Musicians Earplugs™ High-Fidelity Hearing Protection

Musicians Earplugs High Fidelity Hearing Protection
Musicians Earplugs
ER Noise Exposure White PaperHigh-Fidelity Hearing Protection Brochure
ER Noise Exposure White PaperNoise Exposure: Explanation of
OSHA and NIOSH Safe‑Exposure Limits and the Importance
of Noise Dosimetry
Musicians Earplugs Proven Tips for SuccessMusicians Earplugs™
Proven Tips for Success
By Patty Johnson, AuD

High-Fidelity Hearing Protection

Musicians Earplugs™ are custom high-fidelity earplugs developed by ETYMOTIC over 20 years ago, following president Dr. Mead Killion’s participation in a noise study for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They are still the highest fidelity of any earplugs available. Musicians Earplugs are a custom product, made individually for each user. They can be purchased from licensed hearing professionals.

Musicians practice and perform in a variety of different settings. They are exposed to high levels of sound, sometimes for long periods and may require different amounts of protection depending on sound levels encountered during rehearsals and performance. Some musicians use one type of attenuator in one ear and one type in the other, depending on the source and location of the sound.

  • Benefits
    • Reduces sound levels evenly so that music and speech are clear and natural, not muffled as with other earplugs
    • Reduces risk of hearing damage for many noisy occupations and noisy venues, such as airshows, parades, athletic events and motor sports
    • Enhances the music experience for audiences while protecting hearing
    • Lets musicians hear their own instrument and their blend with others
  • Features
    • 3 levels of sound reduction: 9 dB, 15 dB and 25 dB
    • Interchangeable buttons
    • Custom earmolds require ear impressions
  • Tips
    • Regular use of these high-fidelity earplugs while practicing, performing and listening to music will protect hearing from the cumulative effects of overexposure to loud sound throughout life.
    • A little time may be required to acclimate to these earplugs. Many musicians report that they hear their own instruments better, as well as the balance with those around them.

Which Musicians Earplug is Right for You?

  ER•9 ER•15 ER•25 ETY•Plugs Harmful Sound
Comes From:
Small strings   Own instrument, other strings
Large strings   Brass
Woodwinds     Brass, percussion
Brass   Own instrument, other brass
Flutes     Percussion
Percussion   Own instruments, other percussion
Vocalists   Own voice, speakers, monitors
Acoustic guitar   Drums, speakers, monitors
Amplified instruments   Speakers, monitors
Marching bands     Multiple sources
Music teachers     Multiple sources
Recording engineers     Speakers, monitors
Sound crews     Speakers, monitors
Ref: Chasin, M. Musicians and the Prevention of Hearing Loss. Singular Publishing Group

Filter buttons can be ordered from a hearing professional or an authorized earmold lab.



Solid Buttons

Solid buttons are available for use with Musicians Earplugs. Some earmold labs offer a solid molded button, while others seal the diaphragm of a standard button with epoxy. When the sound channel of the earmold is plugged using a solid or sealed button, the total attenuation is dependent on the button plus the earmold seal. Etymotic's sealed-diaphragm button provides approximately 30 dB attenuation (5 dB more than the ER-25) based on measures performed at E-A-R Cal Laboratories, Indianapolis, IN, using the ANSI standard Real Ear Attenuation at Threshold (REAT) method. A solid earmold provides greater attenuation than a Musicians Earplug with a sealed or solid button in the sound channel.

ER15B Solid Buttons

Solid Button


In the late 1970s Elmer Carlson, an engineer at Knowles Electronics, developed what we now call Musicians Earplugs. His design replicated the natural response of the ear canal so that sound heard with these earplugs would have the same quality as the original, just quieter.

In 1985, while consulting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mead Killion, Ph.D., president and founder of Etymotic Research, concluded that there was a real need for Carlson's earplugs. Etymotic continues to certify laboratories to make Musicians Earplugs, and requires rigorous standards for all laboratories, to ensure uniform product quality and performance. Musicians Earplugs have protected the hearing of tens of thousands of persons around the world.

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ER-15 Musicians Earplugs provide 15 dB sound reduction at all frequencies.



