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NPSF™ -- Are you trying to block low frequency sounds such as slamming doors, footfalls, or bass heavy rap music?

What to Try... ...And Why:
Disposable Foam Ear Plugs Low frequency sound waves travel more easily through walls, floors, and even the ground. It follows, therefore, that low frequency sounds also travel more easily through ear muffs and ear plugs. That does not mean disposable foam ear plugs will not work, rather, they will not work as well for low frequency sounds as they do against higher frequency sounds. For instance, a foam ear plug might provide a noise reduction of 49 dB at 8000 Hz, but at 125 Hz, the noise is only reduced by 33 dB. Here is what that means in practice: Rap music is often played as high as 90 dB. Assuming your foam ear plugs would reduce the vocals by around 49 dB, your ear plugs would let you hear just 41 dB (90-49=41,) a level just above a whisper. When you consider that another 20 dB will be lost as the sound travels through the wall of your apartment, you will usually be unable to hear the remaining 21 dB of vocals that remain by the time the sound waves get to your ears. Contrast that to the low bass line. Here your ear plugs will just reduce the volume from 90 down to 57 dB (90-33=57) and your walls will barely slow the travel of the bass sound waves, so you will hear the thumping almost as if you had nothing in your ears. The same sort of analysis applies to slamming doors, people walking around on your ceiling and moving furniture (why do they do that in the middle of the night anyway?)

As bad as they are at blocking low frequency sounds, though, disposable foam ear plugs are much better than any other kind of ear plugs when used for this purpose, so give them a try after reading the following important clarifications:

Disposable foam ear plugs offer the highest level of protection you can get in a single hearing protective device, but you must get them properly inserted, and you must select the right plug to fit your ears. Here is a short video tutorial on how to properly fit disposable foam ear plugs. To find the perfect ear plug for your ears, we offer several ear plug trial packs that let you try out a bunch to find your favorites.

Common complaints we hear are that the plugs do not stay in the ear, or they hurt after wearing for a long time. Most of the time, the plugs can be made to stay put by using proper insertion techniques as in the video referenced above, and the pain often is the result of choosing the wrong ear plug, but both of these issues can also be addressed by choosing a different kind of ear plug. Remember, though, no other kind of ear plug will give you as high noise protection as do foam ear plugs when used properly.

For low frequency noises, there is more you can do. Please read on.

White Noise Machines For low frequency sounds that bug you, your best bet is going to be using a masking sound in the room where you are. To learn more about masking sounds, see the extended discussion below.

As it relates to handling low frequency sounds, we suggest that you take a two-step approach. First, get a masking sound generator of some kind and adjust the volume as needed to fully mask the noise that is bothering you. Just keep turning up the volume until you can no longer hear the irritating sound. Then, if the volume is too loud for you to comfortably listen to it, add ear plugs to control how much of that masking sound you hear. Using this approach, you can eliminate practically any noise that bothers you so you can concentrate or sleep soundly.

White noise machines are simple devices that produce a single sound or a range of soothing sounds to help you sleep. By choosing a sound profile you like, and adjusting the volume (and sometimes the tone,) you can often mask the sound that is annoying you and disrupting your sleep. Masking sounds should carry little or no information, they should be soothing and random so that you do not begin to hear the starting point of any sound loops that your device is playing. Such repetitive artifacts can become a brand new distraction--not good. One reason some white noise machines are more expensive is that they have more memory, allowing the machine to play longer loops thereby reducing the frequency of any artifacts that may repeat, which reduces the likelihood you will notice them. The other reason is that carefully engineered sound loops are simply more expensive to produce. Note: all electronic white noise machines use recorded loops of sound, other than white noise sounds such as fan, waterfall, and wind. Train sounds, wave sounds, and forest sounds, all of necessity are generated by playing recorded loops of sound. Other electro-mechanical white noise machines like the Marpac Dohm machines are simply small fans with steep blade angles that do not move much air. By simply spinning the rotor, these devices make a wonderful sound that millions sleep to each night (and that includes us. We use a Dohm.)

You can also mask noise by using what you have on hand. Devices such as a box fan, or an AM radio, tuned off station, can be used to produce a masking sound that will help you sleep better in a noisy room. You can also find smart phone apps that will let you play masking sounds through the phone speaker, or better, through your earphones. We like SleepPhones for sleeping with minor noises. For really loud snoring, a combination of an ear plug plus an earphone will let you block much of the sound with the earpieces, and then mask the remainder of the sound by playing a masking sound into your ears. Good choices include MicroBuds and PlugFones, with foam tips, but these can be hard to lie on if you are a side sleeper. If the wires on the earphones are a bother, you might consider an in-ear white noise machine. These are hearing aid sized devices that have a foam tip that acts as an ear plug to block noise, and they produce a soothing version of white noise you can inject into your ears to mask the snoring or other noises that would otherwise interfere with your sleep.

Any time you use a masking sound to help you sleep, do keep in mind that you can cause hearing damage if the masking sound is turned up too high. Hearing damage comes from the total noise dose you accumulate over time, so use the minimum amount of masking sound you need to block the noise that is bothering you, and pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. If it seems to loud to you, turn it down. If your ears ring when you turn it off, it was playing too loudly for the length of time you were exposed. Finally, give your ears a break from the noise as often as you can. Ears need some silence to recover from listening to any sound for long periods.

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What Do You Think? Share Your Experiences, Questions, and Comments Below.