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Published Sep. 13, 2021

Our hearing is fragile and once damage happens, it’s irreversible. To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, the best hearing protection reduces the chance of hearing damage by lessening the intensity or loudness of sound. Any sound over 85 decibels can damage hearing, which is why we need to use hearing protection. 

Hearing protection is the most common type of personal protective equipment (PPE). It usually comes in two forms, earmuffs and earplugs. Generally, properly fitted earplugs or earmuffs reduce noise 15 to 30 decibels. Ear plugs fit right inside your ear canal and need an airtight seal to be effective. Ear muffs are cups that fit over the ears, forming a seal that blocks the entire circumference of the ear canal.

We’ve reviewed Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) and researched the best hearing protection options on the market. Here are our recommendations: 

How We Selected the Products

Methodology

There are many hearing protectors on the market that take some examination to determine which are worth the money. Here are the criteria we used to decide which hearing protection was best in each category:

Noise Reduction Rating: The reason to get hearing protection in the first place is to block out noise that can contribute to hearing loss. The NRR is a measurement to determine the effectiveness of earplugs. The higher the NRR, the better the protection.

Value: Although you don’t want to place a price on protecting your hearing, value is still crucial. Since earplugs need to be replaced as soon as they show any sign of wear, cost is an important factor. The majority of our picks are reusable hearing protectors that last. For some use cases, a quality disposable ear plug may provide greater value, so we made sure to include the best ones we could find.

Comfort: Hearing protection needs to be comfortable, especially for those who need them for long hours each day. Although it is impossible to find ear plugs that fit every single person, the ones we selected had the best overall fit and created a snug seal.

Safety: Especially for earplugs that go inside your ear, safety is a paramount concern for consumers. Each of our earplug picks are safe to have inside your ear for long periods of time.

The Best Hearing Protection: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall Hearing Protection: 3M Pro-Grade Noise-Reducing Earmuff

All-Day Comfort

High-level hearing protection that is easy to wear. 3M Safety

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Why It Made The Cut: 3M is a trusted name in the hearing protection market. Our top pick had to offer a substantial NRR and remain both lightweight and comfortable for day-long wear.

Specs: 

  • ‎Lightweight at 12.5 ounces
  • Adjustable, steel wire headband with rubber overmold design
  • NRR of 30 dB
Pros:Cons:
  • Adjustable, so one size fits most properly
  • May feel uncomfortable with prolonged use for wearers with a larger head size
  • Pivoting cups that move with you
  • Easily seen so others are aware you’re wearing them
  • Red accent color makes them less likely to get lost
  • These hearing protectors are part of the 3M Pro Series that has been available since 2016. This earmuff-style hearing protection is a comfortable alternative to ear plugs. 

    The design features a steel wire headband with rubber overmold design for ventilation, which keeps the wearer cool and makes it comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. They are adjustable, allowing more people to find a pleasant fit for their needs. When not adjusted properly or if these are worn by someone with a larger head, it may feel like there are hot spots of pressure. This can sometimes be negated by fixing the adjustment to find a better fit.

    The 3M Pro-Grade Noise-Reducing Earmuffs have an NRR of 30 dB, making them the highest-rated 3M earmuffs available. They help diminish loud noise, but still enable the user to engage in conversation without having to take them off.

    Other features of these hearing earmuffs include:

    • A splash of bright color to help you find them on your workspace and alert others that you are wearing ear protection. 
    • A design that’s comfortable to wear under a sunhat
    • Cushions and cups that pivot, ensuring a good fit that molds itself to your individual ear shape.

    Best Value: Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs

    Multipurpose Earplugs

    Comfortable foam plugs that are easy to wear and a good value. Mack’s

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    Why It Made The Cut: Mack’s earplugs provide the most value for hearing protection as they are affordable, work well, and also have the highest NRR score we found.

    Specs: 

    • Made from moldable polyurethane foam that fits most ear canals
    • Disposable, so users can wear a fresh pair every day
    • NRR of 33 dB
    Pros:Cons:
  • Small and easy to carry
  • Can be easily misplaced
  • Comfortable for long-term wear
  • Disposable, so not environmentally friendly
  • Can be used with other hearing PPE for more protection
  • You get a lot of pairs for your money
  • Mack’s is the leading brand name for earplugs in the US. Made from cushy, ultra soft polyurethane foam, these earplugs are designed to feel comfortable inside your ears without the pressure that comes from stiffer materials. The tapered foam molds itself inside the ear, with a slow release that creates an effective and tight seal of your ear canal. Benefits from the material, size, and proper fit include:

    • All-day comfort
    • An NRR of 33 dB, which is excellent protection
    • A lightweight product at 4 ounces, which makes it even easier to wear
    • The ability to double-up on your hearing protection and wear them with a pair of earmuffs

    Mack’s earplugs are the No. 1 brand used and recommended by doctors, making these value-packed hearing protection one to consider. Not only used for power tools or construction sites, these are also comfortable enough to wear while you sleep, travel, or to block out peripheral noise during office work. 

