Often, when a person tells you they don’t like foam earplugs, they’re talking about a second-rate pair they received at a youth hostel or on a plane. But not all foam earplugs are created equal. All ears are different and the variety of foam earplugs we stock each have a different ear in mind. In this article, we take a closer look at our three most popular earplug ranges, examining them in terms of size, shape, density, softness, and NRR sound rating, so you know which pair is right for you.
A brief note: as with everything related to sound and hearing, fit is what matters. An airtight seal between your ear and the plug is necessary for the sound to actually be diffused. If you’ve never used foam earplugs before, review our guide here (video included!). Now, let’s get started.
Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs ($13.95)
The Hearos Xtreme Protection offer some of the highest noise reduction you can get in a pair of foam earplugs, at NRR 32 a properly fitted pair is expected to reduce garden machinery, a loud stereo, or a revving engine to an acceptable level of noise not likely to cause long term hearing damage. It goes without saying: snores don’t stand a chance.
A good way of testing a set of earplugs is to feel them between your fingers. The ear canal is sensitive, the sensation you feel on your hands is only going to be amplified over the course of a night’s sleep. The Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs come in a smooth blue polyurethane foam that fits snugly in the ear, without any noticeable texture or weight.
They’re on the slightly larger side for a pair of foam earplugs, as such if you have narrow or small ear canals, you may find them difficult to fit. At the same time, if you’re used to wearing medium or large size eartips on your headphones, the Hearos Xtreme will conform nicely to the dimensions of your ear.
The high level sound rating of the Hearos makes it perfect for working with cars or other machinery, for band practice, or for sleeping in particularly noisy environments. While some might be put off by the larger form of the earplug, they’re highly regarded for their sound blocking quality and will work for the majority of ear sizes.
Hearos Sleep Pretty in Pink ($38.95 for 56 pairs)
If you’re a fan of the Hearos Xtreme Protection but want something a little more sleep-focussed, you’re in safe hands. The Sleep Pretty in Pink is specifically designed for a comfortable, silent night’s sleep. They’re produced with a softer foam than the Xtreme Protection, retaining the same hearing rating and smooth surface -- these features combine to make them the comfiest possible option for sleep.
Like the Xtreme Protection, they’re rated at NRR 32. This kind of noise rating is appropriate not only for snores, but also for the incidental noise that comes with urban living. It’ll do a good job of filtering out traffic noises, upstairs footsteps, and wind. With a sound rating like this, they’re particularly useful for shift workers, combine with a sleeping mask and you’ll be sleeping as well as you would at night.
If you like Hearos, consider also: the Hearos Ultimate Softness Ear Plugs.
Mack’s Slim Fit Smaller Soft Foam Ear Plugs ($28.95 for 50 Pairs)
As we’ve said, fit is fundamental. If a foam earplug is improperly sized for your ear canal, it’ll slip out. At best, this means you’re constantly adjusting. At worst, it means an interrupted night sleep or unidentified hearing damage down the track. Mack’s Slim Fit is designed particularly for smaller ears, they’re thinner and shorter than the Hearos Xtreme and scrunch up to a smaller size in your hand.
Once again, we start with fit and move through to feel. The fully-skinned surface is smooth like the Hearos, with the added bonus of ‘slow release comfort foam’. They take slightly longer to expand in your ear, but do so gently -- ideal for those with sensitive ears. If you’ve previously used extra small or small eartips (or find your medium sized tips don’t stay in) consider a smaller profile earplug like the Mack’s Slim Fit.
While they have a lower NRR, at NRR 29, it’s important to remember that the actual benefit of hearing protection is negated if your fit is off. A high sound rating pair of plugs with a poor fit is always going to be worse than something well fitted. With the Mack’s Slim Fit, NRR 29 offers about three decibels less of hearing protection when compared to the Hearos Xtreme. The soft, slim, and comfortable features make these primarily a sleeping earplug, but they’re versatile and suitable for study, work from home, and louder workspaces up to 107 dB.
Mack’s Acoustic Foam Ear Plugs ($14.95 for 7 Pairs)
While it seems like we’re always talking about the highest sound rating, sometimes a lower rating is what you’re looking for. In this case, you might want something to filter harsh external noise, while still allowing you to remain aware of your surroundings or capable of conversation. Similarly, you might want to use a foam earplug in a concert setting, without diminishing the clarity of the music you’re listening to.
