DJ Ear Protection – How to Protect Your Hearing as a DJ?


DJ EAR PROTECTION

Every DJ understands it: ‘the ear is your gear.’ Without normal hearing, it is practically impossible to make the right mix and get a full floor of nightclubbers dancing to your beats.

Hearing damage is real. It’s not cool. It’s not funny. I don’t care how young you are or how old and crusty and jaded you are – you can still get hearing loss, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

It’s advisable to use pro-grade hearing protection (earplugs). However, that is not all it takes! You need to actively manage your listening and monitoring volumes to negate all the benefits that good plugs give you.

To protect your hearing as a DJ, you need to learn to mix by listening to headphones only and isolating the environmental loudness (the club sound at parties and booth monitors) as much as possible. When you have your isolating headphones and earplugs on, mix at the lowest possible headphone volume.

Remember that hearing damage is not only about volume but also the length of exposure. By riding the minimal possible volume, you give your ears a break.

How DJing compares to familiar sources of noise 

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Breathing is about 10 dB, normal conversation is around 60 dB, and a motorcycle motor running is around 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB over an extended period of time may begin to hurt your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause instant harm to your ears.

The table below displays dB levels and how noise from everyday causes can affect your ears.

Sounds and Noises

Average Sound Level (measured in decibels)

Typical Response (after routine or repeated exposure)

Ticking clock 20 Sounds at these dB levels typically don’t cause any hearing damage.
Normal conversation 60 Sounds at these dB levels typically don’t cause any hearing damage.
Washing machine 70 You may feel annoyed by the noise
Motorcycle 95 Damage to hearing possible after about 50 minutes of exposure
Approaching subway train, car horn at 16 feet (5 meters) 100 Hearing loss possible after 15 minutes
DJing, nightclubs, bars
110 Hearing loss possible in less than 5 minutes

The time measures shown in the “Typical Response” column are based on the NIOSH exchange rate of 3 dB. For more data, visit NIOSH’s website.

How to Protect Your Ears as a DJ

I have been a DJ (with local gigs) for ten years now, and I still hear almost perfect. I also got tinnitus at the age of 16-17 (before DJing), but that is practically gone now. Down below is how I have done it and what my “ear doctors” have taught me.

  •       Learn mixing in the headphones

The thing that has saved my ears plenty of time is that I know how to play in my headphones and any monitor. When it’s hard to hear in the booth, it’s tempting to increase the volume, but it’s often the opposite you need. Broken sound is harder to interpret. 

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I usually have one ear in the headphones and the other in the monitor, using the master out (Pioneer DJM) in the headphones, mixed with the other channels cues and changing in between after need. If the noise is too bad, I cover both my ears (HD-25 or other brands with adequate shielding), so I can keep the volume low but remove the noise. 

The skill to mix in the headphones well has also saved me plenty of times when monitors break or are crap. I do not depend on others to deliver my set!

Recommended: How to DJ with Headphones OnlyDjing without speakers can help you practice mixing quietly and prepare you for gigs when the DJ booth monitors are weak or non-existent, or you plan on DJing with in-ear monitors.

  •       Let your ears rest after a loud night

I have been listening to songs on headphones since the 90s. I also have been to numberless clubs and events, raves, etc.

I also know many people from music production and DJing for many years.

What I’ve found out is that:

  • Yes, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is real.
  • You can get it from being consistently exposed to noisy surroundings like club or stereo speakers, construction machinery, car wash compressors, etc.
  • You can also get it from repeated ear infections and other ear or sinus-associated problems.
  • Once you have it, it won’t go away, but you can get adapted to it or get less pronounced at best.
  • Stress is another factor as well and can aggravate it as well.

A good rule of thumb is to have silence after a long, loud night as long as you expose them to the noise. 

  •       Always use good earplugs. BUT use them RIGHT

The secret of protecting ears with earplugs is actually how you use them! Always put them on BEFORE you enter the club. Otherwise, your ears will start to dampen the sound, so you will have double-up suppression when you put the earplugs in. You want your ears to adapt to the volume in the earplugs for the best sound experience.

Get a good set of earplugs if you want to be in it for the long game! Not only do they offer the bonus of looking after your hearing, but I find it improves the audio quality and listening experience on average PA systems. Also, I found I am less exhausted after a night using earplugs.

Less than $20 for a pair of Etymotic high-fidelity plugs – no reason not to buy them! Read more about earplugs down below.↓

  •       Mixing in ear-plugs

With earplugs for musicians, it’s a lower volume but not the muffled and dull sound you get with regular plugs (or if you put them on already in the club), so I have never felt limited in the mixing. Rather the opposite, since they remove a lot of the background noise. 