    The unobstructive beige color ensures they don’t draw excess attention while wearing them. The downside to their color and size is that they can quickly become lost if you put them down. 

    This package of earplugs comes with 50 pairs, which gives you a fresh pair for each use, or can be worn up to three times before they need to be replaced. Once you’re unable to achieve a proper seal, these earplugs need to be thrown out.

    Best Hearing Protection with Bluetooth: PROHEAR 037 Bluetooth 5.0 Hearing Protection

    Music All Day

    Easy to wear and easy to use Bluetooth earmuffs. PROHEAR

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    Why It Made The Cut: PROHEAR addresses the need for a long battery life and large Bluetooth range with hearing protection; it enables you to work without having a phone nearby and lasts long enough that it doesn’t require a daily charge.

    Specs:

    • 40 hours playtime, with 4 hours to fully charge
    • Padded headband and breathable ear pad for comfortable long-term wear
    • NRR of 25 dB
    Pros:Cons:
  • Accessible buttons on the side of the headset
  • It’s very obvious that it plays music
  • Hands-free calling and voice prompts
  • A slightly lower NRR than other earmuff style options
  • Great sound quality for calls and music
  • This Bluetooth-enabled hearing protection from PROHEAR is a relatively new product on the market, as it was released in December 2020. Though it hasn’t had the longevity on the market to reach the number of reviews as other similar products, we believe its rankings will only continue to go up.

    Designed with an adjustable padded headband and removable earpieces for fit and comfort, this hearing protection is made to last long-term. As the earpieces start to show wear, they can be easily removed and replaced with new ones. 

    PROHEAR’s earmuff style hearing protection offers an NRR of 25 dB, which is a touch lower than other products without Bluetooth, but not by much. Raised buttons for the Bluetooth functionality are located on the side of the earmuff, with a simple layout that’s easy to memorize – saving users from having to take off the hearing protection to adjust the volume, song, and more. The benefits of adding Bluetooth to your hearing protection includes:

    • Hands-free communication over the phone, enabling you to safely multitask
    • Clear sound, so you hear the person on the other end of a call, news update, and more
    • The ability to move about without being attached to a wire, which would create a hazard

    These Bluetooth earmuffs hold one of the longest charges we’ve seen in this product family. With a 4-hour charge time, users benefit from about 40 hours of high-quality listening (or uninterrupted listening if they use the included AUX cable). This is beneficial for those who forget or neglect to charge their hearing protection between shifts. These also have the benefit of an 80-foot range from your phone, keeping your call, podcast, or song going even when you move around your workspace.

    Most Discreet Bluetooth Hearing Protection: Mipeace Bluetooth earplug headphones

    Music While You Work

    Ultralight, Bluetooth-enabled protection with long battery life. mipeace

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    Why It Made The Cut: Mipeace earplugs are the best Bluetooth hearing protection option we found that didn’t draw too much attention to itself, allowing users to go unnoticed while listening to music or podcasts.

    Specs:

    • 16-hour playtime, with a 3-3.5 hours charge time
    • Super lightweight at 0.81 ounces
    • NRR of 29 dB
    Pros:Cons:
  • Sweat- and water-resistant
  • Not ideal for all workplaces
  • Ergonomic neckband to prevent loss and provide comfort
  • Music can’t be too loud
  • Wireless range of up to 33 feet
  • Mipeace’s lightweight Bluetooth-enabled earplugs offer both hearing protection and ambiance while also being Occupational Safety and Health Administration–(OSHA) approved. 

    The ear tips are made from soft silicone and anatomically designed to sit in the ear canal. A tapered design creates an effective seal, protecting the wearer from noise pollution. The neck band is barely noticable and tucks away inconspicuously under a shirt. These earplugs are designed to handle sweat and rain, making them suitable for most work environments.

    With an NRR of 29 dB, it protects your ears from noisy environments, with the advantage of filling the quiet with music, podcasts, or news updates from your phone. It also has a built-in mic, allowing you to take phone calls through the earplugs as well. A single charge takes up to 3.5 hours, but it gives the user 16 hours of playtime, which is generally sufficient for the workday.

    Headphones come with a risk of creating hearing damage, which is why users should make sure not to turn up the volume too loud. Wireless connectivity of these earplugs come with a range of about 33 feet, giving wearers the convenience of freely moving about without interrupting the sound.

    Most Customizable Hearing Protection: Decibullz – Custom Molded Earplugs

    Made to Fit You

    Earplugs that offer perfect fit and protection. Decibullz

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    Why It Made The Cut: Decibullz earplugs offer what most other hearing protection companies overlook:  customization. This option is ideal for people who can’t wear traditional earplugs.

