Written for those with noise sensitivity, from a musician’s perspective
*this post has been edited in response to a comment by Dr. Berge of Berge Hearing Clinic. See the note at the bottom of the article.
Noise sensitivity is a very common symptom of concussion (although it can occur independent of concussion); one that we see quite often in the MMTR clinic. We make an effort to keep our voices low and the entire treatment process relatively quiet to ensure that our patients with noise sensitivity are comfortable.
When someone who has noise sensitivity is exposed to sound at a volume outside of their comfort level, they can experience an increase in a number of symptoms. These symptoms can range from headache to irritability such that high volume sound can actually be physically or emotionally painful to endure.
The obvious solution to this issue of noise sensitivity is to wear noise protection. We see patients armour themselves from the harsh sounds of the outside world with anything from large over-ear noise-cancelling headphones to your run-of-the-mill orange construction earplugs. Although this solution will absolutely help reduce the loudness of sound, there are two main issues with using noise-cancelling headphones or basic earplugs.
Firstly, headphones and brightly coloured earplugs are anything but subtle looking. Although many patients are so frustrated with their noise sensitivity that they don’t care what they look like, a less visible alternative for events like dinners where you don’t really appreciate your sound protection acting as a conversation starter would definitely be appreciated.
Secondly, any device that blocks sound will greatly affect the sound quality. Headphones and earplugs make the whole world sound muffled and distorted. This means that when speaking with a loved one, you are unable to truly enjoy the sound of their voice, and music lovers may still be able to attend a concert, but will only hear a deadened version of the music that is playing.
This being said, all is not lost for those with noise sensitivity because there are products out there that can quiet sound without sacrificing sound integrity. They are called acoustic filters, or “musician earplugs” and they work like a reverse hearing aid; they absorb the sounds of the environment and then play them back to the ear at a much lower decibel level. They can be purchased at most hearing clinics as well as at many large chain music stores. However they will run you anywhere from $100/pair to $800+/pair.
This is where the Vibes Acoustic Filter Earplugs come into play.
Vibes are a small transparent earplug that claim to reduce the volume of sound by 22 decibels while maintaining the clarity of sound. Here’s the kicker…they are only $23.99 (CAD) including shipping when purchased on their online store. As a person who works with noise sensitive patients and as a musician (who definitely has some concerns about hearing loss) my ears perked up when I originally saw this product on Shark Tank. So I bought myself a pair, waited the two week shipping time, and tested them out in a high volume environment so I can share my thoughts on this possibly life-altering product with you.
Comfort and Appearance:
The Vibes arrived in a very small box that included two ear plugs, a small carrying case and three pairs of eartips in small, medium and large. I swapped out the medium tips for the small tips without any difficulty. The earplugs had a comfortable and snug fit in my ear such that I could jump up and down and shake my head back and forth without feeling them budging (and this is saying something because I usually can’t wear earbud headphones without them falling out of my ears).
In terms of looks, the ear tips are white, but are not visible when placed in the ear, and the tubes are one inch long and transparent. The Vibes are marketed as “virtually invisible” but are definitely still noticeable since a plastic tube is sticking out of your ear. In fact, someone commented “hey, what’s that” within about 30 seconds of putting the Vibes in my ears. However, in comparison to brightly coloured earplugs or over-ear headphones, the Vibes are quite subtle looking.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I tested the Vibes in a very loud environment: there were three electric guitars, one bass guitar, five singers, one electric piano and one drum kit all in a 50 square foot uninsulated garage. Using a decibel meter app on my phone called Sound Meter, I determined that the band played at around 100 decibels – which is well within the decibel range that can cause hearing loss.
I played through the first song without wearing my Vibes, and my ears felt fine. I am used to playing with a band for around five hours per week so I was unphased by the overall volume. For the second song, I popped in my Vibes and experienced a more dramatic decrease in volume than I had expected.
