My Favorite Earplugs for Noise Sensitivity and Sensory Overload

best earplugs for noise sensitivity and sensory overload

I have been asked many times to comment on specific earplugs for noise sensitive people and sensory overload.

As a regular user of earplugs at night, I used to give my ears a break during the day, resorting more to earmuffs, headphones, and earbuds to subdue the daily noise onslaught.

A year or so ago, I switched gears:

I wanted to determine which earplugs could work for my own noise sensitivities during the day and stay comfortable for wearing-times of at least four hours.

(I haven’t abandoned the headphones and earbuds, but given earplugs a larger role in my daily routine, at least for a while.)

Wherever I went, I carried a pouch (content snapshot see image above) containing a variety of promising earplugs with me.

Over time, I swapped out the ones that didn’t do it for me (e.g., they didn’t seal my ear canal) or became uncomfortable too fast and added new earplugs to the pouch. Some earplugs fell out of favor for a while, only to be revived because they had some distinct advantages.

Also, as I have learned through years of night time use, even the most comfortable earplugs can become uncomfortable at times. This doesn’t mean they are no longer good, but rather that the ears need something different (or nothing) for a while.

Switching to a different shape (e.g. from tapered to cylindrical or from multi-flange to earbud) or type (e.g., from in-ear to on-ear) also helps during the day to prevent pressure points.

This post summarizes the result of my tests and comparisons.

I have extensively used and compared the earplugs reviewed in this post (and a lot more) in the following environments:

  • Around the house and on the balcony
  • At moderate and loud coffee shops
  • Walking along busy city streets
  • Shopping in supermarkets
  • At the gym
  • Listening to music (moderately loud and loud)
  • During meditation

Based on my experience, I find the following criteria most important when looking for versatile earplugs suitable for daily use:

Noise reduction effectiveness and character; long-time wearing comfort; seal consistency; occlusion effect; walking impact sounds; ease of insertion and removal; re-usability and economics.

To help you understand why I recommend certain earplugs, I am first going to talk about noise reduction.

Then I’ll give you the summary of my favorite earplugs plus alternatives, followed by sections detailing the other criteria and additional alternatives.

Noise reduction effectiveness and character

How much noise reduction do you need?

More is sometimes but not always better.

High noise reduction earplugs seriously reduce loud noises such as crying, blenders, vacuum cleaners, clinking glasses, and cappuccino makers.

You get substantial relief from these noises. With the most effective earplugs, a volume reduction of up to 90% is achievable.

But, this type of earplug can also isolate you from your environment and make it hard to communicate. You might sit in a café, yet feel like you are under water.

High noise reduction earplugs are not an ideal choice if you need to be aware of traffic and warn signals.

A moderate noise reduction earplug reduces the environmental volume by 65 to 75%. For me, this is a good compromise for many everyday situations:

I get a meaningful noise reduction and can still hear most of what people say, listen to music, and retain reasonable awareness of my surroundings.

However, this isn’t nearly enough noise reduction against loud crying and high-power blenders, when I want to meditate, or when I want to concentrate in a loud place. And it is also not enough at a rock concert.

I recommend you have both moderate and high noise reduction earplugs in your daily tool box.

Alternatively, I still like active noise cancelling earbuds as a substitute for moderate noise reduction earplugs.

For most earplugs, you’ll only find the noise reduction in decibels.

Take a look at the following table for an approximate relationship between noise reduction in decibels and loudness reduction.

decibels-loudness-relationship

Please treat this as the rough guideline, not a precise mathematical relationship between dB and loudness reduction.

Noise reduction character

Many earplugs don’t reduce noise evenly across the frequency spectrum.

Some earplugs muffle quite heavily, that is, you get more noise reduction at higher than at lower frequencies. You lose sound fidelity. Music sounds dull and when people talk, consonant sounds can get lost. And lower frequencies may appear to be louder than they actually are.

But, in particular for moderate noise reduction earplugs, I find some muffling (treble roll-off) very helpful and soothing.

Clinking and high-pitched screeching noises sound less grating and environmental sounds in general appear softer.

So for most situations, I prefer a treble roll-off and am happy to lose some sound fidelity. I don’t want to hear that grating screeching noise in Hi-Fi.

