- Comfortable and secure fit
- Good for noise sensitivity
- Interesting style and lots of color options
- Great for people who want some hearing protection but don’t spend long periods of time in extremely loud settings
- Relatively affordable for reusable earplugs
- Less noise reduction than other earplugs; there are better options for overall hearing protection
- The tips can be difficult to attach
In my early 20s, I worked at three different music venues as a cocktail server, often finding myself crouched over to hear someone’s martini order screamed into one ear while a jazz trumpet or guitar ripped through the other.
Most times I wasn’t wearing earplugs. I usually only wore them if the band was exceptionally loud or if I hated the music (which, unfortunately for my ear health, wasn’t too often). I turned away from my better judgment and the example set by some more health-conscious musicians because the often-provided foam plugs, while excellent for protecting hearing, often made it difficult to communicate with coworkers or customers and distorted the quality of the music.
In other words: they killed the vibe.
My experience and lapse of judgment may be part of ground zero for what public health experts see as a growing threat: noise-induced hearing problems in younger populations exposed to more noise. Had I taken my hearing health as seriously as I took other aspects of wellness, I would’ve made the time to research and invest in a reusable pair of earplugs that suited my work life and personal needs.
Is there a middle ground between doing something to protect your future hearing and not compromising your current experiences? Is it possible to reduce noise without it being super obvious? Loop is one brand that seems to think so. The company’s products have an attractive appeal, with flashy, fun colors and a namesake “loop” hook attached to each plug that makes it almost look like jewelry. While far from the only company making reusable earplugs, and many of them have higher noise-reduction ratings, Loop has done a good job marketing its versatility.
To contextualize all the hype, I tested Loop’s three main categories of earplugs: Quiet, Engage and Experience. Here’s what I found.
What are Loop earplugs?
Loop is a brand of earplugs; the company was founded at the end of 2016 with nightlife and tinnitus risk in mind. Loop has set itself apart from other earplugs with its vast color variety and distinct design.
Loop makes Quiet, Engage, Experience and Switch earplugs, the latter of which is built to “switch” between the three modes. It also sells Plus versions of the Engage and Experience, which adds 5 dB of noise reduction SNR. (The European rating that measures sound attenuation. The US measures in NRR, or noise-reduction rating.) You can make any pair of Loop earplugs a Plus by purchasing a mute.
I tested the following three:
Engage: Up to 16 dB noise reduction or 10 dB NRR; designed for environments where you want to block out some background noise but still want to be able to talk a little and hear some things. They cost $35.
How to fit Loop earplugs
When you get your box of Loop plugs, you’ll open it up to a pair of earplugs with a medium-size tip. The box also includes three other tip sizes should you need to go up one size or down a size or two.
You’ll also see a QR code with instructions. It’s best to follow the instructions and avoid my mistake, which was trying on the earplugs, needing a different size and really struggling to attach the tips to the earplug base because I didn’t look at the instructions and was doing it wrong. (This was especially hard with the Quiet plugs, which have a rubbery base instead of solid like Engage and Experience.) The correct way to do it is to flip the tips up, exposing the connecting piece of the earplug tip which should fit snugly over the base. I still struggled a little, but someone with steadier hands and more patience may have more luck.
You’ll know you’ve found the right-size tip when you fit it in your ear canal without any discomfort or pain (this means it’s probably too big). It should also be relatively snug; a too-small earplug could go too deep in your ear canal or feel loose. You’re supposed to angle the Loops back so they’re not sticking forward.
Each pair of Loop earplugs comes in a small, circular case, making them easy to transport in your pocket or purse and keep clean in the meantime. (Another one of my pet peeves about ear plugs: keeping them in my pocket and then transporting debris and bacteria into my ear canal when I insert them. So I liked the case.)
How we tested Loop earplugs
I wore Loop earplugs off and on for a handful of days in a variety of environments: at the grocery store, working, walking through the city, on the subway, in busy cafes, at a live music show, at a fitness class, at home and in front of a Bluetooth speaker.
