’t directly stack, instead the rough maximum attainable protection comes out to an NRR of 36 according to OSHA. In general, you can calculate the NRR of combined hearing protection by adding 5 to the piece of PPE with a higher noise reduction rating.
Q: How is NRR determined?
A: Like all product performance metrics… NRR gets weird. Theoretically, the NRR of a piece of hearing protection should show a direct decibel reduction. In practice, the equation for decibel reduction is actually (NRR-7)/2. Even better? Currently the standards are being updated to show the range of hearing protection which can be obtained depending on if you put them in improperly or if you’re a seasoned hearing protection veteran.
Q: Do ear plugs help with tinnitus?
A: Tinnitus is usually the result of hearing damage and causes a persistent ringing or droning noise in the ears. Unfortunately, plugs aren’t going to help with tinnitus and outside of environments where loud noises are present are actually contraindicated since the muffled noise can cause a worsening of symptoms.
Q: Are ear plugs effective for shooting?
A: For the most part, a simple foam plug can keep the average rifle or pistol from damaging your hearing as long as you consistently use them to ensure you’re protected. Almost all hearing damage occurs from people “toughing it out” and not using some form of hearing protection. If you’re an active hunter, as opposed to using a stand or blind, then hearing is crucial while in the field and a good pair of ear muffs may be a better option since they can be pulled on quickly with one hand and removed to allow you to hear.
Q: Can ear plugs cause hearing damage?
A: In general… well, you really shouldn’t stick things in your ear 24/7. The most common complication is ear infections in those who aren’t rigorous about changing their disposable plugs, but wax build-up also occurs since the ears can’t drain. Just make sure they’re clean before you insert them and only wear them when you’re exposed to loud noises for the best results.
A bit surprised that this is such a complex subject? So were we, but the end result was that we learned exactly what the best kind of ear plugs are for a variety of applications.
For general PPE needs, we maintain the disposable Moldex 6800 Pura Fit is the best. They’re more comfortable than most and provide adequate protection for virtually any sonic assault you may stumble across. There really is something for everyone, however.
Your hearing is important, and damage is permanent if you’re not ahead of the curve when potentially damaging noises are in your environment. Why not pick up the perfect pair for your needs today?