With high noise reduction earplugs (e.g., 30 decibels), the situation is different and even noise reduction across the frequency spectrum works well for me. It is nice when everything is a lot quieter, and it feels more natural when the noise reduction is even.

You feel like you have been transported from a big buzzing city to a smaller, rural town. The problem is that most earplugs don’t achieve that: muffling mid and high frequencies is easier than getting 30 decibels bass noise reduction.  I have, however, found a few that do that for me.

A high noise reduction earplug that offers even noise reduction and is comfortable for long-time wearing is a true gem.

Note: Muffling higher-mid and high-frequency noises also helps to reduce distractions.

Summary recommended earplugs for noise sensitivity and sensory overload

1. Moderate noise reduction earplug: Vibes (NRR 15, in-ear)

Vibes earplugs have very comfortable bulb-shaped silicone ear tips (3 different sizes) and a short stem.

Vibes-moderate-noise-reduction-earplugs

Favorite use cases: moderate coffee shop, around the house, walking around a busy city, train station, airport, shopping.

Noise reduction (own test): between 15 and 20 decibels (loudness reduction 65 to 75%) from 40 to 4000 Hz. Soothing treble-roll off starting from about 5000 Hz.

I wear them in-ear.

My own voice and other body sounds are only a little amplified. I can talk with them in without issues and I don’t hear my heartbeat.

If someone speaks very softly (e.g. in a quiet environment), I might miss some of what they are saying.

But I wouldn’t want to go much lower with the noise reduction, so I am happy to compromise there.

I like them for walking around town: only moderate walking impact sounds.

For more details, please read my Vibes Earplugs Review.

Alternative recommendations for moderate noise reduction earplugs

Loop Quiet (no NRR, SNR 24, on-ear): Loop Quiet sit at the ear canal entrance, so people who don’t want something in the ear could do better with them. They come with four different sizes of silicone earbud-tips. The ring is also made of soft silicone.

For me, they are nice in a coffee shop, but not so much when going for a walk or talking to others.

Loop-Quiet-medium-noise-reduction-earplugs

The main drawback of Loop and other on-ear earplugs: my own voice sounds boomy, and I get a strong thump with every footstep. Loop Quiet are a bit more effective at reducing noise (and maintain sound fidelity better), but Vibes are a lot more versatile.

Nevertheless, I like Loop Quiet as on-ear earplugs.

To learn more about these earplugs, please read my post Loop Quiet vs Experience: Soft Silicone or Acoustic Filter.

Etymotic’s ETY plugs (NRR 12, in-ear): ETY plugs are better for understanding speech and communicating than Vibes, but they also block somewhat less noise.

They come in two different sizes that can be purchased together as a combo or separately. For me the large size works better. Etymotic recommends the smaller size for most people.

These triple-flange plugs are among my favorite earplugs for exercising at the gym. However,  for long-time wearing I find Vibes more comfortable.

Etymotic-ETY-plugs-moderate-noise-reduction
Also, in terms of moderate noise reduction, Vibes are closer to my personal sweet spot, but perhaps you want a tad less noise reduction and more speech intelligibility.

2. High noise reduction earplug: 3M Push-Ins (NRR 28)

Push-Ins are one of the best designed earplugs I have ever used, yet they are very economical. These work great for me.

3M Push-Ins-high-noise-reduction-earplugs

Favorite use cases:

  • When moderate noise reduction isn’t enough / I get overwhelmed.
  • Loud coffee shops, outdoor café on a busy street, fending off loud noises (vacuum, blender, crying, lawn mower, etc.), meditation, exercising in a loud gym, rock concert.

Noise reduction (own test): Strong and even noise reduction of around 30 decibels (88% loudness reduction). There is a slight treble roll-off from 4000 Hz, but no perception of excessive muffling.

Everything, including bass noise, is a lot quieter but the noise reduction feels natural.

3M Push-Ins have a comfortable bulb-shaped foam ear tip that is easy to insert. No roll-down is required, but you can roll them a bit to make insertion even easier.

They are available in two versions: corded (trial pack) and uncorded (my preference). If you are unsure, try corded first. You can always cut off the cord if you don’t like it.

