The Sound of Silence
Sussing out the ear-plug market.
If you don't like sticking wax or plastic in your ears, these stopples might be for you. The moldable silicone plugs cover up the outside of your ear canal and adequately mute noise. But the plugs fell out during the run-up-the-stairs test, and since dirt sticks to the soft putty, that incident rendered them unusable.
Update, May 18, 2010: This article has been updated to reflect a product warning that has been removed by the manufacturer.
Comfort/Ease of Use: 8
Heartech SilentEar Price: one pair $8.95 NRR: 33
These silicon plugs were the easiest to insert. No noodling, squishing, or rolling. Just pop the little rocket-shaped devices into your ear, and you are ready to rumble. You might be listening to some rumble, too, as they received a middling grade at bass-sound reduction.
(Heartech also offers a "QuietEar" option, which allows the user to hear conversations. While I didn't test the product, I wonder: Who wants to talk to someone wearing fire engine red plugs?)
Comfort/Ease of Use: 8.5
Flents Quiet! Please Price: six pair for $2.95 NRR: 29
These PVC foam ear plugs are among the most effective if they are installed properly. A quick primer: First roll the plug into a very small cylinder. Then take your right hand and reach over your head and pull back on the lobe of your left ear. Then, with your left hand, push the plug as deep as possible into your left ear canal. The plug should go down about a half-inch and no further than an inch and a half. Repeat with right ear.
Sound like a pain in the ear? It is. It also earned me some very odd looks from the construction workers. But the foam plugs worked well. The jackhammer was reduced to a dull thumping, and I couldn't hear a word my wife was saying.
Comfort/Ease of Use: 4
Ulrich Boser is a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report.