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Not to be that aging millennial, but have you noticed how loud the world has gotten? I'm not just talking about concerts (believe me, this is not some op-ed harkening for more Easy Listening), but the sheer decibel of everyday life. Part of it is living in a hectic city and part of it is how sound sensitivity develops as we grow older. While I used to be that fanboy who hung out right by the front speaker, my precious ears just can't take it these days.
Yet earplugs are something I've always had trouble getting behind. Not only are the vast majority of them decidedly unsexy, they tend to muffle sound in a way that's disorienting. The only thing less pleasant than struggling to hear at a party is feeling like I'm underwater while doing it.
So imagine my (skeptical) surprise when I heard about Loop's earplugs. The best-in-class pick according to Rolling Stone, Wired and the New York Times – who dubbed them "the first earplug every tester said we'd be happy to wear regularly" – they're designed to reduce noise while preserving sound clarity.
It's the kind of technical achievement you'd expect to come in a bulky package, but they're as sleek and stylish as an earplug can get. So though my aesthetic concerns were taken care of when they caught my eye, I had a hard time imagining they'd actually work.
But my interest was officially piqued, at least enough to do some digging. What exactly did Loop do differently that made them such a cult favorite?
CUTTING THROUGH THE NOISE
If you've ever worn earplugs, you've probably experienced the occlusion effect. That's the term for the sensation of certain sounds you make yourself (speaking, chewing, swallowing) being uncomfortably loud while your ears are covered against outside noises. Though all-purpose earplugs might be helpful for blocking out construction sounds – or yes, surviving the right stadium tour – they make having a conversation pretty tricky. When your own voice sounds unnaturally loud, it's tough not to feel self-conscious.
That's why Loop designed a brand-new acoustic channel to filter its Engage earplugs ($29.95). It's specifically engineered to combat that echo-y occlusion effect, allowing you to carry on all kinds of socializing while reducing overall noise input. While this still sounded a little too good to be true on first reading, I was impressed to see that this acoustic channel is proprietary and patented.
Loop offers several other products for all kinds of noise reduction: the Quiet ($19.95), perfect for tuning out and turning inwards; the Experience ($29.95), a mid-range model designed for live events and music festivals. But with a busy calendar of parties ahead of me, I was dead-set on testing the Engage. It was the perfect time to see if they'd help navigate social gatherings and still feel like myself –
And let's be honest, if they'd look good enough that they wouldn't ruin my outfits.
A few days after adding them to my cart, my Loop Engages arrived in a small, sleekly designed pink box. Upon unboxing, I was surprised to find a single pack included multiple sizes of ear tips. While the pre-loaded Medium tips fit my ears perfectly, I appreciate that Extra-Small, Small and Large ones were included also. It opened up the possibility for sharing, while keeping my personal tips sanitary.
As soon as I popped them in, I was slightly disappointed to find that my own breathing sounded loud enough to be slightly distracting. But truthfully, that was because my house was dead quiet. Remembering that these were designed for socializing, I put some music on – and was stunned to find that I heard every nuance of the song perfectly. Taking them back out again to compare, I found that I preferred listening to music with the Engages in: it took out the tinny harshness that came through even on my high-quality speakers.
Next, I FaceTimed a friend, to see what having a casual chat would be like. Here again, I was won over. Not only did I sound like myself in my own head, hearing my friend was a breeze. I put my playlist back on in the background to see if the noises would compete, but still I found it effortless to focus on the conversation in front of me.
With some successful testing under my belt, I felt more at ease bringing them to an upcoming dinner party. Though I still felt a little shy wearing them for the first time in public – even among good friends – their curious questions soon gave way to compliments. Because the fact of the matter is, Loop's earplugs do look pretty great. In the way that AirPods have become their own flattering accessory, my Engages keep a low profile while giving some flair of their own.
Plus, at their sub-$30 price point, they're affordable enough to buy in several colors. The clear Arctic Crystal models are still my go-to, but their black, gold and pink colorways only open up my options. Especially now that wearing them has come to feel like second-nature. I may not have them in 24/7, but if I'm heading somewhere notoriously noisy, I feel better knowing I've got some volume control on hand.
If all of this sounds up your alley except the… y'know, wearing earplugs of it all, take it from a former skeptic. The last accessory I expected to rock has become one of my favorite finds. We've only got one set of ears, so it's important to take care of them.
And if I can feel and look good in the process, then guess what, baby? I'm listening.
FIVE MORE REASONS TO GET IN THE LOOP
- Want a bit more quiet? The Engage Plus earplugs come with a Loop Mute accessory for an extra 5dB of noise reduction.
- Hearing solutions are extra important for festival goers, since even 15 minutes of exposure to 100+ dBs can permanently damage your hearing.
- Though already a very affordable product, Loop offers 25% discounts to students, teachers, veterans, medical providers and first responders.
- They might be tiny, but these earplugs are sturdy enough to be protected under a two-year warranty.
- On top of free shipping for orders above $34, Loop is also offering a Buy 3, Get 1 Free deal – making them a perfect choice for gifting.