Speak up


Recently, I've noticed that my hearing hasn't been as sharp as it once was. In certain settings, it's difficult for me to hear people talking; I've found that my ears ring for an extended period of time following any exposure to loud noise (like when I run sound).

While normal ear plugs do an adequate job of protecting your hearing in most situations, they're absolutely horrible for use when I run sound at a gig, or when I'm at a concert and want to clearly hear the performance. I've tried everything from generic foam ear plugs, to fitted foam plugs, to products from Earasers (a semi-custom-fit ear plug), to some really bizarre looking cone-shaped plugs, and they all stink. They simply muffle and muddy-up the sound too much. I can't mix a show when I can't hear various nuances from the performance.

I was about ready to kiss the last of my hearing good-bye, when I stumbled across 100% custom fitted, musician's ear plugs. The company that produces them is called Sensaphonics and they promise that their ear plugs will protect your hearing while still allowing you to hear the full range of sound.

I was a little hesitant to dive-in and purchase these, especially since I had tried "semi-custom" ear plugs before (with mediocre results), and more so because they require an audiologist to take a custom impression of your ear canal so that Sensaphonics can create a set of plugs designed solely for your ears.

I read as much as I could find about the custom plugs and then set about finding an audiologist that could make the impressions for me. I found Dr. Veronica Heide of Audible Difference was a local authorized representative for Sensaphonics, so I scheduled an appointment and went in for a hearing test and fitting.

Dr. Heide is awesome. She's very friendly, super knowledgeable, and excellent at explaining everything in understandable detail. If you're looking for a set of custom-fit ear plugs or in ear monitors, I cannot recommend her strongly enough.

Upon arrival to her office, she used an interesting camera scope device to examine my ear canals. As she peered in, I could see what she was doing via a computer screen. She said that my canals looked good; there was a little bit of wax located quite a bit into the ear canals, but she expertly cleaned it away with a little tool. I snuck a picture of the inside of my ear canal from the scope device.


Dr. Heide explained that wax is a good thing; she used a model to show me how your ear actually functions, how your brain interprets air movement against very fine hairs that it then uses to activate your ear drum. It was so interesting to see and learn about.

With my ears cleaned and ready to go, she then inserted a special device into my ear that measures your hearing sensitivity. Forget about the "standard" hearing tests where you're supposed to raise your hand when you hear a certain noise... this device was super cool and quite high tech. Here's a graph that shows what my hearing response was like for my left ear:


The lowest green line (with the boxes) shows my hearing response... not good. :-( No wonder I couldn't hear a lot of people's voices - the frequency range where my hearing dips is right about where most people talk. Ugh.

Dr. Heide explained that my hearing will never improve - once it's damaged, that's it. She did say that with the ear plugs that I can avoid additional damage and preserve what's currently there. So, my timing could've been a little better (I should've done this years ago)...

With the tests complete, Dr. Heide used a special silicone-like epoxy to take an impression of my ear canals. The product reminded me a bit of Silly Putty; she carefully rolled it into a thin tube and inserted it into my ear (with a piece of string so that she could remove it). The substance expanded and when removed, yielded an exact replica of my ear canals. She sent those off to Sensaphonics, and within a few weeks, I had my custom ear plugs.


I went to Dr. Heide's office to have the fit tested and verified - everything looked (and felt) great. She told me how to care for the ear plugs and gave me a few tips and tricks about them as well. She suggested that I label the carrying case so that if I were to forget them somewhere, someone would hopefully return them to me; hence, the Sharpie marks on the carrying case. :-)

So, how do they work, and why do they allow the full frequency response to get into your ears while attenuating the volume?


See the white part in the center of the plug? That's a filter, that actually behaves like a passive speaker. The ear plug itself is molded and fit so that it blocks 100% of the sound entering your ear, and the little filter allows a much smaller volume of air to enter into your ear canal, thus lowering the volume that you hear, while still allowing the complete frequency range to get through.

You can swap out different filters to allow for more or less hearing protection as required. It was amazing to have the ear plugs in place yet be able to hear perfectly clearly. They're also very comfortable, which is a major bonus - no more fidgeting around with ear plugs and trying to get them to fit just right. These can only fit one way, and it's the correct way, every time.

So... whether you're a fan of concerts, club shows, sporting events, shooting firearms, or working in a noisy environment, I'd strongly urge you to protect your hearing as best as possible. And, there's no better way that I've found than with custom-fitted ear plugs. It's money well spent, and Dr. Heide is really awesome - you won't regret the purchase!

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on July 13, 2015 12:45 PM.

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