I wear them in-ear. They seal the ear canal very reliably. I can move my jaw, laugh, and exercise hard and they stay in place and comfortable.

With these, I get virtually no noticeable amplification of my own voice and other body generated sounds. I can talk with them in without issues. However, the high noise reduction substantially interferes with my ability to understand other people unless they talk loudly.

Very moderate walking impact sounds: These work great for walking, running, and jumping.

Alternative recommendations for high noise reduction earplugs:

Howard Leight TrustFit Pod (NRR 28, in-ear): TrustFit Pod are very similar to 3M Push-ins (e.g., noise reduction effectiveness and character, low occlusion effect, suitability for running and exercise). TrustFit Pod’s ear-tip is slightly wider.

And, they too are available in a corded and an uncorded version.

Overall, I find Push-Ins somewhat more comfortable for long-term wearing and easier to insert, so I keep going back to Push-Ins.

Howard-Leight-TrustFIt-Pod-high-noise-reduction-earplugs

Roll-down foam earplugs (NRR 28 to 33, in-ear): In terms of effectiveness, the best roll-down foam earplugs are unmatched.

In addition, I get virtually no boomy voice (or other occlusion effects) and very moderate walking impact sounds with well-inserted foam earplugs.

I have used many different models and find them very comfortable for long-term wearing. Sometimes, I even use a different earplug in each ear.

They are, however, more of a hassle to put in and take out than push-in earplugs (e.g., when you just want to vacuum, run your blender, or take them out to have chat).

For ease of use, I recommend no-roll push-ins. For night time use, roll-down foam earplugs are my favorites.

Also see below for foam earplugs recommendations for daytime use.

3. Active noise cancelling earbuds as alternative to moderate noise reduction earplugs: 1 More Dual Driver ANC Pro

1More ANC Pro are earbuds that seal the ear canal at the entrance. They don’t go deep in the ear and I find them very comfortable to wear.

I have several true wireless earbuds, but so far, I keep coming back to these neckband earbuds as my daily drivers. The ANC is more effective, they are easier to operate, the battery life is better, the actual earbuds are light, and I won’t lose them.

1more-anc-pro-earbuds-for-moderate-noise-reduction

Favorite use cases: moderate coffee shop, around the house, walking around a busy city, train station, airport, shopping

Noise reduction:

  • Overall moderate but high low frequency noise reduction.
  • These are very good at reducing bass noise, truck rumble, and AC hums (much more effective than Vibes) and comparable to Vibes against mid frequency and lower treble noise. Their only weakness is the only modest treble noise reduction (of 10 dB) from 6 to 8000 Hz.

Thanks to their excellent active noise reduction they minimize many of the disadvantages you would get with comparable on-ear earplugs (such as Loop):

  • Unlike with on-ear earplugs, with these earbuds I only get a small occlusion effect and moderate walking impact sounds.
  • The active noise cancelling function largely cancels the boomy voice, heartbeat, and walking impact sounds in the ear canal, which are often quite pronounced with on-ear devices (large difference between ANC off vs on).

These work well for walking around town (even in windy conditions) and talking with them in. The ANC has three levels (High, low, wind mode).

However, I don’t recommend 1More ANC Pro for running/jogging: the shallow earbud seal breaks upon impact, and I get loud thumps with these.

The battery life is excellent. They easily last a whole day or night.

I just hang them around my neck in the morning and clasp the magnetic earbuds together.

For more information, please read my detailed review for the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro wireless earbuds.

Noise reduction graph (author’s ear) for my top three earplug recommendations

The higher the line at a particular frequency, the more noise reduction I am getting at that frequency.

Noise reduction graph top three earplugs for noise sensitivity

Important criteria when selecting earplugs for a noise sensitive person

This section is to help you choose among the recommendations and alternatives, based on your needs.

Noise reduction effectiveness and character

Please see the beginning of this post for a detailed discussion.

Wearing comfort

For shorter periods of time (e.g., an hour while vacuuming, juicing, mowing the lawn, or exercising), I find all earplugs in this review comfortable enough. But to make it into my top recommendations, I must be able to wear an earplug for at least 4 hours without issues.

