A little backstory - Like most people I didn’t really take hearing protection serious until around my mid-twenties, when I realized that the faint high-pitched sound I hear when it’s very silent isn’t just my blood or body noises, but actual tinnitus.

Luckily it’s so silent that I never actually notice it unless I actively try to focus on the sound. I also started doing regular hearing checks and hey - it turns out my hearing is still far better than people way younger my age. (I’m proud to still be able to hear that high-pitched beeping in front of department stores and get annoyed by it)

But It was still an eye-opener.

A couple years back when I attended a music festival, I started learning about attenuating earplugs - or earplugs that don’t just seal the ear, but contain a small filter that attenuates (fancy word for lessens) the amount of sound that goes through them. I got a pair of blox ears-plugs from a booth that was available and have been using them religiously whenever I go to a club or festival ever since. The nice thing of attenuation over blocking is that you can still hear and hold conversations normally, for example.

My Old Earplugs

These days I DJ a lot in clubs and am surrounded by loud sound more than I’d wanted to be. I usually keep my earplugs in at all time up until the moment I actually play, mainly because they still slightly distort the sound, but hey what do you expect from $30-50 plugs. I’m now taking music and DJing more serious, so after years of use I’ve decided I finally wanted something nicer.

The world of custom-molded audio things

My world expanded after I went down the audiophile rabbit-hole. Turns out you can custom mold a bunch of things - from custom in-ear monitors, hearing aids, but also earplugs!

There are a bunch of places that do custom orders for earplugs, from companies to music stores, to even just getting them at the local otolaryngologist made.

I wanted something that was specifically made for music, so something that protects my ears while keeping distortion to a minimum. Optimally something that artists use on stage (though that’s mostly IEMs). I singled out 2 companies that are known in this field, ACS and sensaphonics, but ACS requires you to send in a scan of our ear-canal which I obviously didn’t have yet.

Sensaphonics has a stronger presence in Japan full with Japanese website so that’s what I ended up picking. Even better, their musicians earplugs support swappable filters in -9db, -15db, and -25db steps which make them very versatile. There are also graphs available that show how these earplugs specifically affect the sound in different frequencies so they were arguably the best option scientifically as well.

Graph published by e-earphone

Getting a ear-canal impression done

Contact and order was very painless through their product page. They sent through a questionnaire by email, confirmed the order details and asked me to pick a location where I’d like to do my ear-canal impression. Sensaphonics doesn’t do this themselves, but delegate it to local medical stores that have the necessary equipment for making hearing-aids.

The impression is done by filling the ear with a playdoh-like substance that hardens after a few minutes.

My ear impression

Besides the odd feeling of having your ear completely 100% sealed, this is painless.

The impression is then sent to a lab where it’s scanned and digitized, then sent to the manufacturer to be used for the mold. I asked if I could have access to the scan data, but Sensaphonics made it clear that they wouldn’t do that

And that was it. All that was left was a 3 weeks wait.

My custom molded attenuating earplugs

3 weeks later and we finally arrived at the title of this blog post - my earplugs arrived!

My Custom Earplugs

The earplugs feel well made. For some reason didn’t expect them to be so squishy, but it makes sense because otherwise how would they seal the ear without damaging it? They go all the way in and fit perfectly. Not uncomfortable, not hard to put in, it just fits.

I went with the -15db filter for my club and DJ adventures but am considering getting the -9db filter as well for more casual events. I am a little worried about the swappable filter thing, and eventual wear around the insertion point. Swapping them too often will probably cause it to get loose and allow more sound go through the cracks.

But how do they actually sound?? And how do these $200+ custom molded ones compare to the <$50 blox I used until now??

Well they sound… normal, duh. Everything sounds the same as it always does, just a bit quieter. I trialed them at a very loud club and sometimes even forgot I had them in. Post-club, no ear ringing so I call that a success!

Compared to the blox, a couple things - first of all they are different db levels. My custom ones are -15db where the blox were -19db. On the blox, things sound more muffled. Not bad, just more muffled and quiet. They have a stronger ‘earplug feeling’, and putting them in is harder.

So, should you go out and get custom ones made as well?

The answer is probably ’no’, but you absolutely should get attenuating earplugs if you are exposed to louder sounds semi-regularly.

Hearing loss is permanent (for now). There is currently no cure for tinnitus and bringing back what has been destroyed, so taking care of your ears is very important. Don’t act reactive when you started noticing loss, but proactive and try to prevent it.

If you have the cash and want the best of the best, then yes, get custom molded ones. They are definitely nice and I like mine a lot.