Earplug vs Over-the-Ear Form Factor

Date: November 8, 2013 | Category: Hearing Protection

There are Basically Two Styles of Communication Headsets to Choose From:



Earplugs - Inserted into the ear canal. They can be pre-molded, moldable/foam, or even custom molded to the wearer’s ear.



Over the Ear - Made with sound-absorbing materials and hard outer shells. Soft ear cushions surround the ear completely. A headband connects the shells.


Each Solution has Benefits and Disadvantages


Benefits Disadvantages
  • When properly fitted the plug seals the ear canal resulting in better noise protection
  • Easier to carry/store
  • More comfortable to wear; lighter and cooler than over the ear type
  • Less bulk makes them more convenient to use in confined work areas
  • Suitable for use with respirators, face-masks, and helmets
  • Some styles use in-ear communication pick-up, eliminating the need for a boom microphone.
  • Requires training to insert and to achieve a proper fit
  • Less noise protection if improperly fitted
  • When worn for long periods, may lose protection due to the natural widening of the ear canal.
  • Wear out over time - Ear Plug solutions should have regular fit tests to ensure the plug is still completely filling the ear.
  • It may be lost or misplaced


Benefits Disadvantages
  • Easier to get a proper fit – more consistent protection.
  • Easier to remove and replace – may be more suitable than plugs in an area with intermittent protection needs.
  • One size fits most heads
  • Not as easily lost or misplaced
  • Easier to see on the job site to verify workers are using required protection
  • The lower level of noise attenuation/protection
  • In warm climates or strenuous work environments, an over-the-ear headset may become uncomfortable due to heat and the extra weight.
  • May interfere with glasses/safety glasses, possibly causing lowered attenuation/protection
  • Difficult to use with personal protective equipment

Take into consideration the benefits and disadvantages of both solutions when deciding which style of communication headset will work best in your work environment.

For example, if you are working an Alaskan oil rig, the ear cushions on the Over the Ear Headset may offer extra warmth to the wearer. This same headset worn on an oil field in Texas may become too warm when worn for an entire workday.

Another thing to consider is the preferences of the wearer; hearing protection that isn’t worn is no protection at all. Be sure to choose a solution that will be comfortable and convenient for use on the job and thought the workday.