In many cases, I compared the Experience and Engage against each other since they’re most similar in noise-reduction rating and versatility. To get the overall rating for Loop earplugs, I considered:
The fit: How securely the earplugs fit, and whether they stay in during exercise or motion
Comfort: Relatively speaking, how comfortable are these earplugs to wear?
Noise-reduction rating: How protective against very loud noise are these earplugs?
Sound quality and marketed purpose (when applicable): I considered what Loop says the earplugs can do and how they performed. I didn’t compare the Quiet earplugs in this way, because they’re a more “typical” earplug meant for sleeping or focus, rather than engagement.
Style options and overall look: How novel the earplugs look and how many choices there are in color and style may play a role in how likely someone is to actually use the earplugs once they’ve bought them.
I also considered Loop’s status as a reusable earplug; the company says its earplugs last for up to five years.
I was most skeptical about the Engage earplugs, because the things that bother me most sound-wise — hearing other people’s conversations when I’m trying to focus, noise when I’m trying to sleep — have been helped by other “tools,” if you will. These include my Sony noise-canceling WH-1000XM4 headphones, binaural beats playlists like this one and a white noise track I play at night.
I’ll give credit where credit is due: I wore these while writing in a cafe where people were talking nearby and there was generally a little hustle and bustle, and they did, in fact, smooth off some of the noise that I probably would’ve noticed otherwise. I could still hear people talking, but I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.
I also wore them to the grocery store, which I thought made for a more pleasant experience. For anyone else who finds shopping a bit overstimulating at times, these earplugs did make it a little less “much,” and I could still comfortably talk with the person behind the register when it was time to check out.
That’s probably the most impressive thing about the Engage (and to a slightly lesser extent, the Experience) earplugs: you’re able to still communicate with people, just with a little less volume. Your own sounds coming from your head aren’t as overpowering as they are with other earplugs, including the other Loops. This does come at a cost: the Engage filters less noise at 16 dB SNR/10 dB NRR. This is much less noise reduction than the Quiet and other earplugs on the market.
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I was most excited about the Experience earplugs because I wanted to try ear protection designed to uphold music quality. I took these to a blues show (SaRon Crenshaw Band at Terra Blues) and I really barely noticed I was wearing earplugs. The music still sounded loud and clear enough to where I felt I could still enjoy it. I’ll definitely bring them along to shows again.
Even outside of live music, I found myself loving the Experience earplugs much more than I thought I would. It took me a few uses to notice this, but the Experience earplugs appear to filter out lower frequencies, which made the subway a more pleasant experience. Like the Engage, they don’t filter that much noise, and I could still hear my surroundings, but they quieted things down in a way I really liked.
I’ll also note here that I tested both the Experience and Engage at a HIIT Pilates workout class, where I knew the music would be moderately loud and the instructor would be shouting. Both the Experience and the Engage stayed in my ears while I was jumping around and sweating. As far as which ones I enjoyed more during a workout, I’d say neither, as they did make it harder to hear the instructor over the music, and I prefer my ears empty during exercise. But they stayed put, so either would be a good option for people who want an earplug to wear for exercise.
Some caveats about the Experience: I wore these while eating and could hear myself chewing quite loudly, which may be unpleasant to people sensitive to chewing or breathing sounds. They also made it more difficult to hear conversations: Outside the music venue where I tested them, I had to take one out to properly hear the person talking to me. Also, they don’t filter as much noise as other earplugs marketed toward music lovers, like the Minuendo earplugs that offer up to 25 dB attenuation, although at a higher price.
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The Loop Quiet is one of the best pairs of earplugs for sleeping because of how easy they are to adjust and their relative comfort. Unlike the Experience or the Engage, Loop Quiet has soft “loops” that stick out of your ear canal. This makes them less likely to fall out while sleeping and more comfortable to sleep in. They also filter the most noise out of all of Loop’s standard earplugs.
