It’s a fleeting, meaningless relationship; you’re given a pack of earplugs on the plane, you use them once, you throw them away. But what if the noise of travelling really bothers you – tannoy announcements, engine noise, Tube trains, or even just the hubbub of fellow travellers – and you want to block it out?
Noise-cancelling headphones certainly help, but earplugs are a more portable and simpler solution. The free ones you get in aeroplanes are hardly state-of-the art, but if you do a little online research you’ll find sets that claim to reduce noise by up to 35dB.
That’s enough to protect your hearing at a loud gig, or when doing really noisy DIY (floor sanding, drilling etc).
The beauty of cheap foam rubber earplugs is the low cost, and their disposability.
But what if you use earplugs a lot? For example, on a daily Tube commute; or sleeping overnight on plane journeys; or if you work in noisy environments? The main problem with the cheap ones is that they look… cheap. I sometimes wear them on particularly noisy Tube journeys, where my Decibel phone app tells me the train and tannoy noise regularly exceeds 85dB – loud enough to injure hearing in some people if exposure lasts for a full working day.
There are a few companies that sell ‘better’ earplugs, for a price. One of them is Flare Audio, a British firm who have been making a variety of types of chic earplugs for two years, and told me they have sold a staggering 300,000 pairs. Unlike the usual foam rubber types, their Isolate earplugs use a metal core, surrounded by a memory foam; each one looks like a tiny crooner’s microphone. Once in your ears they don’t attract attention, but they look suitably high-tech, as if you’re listening to some fancy cordless headphones. They look a lot less dorky than having bits of foam rubber in your ears, so you can wear them on the Tube, in airports etc without a second glance from fellow passengers.
The manufacturers make impressive claims for decibel reduction (35dB). I didn’t notice a great difference in volume reduction between these and some of the best foam rubber earplugs; though they are significantly better than cheap earplugs, and attenuate better. They reduce noise more evenly, so the sound quality – for example, of music at a gig – is better. But, like all tech designed for safety or comfort, it’s the gear that you use that’s most effective; ones that work but are so ugly you don’t wear them are useless. Because they look okay, I took to wearing them for my daily commute (train and Tube), something I was self-conscious of doing with the lurid foam ones.
There are various types of Isolate earplugs – sizes, materials, even colours – starting from £24.99. Personally, I found the smaller MiNi ones more comfortable, but this depends on your ear shape. You can get them in aluminium or titanium; which is best for you depends on your budget. But bear in mind that useful but tiny technology like this tends to go astray, so you may want to pay accordingly. Take note too that you need to replace the foam rubber bits every few months, but – like any of these earplugs – you can easily order spares online, and internationally.
PRICE starting from £24.99.