Can Ear Plugs Silence Vuvuzelas? A Slate Experiment.

Slate's Culture Blog
June 16 2010 2:48 PM

Can Ear Plugs Silence Vuvuzelas? A Slate Experiment.

Tech-savvyWorld Cup fans across the globe are toasting a German computer hacker thisweek. Tube, as he's known, apparently figured out a way to mutethe Vuvuzela drone on your television. But lacking the time and know-how toperfectly tweak the settings on my TV, I decided to go the old-school route.Tuesday night I picked up a package of ear plugs ,which are supposed to help drown out the noise, yet still allow you to hear the announcers.

"GREATFOR: POWER TOOLS, LAWN MOWERS, MOTOR SPORTS, VUVUZELAS," promised the package.(OK it said nothing about vuvuzelas.) Anyway, at $3.49, I got five pairs of Leight pre-shaped foam ear plugs thatlooked like tiny orange parking cones. Ulrich Boser actually reviewed the same brandfor Slate in 2005, concluding that "the plugs did an excellent job of reducingsound. I couldn't hear the vacuum cleaner or my wife's chatter."

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Iwas skeptical at first. How could these little foam nuggets cancel out such apowerful noise? But they worked, to a point. Following the directions, Igrabbed two plugs, rolled them into narrow, crease-free cylinders and shovedthem into my ears just in time for kickoff of Wednesday's Chile-Honduras match.The ear plugs softened—but didn't quite mute—the vuvuzelas. I still heard thebuzz, but the horns didn't turn my body into a 150-pound tuning fork as theydid when I watched United States-England. Meanwhile, ESPN's announcing teamremained easily audible.

"Whenyou wear ear plugs, about 30 to 32 decibels of annoying, loud, low-frequencynoise is drowned out. It actually allows you to hear speech better," MicahSpangler of the Better HearingInstitute told me. "Even if you were wearing ear plugs, you'd be able to have a betterconversation with a person sitting right next to you." Thus, the loud,low-frequency noise emanating from the vuvuzelas was slightly muted and thecommentators' voices were still clear.

Iended my experiment after halftime, pulling the plugs from my ears at about the50th minute. The sound that welcomed me was like 1,000 shofars being blown in myface. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but there was a noticeable difference. Somy advice is that if you're really bothered by the vuvuzelas' hum, go to thesupermarket and drop a few bucks on ear plugs. They won't eliminate the buzz,but they'll make your World Cup experience pleasantly quieter.

Alan Siegel is a writer in Washington, D.C. You can reach him at asiegel05@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter.

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