The most sophisticated, most important music and sound instrument of 2014 is – your hearing.
But the best hearing protection is simply the one you’ll always use. And that’s why DUBS are the best product of 2014.
There are great hearing protection products out there, and for professional applications like touring, something spendy may well worth be considering. But you may have decided you don’t have the time to get your ears molded, or they’re too expensive to buy, or you aren’t using them because you’re afraid you’ll lose them. (I think I know as many professional musicians who have lost expensive hearing protection as I know with tinnitus.)
Then, there are the inexpensive earplugs. I think these may actually be doing more harm than good. They feel uncomfortable. They pop out. Then, at best, they sound absolutely terrible, just slightly worse than sticking your fingers in your ear and putting your head under a pillow. They train people that protecting your ears means not hearing a concert or event. I see people with toilet paper stuffed in their ears. This has to stop.
DUBS acoustic filters tick every box. They’re cheap enough that you can afford to lose them. (They’re US$25 a pair, with European availability expected any day now.) They don’t look strange in your ear; I actually got a couple of compliments. They feel perfectly comfortable, feeling just like standard-sized earbuds, and with enough flex that they seem to be happy in most ears. (Swappable sizes might be an improvement, but I haven’t needed them yet.)
Now, I have no idea what it means that DUBS are “the first advanced tech ear plugs using Dynamic Attenuation to deliver optimal hearing protection while preserving sound fidelity.”
Here’s what matters: they sound absolutely fantastic. The filtering is good enough in club and concert environments that I’ve repeatedly forgotten I was wearing them or been convinced they had popped out. And I, like you, get pretty picky. DUBS says they deliver 12 dB attenuation. There are ear protection products that certainly offer more, but that’s enough to mean the difference between your ears ringing (ominously) after an extended plane trip or show.
And it’s the experience that is the most encouraging. It really does sound like someone dropped 12 dB but changed nothing else.
I grabbed a pair of DUBS in a Best Buy in New York (after a whole lot of confusion about what they were and where they had walked off to), catching a flight back to Berlin. I was convinced my ears couldn’t stand another night of techno. I stood by the DJ booth at Berghain last week and tried taking them in and out while watching the SPL meter. I think these things are simply unreal.
It was fitting that, in advance of the European launch, Hans Zimmer helped launch these this year at Amsterdam Dance Event.
I think they’re just fantastic. And I hope people spread the word. DUBS, the product of impressively-named “Doppler Labs,” have even invented named this category of products “hearables.”
Whether or not DUBS specifically are right for everyone, we need to at least start convincing friends – professionals and non-professionals alike – to protect their hearing health. Even if we’ve already experienced some hearing loss and tinnitus, we can help make sure it doesn’t get worse. And that’s one New Year’s Resolution worth keeping.
And hurry up with that European launch, DUBS. (Disclosure: I missed them at ADE and hadn’t ever heard of them before I read about them in The Verge. But, yes, guess I should track them down – mostly reviews have come from consumer sites and not from musicians.)
Happy New Year / guten Rutsch, everybody.
Update: as I hoped, a lot of you have suggested alternative products. So, rather than buy more DUBS (which is impossible at this point anyway) as my backup for when I invariably lose these (trust me, I’m a menace), I will try to stock up on some of these other alternatives and do some testing. I think a lot of this is down to personal preference: once you have a reasonably consistent 12 dB reduction, the biggest variable is really how comfortably they fit in your ear. (And that in turn will have a big impact on effectiveness in sound.)
Definitely worth reading through the comments for some other ideas.
Suggested products – all of them essentially the same principle, acoustic filters worn as standard earplugs (rather than custom-molded):
Etymotic ETY plugs (Etymotic actually suggests replacing these every few months with regular use – and they have a bulk discount)
Doc’s ProPlugs (looks like a surfing product, but I have actually heard musicians use these – and these seem to have similar sound performance)
Also, a contrasting product – Hearos are foam:
Going to a hearing clinic and getting a custom-molded set may still be a good option.
I think the point is, get one of these you like, whatever it is. The foam earplugs I never found to be comfortable or to attenuate sound in a way I liked; then again, I know others who swear by them, so a lot of this is down to personal preference.
I do suspect the three acoustic filters (Alpine, Etymotic, and Doc’s) are probably better buys (and easier to locate) than DUBS. The Etymotic and Alpine I will try to locate and test right away. Readers note that they may deliver both flatter and more effective attenuation, which is what you want.
But the very complaint from some readers about DUBS – that they’ve been getting loads of mainstream press – is to me a plus, not a minus. Your average music producer, let alone your average music listener, is going to have no idea that a product named Doc’s that looks like it’s for surfers is going to be for them. I sincerely hope DUBS get some wide attention and distribution and that people start using hearing protection. And certainly it’s nice to have a product with a fresh take on design.
Comfort and sound quality are key, though, so yes, I hope we follow up on these other topics mentioned in comments:
1. Which earplugs to buy
2. What it is that makes listening environments dangerous
3. How club sound approaches (or concert) clash with what we know to be safe listening levels
(And, not mentioned in comments, for those of us doing lots of headphone listening, how to know when we’re doing so safely.)
I was out of time in 2014, but now there’s a chance to write more about this issue in 2015.