Musicians Earplugs need to seal the ears. Molds that are too short may provide protection, but will produce occlusion effect (amplified, boom sound) from your own voice when talking or singing, and when playing an instrument that has a mouthpiece. Long earplugs create a deep seal (past the second bend of the ear canal) to reduce the occlusion effect.

Earmolds should fit snugly but comfortably. A commercially-available lubricant such as Otoease® can be used to ease insertion, particularly for new users. Deep-fitting earmolds may require a wearing schedule; i.e., wear them for short periods of time at first, and gradually increase wearing time.


  1. Remove the filter from the molds. Wash molds with water and mild soap. Allow molds to dry before reinserting the filters.
  2. Individual cleaning swabs such as Audio-Wipes™ can also be used to clean the molds. Simply wipe them to remove built-up earwax or other substances. Audio-Wipes are particularly useful for individuals who experience itchy ears when wearing earmolds or insert headphones.
  3. Filter buttons should be kept dry. If dust or dirt accumulates on a button, remove it gently with a cloth or small soft brush.


Musicians Earplugs are designed to last for many years. Etymotic Research recommends that earmolds for Musicians Earplugs be made only out of silicone (not vinyl) because it does not shrink or change shape over time. Persons who lose a large amount of weight may find their earmolds no longer seal properly. In this case the earmolds need to be remade for a better fit.


What's wrong with conventional earplugs?


They muffle speech and music. Conventional earplugs reduce sound more in the high frequencies than in the low and mid frequencies, which makes music and voices unclear and unnatural. Deeply-inserted foam earplugs not only muffle the sound, but can provide 30-40 dB of sound reduction when only a small amount is needed.


How much protection do people need?


It is as important to protect your ears from loud sounds as it is to protect your skin from over exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun. Repeated exposure to sun is harmful to the skin and repeated exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Some persons are more susceptible to hearing loss from high-level sound than others. Even if a temporary loss recovers, there is a risk that repeated exposure to loud noise will result in permanent hearing loss. We now know that hearing loss is cumulative over our lifetime.


How much noise is too much?


Noise-induced hearing loss from excessive exposure to high-level sound is a function of sound intensity and the duration of sound. Some persons are more susceptible to hearing loss from loud sound than others.


Are there advantages of custom Musicians Earplugs over ready-fit ETY•Plugs?


ETY•Plugs reduce sound by 20 dB and are ideal for a wide range of occupations, musical events and recreational activities. Musicians Earplugs have interchangeable attenuator buttons that offer three levels of protection—9 dB,15 dB, 25 dB—to accommodate different playing styles, sound levels and venues. Musicians Earplugs are the ultimate in comfort because they are customized.


Why are deep impressions required for Musicians Earplugs?


Earmolds need to seal deeply in the bony portion of the ear canal or the wearer will hear a hollow or boomy sound in their own voice when speaking, singing or playing a brass or wind instrument. This unpleasant or distracting sound is called the occlusion effect. Deep earmolds (past the second bend of the ear canal) will eliminate this problem.


What does NRR mean?


The EPA requires manufacturers to print a noise reduction rating (NRR) on all non-custom earplugs. The NRR for ER•20s is 12 dB, but actual clinical measurements of properly inserted ER•20s indicate that these earplugs provide almost equal sound reduction (20 dB) at all frequencies in real ears. The required formula used to determine NRR includes an adjustment for individual variability and for those persons who do not wear ear protection as instructed. Many investigators have found no consistent rank order correlation between the real-world NRRs and labeled NRRs. NRR is computed from laboratory data that are not representative of the values attained in the real world by actual users.
C = compliance
L = inductance
R = resistance

What Makes Musicians Earplugs High Fidelity?

Musicians Earplugs™ buttons have a diaphragm which functions as an acoustic compliance, while the volume of air in the sound bore of the custom earmold acts as an acoustic mass. The combination of the two produces a resonance at approximately 2700 Hz (as in the normal ear), which results in smooth, flat attenuation.

ER-9 Provides flat 9-dB sound reduction through the mid range and 15 dB in the highs
ER-15 Provides uniform 15-dB sound reduction across frequencies
ER-25 Provides 25-dB relatively flat sound reduction across frequencies

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Musicians Earplugs is a trademark of Etymotic Research, Inc.
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