Mack’s Acoustic Foam Ear Plugs exist for this kind of use, they’re a lower sound attenuating set, rated at NRR 20, or about 20 decibels of sound filtering when worn. In comparison to the plugs we’ve considered thus far, the Mack’s Acoustic Foam are tapered in their design, with sculpted sides, allowing for more sound to enter your ears. These adjustments make them a comfortable wear for individuals with narrow ear canals, while the flared base prevents slippage, allowing you to focus on what you’re doing without unnecessary adjustments.
If you’re a fan of Mack’s but want something stronger, consider the Mack’s Blackout Range.
Note: An added bonus of Hearos and Mack’s, the consumer packaging uses less plastic than the industrial brands. For eco-conscious consumers, go with these providers or use a ‘pillow pack’ (cardboard) packaged industrial solution.
Mack’s and Hearos are two of the big players in consumer earplugs. They are primarily interested in hearing protection at home and for leisure. You also have the option of industrial foam earplugs.
Howard Leight Max ($8.95 for 10 Pairs)
One of the most popular industrial solutions is the Howard Leight Max. Like the Hearos Xtreme, Howard Leight is looking at the highest grade sound protection possible in a foam earplug. With an NRR of 33, these are the sorts of earplugs workers use in conjunction with muffs to protect their hearing on a loud worksite. They’re good for noisy neighbours, barking dogs, and snores too.
In contrast to the pair we’ve considered before, the Max has a ‘contoured’ shape. Notice the narrow tip and flared base. While you still insert these as you would a normal set of plugs, the shape of the plug is designed to minimise the chance of slippage from movement. In this case, for workers on a site, your hands aren’t always free and a slipped earplug can be ruinous for your ear health. It’s also good for people who toss and turn in the night.
As has been noted, the Howard Leight Max’s have the highest sound rating of any of the foam earplugs surveyed. This makes them appropriate for all manner of work around the house, playing instruments, and sleep (particularly for shift workers competing the daytime noise).
When we talk about usability, foam earplugs are ‘finitely’ reusable. This means that a single pair can generally get you through a few nights sleep before needing to be discarded. The Howard Leight’s have a ‘soil-resistant, closed cell-foam skin’ to prevent dirt build up, extending their life slightly longer than their competitors.
Peltor Next No Touch No Roll Foam Ear Plugs ($14.45 for 10 Pairs)
One of the biggest troubleshooting issues we face with foam earplugs is proper insertion. Often, when someone complains of insufficient sound reduction, it becomes evident that they’ve simply misinserted the plugs. As such, we’re always looking for ways to minimise human error in preventing people from accessing their much needed hearing protection. This is where Peltor comes in.
Unlike the other plugs listed here, the Peltor Next comes with a “LiveWire stem”, a small plastic handle at the base of the plug designed to aid proper insertion. There are a few benefits here: notably, hygiene, by minimising contact with your fingers, the foam remains sterile on entry to your ear, ensuring the cleanest and safest foam earplug experience. The handle is additionally more convenient and enables a more intuitive insertion, as the stem assists in helping you orient the plugs on inserting them to the ear, akin to the act of using a Q-Tip.
They’re also no slouch when it comes to sound reduction. With an NRR of 29, these are great earplugs for home and garden work, motorcycling, as well as for just blocking out the noise while you’re working from home. The purple colour, in conjunction with the fluro green stem, makes them stand out for easy identification, while the canal hugging shape prevents slippage.
One note: while the stem makes these an effective set for hearing protection out and about and while you’re working, they’re not the best for sleeping as the stem can be knocked about when you roll over in the night. For a sleeping option, consult one of the many outlined above.
When you’re choosing a set of foam earplugs, it’s good to guide your search with a few questions. As we’ve discussed, you should be asking about noise rating, size and softness, while also considering what you’re going to be using the plugs for. You may not need the highest sound blockage for sleep, but comfort and fit is key. Alternatively, you may trade off some softness for noise reduction when it comes to protecting your hearing while motorcycling or shooting.
We hope this guide is helpful in assisting you in your search for the right foam. For further questions and everything else, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.