I’ve never really given much thought to protecting my hearing. As a music editor, I know logically I should be protecting my ears every time I go to a concert, festival, or rave, but I’ve always been put off by ear plugs. It doesn’t help that the ones most commonly offered at shows — the clunky neon foam ones — have always felt uncomfortable while also feeling like they weren’t doing much at all. Call it paranoia, or getting older, or the effect of watching Sound Of Metal, but recently I’ve started to worry about my ears. That lead me to Loop, a brand of ear plugs hoping to change the way we think about protecting our ears.
The thing about hearing loss is that once your ears are damaged, it’s permanent. “What we're trying to protect when it comes to our hearing, is those what we call stereocilia, they're the little hair cells that live in the cochlear,” says Katie Ogden, a U.K.-based audiologist and CPC registered hearing aid dispenser. “Those little hair cells that are responsible for transmitting the impulse to the brain, they don't grow back. Once the hair cells in the cochlear are damaged, that's it.”
With the world only getting noisier, and the prospect of avoidable hearing loss set to grow in the coming years, I wanted to try out Loop and see if they could change my stance on ear plugs.
What is a Loop ear plug?
Compared to the ubiquitous foam ear plugs, Loop ingeniously adapts the form of another object that we’ve already gotten used to sticking in our ears: earbuds. There are three kinds of Loop available: Quiet, intended for sleeping and other daily tasks, as well as Experience and Experience Pro, for moments when you’ll still want to hear some sound but maybe with the volume turned down a bit — think festivals, shows, concerts, and other noisy events.
Externally, all three models look the same: they have the earbud-like silicone tip that goes into your ear, connected to the plastic or silicone loop that sits right outside of your ear canal; but their inner specs differ. The Experience and Experience Pro have a hollow earplug channel with a mesh filter at the end, designed to dampen sound by -18dB. Quiet, on the other hand, is solid all the way through and can dampen sound by a much more substantial -27dB.
All Loops come with a plastic black carrying case that’s easily attachable to your keychain or thrown into your bag. For those who want to boost the capabilities of their ear plugs, Loop also offers an attachable accessory called Loop Mute which can add an extra -5db of protection. Finally, did we mention the colors? All three models come in a slew of different colorways and finishes, from black and metallic gold, to a very pretty purple, which make Loop look infinitely sleeker than a tuft of neon foam sticking out of your ears.
Let’s cut to the chase: Loop works wonders at concerts. When I took my Experience Pros to a pop show at a very small venue (read: the speakers were just a few feet away from me), I was pleasantly surprised at how effective they were at dimming the noise but still letting me hear what was going on. Because of the hollow channel, the textures of the singer’s voice and music came through clearly, while muffling the sound of the crowd around me. I wasn’t bothered by the talking and cheering as I usually am, and I felt way more focused on the show.
Fit-wise, the plugs were snug and I could almost forget that they were there, a definite upgrade from those cheap foam ear plugs which have always felt bulge-y in my ears no matter how much I compressed them. (Every Loop comes with different-sized silicone tips to fit almost every ear shape and size.) According to Ogden, making sure your ear plugs fit correctly is an important part of them working effectively.
“Ears aren't used to having things in them. They like to reject things in them. You will feel [ear plugs] in there and it will feel a little strange to start with, but over a few minutes, a few hours, they will feel more comfortable,” she says. “If [your ear plugs] are uncomfortable and not fitting well, it’s likely you might not be getting the full protection from them.”
The Loops work stellar in a live music setting, but over my weeks of testing, the place I most noticed Loop’s handiness and versatility was, surprisingly, in more everyday situations. As an extremely sensitive and light sleeper (to both sound and light), I now religiously use my Loop Quiet to help me fall and stay asleep (and when one plug falls out in the middle of the night I actually get up to look for it).
My friend, to whom I gifted a pair of Loop, uses his on the subway and while he’s walking around in the city. He tells me frequently how much less stressful his commutes have become, and he now carries a pair everywhere. He happened to have them at the 2022 Jouvert Parade in Brooklyn, where a float with multiple huge speakers blasting music crawled just feet away from us; he, with his earplugs, was certainly more comfortable than I, who was unprepared and resigned to try and block out as much sound with my fingers. In fact, a lot of Loop’s most satisfied reviews come from people with ADHD, ASD, or have sensory processing difficulties, who mention how the ear plugs have entirely changed their lives.
I have to agree. Loop ear plugs feel like a no-brainer investment to me — and at $19.95 - $39.95 they’re hardly an actual investment at all. They’re comfortable, discreet, reusable, machine-washable, really great at doing their job, and helping you take care of an important part of your health too? I’ve learned from my mistakes and have a pair stashed away in all of my bags now. It’s pretty wild how much nicer NYC sounds.