Landing a spot 50 feet from the outdoor stage is a summer-concert coup.
But what if the headliners are the Jackhammers, real-life pneumatic tools blasting 95 decibels toward your eardrums?
Music to your ears? Of course not. You're already packing up, ready to leave. Concert sound levels, however, routinely reach 95 decibels, and they're just as damaging, though certainly less grating.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends less than an hour of exposure to 95-decibel sound levels in the workplace. If your ears are ringing after a concert, it's a sign of temporary hearing loss and perhaps longer-lasting, even permanent, damage. Don't boycott concerts this summer, and don't bother standing on your friends' shoulders and screaming, "Turn it down!" It won't work.
Protect yourself, and still enjoy the concert with earplugs designed for music like the Faders VIP by Ear Armor from V-Moda, makers of headphones that, yes, can cause hearing damage if used improperly. The $20 Faders VIP earplugs, whose stainless-steel body, hybrid silicone fittings and safety cable make them look and feel remarkably like earphones, reduce sound levels 12 decibels at all frequencies. They alter volume, not sound quality.
Industrial foam earplugs don't work that way. For the concertgoer, foam plugs attenuate sound excessively in the high frequencies. It's like listening to a concert with a memory-foam pillow wrapped around your head.
Foam earplugs make the wearer's voice sound unnaturally loud, like an out-of-body experience. With the Faders VIP, I could hear normal conversations, my voice sounded natural and I could still listen to music comfortably.
Here's the difference: More than 15 minutes of unprotected listening to 100-decibel-plus music could cause hearing loss. At that same 100-decibel concert with the Faders VIP, the volume reaching your ears would be 88 decibels. You'd be essentially risk-free for about four hours, long enough for every headliner except Springsteen, Phish and a few relentless jam bands.
The real danger is when the concert moves indoors, where exposure for more than a minute to sound that could reach 125 decibels might cause permanent hearing loss. Val Kolton, the V-Moda founder, was inspired to market earplugs after reading a 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association study that found hearing loss in U.S. adolescents up by 30 percent between 1998 and 2006. One in five U.S. teens, the study found, has some hearing loss.
Indoors, the Faders VIP's 12-decibel attenuation might not be enough. For years, I've kept a pair of Etymotic Research ER20 earplugs ($12 a pair, etymotic.com) on standby for indoor shows or clubs. The ER20 earplugs, available in standard and large fittings, reduce sound by 20 decibels at all frequencies. The trade-off is how they look, Frankenstein-like, with their small plastic tips protruding from the ears.
They offer more protection, but less fashion, than the Faders VIP. With four sizes, the Faders VIP should fit all ears. At $20, they're among the season's smartest buys.
Powerstation Pro keeps you juiced
Let's say your party of four has infield seats for the all-day, jam-band fest and, by nightfall, the assorted smartphones and mobile devices start to fail. Then it starts raining. The Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Pro battery pack ($130, mophie.com) is built for this.
With a thick, water-resistant rubber body and aluminum face with four LED status lights, it can charge two USB-compatible devices simultaneously. It's almost ridiculously powerful. At 6,000 milliampere-hours, the Powerstation Pro will keep an iPhone going for more than a day.
As a charger with output up to 2.1 amps, it restored a tapped-out iPod Touch to full power in about 90 minutes while maintaining its own maximum-strength LED power indicator. It won't give an iPad a full charge, though.
It's overkill for most applications, but the Powerstation Pro could become a valuable accessory in the next power outage.
What: Faders VIP earplugs by Ear Armor from V-Moda
Price: $20 a pair, v-moda.com/faders-vip
Hot: Attenuation (12 decibels at all frequencies) that reduces volume, not sound quality. Earphone look-alikes available in gunmetal black, rouge red and electro pink.
Not: Inadequate sound reduction for the loudest concerts.