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Product Review: Etymotic Music•PRO High-Fidelity Electronic Earplugs

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on August 04, 2014

The live music experience is dynamic, whether it’s a festival or single show and whether you’re on the stage or off. At festivals, you’re constantly ebbing in and out of dangerous noise levels as you jump from stage to stage. At a single show, you suffer through the sharp contrast between a band playing on stage, the silent switching of sets, and the venue’s own in-house music. 

Though it’s not just the experience that’s variable, but the music itself. Sound levels rarely remain constant between songs or even within one piece of music. Songs build to their climax, riffs come in and out, and crescendos are highlighted with beginning moments of near-silence. These are the hair-raising and chill-inducing characteristics of a live performance, but they’re also the reasons many opt out of ear protection. Many music fans are not willing to sacrifice music quality for the safety of their ears as cheap earplugs simply muffle the music and higher quality versions apply the same reduction across the board, whether it’s a violin solo or crushing drum breakdown. Etymotic’s Music•PRO earplugs are different. 

Music•PRO High-Definition Electronic Earplugs offer the ultimate in hearing protection without compromising the quality of the music. Having been designed for users who want to hear naturally and protect their hearing when at risk all without removing the earplugs, they automatically adjust to changing sound levels. The earplugs respond to the sounds around you, meaning you can wear the earplugs and still hear naturally when the sound is within safe levels but, once these levels are exceeded, the earplugs kick in gradually and incrementally depending on the noise around you. 

But these little wünder earplugs go even further with two settings, both equipped with the adaptive noise reduction feature outlined above. The first mode of operation provides Natural Hearing with 15-dB Sound Reduction. This means you can carry on your regular conversations while the earplugs are in and automatically receive 15-dB protection when your hearing is at risk - whether you’re expecting it or not. With added impact sound protection, you’re not only covered during sustained loud passages, but sudden loud percussive sounds as well. 

With a quick flip of the switch, you can adjust to Enhanced Hearing with 9-dB Sound Reduction. This setting provides 6-dB gain for soft sounds, automatic 9-dB protection when sounds exceed safe levels, and impact sound protection for those even louder, unexpected bursts. The enhanced hearing is ideal for listening to artists with a lot of soft passages, so you can hear the subtleties while also remaining protected when those soft passages are accented with a crash of the symbol or raise of the bass. 

Unlike passive Musicians Earplugs, with which you have to pre-select 9 dB, 15 dB, or 25 dB sound reduction at time of purchase, Music•PRO Earplugs are intelligent. Not only do they combine two versions (ER-9 and ER-15) in the same device, they adjust automatically without the need for an on/off switch or even removal from the ear. I won’t delve further into their specifications (which can be found here and, in more detail, here) for fear of scaring away music fans in need of protective aids though unfamiliar with the terminology, but I will go into why they’re not just for musicians. 

The Music•PRO earplugs are billed as “High-Fidelity Electronic Musicians Earplugs,” but they can (and should) be enjoyed by a larger swath of live music listeners - from professionals to fans. In addition to musicians, Etymotic recommends them as ideal for directors and music educators, front-of-house crews, entertainment industry support staff, security personnel, and audiences.

As I attend music festivals and single shows as a fan and as a writer/photographer, I felt I fit into both the professional and casual categories. Like security personnel, I’m as close as can be to the stage during a performance, often resting against the speaker itself to get the shot. Similar to front-of-house crews and support staff, I am often taken off guard by sudden loud noises - either by the musicians beginning while I am facing the crowd or by crowd members blowing horns or screaming while I am facing the stage. Like musicians, directors, and music educators, I am exposed to unsafe noise levels more often and more frequently than most. Finally, like audiences, I am a music fan first and foremost. 



I first used the Music•PRO earplugs at Firefly Music Festival, which I attended as a photographer. It was the first time I didn’t have to fumble with inserting earplugs before a set and stashing them in one pocket or another afterwards - a process that is much more annoying when you’re holding two cameras with myriad lenses strapped to you while fighting for a spot in a photo pit… trust me. It was also the first time I could truly enjoy the sound coming from the stage just inches in front of me. Usually, it’s either muffled thanks to foam/passive earplugs or excruciatingly loud thanks to not being able to insert my earplugs in time before I need to be camera ready. At Firefly, I could hear everything as intended - just a few, automatically adjusted dB’s lower. 

I encountered a similar experience when photographing a single show in an indoor venue. The same problems existed (leaning against speakers; taken offguard;dull quality) with the Music•PROs providing the same solutions. As a non-working fan at a single show in an indoor venue, however, I found the earplugs less necessary - though not less impressive. When I attend a concert sans camera, I generally stand further back from the barricade and thus the speakers lessening the need for such high-quality devices. Earplugs were still necessary, but my Etymotic ETY•Plugs probably would have sufficed - and probably will for most casual concertgoers. At festivals, however, casual concertgoers would find value in the ability to keep the Music•PROs inserted for as long as desired. Not only will this diminish the possibility of losing them, but will allow festivalgoers to float from stage to stage, focusing on music discovery instead of whether moving from the back of one crowd to the front of another will damage their hearing down the line. 

What I personally appreciated as a regular audience member using the Music•PROs was their responsiveness. I may not have needed the ‘Natural Hearing’ feature as I opted to take out the earplugs between sets anyway, but their impact sound protection, two modes of operation, and gradual reduction were all very noticeable. One recent show I attended had many slow-building songs and abrupt cymbal strikes, and the Music•PROs dealt with them both better than any earplugs I had previously tried (and I’ve tried a lot). The reduction didn’t diminish the quality or enjoyment of the minute details during the soft phrases or the climaxing moments that followed.


BREAKDOWN:


- Music•PRO High-Fidelity Electronic Musicians Earplugs provide either 9-dB or 15-dB protection, instantaneously protects from loud, percussive sounds, have the ability to enhance soft sounds if desired, and comes with ready-fit eartips. 
- Two modes of operation are offered: Natural Hearing with 15-dB Sound Reduction and Enhanced Hearing with 9-dB Sound Reduction. 
- Recommended by Etymotic for directors and music educators, performers, front-of-house crews, entertainment industry support staff, security personnel, audiences. I add live music photographers to this list. 
- Benefits for professionals are obvious, but these earplugs are worth the splurge for audience members who attend music festivals and single shows regularly. 
- The box includes 1 pair of MP•9-15 earplugs, 5 options of ACCU•Fit eartips, flexible neck cord, filter tool and ACCU•filters, cleaning tool, batteries, protective case, and a user manual. 
- Music•PRO Earplugs are $299.00/pair

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See Also:

Photos: Firefly Music Festival 2014 
On The Scene: Vinyl Thief and Isadora at Mercury Lounge NYC
Concert Essentials: High-Fidelity Earplugs