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#1 2013-03-15 16:56:24

Seth
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From: Toronto
Registered: 2011-04-06
Posts: 158
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Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Basically, the occlusion effect as I understand it is the resonance that builds in the ear canal when plugs or in-ears are worn, as sound is plugged like a tub inside. This can cause flat pitch perception, but more frighteningly, hearing damage. As you can imagine, the very reason I would wear/do wear ear plugs is to protect my hearing, so thinking I may do the opposite is really scary.

My last band practice I started without plugs (we don't play that loud, but I am pretty close to the drums) and then I switched to plugs (some ones I found in my house, silicon, with the spiral cones, no attenuation add on far as I could tell) which gave me a a significant DB reduction. On the outside anyway. The thing is, I don't know how accurately I was singing. It felt a lot better, I wasn't straining at all because I could hear exactly (or I thought exactly) what was coming out. I know there is no way besides asking my band members (who were also mostly plugged) and recording to hear if my pitch was compromised. I suppose I could crank the vocals so I can hear them better from the outside.

But even if I am singing as well as I thought, it does not ease my concerns of the other component of the occlusion effect, hearing damage. I felt like my ears might have been ringing later that night, which is something that never happens when I play unplugged. If I am damaging my hearing from the inside from the resonance of my own voice, that is no good. Though, I guess it means my technique is fairly good, haha! 

I noticed a couple threads on this topic, but it related more to the pitch perception side of things than the hearing damage (which as a musician and music enjoyer) is higher priority.

What are the experiences and opinions of our very own Modern Vocalist Forum members? Maybe you have this figured out. Maybe have some plugs you could... plug. Or maybe you have further worries you could impart onto me about this seemingly unavoidable hearing damage.


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2013-03-15 16:56:24

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#2 2013-03-16 01:33:48

ronws
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Registered: 2010-05-23
Posts: 11731
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

I think the notion that you can damage your hearing from the inside by wearing earplugs is wrong. You just stated, yourself, that you can hear better what you are doing, which allows you to strain less. Your only concern was that you might be a little flat, since you are cutting down the piercing quality of sound. But what's the difference between that and having your hearing flattened by the sound without earplugs?

Unless you think you sound better while your ears are ringing.

Wear the earplugs. Quit worrying so much.


"When the daylight is rising up in my eyes ..." - Klaus Meine

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#3 2013-03-16 01:39:21

FelipeCarvalho
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From: Brasil
Registered: 2011-07-28
Posts: 2889
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

I am a bit concerned with the "hearing inside" part. You should "feel" it more but not really hear, when you let go of hearing (ear plugs will make you not listen yourself so much) you focus better on the tactil sensations.

If you are feeling your voice going against your ears, its a sign you are creating too much pressure in that area. Sending the voice back?

Last edited by FelipeCarvalho (2013-03-16 03:26:50)

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#4 2013-03-16 10:01:57

Gina Ellen Vocalist
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Registered: 2012-01-18
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

I just got myself some of these http://www.hearingprotection.co.uk/ and they are amazing. Perfect attenuation, did a hearing test with the on and off to prove it. Don't know if you can get them in the US. They are £165 but well worth it.

I never got on with the standard earplugs but was more that I couldn't hear the rest of the band like i should be able to


Professional vocalist in Devon, England. Here's the link to my website: professional vocalist in Devon
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#5 2013-03-16 10:40:24

ronws
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Registered: 2010-05-23
Posts: 11731
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

And if i remember my conversion correctly, that would be about $200 USD. (ever since FDR, the the british pound has always been strong against the dollar. Even more so now that our government has gone on printing money spree.)


"When the daylight is rising up in my eyes ..." - Klaus Meine

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#6 2013-03-18 17:29:17

WebAndNet.com
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From: Houston
Registered: 2008-11-24
Posts: 402
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Occlusion effect is a more bassy hearing of one's own voice when something is in the ear.   You can experiment with this yourself but simply pushing the ears shut with fingers and humming.

Most earplugs are not linear in frequency reception, so, yes with foam earplugs, you might sound flat.   There are several products that will can solve this.   The best I've seen are Etymotic's--preferably custom Musician's earplugs or the less costly Musicians earplugs.

With the standard Musicians earplugs ($15 US), these will not get rid of occlusion, but music will sound great.

If getting custom made ones, request deeply inserted custom made earplugs ($225).   These come with different filter strengths (5, 15, 25 db).   The deep insertions will significantly reduce occlusion (I believe by over 85%).  When shopping for deeply inserted custom earplugs, find audiologist who really knows what he or she is doing.   These go deep into the ear canal.

Hearing is mental as well as physical.   So, for example, if one puts in earplugs for some time, surprisingly, the ears will actually want to hear better, so amplifies sounds.   The earplugs will protect much of the sounds coming in from ear itself (but not the bassy sounds coming in from the bones).  But, the ears wants to hear better still. 
So, I guess it's possible that you will hear tinnitus (mental) even after wearing earplugs.

Anyhow, the answer is custom made, deeply inserted earplugs.   You can also reduce tinnitus by using nature sound machines.

Whether one's in a band or works at a bar, it's a good idea to wear earplugs for musicians-- sounds great.   I've seen so many bar staff members lose their hearing.

