Earplugs - Don't Leave Home Without Them

I've written about the importance of earplugs on Audiophile Review in the past, and I'll probably write about them in the future, because nothing protects your ears as well as a good pair of earplugs. At the 2014 Axpona in Chicago I was very glad that I always carry multiple pairs of plugs whenever I leave home. Why? Read on...

AR-plugz2.jpgWhen I arrived at my Axpona Hotel room I realized that my sleeping quarters were on a show floor, sandwiched between two active display rooms. This isn't that unusual at a show as journalists typically get the rooms that the hotel can't sell at full price. I went out to dinner and when I came back from my repast there was sound coming from BOTH of the rooms on either side of me. On one side I could hear TEF sweeps at regular intervals. I knocked on their door, introduced myself, and asked how late they would be up. After looking at the state of their room the answer was pretty clear - all night. On the other side I heard music at a volume level sufficient that I could, if I wished, sing along (if I knew the tune). Also the door was locked and it was obvious that no amount of phone calls, or banging on walls would make any difference since there wasn't anyone in the room - the music was playing to "break in" the system overnight. I was, in terms of a quiet night for sleep, screwed.

But, fear not, I still had a trick up my sleeve, or in my pockets to be precise - my earplugs. While sleeping with earplugs in your ears isn't the most comfortable way to sleep, at least I could sleep, which I did. Without earplugs it would have been a long night...

AR-plugz3.jpgOn Saturday afternoon someone pulled the fire alarm in the Westin O'Hare Hotel. Folks in the public areas on the main floor saw the emergency lights flash for a couple of minutes and it was over, but anyone who was on the 3rd, 4th, or 12th floors, where a vast majority of the demo rooms were located had a slightly different experience. On the "sleeping floors" there were no flashing lights, only a loud whistle. And how loud was that whistle? Would you believe 99 dB SPL at exactly 3.2 KHZ - the aural equivalent of an icepick applied directly to your eardrums...

And what happened when that whistle started? Judging by the folks in my immediate vicinity a Homo sapiens' first reaction was to insert a forefinger into each ear while thinking WTF!!!!! After about ten seconds of everyone in the room doing the middle position of "See no, hear no, speak no evil" I started thinking about my options. I had two pairs of earplugs in my left hand front pocket, but fishing them out and putting them in required removing a finger from at least one ear, which I was loathe to do. After another ten seconds of indecision I walked into the hallway, where I discovered the alarm whistle was equally loud. Then I walked down the hallway to the emergency stairwell at the end of what suddenly became a very long hallway. Fortunately the SPLs in the stairway weren't quite as piercing, and I fished out one pair of Etymotic ER-20 earplugs, and inserted them, much to my relief.

AR-plugz1.jpgAs I was putting in my plugs I saw someone I've known for years in the audio biz, who was looking just as unhappy, with a finger in each ear, as I had been just a few scant moments before. I took pity on him and said, loudly, "If you don't mind sharing a bit of earwax I have a second pair of earplugs you can borrow." He thought for about a half a nano-second before mouthing, "I'll take them." I fished out my second set of plugs, a pair of V-Moda Faders, which don't squelch outside sounds quite as much as the Etymotics, but still deliver about 20 dB of attenuation. He looked a lot happier with the earplugs in place.

So, twice during my sojourn to the Chicago Axpona audio show my earplugs saved me from major amounts of aural and physical discomfort. They're cheap (compared to most audio accessories) and when you need them, you really need them, so is it any wonder that I always travel with earplugs? Protect your ears, get a pair of plugs, put them in your pocket, and don't leave home without them...

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