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I think a bit extra on the high frequencies and general volume since a too high volume can be excruciating for an audience but not for you. If you’re not so experienced, check the levels on the mixer the DJ before you are using, and ask your friends on the dance floor (always good anyway). 

Avoid any red levels on the mixer. Deaf or half-deaf DJs are killing those levels far more than me anyway.

  •       When you are exhausted, your hearing is damaged more

I found It’s not always the gig and music that ruins you, but your noisy AC at the office or the over-compressed mp3s in your in-ear headphones you keep on the whole day. (Dynamic sound is in general better, so same here, always let your ears rest.) 

When we are exhausted, natural protection gets weak, and you get damaged. When you are full of energy at the event, your ears are stronger in resisting the volume.

  • While they may seem pricey, spending a decent amount of money on headphones can make a difference.
  • There is a reason why a great pair of DJ headphones will set you back $150+, yet a regular pair of headphones for home use can be bought for as little as $30.
  • Noise cancellation from the earcups, linked with more accurate frequency response rates, indicates that you get a better sound quality. This enables you to produce the same results at a lower volume, which will stop your ears from taking a whipping each and every time you’re DJing.

Recommended:

All About Earplugs

I’ve had earplugs at loud parties since the early 2000s, as a dancer/visitor, DJ, or stage/sound tech.

Even if I had to roll up paper towels, soaking them, and filling in my ears for some protection, if it’s too noisy, I either used the earplugs I took, found some, or made some.

Free or cheap earplugs should be prepared at all but the smallest venues. You can get ear damage from being too close to even low dB speaker stacks. I can pump over 120 dB out of less than 2500 watts of well-tuned pro speakers.

Ever see any photos of old school ravers or house heads sticking their heads into speakers? Or worshiping speakers up close and hugging them?

Most of them were wearing earplugs. People used to give them away at raves, either privately or at vendor tables, or sold very cheap at vendor tables. (At price or less, basically.)

The effectiveness of earplugs 

The effectiveness of earplugs is measured by their Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The higher the NRR, the more protection they will give.

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The highest NRR for earplugs is 33, and there is a small mathematical equation that you can calculate to measure how many decibels they will block: “NRR> Subtract 7 > Divide by 2”

Noise Reduction Rating Calculation

If the Noise Reduction Rating is 33, after subtracting 9, you have 24. Once you divide that figure by 2, you are left with the number of decibels they will actually block. In this case, the decibel restriction would be 12.

The medium decibel output in a nightclub can be anywhere between 80 dB to 135 dB. With that brought into account, even a modest pair of earplugs could decrease your exposure by at least 15%.

If you are a performer and wear earplugs and keep your headphones covering your ears, the extent of protection will increase even more.

How do you know it’s too loud? If you need to raise your voice more than a little or yell at all to have a conversation, it’s seemingly too loud and you should be wearing earplugs.

What earplugs to buy?

You DON’T have to dig deep into your pocket to get super ear protection. You don’t need to sacrifice sound quality for lower volume! There is what is known as “musician’s earplugs.”

Basically, they are earplugs that reduce the “volume” of all sound around you but without muffling anything and keeping everything sounding crystal still.

As I’ve said, I HIGHLY recommend these (and so do hundreds of people who have done any research at all): Etymotic ER-20 Universal Musician’s Earplugs.

You can buy them for under $20 from Amazon or your local musical instruments or DJ store. They will lower the sound volume around you by around 20 dB, which is the distinction between ringing in your ears when you’re laying after a night of clubbing (a manifestation of your hearing being exposed to too loud sound).

If anything, music, and conversations sound clearer and better when you wear these in a loud venue because it lowers the volume of noise around you.

Trust me, find the loose change to get a pair of these, and you won’t have to bother about hearing discomfort after that night out. They are reusable, and you don’t have to wash them. Maybe just a swift wipe with a tissue/cloth to eliminate excess earwax build-up, but that’s it.

I carry them around most of the time and try to remember to bring them with me even if I’m going for a drink, just if I end up at a rave at the last second.

I live in a city with a lot of music culture, so it’s not unusual for me to stumble on free outdoor parties. And I have never regretted bringing earplugs with me. I’ve only ever regretted not having them when I needed earplugs and wanted them.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and researching audio equipment. Tray has over 12 years of experience DJing at home and events.

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