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Hearing Protection
The necessity, the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of hearing protection.

“Why is it that we never look directly into the sun, but expose ourselves to such high levels of noise that it becomes painful?”

- We can divert our eyes, but not our ears
- We are capable of suppressing fright caused by loud sounds
- We get a ‘kick’ from loud sounds we like such as music
- We have the illusion that we can hear better when the sound is louder
- Closing your ears means missing out on information from our surroundings

Hearing Problems Cannot Be Cured.

Hearing protection is mostly used by people who already have hearing problems. People without these problems do not usually use hearing protection.

Protecting Our Hearing:
- ”Softer at the Source” is always the best option.
- Dosage: limit the length and intensity of exposure to loud sounds.
- Use hearing protection as a last resort.

Hearing Protection Protects More Than Our Ear.
Loud sounds not only have the potential to damage our hearing, but can also overstimulate the brain. Exposure to loud noise increases “fight or flee” adrenalin levels. By exercising or dancing you “play” with this adrenalin kick. A high noise level can cause severe stress, especially when sounds are unwanted. Fatigue, depression and heart problems are possible long-term symptoms.
Hearing protection reduces stress, which reduces fatigue and helps relaxation and concentration, increasing safety when working with machinery and improving the quality of the work itself.

Different Kinds of Hearing Protection
- Passive closure: fingers, wax, “kneadable” foam
- Passive earplugs (with sound filter): custom-made earplugs, self-fitting earplugs
- Passive ZEM: unique design self-fitting (not in ear canal)
- Best passive hearing protection: ZEM and otoplastics (custom-made earplug with filter)
- Active (electronic hearing device): muting of impulse sound using compression
- Active (electronic): muting of continuous sounds with noise cancellation

Advantages and Disadvantages of Use:

General advantages
Prevention of hearing damage
Stress reduction
Improved concentration and reduced fatigue

General Disadvantages of Use:
The biggest problem with hearing protection is to attenuate all frequencies evenly. Usually, the higher frequencies are muffled in comparison to the lower frequencies. This gives a “booming” effect resulting in:
- booming of own voice and low frequencies
- reduced recognition of speech and warning sounds
- loss of “three dimensional hearing” which can evoke a sense of seclusion
- increased sound exposure because of enhanced low frequencies when using lower quality hearing protection or badly adapted hearing protection

Additional Disadvantages of Earplugs:
Irritation of the ear canal and problems caused by increased earwax production
Sensation of pressure on the inner ear

Advice When Using Hearing Protection
- limit speech and talk softly
- use hearing protection that is appropriate to the circumstances
- Use hearing protection when constant sound levels are above 80 dB and when exposed to sounds with repeating impulse noise.
- Avoid excessive use. Do not use hearing protection if you do not really need to, especially when you suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis.
- Do not try to modify hearing protection by yourself.

Different Kinds of Hearing Protection

Your fingers are always close by. If you are startled by sudden loud noises, it is best to put your fingers in your ears. Young children do this as a reflex.

ZEM (self-fitting) MUSIC
oorbewustzem-26w oorbewustzem-31w

ZEM is a new kind of hearing protection in two models: 26 (price: €24,50) and 31 (price: €32,50) and lightweight: 40 and 48 gram. Two tubes are visible, but the ZEM is much smaller than earmuffs. The ZEM does not 'boom' and offers excellent speech intelligibility, resulting in an equally high quality as custom-made earplugs with a flat attenuation filter. Renewable foam cuffs ensure a good fit to the outer ear, so there is no irritation to the ear canal. More details are available from our online shop, see ‘product information’.
ZEM-26: music practice, general high sound exposure
ZEM-31: heavy duty, very loud music and amplified music, car, shooting

Earplugs – General Information
The biggest downside of earplugs is irritation to the ear canal. This increases earwax production which is pushed deep into the ear canal each time you use earplugs. not every user of earplugs experiences these problems. Earplugs are relatively easy to use, though some might experience difficulty inserting them.
The biggest advantage is their invisibility.

Earplugs with Filter – custom-made (otoplastics) MUSIC

These earplugs, also called otoplastics, are of the same high quality regarding sound and speech intelligibility as the ZEM and cause hardly any 'boom'. Their advantage over ZEM is that they are invisible and very lightweight. Their disadvantage is cost (around €160) and irritation to the ear canal. A proper occlusion of the ear canal is usually guaranteed for a few years. Otoplastics are available with several 'musicians' filters, providing 9, 15 or 25 dB attenuation.
Use: music practice, general, machines, car, motorbike (with closed helmet), shooting sports.

Earplugs with filter – self-fitting

The advantage of self-fitting earplugs with filter over otoplastics is the price (± €30). The disadvantage is that they cause more 'booming', which decreases speech intelligibility. Moreover, these self-fitting earplugs often do not offer the clarity of sound and intonation that a musician needs for playing in an ensemble.
Use: general, machines, car, motorbike.

