The Sound of Silence
Sussing out the ear-plug market.
Howard Leight MAX Price: one pair $1 NRR: 33
These polyurethane stopples must be rolled into a small cylinder before being inserted, but the process is much easier than the PVC foam plugs. Just squish the plugs into a small peg and push. And while the neon orange might turn off some—I looked ready for a shooting range—the bright color made the plugs hard to misplace.
The plugs did an excellent job of reducing sound. I couldn't hear the vacuum cleaner or my wife's chatter. The Goldberg Variations and the jackhammer were audible but muted. Indeed, the plugs might be too good. It's possible that you could sleep through your alarm clock or a fire alarm with these plugs stuck down your auditory canal.
Comfort/Ease of Use: 8
Hearos Ultimate Softness Series Price: one pair for $1 NRR: 32
These plugs beat out the Howard Leight stopples for one reason: They are much softer and thus much more comfortable to wear. Like the Leight plugs, they are made of polyurethane and were easy to insert and clean. They could also play the sounds of silence: The loud, shrill noises were muted, the background noises inaudible. (Like the Leight plugs, heavy sleepers should use these plugs with care.) And while the ear-plug industry seems beset by terrible product names ("Snore Busters" and "Soft Blasts"), these plugs demonstrated, especially because they reduced the pounding sounds of the jackhammer to a pleasant thud, that it's worth holding out for Hearos.
Comfort/Ease of Use: 9
Ulrich Boser is a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report.