    Specs: 

    • Moldable earplugs that shape to your ear and can be remolded as needed
    • Thermoplastic material in a variety of color options
    • NRR of 31 dB
    Pros:Cons:
  • Moldable to your exact ear specifications
  • Small size may make them easier to lose
  • High visibility color options
  • Adjustments may take a few tries to get it right
  • Tips for further customization
  • When traditional earplugs don’t fit properly, Decibullz customizable molded earplugs are some of the few on the market that can be individualized. Decibullz are the first thermo-fit custom-molded earbuds, and the only ones that can be remolded. The molding is made from a thermoplastic, which unlike other earplugs, shapes to the unique shape of your ear. 

    Just like when form-fitting a mouthguard, these plastic molds need to be boiled, then shaped in your ear after they’ve cooled down to a safe (but workable) temperature. If you don’t get the perfect fit the first time, you can reheat and remold them. With the right fit, they offer a high NRR rating of 31 dB. The design offers a triple seal, with protection from a canal piece, the moldable earpiece, and the sound plug.

    The kit includes three sets of triple flange tips in different sizes, so users select the right size for their ear canal. While these earplugs are small and can easily be misplaced, Decibullz minimizes this potential issue by providing a carrying pouch for safekeeping and care of your hearing protection.

    Additionally, these earplugs come in a variety of color options, some with high visibility, making them easy to locate and easy for others to see you’re wearing them.

    Best Band Style Earplug: 3M Safety Band Style Hearing Protector

    Simple but Effective

    Easy to wear with soft, replaceable tips. 3M Safety

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    Why It Made The Cut: 3M is a trustworthy brand in the hearing protection space. This reusable band style uses replaceable, effective 3M earplugs, giving these affordable hearing protectors more value than its competitors.

    Specs:

    • An attached band that eliminates the need to touch the earplugs with your fingers
    • Ability to replace the ear plugs as needed
    • NRR of 28 dB
    Pros:Cons:
  • Lightweight and low profile
  • Need to have the right replacement earplugs to fit the band
  • Ability to change out ear plugs as they wear down
  • Can easily remove earplugs when not in use and store them around your neck
  • Another 3M product has made our list as this company has shown they know how to make quality hearing protection. This lightweight band style hearing protector features:

    • A flexible band that connects to earplugs, helping avoid losing the small plugs
    • Soft, tapered foam plugs that conform to the shape of your ear canal, effectively blocking out noise
    • Washable, detachable, and replaceable earplugs

    The 3M Safety Band Style Hearing Protector is a safe choice for those who work with their hands, too. Traditional earplugs, while effective, require you to put them in and take them out with your fingers, which can become dirty on a work site. This style merely needs you to flex the band to remove and insert the earplugs, keeping them free from finger contamination. This style is also small enough to be used under other PPE, such as hardhats, and the bright orange color makes this hearing protection visible to others around you.

    These are a great option for the home user as they aren’t as large or expensive as a more professional version but still provide excellent hearing protection.

    Things to Consider Before Buying Hearing Protection

    Sometimes we don’t realize when we need hearing protection. There are a few ways to determine if you need to add this PPE to your work, chore, or project. 

    • If noise hurts your ears, no matter what decibel it is, get some hearing protection. 
    • If noise makes it difficult to hear somebody speaking at a normal tone who is about 3 feet away from you, you likely need hearing protection. 
    • If noise is higher than 85 dB, you definitely should have hearing protection.

    NRR

    This rating system is used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection and indicates how much sound exposure it decreases within a working environment. Hearing protectors need to be tested and approved by the American National Standards in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hearing protection must reduce the decibels (dB), which is the power and density of sound, in order to be approved.

    Comfort

    Before investing in hearing protection, make sure you know your preference. You may not want earplugs directly inside your ear, and might prefer how an earmuff style feels. An adjustable band is generally recommended for earmuff-style protection, as it will enable you to get a better fit, enhancing both the comfort and effectiveness of the hearing protection.

    Noise Level

    How loud is your work area? A quieter environment doesn’t need as high an NRR compared to a busy construction site. Invest in hearing protection that sufficiently reduces the surrounding noise in your work space.

    Frequency of Use

    Depending on your specific needs, you may not need to invest in hearing protection for the long term. Weigh your future needs and determine if affordable single use or reusable hearing protection is best for you.

    FAQs

    Q: Is it bad to wear earplugs to sleep?

    Earplugs are generally safe to wear to sleep and can even help you stay asleep because they help minimize noise. The only negative with wearing earplugs at night would be minor discomfort or earwax buildup, but those are very minor problems.

    Q: Are earplugs bad for your ears?

    Earplugs are safe to wear for the most part. Prolonged wear can cause minor discomfort and earwax buildup, which can cause temporary hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

    Q: Are there any earplugs that block all noise?

    No earplug can completely block out all noises. There are some that might be close, but extremely loud noises might just be muffled but not completely blocked.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s much cheaper to protect your hearing now than pay for hearing aids later. Make sure you wear the appropriate PPE to help prevent hearing loss. Users are more likely to wear hearing protection if it feels comfortable, like the 3M Pro-Grade Noise-Reducing Earmuff.

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