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The Best Earplugs


Our collective experience as professional musicians, frequent travelers and avid music fans who have worn countless earplugs over the years informed our tests and ratings to determine the best earplugs for the casual consumer. We tested the 12 top plugs on the market over the course of three weeks, putting each pair through a series of critical tests, and determined that are the best earplugs for noise blocking, are the best for sleeping and are the best for critical listening.

Our Top Choices

Best Noise-Blocking



Best for Sleeping


Silicone Putty

Best for Musicians

Etymotic Research


Our collective experience as professional musicians, frequent travelers and avid music fans who have worn countless earplugs over the years informed our tests and ratings to determine the best earplugs for the casual consumer. We tested the 12 top plugs on the market over the course of three weeks, putting each pair through a series of critical tests, and determined that are the best earplugs for noise blocking, are the best for sleeping and are the best for critical listening.

Table of contents

How we chose earplugs聽to test

With so many brands to choose from and with so many looking so similar, it was daunting to know where to start. During our research, we got a better picture of which earplugs sold the most and which garnered the best reviews. From there, we gleaned a list of finalists representing the best of each type available. Aiming at the casual to 鈥減rosumer鈥 level user, we kept our ceiling聽at $30 per pair.

Researching crowd-sourced reviews and popularity ratings from retail stores helped inform our list as well. Many resources available online about earplugs and hearing protection come from stores and brands that sell earplugs. The first few links from a web search for 鈥渉earing protection鈥 are of Home Depot, Cabela鈥檚, Grainger, Dick鈥檚 Sporting Goods and 3M. We gained insight into which types and brands are more common in each market: home improvement, sporting goods, manufacturing, hunting and music.

From our digging, we learned what was important to different users for different purposes. For example, you wouldn’t use the same earplugs for a concert as you would earplugs for sleeping. Combined with our personal experience and years of using earplugs, we determined our criteria for testing and developed methods for each field.

Compare the best earplugs

ProductPricePlug StyleComfortNoise Blocking
$Memory Foam3/55/5
$Memory Foam3/54/5
$Memory Foam4/53.5/5
$Memory Foam2.5/54/5
$Memory Foam2.5/53.5/5

Types of earplugs

different types: putty, foam, and flanged

There are three main types of disposable earplugs: foam, flanged, and moldable. Each type has a fundamental design and function, but show variances in shape, color, design and material. Here we鈥檒l break down each type and explain their differences.

Foam plugs

These聽are the most inexpensive and ubiquitous type, ranging anywhere in price from 10 to 90 cents per pair, sometimes packaged in bulk sets of up to two hundred pairs. Foam plugs聽offer very blunt, indiscriminate sound blockage, which makes them great for sleeping and blocking environmental nuisance.

Most foam earplugs available today are made of memory foam, inserted into your ear with the roll method: Twist them like you would wring a towel so that the plug is compressed into a tube, then insert into your ear and hold in place until it feels fully expanded.

We find this feeling a bit uncomfortable as the foam creates slight pressure as it pushes the air in your ear. When fully expanded, it blocks out external sound but also amplifies sounds in your body, like your heartbeat and breathing. This is known as the ,聽wherein sound vibrating in the bone and cartilage that would normally exit through your ear canal is blocked.

Flanged plugs

flanged ear plugs

Flanged plugs are great when you want noise reduction without muffling when you need to listen to speech, details in sound, or music. Foam plugs cause incoming sound to be muffled, quiet, and therefore less intelligible.

Flanged earplugs are the next step up in price, quality, durability, and sound fidelity. Where foam earplugs will only last a handful of times, flanged earplugs will last anywhere between one and six months. Because they are cleanable, reusable for a longer period of time, and have much better sound quality than foam, there鈥檚 a significant leap in price to $20+ per pair.

Made of silicone and plastic, flanged plugs look like tiny futuristic Christmas trees. They are easier to wear and offer immediate protection once positioned correctly, without an expansion period like the memory foam plugs. At first glance, differences between brands are very small, however, our sound tests revealed some surprising results.

