The relationship between the human ear and music is one often underappreciated by musicians and music listeners. So much time and effort is spent shaping tone and cultivating sound, attending gigs, and completing rehearsals, that the inherent nature of the ear in all of these experiences becomes an afterthought. The consequences of which can be dire – we only have to look at AC/DC’s Brian Johnson to see the long term health affects of being exposed to loud noise. It’s this very outcome that Sensaphonics AU – the Australian branch of renowned ear research and development company Sensaphonics – is endeavoring to combat with their range of handmade ER Series high-fidelity earplugs.
In 2006 Access Economics found that one in six Australians were affected by hearing loss, a figure they predicted will rise to one in four by 2050. Besides an ageing population, the most common force driving this monumental surge is excessive exposure to loud sound; the very domain of musicians and music fans. It’s an issue that Sensaphonics has been countering since it was founded in 1985 by audiologist Michael Santucci, specifically focusing on music-related hearing loss.
According to a University of Tasmania Live Music report, in 2014 there were more than 49 million attendances at live music events across Australia. It can be assumed that at many of these gigs the noise would have reached at least 105 decibels – 20 decibels above the most commonly acceptable maximum noise exposure level of 85dB. At this volume a gig goer can listen to music safely, without protection, for all of about seven and a half minutes. Not exactly an ideal night out.
With partners in Hearsmart, Music Victoria, The University of Melbourne and others, Sensaphonics AU are a manufacturer intent on shining a light on the very real consequences of excessively loud, music related noise.
In manufacturing their earplugs, Sensaphonics AU undertake the same forensic attention to detail and hand made engineering that we have come to expect from guitar makers and amp producers. Like any skilled craft, it begins with quality materials, in this case Medical Soft Silicone gel.
From your ear impression, taken by an audiologist, Sensaphoics AU produce a smooth, beautifully contoured and refined earplug that fits perfectly. The Medical Soft Silicone gel combines cushion-like malleability, with an elastic durability that promotes comfort and regular use. There’s a perfect amount of give in it to allow for ease of fit and, in turn, enough spring as to ensure that it doesn’t go out of shape. It’s these properties that allow for delicate retouching and fine tuning of the product’s physical form.
After a night of listening to bands I very nearly forgot that I had the earplugs in my ears. They required little to no adjustment, and there was no chance of losing the all-important ER Filters, which were and remained safely encased inside the Medical Soft Silicone Gel. As far as fit and comfort are concerned, it’s a big tick.
Sensaphonics AU’s ER Series earplugs are designed to maintain sound quality while protecting your hearing with a safely reduced level of sound. This is achieved with three different ER Filters - one of which comes with your custom-made earplugs - the ER-9 for everyday use; the ER-15 which offers noise reduction for more intense concert environments; and the ER-25, fully stocked and loaded to counter prolonged exposure to high-noise conditions. From casual players, to gig-goers, bands, and professional engineers, Sensaphonics AU cater to musos of all walks of life.
The ER-9 is designed to provide -9dB of sound reduction through the mid-range and a decrease of -15dB in the highs. The immediate result of which is a lessening of sharper highs, and a more even, balanced response. It’s a subtle reduction that upholds the vibrancy and liveliness of higher frequencies, while taking off the edge that’s responsible for cumulative ear damage. These filters are perfectly suited to a controlled practice environment, for acoustic musicians, and smaller acts.
Going up a notch is the ER-15. This filter provides uniform -15dB sound reduction across frequencies. This is the filter with the most versatility when considering application, made to handle the harsher frequencies of live music, and the subtleties of acoustic instrumentation. With a house DJ, for example, the resoundingly deep, sonically pumping nature of the bass remains, merely heard at a lower volume; one that allows for continued listening minus the thudding of a dangerously loud low frequency. The intricacies of complex beats, the use of different time signatures, and instrumental interplay continue to be heard with clarity. In fact, the clarity is heightened without the smothering sensation of listening to the music at volume.
And finally we have the ER-25, responsible for providing -25dB of flat sound reduction across frequencies. Like the ER-15 this filter thrives in the live environment, where highs are skyrocketing to piercing levels, distortion is applied in droves, and amps are burning hot. It’s an effective antidote to the most damaging and physically felt affects of noise; the pushing and popping of the ear drum; the pressure that builds on the ear; the ringing and jarring; the loss of hearing that feels, and in many cases becomes, permanent over time. For the touring musician, sound engineers, and any other music professional, it’s a no brainer. The fiery leads are still present, and so too the booming lows and rattling sensation of a chunky rhythm, just without the assault on the ears and long term hearing issues.
Musicians no longer have to choose between hearing sustainably and hearing quality – they now come hand in hand.
For more information about Sensaphonics head to sensaphonics.com.au.