Earmuffs (Peltor Optime III)

Good earmuffs are cheap (€25) and offer better sound quality than “kneadable” foam. However, earmuffs can cause sweating after a while. They are big and relatively heavy (up to 300 grams). They cut off high frequencies very well and this, combined with the 'booming' effect decreases speech intelligibility dramatically, making earmuffs unsuitable for use in music practice. The heavier models (see image) are ideal for working with machines producing high and low frequencies, e.g. for wood- and metalwork. Their biggest advantage is that they quick to get on and off.
Use: for shorter periods of time: general, machines.

Earplugs without filter (mouldable Peltor)

Like earmuffs, mouldable earplugs boom. They also cut off too much of the high frequencies and are therefore not suitable for music practice. They only cost a few Euros, but they can cause irritation of the ear canal.
Use (avoiding speaking as much as possible): general, machines, swimming.

Hearing Aid (Sebotek a.o.)
Hearing aids can be used as protection when they fit deep in the earcanal without causing too much occlusion-effect (booming). Next to compensation for hearing loss, advanced electronic compression techniques can suppress sound levels that are too high and impulse noise. Hearing aids can be a solution for people with hyperacusis. Problems can be: irritation of the earcanal and the price (from € 3000)

Noise Cancelling Headset (continuous sound – David Clark & Bose)

Originally designed for helicopters, noise cancellation works best with continuous low frequency noises (50 – 1000 Hz), like the noise of fuel engines. The best models are a combination of a high quality passive earmuff and noise cancellation electronics. They can be impractical because of separate wires, batteries, size and weight. Professional headsets can be very heavy (up to 470 grams) and expensive (up to €800). They cannot be used with fluctuating sounds, for example when driving a car (bumping tyres), playing music or tuning a piano and they can have an adverse effect with impulse noise and high frequency sounds, such as woodwork machinery.
Professional use: aeroplane, helicopter, tank.
Private use: companies like Bose and Sennheiser produce models (up to 300 Euros) for relaxation and listening to music. They can provide real relief for people suffering from hyperacusis (hypersensitivity for sound).


oorbewustzem-26hp oorbewustzem-31hp
ZEM Headphones - models 26 and 31 - Unique combination of Hearing Protector and Headphones.
- Professional use on stage and in recording studios, as an alternative for the ‘in-ear monitor’ or headphones, without irritation of the inner ear.
- Personal audio - to relax, or in situations with a lot of noise.
- For tinnitus and/or hyperacusis sufferers. To be used in combination with ‘Free Noise’ or other quiet background sounds or music.

In-ear monitors – headphones – MP3 earplugs

In-ear monitors are earplugs with a speaker. The best models are those with both hearing protection (made-to-measure earplugs) and a monitor. They have a range of quality and price from under €100 to €2000. Problems that are often experienced are loss of contact with the surroundings, pressure in the ear and booming. Some musicians such as singers and wind instrument players experience problems with a proper occlusion, intonation or sound exposure from within. Often, booming is experienced in situations with mostly low frequencies in low quality in-ear monitors.
Use: professional musicians on stage or in the music studio.

Frequent use of earphones, portaphones and MP3 players with sound levels of 90 dB and above can damage the ear, both in studios and at home.
When working in a studio, a musician can experience problems with the booming caused by headphones, especially if this problem is then 'solved' by turning up the volume. Pete Townshend of The Who regards playing with headphones on in studios to be the cause of his hearing problems rather than performing at concerts.

Industry and Outdoor Sports

Passive ZEM-31 - heavy duty
High passive attenuation makes the ZEM-31 suitable for situations with high sound exposure. The ZEM-31 is as silent as the most professional noise cancelling headset, only without the downsides of this expensive active technique. Price:  €32,50.
Use: impulse noise (piano tuning), industry, machines, car, shooting sport
More details on the ZEM-31 are available from our online shop, see ‘product information’.

Passive (Peltor)

There are many models of earmuffs (passive muting) combined with the option of communication or listening to music. Just like any other earmuff, booming will be a problem and could lead to fatigue. Not suitable for musicians. Price: around €160
Use: general, in situations with lower sound levels.

Active (Peltor)

Combinations of a passive earmuff, optional communication and active suppression of impulse noises are also available. Speech intelligibility is good. Loud, sudden noises are eliminated. This type of hearing protection is not suitable for music practice because of fluctuating noise levels. Price: around €500.
Use: specifically with alternating low and extreme high sound levels like industry, building, shooting, etc.

In Development

Earplugs with active anti-sound electronics and reduction of peak sounds.
The technology is advanced, vulnerable and expensive. A set will cost in the region of €2000. It is not yet clear whether the electronics have a negative effect on hearing musical sounds properly.
Use: hearing protection of high quality with personal audio, to be used as in-ear monitor.


Voorlichtingsfilm over Hyperacusis
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