Your hearing is important and if you want to festival forever, it’s time to start protecting your ears immediately. I loaded up on a bunch of earplugs and headed to Arizona for the annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival. I tested twelve different pairs over three days, from the middle of the crowd to up against the front row speakers.

Level Up From Foam
When most festies think of ear protection, they’re thinking of the typical foam earplugs. These are bulky, look hideous, and block out way too much of the music. The seven brands I tested over the weekend are an upgrade that’s worth the price. They’re reusable, fashionable, and most importantly, let you enjoy the tunes at a safe listening level.

So What’s A Safe Listening Level? 
The National Institutes of Health states that anything over 85 decibels can damage your hearing. The quickest way to gauge if a show is too loud is to download a mobile app like Sound Meter. M3F Fest took place in downtown Phoenix, so the festival had to keep their sound under 85dB to meet city regulations. Trust me when I say that 85dB is plenty loud enough for a show.

The SNR Rating
The SNR (single number rating) is the amount of protection provided by the earplugs. For instance, if you you’re at a show that’s rocking at an insane 105dB level, a pair of earplugs with an SNR rating of 20 should theoretically bring that sound down to 85dB and not blow out your eardrums.

The Criteria

Earplugs are like music — what works for one person might not work for another. The seven brands I selected to test over the weekend are all highly rated on Amazon and had the following criteria:

1. Reusable: A solid pair of earplugs can last you through the summer.

2. Carrying Case: All earplugs tested below come equipped with a case for easy transport.

3. Affordable: Basic hearing protection isn’t expensive. Get a pair of these earplugs. And if you already have a pair, earplugs make an ideal gift for the music lover in your life.

I road-tested each pair of earplugs for two different artists in the photo pit at the front of the stage and in the crowd. Below you’ll see the earplugs I wore along with some notes (and a bunch of photos). Each of the brands worked well for what they were supposed to do — protect my hearing– so I’m focusing on what made each brand stand out.

The Earplugs

EarPeace HD (Top Choice)
Cost: $24.95
Protection Level: SNR 17, 20 and 26
Carrying Case: Aluminum cylinder with clip
Number of Earplugs: 1.5 (3 earplugs)
Tested During: ODESZA, Lettuce

For overall comfort, versatility, and price, the EarPeace HD were my top choice of the weekend. Each set comes with three protection levels for your festival enjoyment. I popped in the highest protection (26 dB) while in the photo pit at ODESZA, and still had strong clarity from the booming drumline. Out in the crowd for Lettuce, I swapped in the less muffled 17dB filter, which was perfect for both the music and having conversations with festies around me. On the downside, the filters are tiny, so you need to be in a safe well-lit spot when changing these out or you might lose them.

Alternate version: For those of you with smaller ears and fitting issues, try out the EarPeace HD petite size.

LiveMus!c HearSafe (Top Choice Runner Up)

Cost: $28.95
Protection Level: SNR 23dB or 29dB
Carrying Case:Ultra portable aluminum carrying case
Number of Earplugs: 2 sets
Tested During: Empire of the Sun, Umphrey’s McGee

For the start of Empire of the Sun, I was standing right next to the speakers so I tried out the HearSafe 29dB earplugs and found them to be comfortable, but a little muffled, so I swapped in the 23dB for the rest of the set. The earplugs are color-coded making it easy to quickly determine what level of protection you’re searching for. For my ears, these were just slightly less comfortable than the EarPeace HD.

Alternate Version: Fine tune your protection with HearGreat Earplugs which also feature colored filters for 25dB and 27db.

Empire of the Sun

Decibullz Professional Music Filters (Most Comfortable/Best Splurge)

Cost: $99.99
Protection Level: SNR 17dB
Carrying Case: Premium carrying case
Number of Earplugs: 2 sets
Tested During: Ripe, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

When you’re ready for the next level of hearing protection, check out these Decibullz which can be custom molded to your ear. Drop them into a cup of hot water and the mold bends to fit every type of ear. The process took me about 4 minutes to figure out and these can be cleaned and remolded over and over. The set comes packed with two sets of molds, two acoustic filters, and three sets (small, medium, large) each of triple flange tips and foam tips, so it’s almost impossible not to find a configuration to fit your ear. Unlike the others in this list, these do take a bit of pre-game to prepare for full listening enjoyment.

Alternate Versions: If you’re hesitant about the price, try out the $25.99 custom molded set to see if it works for you.


Vibes High Fidelity Earplugs (Most Stylish)

Cost: $23.99
Protection Level: SNR 22dB
Carrying Case: Plastic case
Number of Earplugs: 2 sets
Tested During: The Knocks, Marian Hill

Vibes had the top minimalist design out of the group, which made them virtually invisible inside my ear. I liked that Vibes came in multiple sizes, both with a short and long stem, that made fitting them super easy. The only set in this review with a plastic carrying case, I actually preferred the flip lid holder to the unscrewing of the standard metal cylinders.

The Knocks

Eargasm High Fidelty Earplugs (Best for Gifting)

Cost: $34.95
Protection Level: SNR 21dB
Carrying Case: Metal key ring cylinder
Number of Earplugs: 2 sets
Tested During: Opiuo, Maribou State


Nearly all Eargasm Earplugs contain two shell sizes for maximum comfort. I tried out both versions during a bass pumping Opiuo set and found the longer size to be more comfortable and sound clarity to be excellent. With the multiple size options, these are a safe bet for shopping for the festie in your life.

Alternate Versions: Pick up a pair of the world’s first rainbow earplugs with the Pride Edition.


Alpine PartyPlug Pro Natural (Best For Festival Workers)

Cost: $39.95
Protection Level: SNR 21dB
Carrying Case: Zippered soft case
Number of Earplugs: 1 set
Tested During: EVAN GIIA, Big Wild


My number one choice for working at a festival with a very comfortable fit, the PartyPlug Pro Natural Earplugs come attached with a cord. This comes in handy for quickly popping out earplugs during conversations with security or other photags in the pit and not having to hold onto them. The 21dB is and ideal SNR rating when I’m up front taking pictures and moving around the crowd. This set also came with a free cleaner and a soft case. If you’re a festival worker, consider picking up a pair of these.

Alternate Versions: The cord can be a fashion concern for festies, so check out the $17,50 PartyPlug which comes in a few different colors.

Evan Giia

Original DownBeats (Best Budget Choice)

Cost: $9.99
Protection Level: 18dB
Carrying Case: Anodized aluminum carrying case
Number of Earplugs: 1 set
Tested During: Kurt Vile, Allah-Las

For the budget minded, Original DownBeats offers a single set of earplugs for under $10. They weren’t the most comfortable of the ones I tried out, but for the price, you can pick up 2 or 3 pairs and have some on hand to give out to friends like a festival hero.

Alternate Versions: If you’re finding the Original DownBeats are too short for your ears, check out the Long Stem DownBeats for easier insertion.

Kurt Vile