Flanged earplugs were designed with listenability in mind. All of our flanged finalists use a filter inside the stem that can provide different levels of Noise Reduction Ratings. Some brands claim to have designed these filters to let frequency ranges of the human voice pass through for tactical purposes, like Surefire鈥檚 Sonic Defenders.

Moldable Ear Plugs

Mack's silicone putty

Moldable earplugs were the first type to be available on the market. In 1907, Max Wegner of German-based company Ohropax originally sold a version made of beeswax. It wasn鈥檛 until 1962 that Ray and Cecilia Benner of Mack鈥檚 invented their own made of pure silicone putty, a waterproof material resistant to melting under heat. In our review of the聽best earplugs for sleeping, we recommend Mack’s as our top pick.

Disposable moldable earplugs typically come in individual pieces packaged in a protective plastic case. To use, shape a piece into a ball and push to fill the outer ear around the canal. Most popularly known for use while sleeping (for blocking out city noise and snoring), these earplugs also work well for preventing water from entering swimmer’s ears.

How does sound work?

To understand how earplugs operate, let鈥檚 take a look at how sound works. Most simply, sound is a movement through the air. Sound waves can also travel through water or mediums such as glass or metal. These movements push through the air until they reach our eardrums, where they vibrate. Our brain then interprets these vibrations into what we perceive as sound.

Earplugs physically block the waves from hitting your eardrum by simply blocking the air path there. However, earplugs can never block 100% of sound since sound waves can travel through your bones and head. This explains why flanged plugs work better for environments where you want to hear some of the sound. The sound filter inside allows some frequencies to pass through so you have a more balanced 鈥渕ix鈥, as opposed to hearing just the occlusion effect — muffled and amplified bodily sounds reverberating through your body.

How can you lose your hearing?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health claims that the majority of hearing loss cases are due to noise exposure. Some hearing loss is temporary and recoverable after 24 hours to a week. However, noise levels sustained at 85dB or above for over an hour, or momentary exposure above 120dB can result in permanent hearing loss.

The US EPA set 70dB for 24 hours as the upper threshold to protect against sustainable damage. For perspective, 70dB is only twice the level of a verbal conversation. A whopping people are exposed to harmful noises in their workplace.

Thus, hearing protection extends beyond a nuisance disturbing sleep, or enjoyment of a concert; it is a crucial consideration in public health. There are a number of institutions dedicated to bringing attention to hearing loss prevention, including Hear the World, Action on Hearing Loss, Listen to Your Buds, and It鈥檚 a Noisy Planet.

Who should use hearing protection?

Hearing loss is typically not an issue until it鈥檚 too late. As we advance our entertainment technologies with high-powered headphones, car stereos, and hi-fi home audio designed to shake your soul, we鈥檝e only increased the risks to our hearing.

Here鈥檚 the bad news first: some hearing damage due to prolonged exposure to excessive volume is cumulative. That is, if you鈥檝e damaged your hearing early on, you may never recover those lost frequencies. However, the good news is that prevention is accessible and relatively inexpensive.

Travelers, club/theater/concert-goers, shooters, military personnel, light sleepers, musicians, entertainers, construction workers, woodworkers, or anyone exposed to loud sound should use earplugs for hearing protection and, or personal comfort. For travelers (especially light sleepers), having a pair of comfortable earplugs for sleeping is an absolute must.

We encourage people who go out frequently to make use of those included keychain cases and have a pair on hand at all times because it doesn鈥檛 take much to cause damage.

In 2015, the World Health Organization issued a warning aimed at teens and young adults about hearing loss with personal audio devices and loud environments such as nightclubs and concert venues. They suspect that concert-going headphone-wearing teens and young adults are at risk for hearing loss.

Despite efforts to educate concert-goers about hearing loss, it鈥檚 a hard issue to press especially to teens and young adults. Nothing is sexy or cool about worrying about whether the music in the club is too loud — many would think the opposite is true. Nevertheless, the WO recommends a max of 85dB for no longer than eight hours a day. The typical volume of a nightclub is 100dB, which they warn can cause damage after only 15 minutes of exposure.

Noise reduction ratings

noise reduction ratings

Earplug ratings are regulated by international standards and ratings. In the United States, the EPA requires that every product post their NRR (Noise Reduction Rating). This measures the potential of reduction in sound by dB (decibels).