Last edited by WebAndNet.com (2013-03-18 17:45:40)


Chen Sun
www.WebAndNet.com, Strategic Web Marketing
www.VocalPosture.com, currently a blog, has unique singing-related content-- posture and voice, vocal structure, ergonomics, Zen and ancient philosophies' relevance to voice.   http://Chen.WebBIZcard.com, a prototype webpage of an invention, is ready for implementation.   This is ideal for any entprepreneur wanting to create a vocalists' or musicians directory.  Thanks

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#7 2013-03-19 01:28:09

ronws
TMV Forum Member
Registered: 2010-05-23
Posts: 11731
Reputation :   139 

Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Good post, Chen.

I even wear earplugs when I mow the lawn. I want to protect what I can of my hearing as I get older.


"When the daylight is rising up in my eyes ..." - Klaus Meine

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#8 2013-03-19 16:54:43

Billy Budapest
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Registered: 2011-01-14
Posts: 420
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Interesting post- I have noticed with In Ears (I never am without them) that pitch can be wonky sometimes. I just saw an interview with Neal Schon (Journey... dang, is it Journey week here or sump'in??) and he was saying the same thing. He notices singers that use the in ears can have issues with pitch, where when they were using wedges (the same singers) they didn't.  He cited Stevie Wonder. That's not to say in ears are bad. They're definitely great and help to save your voice. When I notice this happening is when I have them up too loud. If you have them up too loud, you might not support your voice the way it needs to be supported, and you end up being under pitch. Of course, you usually don't notice this unless you record yourself. AND you shouldn't have them up too loud anyway. Many times, I'll pull one out. This supposedly can give you problems too, but it can also help you.

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#9 2013-03-19 20:49:49

WebAndNet.com
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From: Houston
Registered: 2008-11-24
Posts: 402
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Occlusion is caused by the air space between the blockage of the ear and the eardrum.   So, the more deeply inserted the earplug, the less air space, and the less occlusion.

I've never worn the electronic earplugs, but their effect on occlusion remains dependent on the depth of insertion.  Of course, one can really turn up the electronic earplugs' volume, and (mental) hearing adapts by lessening the occlusion heard.   Some pro singers have audio technicians adjust positioned microphones tied into electronic earplugs so that they hear whatever they're paying attention to. 

Anytime, one inserts inserted ones, it takes some time to adjust to.   So, Billy, you're right, pitch changes definitely can occur.   Also, even the Musicians earplugs filters are not perfectly linear in frequency response.

Last edited by WebAndNet.com (2013-03-19 20:50:59)


Chen Sun
www.WebAndNet.com, Strategic Web Marketing
www.VocalPosture.com, currently a blog, has unique singing-related content-- posture and voice, vocal structure, ergonomics, Zen and ancient philosophies' relevance to voice.   http://Chen.WebBIZcard.com, a prototype webpage of an invention, is ready for implementation.   This is ideal for any entprepreneur wanting to create a vocalists' or musicians directory.  Thanks

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#10 2013-03-20 01:09:29

ronws
TMV Forum Member
Registered: 2010-05-23
Posts: 11731
Reputation :   139 

Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

Billy Budapest wrote:

Interesting post- I have noticed with In Ears (I never am without them) that pitch can be wonky sometimes. I just saw an interview with Neal Schon (Journey... dang, is it Journey week here or sump'in??) and he was saying the same thing. He notices singers that use the in ears can have issues with pitch, where when they were using wedges (the same singers) they didn't.  He cited Stevie Wonder. That's not to say in ears are bad. They're definitely great and help to save your voice. When I notice this happening is when I have them up too loud. If you have them up too loud, you might not support your voice the way it needs to be supported, and you end up being under pitch. Of course, you usually don't notice this unless you record yourself. AND you shouldn't have them up too loud anyway. Many times, I'll pull one out. This supposedly can give you problems too, but it can also help you.

I am actually inclined to agree with you on that. Billy. I have worn construction grade plugs (because I have worked in construction) and they are rated to knock down 30 dB. What that does is protect against the sound pressure waves, the real culprit of damage. But I notice no pitch attenuation or pitch shift. So, yeah, maybe a singer is better with just ear plugs, rather than IEM's. For IEM's are mixed through a board, no? And likely to have eq values that can throw you off. As opposed to just plugs, where you can still hear the pitch of the instruments on stage.

But most of my public performances are no more than some small club with whatever pa exists.

Or over acoustic instruments, sans amplification, though I have sang over my own guitar through the amp, too.


"When the daylight is rising up in my eyes ..." - Klaus Meine

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#11 2013-03-20 01:22:24

Billy Budapest
TMV Forum Member
Registered: 2011-01-14
Posts: 420
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Re: Occlusion Effect and Ear Plugs

I think IEMS are a GodSend. They make doing 4 hour weekend gigs so much easier. But SOMETIMES they can wank with your pitch. Ear plugs might help, in fact, my guitarist wears them, but I think that if you're singing and playing with them, that you won't be able hear one of them (your voice or your instrument). I learned over 15 years ago- NEVER trust the monitor guy. With IEMs, I can make my own mix because I know what I need and so I do my own mix. I can ALWAYS hear myself and with wedges, it was a mess. I'll take being able to hear myself over yelling over a lousy wedge mix any day of the week. For me, I have to hear the high end of my voice, or I'll push to hear it. Even if it's there, I'll push harder if I can't hear it. I usually dial in just a touch of high-end eq. Barely any, just so that I can hear those high frequencies a bit better.  With ear plugs, I tried those too, but I never had much luck. I remember Dennis DeYoung used to wear at least one ear plug before IEMS. I'm not sure if he uses IEMS now or not, I would imagine so.

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