The Vibes website claims that their earplugs reduce volume by 22 decibels, which noisehelp.com says is the difference between an alarm clock ringing and conversational speech. Although I had no accurate way of measuring this, I can at least say that the sound volume reduction was quite significant. When I took the Vibes out of my ears in the middle of a song, I was shocked by how unbelievably loud my environment was; so the noise-stopping capability of this product is considerable.
For any person experiencing noise-sensitivity, I can imagine that the noise reduction ability of the vibes earplugs would be quite sufficient for moderate level volume environment such as theatres, small sporting events or noisy restaurants. However, for individuals who experience particularly strong noise-sensitivity, it is unlikely that Vibes’ sound reducing capability would be satisfactory for environments such as rock concerts or fireworks.
It is also relevant to point out that Vibes earplugs are capable of cutting out quieter irrelevant noise such as the chatter of the crowd before a concert. This element could be useful for those who experience the kind of noise sensitivity where it is not the volume but the amount of sound (i.e. multiple conversations, restaurant chatter) that is the trigger.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sound Quality Preservation:
Unfortunately, this is the part where the Vibes really show their cheapness. As a musician, I was disappointed in the Vibes’ ability to maintain the integrity of sound. Wearing them felt like my head was in a fishbowl and I was hearing a muffled and distorted version of the music around me.
When it came time for me to sing, I found that I was unsure of how my voice was balancing with the rest of the instruments and if I was even singing on key. I had to take out one of the earplugs (the one facing away from the drum kit) to hear properly so I could finish the song. The next few songs I played piano and didn’t sing, so I kept both earplugs in. I found that after about 15 minutes of wearing the Vibes, my ears had adjusted to the muffled version of the sound around me and it sounded mostly normal; the treble and bass were relatively well balanced but that overall muffled quality of sound remained.
Once I had reached this point, I was able to play the rest of the afternoon with the Vibes in my ear (even for the songs I was singing). This being said, the overall experience just wasn’t the same. I wasn’t able to appreciate the blend of instruments, or really get into what I was singing because I simply couldn’t hear myself that well.
Although I have no doubt that the Vibes are better at maintaining sound quality when compared to regular earplugs, or noise-cancelling headphones, they do not compare to the virtue of raw sound.
Rating : 2 out of 5 stars
As I mentioned in the introduction, the affordability of Vibes earplugs really can’t be beat. At $23.99, Vibes are quite economical, especially for those who don’t have specialty earpieces included in their health insurance. Even some plain old foam earplugs can approach the $25 range when they are custom fit so I have no complaints regarding the price.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I think that overall, the Vibes acoustic filter earplugs could be a great everyday tool for most people who have noise sensitivity. I say “most” because those that require a greater decibel-level of volume protection for extreme sensitivity, or any fastidious music lover who is not willing to sacrifice quality of sound, may need to look elsewhere.
In conclusion, the Vibes are small, comfortable and quite subtle when inserted into the ear and do an excellent job of dampening surrounding noise. Those with severe noise sensitivity may find the Vibes to be quite effective for everyday use by blocking out irritating ambient noise, and allowing them to focus on what they want to hear, such as conversation. Others with less severe noise sensitivity may be able to venture out into louder environments such as concerts and nightclubs when equipped with a pair of Vibes headphones. At only around 25 dollars a pair, I think that Vibes are absolutely worth a try for anyone on the noise sensitivity spectrum.
Noise sensitivity can be a very isolating problem, that may cause you to avoid social situations, and really prevent you from living life to the fullest. So if you are looking to test the waters of your condition, I would recommend that you start small, like a cafe, and try a pair or Vibes because you deserve to experience all of the wonderful sounds of the outside world, pain-free.
Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
**The post has been edited in response to a comment from Dr. Berge of Berge Hearing Clinic. The Following is an additional note:
There are two different kinds of noise sensitivity; hyperacusis and misophonia. Hyperacusis is a sensitivity to certain volumes and frequencies of sound such that some sounds can be unpleasant or even painful. Misophonia is a condition where certain sounds may trigger a negative emotional or physical reaction. Since earplugs are not a recommended form or treatment for misophonia, it is important to consult an audiologist to determine what kind of noise sensitivity you may be experiencing and how it should be treated.