Quiet, please! Finding the best ear plugs.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
May 17 2005 7:24 AM

The Sound of Silence

Sussing out the ear-plug market.

(Continued from Page 1)

Sleep-Eze plugs function like a defective hearing aid; they drown out ambient noise by playing white noise into the auditory canal. While the plugs were relatively effective at silencing background noises, they were terrible at muting anything louder. In fact, it sometimes seemed like the white noise amplified treble notes' clamors; the Goldberg Variations mixed with white noise was a true auditory Vulcan death grip, causing me to rip out the plugs within a few musical bars.

The stopples are also poorly designed. To clean the two half-inch devices, I had to scrub them with a small mustache brush, and to turn the device on and off, you have to open and close a Lilliputian battery door on the back of each plug. I also found it uncomfortable to sleep on my side with the hard plastic stopples stuffed into my ears. In short, Sleep-Eze are a solid choice if you sleep on your back, your partner snores quietly, and there is little chance that you will hear any shrill noises. Otherwise, keep plugging away for other options.

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Effectiveness: 6
Comfort/Ease of Use: 3
Durability: 2
Value: 0.1
Total: 11.1

Custom Sleep Plug
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Custom Sleep Plug

The Ear Plug Super Store JB1000 Custom Sleep Plug, Maximum
Price: one pair $122.95 NRR: N/A

I realized I suffer from an excessive love of ear plugs when I giggled with excitement at the prospect of custom plugs. But the end result—a pair of hard silicone stopples tailored to the twists and turns of my auditory canal—were not very effective. While I wore the plugs, I could easily hear my wife speaking, and the jackhammer roared loud and clear.

The plugs are also not particularly comfortable. The stiff silicone rubbed harshly against my outer ear, prompting me to remove them during the sleep test. On the plus side, I did not feel any pressure or heaviness in my ear, a mildly uncomfortable sensation commonly associated with wearing foam ear plugs. They also looked quite impressive as they lay on my nightstand, like a tiny, plastic sculpture by Alexander Calder.

Effectiveness: 5
Comfort/Ease of Use: 6
Durability: 7
Value: 0.2
Total: 18.2

Flents
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Flents

Flents Ear Stopples Price: two pair $3.95 NRR: 25

Ear plugs have been made with wax and cotton for more than 2,000 years, and these plugs demonstrate why: They were comfortable and effectively muted background noise. But, like Mack's Pillow (below), these sticky plugs collect dirt and dust. Indeed, after 20 or so insertions, the stopples resembled a chunk of Play-Doh rolled in a flower box. Disgusting.

Effectiveness: 7.5
Comfort/Ease of Use: 7
Durability: 2
Value: 8.4
Total: 24.4

Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone
Price: two pair $2.95
NRR: 22