These ratings rely on proper usage, which varies so greatly that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) developed derating systems to more accurately portray NRR.

In other words, earplugs are so often misused that an NRR may inaccurately portray the level of protection. As a consumer, it is difficult to know whether or not you鈥檙e wearing them correctly and even more so to tell the difference between correctly and incorrectly worn earplugs.

How we tested

sound data test results

We put our top picks through a series of tests for wear comfort, sleep comfort, sound clarity, environmental nuisance, fit, and included an objective soundbox to test against claimed Noise Reduction Ratings.

Wear comfort test

To test wear comfort, we wore each pair of plugs for an hour. Our testing spanned a few days in order to avoid fatigue from having an impact on聽subsequent tests. Foam earplugs across the board were very comfortable initially, but ratings slipped after about twenty minutes of wear. The pressure created by sealing off air in the ear canal contributed聽to this discomfort, along with a pronounced occlusion effect.

Very slight disorientation occurs when worn for long periods of time; we began feeling disconnected from the space around us, feeling an intense 鈥渋nternal鈥 sensation as the sound of our heartbeat and breathing heightened.

Higher-end frequencies are blocked more significantly than lower frequencies, so the overall effect is muffled and boomy, which in itself creates a nuisance of its own. Nevertheless, out of the five foam plugs, our favorite for comfort by a small margin was聽. They are more tapered than Leight Laser-Lites and Pura-Fits, and more porous than the DuraPlugs, resulting in a slightly more comfortable fit.

foam plug comparison

Of the flanged plugs, edged out LiveMus!c and Pro Vibes due to a very subtle difference — the slight texture of the silicone flanges aided in smoother insertion. The smooth clear silicone of the Eargasms, for example, gave a little resistance. Overall, this difference is very subtle — it鈥檚 not a dealbreaker.

close up of flanged plugs

The flanged plugs were generally more comfortable than foam plugs, but聽 were the most comfortable earplugs overall in our testing.

Sound clarity: Music listening test

We tested sound quality by wearing each pair and listening to music from speakers and listening to live music during band rehearsal.

Using Tame Impala鈥檚 song 鈥淟et It Happen鈥 playing through Sonos Play:5 speakers, we wore each pair for the duration of the song in quick succession in order to rate in relation to one another.

Some repeat listens were required in order to make the call. We listened for sound quality closest to that without plugs. For the live band rehearsal test, we wore each pair during rehearsal for the same set of three songs. We then took the ratings for the sub-categories and averaged them for the overall score in this category.

The flanged plugs unsurprisingly out-performed the foam and putty earplugs, with these four tied at the top: , , 聽and .

Sleep comfort: Pillow test

To measure comfort during rest or sleep, we developed our own 鈥減illow test.鈥 We put each pair under fifteen minutes of scrutiny in different positions lying down: left side, right side, and back. Ear canals change in size and shape when the head tilts back, forth, and side to side, so it is important to test earplugs as you move around, as you would during sleep.

Theoretically, foam plugs should have an advantage since they are pliable. However, we found that flanged earplugs were just as pliable and movements were quieter due to a lesser occlusion effect. To get a complete score for the best earplugs for sleeping, we compounded this score with the wear comfort and noise blocking score.

Noise blocking聽test

In Los Angeles, the sound of the freeway is like the creek running behind your house. It鈥檚 a familiar fixture, a cultural symbol as sure as the moon and sun. As poetic as we can get here, it might just be the nuisance that keeps you from sleeping at night. You can feel freeway noise in the air, the higher frequencies like ambient white noise — just not as pleasant as say, the ocean.

In the US, the Federal Highway Administration recognizes the effects of freeway noise on public鈥檚 well being. They have regulations in place to limit the sound levels of commercial transport trucks and restrictions on certain roads to minimize exposure at certain times in the day. City planners take road noise into account when they plan roads and freeways, employing landscape features to lessen sound, for example.

For our noise-blocking test, we got comfortable with our earplugs on a footbridge above the 2 Freeway in Los Angeles and in a car parked next to a Del Taco under construction. We then rated each pair at both sites for how well they blocked out any and all sound. We averaged the two scores to get their total score in this category.