In general, I find push-in earplugs with a foam-tip or an earbud-type silicone tip as well as roll-down foam earplugs more comfortable than triple-flange earplugs. But people differ, so I have also tested triple-flange earplugs (see below for options).

In-ear vs on-ear

I don’t mind wearing earplugs deeper in the ear and often prefer them because I get less of an occlusion effect and better low frequency noise reduction.

Some people can’t stand something in their ear but don’t mind a plug that sits at the ear canal entrance (on-ear, aka canal-cap) or an earbud. Alternating between in-ear and on-ear can also help to avoid pressure points.

Consistency of the seal

I get the most consistent and reliable seal with push-in earplugs with a foam tip (and with roll-down foam earplugs). Regardless of whether I talk, chew, move my jaw, run, or jump, they stay put. Triple-flange earplugs are more of a challenge for me. They mostly work but sometimes when I laugh, talk, or exercise the seal breaks. Pushing them in further doesn’t help. I have to remove and reinsert them.

Ease of insertion

In particular, if you want to remove/reinsert your earplugs many times during the day, push-in and earbud-type earplugs are more convenient than roll-down or moldable (silicone putty, wax) earplugs.

This applies even more when you are nervous or anxious and want to put in your earplugs fast to get relief from aggravating sounds. Roll-down foam earplugs take more practice and might not stay compressed long enough for proper insertion when it’s warm and humid.

Occlusion effect

When you plug your ears, your own voice can sound boomy and other body-generated sounds (heartbeat, chewing) can become amplified. In my experience, earplugs that go deeper into the ear exhibit less of an occlusion effect, while earplugs that plug the ear at the ear canal entrance (on-ear) often produce a substantial occlusion effect. This can become a problem if you want to communicate a lot with your ears plugged or are disturbed by your heart beat (for me during meditation).

Walking impact sounds

With some earplugs, every time my foot hits the pavement, I hear a loud thump.

All walking sounds appear amplified. This tends to become worse when I run or jump. Some earplugs that work perfectly fine in a café (such as Loop), I wouldn’t want to use during a walk.

Re-usability and economics

Earplugs with a silicone tip tend to last the longest and it is easy to keep the tip clean. Many can be completely washed. But some of the fancier models (such as Vibes and Loop) also cost a lot of money. Most earplugs with a foam tip can also be wiped and reused, but they attract dirt more easily. Expect to replace them every couple of weeks.

What if your earplugs don’t block enough noise?

Even a volume reduction of 80 to 90% does not render loud annoying noises such as shouting, crying, clinking, etc. unnoticeable.

Also, sounds that make you angry (e.g., lip smacking, pen clicking) may still elicit a response if the offender is close-by.

With the most effective earplugs, all noises will be a lot quieter, but, depending on how sensitive you are, they may still bother you.

As I write this, I just had such an experience. A group of people at a neighboring table were trying to out-shout and out-laugh each other. Worst are these bursts when everyone laughs and shouts together.

I wished I had earplugs that could do -60 decibels, but I know such earplugs don’t exist.

Loud sounds also get conducted through the skull and reach the inner ear, even if your ears are 100% sound-proofed.

What you can do is play a masking sound (e.g., a waterfall, rain sound, or white noise) to cover annoying noises or trigger sounds.

If you want to stay with earplugs and similar devices (alternatively you could use over-ear headphones), here are three suggested ways to play such a masking sound:

1. Use ANC earbuds

This is perhaps the most convenient way. The downside is that earbuds that don’t go deep into the ear only offer moderate noise reduction, so at times you might have to play your masking sound quite loud. Nevertheless, I do this quite often.  As to specific models, I like the 1More ANC Dual Driver (link to my review) described above.

2. Use moderate or high noise reduction earplugs and play your masking sound via bone conduction headphones

Because high noise reduction earplugs are more effective than earbuds, you can play the masking sound at a lower volume.

On the other hand, if you are generally fine with the effectiveness of your moderate noise reduction earplugs, but occasionally want to cover disturbing sounds, this works too.

For me, bone conduction headphones (I use and like Aftershokz OpenMove) together with earplugs work well when playing waterfall sounds or white noise.

With music, the sound quality is only OK, and you won’t be able to crank it up.

