best hearing protection

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With loud noises infiltrating worksites and everyday life, having the right hearing protection is essential in order to preserve and maintain healthy hearing for life and should be a mandatory part of personal protective equipment on a worksite, alongside things like safety glassesprotective footwear, and hard hats.

best hearing protection
Like safety glasses and hard hats, hearing protection is a must on a worksite.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Loud noises are to be expected in any industry that deals with power or impact tools, heavy machinery, firearms, or on a construction site. Fortunately, the once clunky earmuffs and uncomfortable earplugs are a thing of the past, and everything from customizable inserts to slim earmuff cups are now common go-tos. Here’s what to know about the different types of hearing protection available before purchasing. 

Types of Hearing Protection

Sirens, forklifts, saws, and leaf blowers are just a few of the many things that are loud enough to warrant the need for hearing protection, and whether you prefer earplugs or an over-the-head set of earmuffs, it’s important not to overlook this essential item of protective wear in order to preserve your hearing. Anything above 85 decibels constitutes enough noise for needing ear protection. And, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states, some form of hearing protection is required in workspaces that are subjected to 85 decibels over an eight-hour period. 

The main types of hearing protection include earmuffs and earplugs and they come in every option imaginable. Reusable silicone, foam, single-use, and corded are all options when shopping for earplugs, and thinner ear cups, heavy-duty covers, electronic wiring, and even Bluetooth varieties are available for earmuffs.

Though comfort is surely one of the top priorities when it comes to ear protection, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) explains that cleanliness is also important for safety, too. When working in dust- or dirt-ridden environments, or around anything with excessive grime, single-use options, or earmuffs or plugs that can be cleaned, may be a safer choice. 

Thomas’ Top Picks for the Best Hearing Protection

For hearing protection that suits the needs of any industry, see our list of the best reusable and single-use earmuffs, earplugs, and customizable choices below.

Read on to learn more about these highly-rated hearing protection options and see what thousands of reviewers have said about them.

1. Best Earmuffs 2021—Decibel Defense Earmuffs

best hearing protection

Blocking up to 37 decibels, the aptly named Decibel Defense earmuffs are a durable option for workers who are constantly around loud noises. The large covers cup the entirety of the ear and keep damaging levels of noise out. They’re reliable not only for worksites, but for car races, shooting ranges, and when using power tools around the home, too. “I sit in front of two 500ci Cadillac engines all day and the headphones I had been using just weren’t cutting it,” wrote one reviewer who works as an airboat tour guide in the Everglades. “I was getting headaches and was all tense because of the noise… These were some of the highest-rated in decibel reduction that I’ve been able to find.”

BUY NOW: $24.79, Amazon

2. Best Heavy-Duty Earmuffs—3M Peltor Earmuffs

best hearing protection

Anyone in need of a hefty set of earmuffs will be pleased with 3M’s Peltor model. Though they have a range of noise reduction ratings (NNR)—starting at 22 decibels—the top end is the 31-decibel earmuffs for heavy-duty situations. Although they’re large, the ear covers have a foam lining to make them extra comfortable to wear for hours on end. “These earmuffs are very well designed and constructed with premium materials,” wrote a full-time airline ramp agent. “They are more snug, more comfortable, and most importantly, they provide a higher level of protection that is seriously noticeable.”

BUY NOW: $14.45 (was $27.30), Amazon

3. Best Hearing Protection with Bluetooth—3M WorkTunes Connect Ear Cushions

best hearing protection

If the ability to make calls, listen to music, or connect to a Bluetooth system is of importance, the 3M WorkTunes headphone/earmuff combo should be high on your list of hearing protection options. Their speakers provide crystal-clear sound while also protecting the user from surrounding loud noises. Reviewers noted that they only have to charge them a couple of times a month and are able to get anywhere from 8–14 hours of use. “I recently started working in a custom cabinetry factory, and it gets extremely loud with all of the saws, sanders, and wood crushers,” wrote one reviewer. “Not only are these comfortable for the entire 10-hour shift, but they connect to your phone through Bluetooth… This was the best purchase I’ve ever made for a work-related item.”

BUY NOW: $68.82 (was $84.99), Amazon

4. Best Slim Earmuffs—Walker’s Razor Earmuffs

best hearing protection

To safeguard ears from boisterous sounds without resorting to extra bulky ear cups, Walker’s Razor earmuffs are a fitting selection. Their slim cups won’t feel obtrusive, whether you’re wearing or transporting them as they fold down into a small compact size when not in use. These earmuffs feature an audio jack and omnidirectional microphones for uses that go beyond noise cancellation—some have even compared them to the hugely popular Howard Leight by Honeywell Earmuffs (described further down). “After 31 years of fire sirens, airhorns, loud radio chatter, and the roar of an engine pumping water on fires, I have lost much of my hearing and have constant tinnitus,” explained one reviewer. “This product was just what I needed now and wish I had decades ago. Fit well, cover my entire ear and the noise-damping is awesome.” 