In contrast to our critical listening test, this test simply tested how well the plugs blocked out any sound regardless of listening quality. This grading is particularly useful for users to block any sort of audio nuisance: sleepers, students, teachers, travelers, anyone looking for peace in noisy environments. We all just want a little peace and quiet in the concrete jungle.


fit test

It鈥檚 all about fit. We found that fit is the second most important variable to consider when shopping for earplugs. You may need to buy a few pairs in order to test out before deciding which ones work the best for you. Because ear canal size can differ greatly from one person to the next, we realize that fit and comfort ratings may vary to a degree, as subjective as they are.

As stated above, Noise Reduction Ratings are adjusted to account for the margin of error of users wearing earplugs incorrectly. Ill-fitting plugs may account for discomfort and incorrect usage, so we recommend that you shop the pair that feels most comfortable to you.

Best聽for noise blocking: Moldex

If silence and isolation from the loud world around you is your thing, is your earplug. These scored the highest in our environmental noise test, even outperforming other plugs with higher NRR ratings. They are not the largest nor the densest plugs out of the foam plugs, yet we found them to block the most sound.

They are tied with for being the longest in length, though they are slightly thicker. To the naked eye, we don鈥檛 see much of a difference in material besides color. Up close, its tiny foam pores look about the same size as those in the other foam plugs. Hearos Xtreme Protection plugs are rated the highest at 33 dB NRR — beating out the Pura-Fits by 1 dB — and are markedly thicker than the Pura-Fits; however, they simply don鈥檛 block out as much sound.

Top Pick: Moldex - Pura-Fit

Very affordable and the best option for highest noise-blocking performance, these plugs can also be used to help you get a peaceful night's sleep. The Pura-Fits even come individually wrapped.

Like all the other foam earplugs, these are disposable. You can use them until they collect too much dirt, wax, or debris at your own discretion. Good thing, because our order came in a large cardboard box with one hundred individually wrapped pairs which could potentially last you a lifetime. For extra credit, Moldex was the only company to package their individual pairs in paper instead of plastic, a big plus in our book.

In a pinch, foam earplugs will work for loud concert or music listening settings. Often times, bars will keep a large box of individually wrapped earplugs for sale for a buck or two. Cheap foam plugs will protect you from high volumes even better than flanged plugs because they have higher NRR ratings. We unequivocally recommend them (at the cost of audio quality) if you don鈥檛 have flanged plugs on hand.

These will also work well for sleeping, though they were not our number one choice. Because foam plugs are so inexpensive and also work well for sleeping and general hearing protection, we recommend them most for general usage. Easily replaceable and cheap, they are in some ways the most user-friendly and versatile.

Best聽for sleeping: Mack’s – Silicone Putty

Mack's Silicone Putty

For extended comfort and a custom fit when sleeping, our favorite choice was . For this purpose, the oldest technology wins out over plastics and sophisticated filter technologies. Application can be a bit fussy at first, but the comfort of not having something inside your ear canal outweighs the convenience of the other kinds. Flanged earplugs were almost as comfortable, except most of them had stems that pushed against the plugs when sleeping on your side.

If balling up putty isn鈥檛 your thing, the most comfortable flanged plug in this category were the Eargasms, with no stem at all. Please note that the Eargasms are significantly larger than the other flanged plugs, so they may not be the best fit for smaller ears.

Best for Sleeping: Mack鈥檚 - Pillow Soft Silicone Putty

These putty-style earplugs offer extended comfort for a sound night's slumber. The soft putty creates a lot less pressure, which makes it much easier to keep them in place for long periods of time.

After the many hours of testing earplugs, our ear canals started feeling a bit sore. The putty style was a welcome change, and in our opinion fares best for longterm wear. The sense of pressure or suction is a lot less severe with putty than foam.

Since the fit is customizable, you can easily loosen or tighten as you see fit. The key is to get a good seal, by stretching it outwards against the curves of your ears. You can flatten the putty against the ear so that nothing juts out and pushes the plug beyond where you want it.

