I began playing drums when I was six years old (a long time ago). I spent over twenty years marching in drum and bugle corps, constantly exposed to cymbal crashes, rim shots, thundering bass and countless other sharp, harsh noises. Couple this with stage monitors and Marshall stacks that I am constantly exposed to during my concert shoots, and you can imagine I have exposed my hearing to some very dangerous activity.
The abuse has caught up with me...with a vengeance! I now have Tinnitus, a constant ringing in my right ear. It is not a soft, barely perceptible ringing. It is a relatively loud ringing that never turns off. I need to surround myself with background noise just to keep the ringing from driving me crazy. Silence is the worst, because I can't experience silence anymore. It is a strange thing: the quieter my surroundings, the louder the noise in my ear.
My doctor says it will never go away. There is no cure. The best I can hope for is to keep it from getting worse or spreading to my left ear. Which brings me to the real purpose of this blog entry...Ear Protection
During my visit to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, it was recommended that I consider getting fitted for ear protection. My first thoughts were "I've tried them all and they all filter the music to the point that it is completely unenjoyable". I had tried the wax plugs, the foam plugs, the serrated plugs that wedge themselves into your ears, rolled up napkins in a pinch...each one filtering out almost all the enjoyment and each one leaving me with serious ringing and ear fatigue at the end of the night.
The doctor explained he was talking about something completely different; serious, professional ear protection. The threat of my tinnitus getting worse was enough for me to take a chance on what he had to say.
I had myself fitted for a pair of Westone 'Musician Style' earpieces. It takes about 20 minutes for the doctor to take custom molds of your left and right ear canals (each side is different). The molds get sent off to the manufacturer and about a week latter your custom fitted earpieces arrive. With the model I selected, you have the option of changing filters at the end of the earpiece to control the level of attenuation they provide. By default, they come with a no-pass filter that does not let any sound through. There are three additional filters available to diminish the sound level by -9db, -15db and -25db. I opted for the -25db filters.
I wish I knew then what I know now. There really are no words to adequately describe the experience of wearing these things. The way I have tried to explain it is "It is like taking everything from 11 down to 5". I hear every frequency (well, at least those frequencies my ears can still hear), and most amazingly, I hear everything in high definition with zero distortion.
I imagine everyone has been in a situation in a small club or bar, with the band cranking it out on stage and the person next to you trying to tell you something. You can see their lips moving, but you can not even come close to hearing the words they are saying. With my earpieces in, I hear every word, clear as a bell. It really is amazing.
Westone is not the only manufacturer in the market and the 'Musician Style' earpieces are not the only type they make.
If you are a musician or are continually around loud noises for another reason, I urge you to research the professional ear protection options that are out there. For me, the damage is done. I will never fix my hearing. The best I can hope for is to keep it from getting worse. As I said, I wish I knew then what I know now. I would not hesitate a second to make this purchase again.
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