BUY NOW: $40.53 (was $69.99), Amazon

5. Best Reusable Corded Earplugs—Luiswell Earplugs

best hearing protection

Made of silicone and attached with cords to prevent misplacement, these Luiswell earplugs are perfect for shoppers who prefer earplugs, but not the typical single-use nature of them. This pair can reduce up to 26 decibels and are far more durable than foam. As a bonus, these earplugs are even suitable for use when swimming or doing water sports. “Great plugs with quality volume reduction,” wrote one buyer. “I use these in compressor rooms (95+ decibels) and have no complaints. They are comfortable and even come with a carrying pouch that can be latched to a belt loop or backpack.”

BUY NOW: $6.99, Amazon

6. Best Lightweight Earmuffs—3M Pro-Grade Noise-Reducing Earmuff

best hearing protection

Finding a happy medium between earmuffs that are lightweight and ones that still block out excessive noise is difficult, but 3M’s Pro-Grade noise-reducing earmuff fits the bill, cutting out up to 30 decibels without weighing on the wearer’s head thanks to its steel frame and cushioned cups. Some reviewers found that these are better than active noise-canceling headphones, such as the popular ones from Bose, and others noted they could go for long periods of time wearing these without any pain or discomfort.

BUY NOW: $20.52 (was $29.99), Amazon

7. Best Foam Earplugs—Howard Leight Foam Earplugs

best hearing protection

Some situations, especially messier ones, call for disposable foam earplugs. This pack of 200 from Howard Leight is great for keeping large teams safe and protecting hearing in situations where dust or other small particles are present. Each pair is individually wrapped to protect from contamination and the foam sculpts itself to the inside of the wearer’s ear and won’t budge until it’s time to come out. “These are the only earplugs you should ever consider buying,” wrote one happy fan. “Comfortable, great noise cancellation, and good value. Working in the concrete industry between pavement breaking, saw cutting, heavy equipment, and everything else, these are my go-to hearing protection for my crew and I.”

BUY NOW: $19.99, Amazon

8. Best Reusable Earplugs—Decibullz Molded Earplugs

best hearing protection

Earplug fans who want a bit more customization will appreciate how these Decibullz molded earplugs can be manipulated and shaped. After soaking them in hot water, buyers can mold them to the exact shape of their ears, creating the perfect fit. This means that they can also be washed and reshaped if needed down the road. “Three years ago I purchased a custom pair of earplugs at a show for nearly $100,” explained one buyer. “These earplugs are just as good, if not better. I use them for riding motorcycles; I wear a full-size helmet and they stay in place when putting the helmet on. I also use them for the gun range, working with power tools, etc.”

BUY NOW: $25.99, Amazon

9. Best Electronic Earmuffs—Howard Leight by Honeywell Earmuffs

best hearing protection

For a unique option, Howard Leight by Honeywell’s earmuffs can both protect the hearing from harmful noises and amplify important sounds. Featuring an innovative “active listening” function, they amplify sounds such as talking, but when noise levels of 82 decibels or over are detected, they instinctively turn amplification off to protect the hearing. The slim cups make it easier to move without the risk of knocking them off or them getting in the way. As one reviewer wrote, “I have used them in construction sites with banging air hammers, handsaws, saws-all, hammer drill guns, and every imaginable power tool that can give you tinnitus but [am] still able to hear a human voice for safety.” 

BUY NOW: $48.85, Amazon

10. Best Compact Earplugs—Loop Experience Ear Plugs

best hearing protection

Loop Experience’s earplugs are a bit sturdier than the traditional set of foam earplugs and look much sleeker, design-wise. Their small loop and plug construction allows them to stay put but remain discreet while in the ear, and they work a treat for musicians, athletes, and anyone doing house or yard work. Though these don’t provide the highest level of protection (18 decibels) and for louder volumes and worksites, a backup pair will be required, one reviewer, a truck driver, wrote, “The truck is very loud and the dumpsters make a lot of noise—it’s all damaging to my ears. However, I still need to hear what’s going on for safety’s sake. These work great for that. I feel more calm at work with the noise levels down.”

BUY NOW: $24.95, Amazon

The Best Hearing Protection 2021—Summary

Defend against the highest decibels with a set of 3M’s hefty earmuffs or find custom-fitting protection with a pair of Decibullz’s molded earplugs. We hope our review of the best hearing protection has been helpful

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