Still, overall this is a very convenient option:

You get to chose the earplugs that best fit your ears and general noise reduction requirements and can add sound and make phone calls.

3. Use an in-ear monitor

Some earplug headphones go deep into the ear-canal. The best ones block as much noise as high noise reduction earplugs and over-ear noise cancelling headphones, and they sound good too.

Etymotic Research makes in-ear monitors that offer outstanding passive noise reduction and fine sound (e.g., see my Etymotic ER2XR review).

Overall, I find them to be significantly more effective than all ANC earbuds I own.

But they are also more of a hassle to put in and take out than earbuds or push-in earplugs, so I use them less. Also, while they are reasonably comfortable, I prefer wearing my favorite earplugs and earbuds.

On the other hand, if you want to isolate yourself as much as possible for a couple of hours and not talk to anyone but just listen to the details of good music, they are very hard to beat.

Where to get suitable masking sounds?

As to where to get your masking sound from and how to adjust it, please read my post How to Block Out People’s Voices.

Other alternatives to my earplug recommendations

The earplugs below are ordered roughly from lower to higher noise reduction.

Loop Experience (no NRR, SNR 15)

Loop-Experience-low-noise-reduction-earplugs

  • Noise reduction: Low
  • Noise reduction character: Good sound fidelity, higher pitched sounds can be heard very clearly.
  • Type: Silicone earbud (four sizes); the ring is made of hard plastic and contains an acoustic channel
  • In-ear or on-ear: On-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice, etc.): High
  • Walking impact sounds: High

Remark: Loop Experience help against blaring. For my use cases, the overall noise reduction is too low. In particular higher-pitched sounds are not nearly reduced enough. I prefer Loop Quiet.

For more details, please read my comparative review Loop Quiet vs Experience: Soft Silicone or Acoustic Filter

Mack’s Pillow Soft (NRR 22)

Macks Pillow Soft silicone putty Adult and Kids size

  • Noise reduction: Medium
  • Noise reduction character: Muffling, that is, the higher the frequency, the more noise reduction
  • Type: Moldable silicone putty
  • In-ear or on-ear: On-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): High
  • Walking impact sounds: High

Remark: I find the noise reduction of these soothing, but music and speech sound dull. The seal of these is less consistent than with earbuds and push-in earplugs, so I have to give them a push from time to time. They need to be changed fairly often.

Mack’s Pillow Soft are available in adult (white) and kids size (red).

Ohropax Classic wax (NRR 23)

Ohropax-Classic-wax-cotton-earplugs

  • Noise reduction: Medium
  • Noise reduction character: Muffling, that is, the higher the frequency, the more noise reduction.
  • Type: Moldable wax-cotton mix
  • In-ear or on-ear: On-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): High
  • Walking impact sounds: High

Remark: I find the noise reduction of these soothing, but music and speech sound dull. The seal is more consistent with Ohropax than with silicone putty earplugs because they are stickier.

I prefer these over silicone putty (review foam vs wax vs silicone putty), but they leave more of a residue. They too need to be changed fairly often.

These are a good option if you can’t tolerate anything in your ears.

3M EAR Express Pod Plugs (NRR 25)

3M-Express-Pod-plugs-medium-noise-reduction

  • Noise reduction: Medium
  • Noise reduction character: Muffling, that is, the higher the frequency, the more noise reduction
  • Type: Push-in foam ear tip (somewhat wider than that of 3M Push-Ins)
  • In-ear or on-ear: In-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): Low
  • Walking impact sounds: Moderate

Remark: Express Pod Plugs offer a very consistent seal, comparable to the higher rated 3M Push-Ins, but they block less noise and muffle more than Push-Ins.

Low frequency noise (rumbling truck, bass noise, etc.) is noticeably less reduced. I prefer the stronger and more even noise reduction of 3M Push-Ins and Howard Leight TrustFit Pod.

If you want a foam push-in earplug with medium instead of high noise reduction, these are good earplugs.

Flents Protechs Earplugs for travel (aka Flip to Listen) (NRR 24)

Flents Protechs Earplugs for travel

  • Noise reduction: Medium
  • Noise reduction character: Quite even, treble rolled-off
  • Type: Medium-large triple-flange silicone ear tip
  • In-ear or on-ear: In-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): Low
  • Walking impact sounds: Medium-high

Remark: I like the way these reduce noise. Low to higher mid frequency noise is quite evenly reduced and treble noise is rolled off.