Because they’re meant for sleep and muffle sounds more generally — and my personal goals for wearing earplugs are preserving music quality and reducing background noise — I found them the least useful. Unlike the Experience, they aren’t specifically designed to honor sound quality or give you more awareness of your surroundings.
While working, they did muffle sounds around me, and more so technically than the Experience or Engage, but the difference in reducing the volume of people’s conversations around me wasn’t noticeable enough for me to prefer the Quiet over the others for working.
I also tested all three pairs of Loop earplugs doing the noisiest thing in my apartment: grinding coffee beans in my incredibly loud coffee grinder. (I sometimes wear my noise-canceling headphones while using it.) For the best protection against this, I will hand it to the Quiet plugs. It still seemed quite loud with Engage and Experience.
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Loop Experience vs. Loop Engage
As someone who’s been earplug-adverse, I liked Loop earplugs. I was proven wrong about the usefulness of the Engage and Experience earplugs, and without having compared them to other earplugs designed specifically for music, I will wear the Experience earplugs again when seeing live music.
Experience and Engage are quite similar, and it took me a while to fine tune the differences. People looking for a way to stay engaged with their environment, just at a reduced volume, will probably find either beneficial. But based on my personal noise sensitivities and preferences in noise reduction, my favorite Loop earplug is the Experience, which will now also be my go-to grab for long subway rides. As someone who’s distracted most when I can hear conversations, I’d still have to give it to the headphones playing white noise or binaural beats in the most extreme circumstances demanding focus — so people with extreme noise sensitivities may need to layer their options. But I was pleasantly surprised by how all the Loops reduced some murmur and background buzz.
If I were to do the whole thing again, I’d spring for a “mute accessory” to have the option of reducing noise a little more, since the Engage and Experience earplugs aren’t built for serious noise reduction, which leads me to the last point.
Loop is made for noise sensitivity, not strong hearing protection
Thinking back to my serving days when I was around very loud sounds multiple times a week, I did question to what extent Loop’s earplugs (or many other earplugs on the market) could actually protect hearing. Plugs like Experience reduce sound by up to 18 dB SNR or 7 dB NRR, depending on if you’re looking at the European or US certification. (To find the NRR rating, you need to do a little digging on its website as Loop displays its (higher) SNR rating on each product page.) But foam plugs, by contrast, have an NRR of 31 dB. (A note to anyone trying to convert noise-reduction ratings to real-life meaning: how many decibels you’re actually reducing is complicated and is more than a matter of simple subtraction.)
So Loop is an earplug for people who want to reduce volume or bring it to a safer level, but they shouldn’t be used as heavy-duty hearing protection. People who live or work around constant loud noise, including construction, air traffic or music should speak to an audiologist or doctor to make sure they’re finding the right hearing protection. Earplugs can also be custom made. While this is more expensive, these cusom-made earplugs may be a better option for someone who wants the versatility of something like Loop with improved noise-reduction capabilities.
Whether you’re actually willing to wear earplugs and how long you’re exposed to loud noise also play a role in hearing health, according to Lindsay Creed, associate director of audiology practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. A person who works multiple days a week around loud sounds (whether it’s music, construction, air traffic or something else) would have a different level of risk compared with someone who occasionally goes to a concert or wants to reduce the volume of their daily commute. And for people who rely on sound or hearing for a living, the best protection health-wise won’t be the best protection at all if it’s a nuisance to use.
“We always have to find this balance of what’s the least amount of attenuation we need to give you to protect you,” Creed explained to me. “But not so much it’s not completely ruining your ability to self-monitor.”
Basically, some noise reduction is always better than nothing — especially if sound quality or the ability to interact with your environment is keeping you from using anything at all. Part of what it means to be “well” is taking calculating risks weighing what you know is best for your health with what feels enjoyable. For that, Loop definitely meets a need.