Mack’s warns that misuse may lead to pieces becoming lodged in your ear. If you follow the instructions, this shouldn鈥檛 happen but we have noted it as a potential issue.

Mack鈥檚 Pillow Soft will last until they are 鈥渟oiled or no longer sticky鈥, up to five uses. If you use a case for your foam plugs, they may last longer than the moldable聽type. The costs per pair of foam versus moldable types are negligible, so you can potentially get a slightly better value with foam plugs, depending on how clean you keep them.

In cases where sound blockage takes priority over comfort, defer to our pick for noise blocking, the plugs. Pura-Fits rated average for comfort compared to our other finalists, but provide the best sound blockage overall. At just under one dollar a pair for both Mack鈥檚 Pillow Soft and Pura-Fit plugs, we recommend trying both to see which is more comfortable for you.

Best for critical listening – Etymotic Research

flanged Etymotic Ety-plugs

We had a points tie between (NRR 12 dB) and (NRR n/a), but since Soundtight plugs don鈥檛 have an NRR and cost about six dollars more, ETY wins as our first choice. Not only are the ETY plugs the most comfortable flanged earplug, they also sound the best to our ears. A reputable custom earphone company, Etymotic may have a leg up when it comes to hi-fi listening.

Best for Listening: Etymotic Research - ETY-Plugs

Marketed as a 'volume knob' for you ear, the ETY-Plugs provide better sound quality at mid and high frequencies, without the muffling effect induced by foam-style plugs. The ETY's cost more, but if sound quality is important, these are the plugs to go with.

What puts these two at the top for sound quality is the presence of more mids and highs. With foam plugs, you will find boomy low end while mids and highs frequencies (like talking) sound muffled. Without the higher frequencies to balance the lows, the result is a sound that is stuffy and far from natural. Etymotic plugs boast that they are like a 鈥渧olume knob,鈥 decreasing the level of sound in a more natural-sounding way.

In general, we found that plugs with lower NRR dB ratings sound better than those with higher ratings because they do less work. Our best performer, ETY plugs, block a relatively low 12 dBs versus heavy-duty foam plugs such as and which block 32 dBs. Across the board, we found that higher dB reduction ratings came at a cost of lesser sound quality.

There is little documentation on filters used in the flanged type, so there is not much we can say about how they differ from one another, other than what we can hear and observe with the naked eye. Interestingly, the Soundtight earplugs sounded superior to the ProVibe earplugs despite looking almost identical.

Clearly, not all earplugs are created equally. Like the foam earplugs, size and fit can affect how well they will work for you. If the plugs are not far enough in your ear because they are too big, you may get a more pronounced occlusion effect — amplification of bodily sounds due to the blockage sound that would normally exit through the ear cavity.

Other finalists we tested


As mentioned above, the SoundTight鈥檚 flanged earplugs scored high in sound quality, but we were unable to find their NRR rating. They’ve been discontinued under this branding since our initial review and were re-launched as . They come with a handy, compact aluminum keychain carrying case, like a lot of the other flanged plugs, but arrived in a plain plastic bag with no formal packaging. To be fair, we have purchased聽other types of products this way, but for the price we paid for SoundTight, we expected more. Lacking NRR and country of manufacture, they didn鈥檛 exactly inspire confidence in consideration of serious hearing protection.


are the 鈥渟upermodels鈥 of the bunch, the thinnest and tallest. As such, they may provide a better fit for those with smaller ears. The foam material also seems slightly more dense, with smaller visible 鈥減ores鈥 (which helps our supermodel metaphor). They performed quite well in our noise-blocking test, but its denser material feels stiffer to the touch and therefore just slightly less comfortable.

Hearos Xtreme Protection

If Duraplugs are the supermodels of the bunch, 聽are the dwarves of the earplug realm. They are shorter and wider than all the other plugs. However, they are the softest to the touch, which makes them slightly more comfortable than the Duraplugs or the Laser Lites, despite their size. They also scored very well for noise-blocking, which could make them a very good choice for those with bigger ears.

