The latest tech stories from around the world...

9 Best Earplugs (2023): For Concerts, Sleep, And Listening

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED

Featured in this article

Alternative Sleep Plugs Flare Audio Sleeep Pro

Read more

A Sub-$50 Alternative for GigsNPR Music x Earpeace Pro

Read moreYou only get one pair of ears, so it’s a good idea to look after them—and a good set of earplugs can come in handy in all kinds of situations. A proper set is a much better solution for blocking out noise during the night than a pillow over the head and is more comfortable than headphones. What you’re looking for in earplugs really depends on what you want them to do. When you’re sleeping, for example, comfort is paramount. Plus, you need an indiscriminate approach to blocking out snores, traffic noise, or a car alarm down the street.

If you’re watching a band play live, though, you want to maintain as much fidelity as possible and just cut out the frequencies that might be harmful to your hearing. The average concert pumps out about 100 decibels, but if you’ve ever seen My Bloody Valentine, you’ll know some bands seem to have a personal vendetta against your ears—and continuous exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause permanent damage to your hearing. That means it’s not possible to pick out one pair of earplugs that’ll work in every situation. Instead, we’ve picked several that satisfy different needs.

Be sure to check out our other buying guides, like the Best Sleep Gadgets, Best Wireless Earbuds, Best Wireless Headphones, and Gifts for People Who Need a Good Night’s Sleep.

Updated April 2023: We’ve added the Vibes High Fidelity Earplugs and Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds for travelers.

Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.

Photograph: Loop

Best for SleepLoop Quiet

There are no prizes for guessing where Loop earplugs got their name from—but the circular design is a long way from being purely aesthetic. The Loop Quiet look almost identical to Loop’s similar Experience earplugs, but there are two crucial differences: With no acoustic filter, they’re capable of blocking out more noise—27 dB rather than 18—and they’re made entirely from soft silicone, including the round protrusion that sits almost at right angles to the interchangeable tip. That means they fit right inside the concha of your ear, entirely flush with your head, so when you lie on your side there is very little force applied to the earplug and also less chance of inadvertently knocking them loose. That makes the Loop Quiet the most comfortable earplugs for sleeping.

The loop itself is made of silicone, but it’s still rigid enough that putting the earplugs in or taking them out is easy. They feel nice and snug when in situ without giving you that bunged-up feeling that comes with some pairs. You get four different-sized sets of ear tips (though actually changing the ear tips can be a pain), and the whole thing is washable in warm water. They even come in six colors, so you can match them to your bedsheets.

Photograph: Flare Audio

Alternative Sleep Plugs Flare Audio Sleeep Pro

There are few things more likely to drive you over the edge than being kept awake at night by noise, but sticking things in your ears can make it hard to get comfortable enough to doze off, particularly if you sleep on your side. Flare’s Sleeep Pro differs from others in that you get two pairs of memory-foam tips per plug, which are connected together by a lightweight titanium stem (it also sells cheaper versions that use clear plastic or aluminum). They look a bit like tiny dumbbells. The softness of the outer tip makes it more comfortable to tuck them inside your ear and put the weight of your head on them when it hits the pillow.

It’s impossible to know what you haven’t heard when you’re asleep, but Flare claims an average attenuation of –32 dB—and as soon as you put them in, you can tell how effective they are. Sudden, loud noises will still cut through, so there’s no danger of sleeping through your alarm, but they add a layer of noise-reduction defense between your precious sleep and the ungodly sound of foxes copulating in the garden, the wail of nearby sirens, and other such things that make up the nocturnal soundtrack of modern life.

Photograph: Etymotic

Best for ConcertsEtymotic ER20XS

Have you ever woken up the morning after a gig to find your ears still ringing from the night before? Normally it goes away after awhile, but what if one day it didn’t? According to the British Tinnitus Association, about 30 percent of people will suffer from the condition at some point in their lives. Wearing earplugs to live shows is a good way of combating it, but a lot of pairs also have a detrimental effect on how the music sounds, which isn’t what you want when you’ve spent $75 on a ticket to see the Young Nuns play their seminal debut album, Hairy Terror, in its entirety.

With the triple-flange tips attached, Etymotic’s ER20XS look a bit like tiny rubber Christmas trees. They’re not quite as comfortable as a pair with silicone or memory foam tips, such as Vibes or Flare Audio’s Isolate, but when watching the Stranglers live, they didn’t make things sound muffled as the others did. Etymotic claims they reduce the volume by 20 decibels—enough to remove the harshest elements but maintain all of the impact and clarity across the frequency range, which means the only thing that’s likely to spoil the show is somebody spilling their pint on your shoes.

Photograph: EarPeace

A Sub-$50 Alternative for GigsNPR Music x Earpeace Pro

I recently went to see my wife’s favorite band, and the opener was a doom-metal duo with full stacks of amplifiers. I grabbed some foam earplugs from the bar, but I’d have fared much better if I’d had the Earpeace Music Pros on my keychain. These NPR-backed earplugs fit perfectly in my ears and come with a small aluminum carrying case. They’re super comfortable and can pull a solid 13 decibels from noisy signals—often the difference between some hearing damage and none—in a way that doesn’t suck all the high end out of the sound. Don’t just take my word for it. Legendary NPR music critic Bob Boilen says he has worn his at thousands of shows.