I also like that you can open the lid to talk to people.

However, sometimes when I move my jaw or laugh, the seal breaks and I have to take them out and reinsert them.

In general, I find the triple-flange silicone ear tip OK but less comfortable than earbud-type and foam ear tips. On the other hand, these are completely washable and should last a long time.

These earplugs are made by Moldex and also known as Flip to Listen.

They may be a bit too large for small ears.

Moldex Rockets (NRR 27)

Moldex Rockets vs Flip to Listen

  • Noise reduction: Medium
  • Noise reduction character: Quite even, treble rolled-off
  • Type: Medium-size triple-flange silicone ear tip
  • In-ear or on-ear: In-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): Low
  • Walking impact sounds: Medium

Remark: Moldex Rockets (purple, to the left in the image) are a bit smaller than Protechs Earplugs for Travel. In terms of noise reduction effectiveness and character they perform very similar. I like the even noise reduction and slight treble roll-off I get with these earplugs.

However, they are a bit on the small side for me. When I move my jaw or laugh, the seal sometimes breaks.  Then I have to take them out and reinsert them, which is a hassle if I am on a walk or exercising. In general, I find the triple-flange silicone ear tip OK but less comfortable than earbud-type and foam ear tips.

Rockets are completely washable and should last a long time.

They are also available as corded earplugs.

Roll-down foam earplugs (NRR 28 to 33)

Noise reduction: High to very high

  • Noise reduction character: Depending on the insertion depth, from muffling to quite even
  • Type: Roll-down foam earplug, cylindrical and tapered shapes available
  • In-ear or on-ear: In-ear
  • Occlusion effect (boomy voice etc.): Low
  • Walking impact sounds: Very moderate

Remark: Foam earplugs can provide the highest noise reduction of all earplugs. Deeply inserted, I get a relatively even noise reduction across the frequency spectrum. But they need to be well-inserted: if you only insert them half, they lose a lot of their effectiveness against low and lower mid frequency noise and muffle.

Recommendations for roll-down foam earplugs

Moldex Pura-Fit (NRR 33)

Moldex Pura-Fit are slightly longer tapered PU-foam earplugs with a normal diameter. In my ears they are amongst the most effective earplugs and comfortable. I use them a lot at night. The foam takes a while to expand, which makes them easier to insert than many other models.

Read my post How to Block Out Crying Baby Sounds (tools section) for how Pura-Fit compare to other noise reduction tools against crying and screaming.

However, for low frequency noise reduction, some cylindrical earplugs such as Quiet Please (below) are more effective for me.

Hearos Sleep Pretty in Pink (NRR 32)

These PU-foam earplugs are very similar to Pura-Fit. They are very effective and easy to insert. They are, however, shorter and narrower and should fit smaller ear canals better.

If you want even smaller foam earplugs, read my comparative review of earplugs for small ears.

Flents Quiet Please (NRR 29)

These are made of PVC and cylindrical. They perform well against all noise.

Pura-Fit and Pretty in Pink are overall more effective, but Quiet Please perform better against low frequency noise. They are one of my absolute favorite earplugs against low-frequency noise.

They appear coarser than PU-foam but actually have a lower density. I find them very comfortable. For inserting them well, you may need a bit more practice.

They don’t last nearly as long as PU-foam earplugs, but I always keep a bottle at home for their great low frequency noise reduction and for when I want to give my ears a break from PU-foam.

Conclusion

I recommend having a pair of moderate and a pair of high noise reduction earplugs with you. Alternatively, substitute active noise cancelling earbuds for your moderate noise reduction earplugs.

Whenever you feel like wearing earplugs while walking around along busy streets, shopping in a mall, or sitting in a moderately noise coffee shop, or changing planes at an airport, put in your moderate noise reduction earplugs or earbuds first, at least initially.

If you are like me, at times, you will want to block more noise and reach for your high noise reduction earplugs.

If you have a question, please let me know in the comments.

Have a great day.

 

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