Howard Leight Laser Lite

Joining the motley crew of supermodels and dwarves are the plugs: the psychedelic bell-bottomed hippie of the bunch. In flamboyant pink and yellow, these guys stand out. They flare out like bell-bottoms, shaped like a rocket-ship. Despite being the second softest, they don鈥檛 necessarily feel more comfortable. The flared design doesn鈥檛 help, as you have to compress more material at the bottom in order to achieve a deep fit. In terms of width, they are somewhere near the middle, so they may not be the first choice for small ears.

Mack鈥檚 Ultra Soft Foam

Let鈥檚 stop it with the metaphors. (But if we had to, would be the very vanilla, average 9-to-5 Joe.) If you鈥檙e looking for the most comfortable foam plug, these are your guys. (The metaphor still works.) They don鈥檛 shine in any other category, but they will get the job done.

Also Great: Eargasm - High Fidelity

Good for both critical listening and sleeping, these plugs also come with a sleek case. Just be aware that they're sized more for adults than kids, which 鈥 given the name 鈥 is probably a good thing.

Eargasm Hi-Fidelity Ear Plugs

On the upper end of price, the scored pretty high for sound clarity but not any more than other flanged plugs that cost less. We didn鈥檛 get close to anything that we would describe as an 鈥渆argasm;” however, they were the best flanged plug to sleep with for the lack of a stem in their design. In place of the stem is a small tab on the bottom flange used for removal. They run larger in diameter than the other flanged plugs, so we don鈥檛 recommend them for smaller ears. Like all the other flanged plugs, they also come with a convenient keychain carrying case.

LiveMus!c HearSafe

plugs would be our next pick after ETY plugs for critical listening. Despite being rated as blocking 17 dBs more than the ETY plugs, we couldn鈥檛 tell the difference. If you are looking for higher noise reduction for hi-fi listening, you might want to try these. (They are rated 29dB versus ETY鈥檚 12dB.)

Surefire EP4 Sonic Defenders

are in a league of their own, as they are designed with military and tactical shooting in mind. They have an extra rubberized attachment which hugs the curves of the outer ear, creating a very secure fit. While designed and marketed towards hunters, shooters and the military, these will also work great for blocking general noise and nuisance and would especially excel in active situations requiring a secure fit. We wouldn鈥檛 recommend these for sleeping, as the extra stuff will definitely impede your comfort lying down.

Pro Vibes

Since our review, Pro Vibes was rebranded as and comes to the party looking like the number one choice for millennials.聽They’re attractive, minimal and the most current out of the bunch. However, despite looking identical to the SoundTights, the green filter Pro Vibes simply didn鈥檛 sound as good, as noted before. They sounded hollow, as if we were listening through a tin can. The old adage 鈥渄on鈥檛 judge a book by its cover鈥 couldn鈥檛 ring any truer when comparing the two. Skip the fancy packaging and go with ETY flanged plugs for superior sound.

The bottom line

Summary of Earplug Comparison Data

The earplug game is competitive and rife with innocuous features and accessories. Even the government-mandated noise reduction ratings are聽not a failsafe way to judge effectiveness. After putting our shortlist through exhaustive testing, we determined that it was most useful to divide the ‘best of’ categories by usage: noise blocking, sleeping and critical listening.

The best noise-blockers, foam plug show us how a simple design and concept can vary in results. Our top choice for use while sleeping, , proved how and why they have stayed in the market for so long, making only minor changes in packaging over the years.

For critical listening, the flanged-earplug market seems awash with many different options that on the surface look almost identical to each other.聽However, our extensive testing shows that not all are created equally. While flanged plugs easily beat all foam plugs for sound quality, 聽edged out on top by just a small margin. And if you’re looking for another way to block sound while you sleep, check out our review of the best white noise machine.

Top Pick: Moldex - Pura-Fit

The Moldex - Pura-Fit earplugs are the most affordable, most comfortable and the best performer for sound blocking. If you're looking for a good all-around earplug that can be worn for many uses, Moldex is a solid choice.

Bryan Vu, Editor

Bryan is our cooking and kitchen expert, with more than 15 years of experience of cooking and testing kitchen products. When outside of the kitchen, he enjoys woodworking, photography, videography and figuring out how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. He thoroughly enjoys discovering the best, whether it鈥檚 ingredients or equipment, and finding products that can stand the rigors of daily use.

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