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This is Stuff We Swear By, a series in which our editors expound on an item they use (and love) on a daily (or near-daily) basis.
Description: I’ll be honest — most of my experience in New York blocking out noise has involved headphones and, more recently, active noise-canceling earbuds. Even when my buds are “off” they usually provide enough of a buffer to drown out the worst the city has to offer.
But sometimes I want to minimize what I’m carrying, and even a pair of earbuds can take up space in my pocket. I’ve also been trying to find a solution for loud bars or rush-hour subway stops that still allow me to hear others and be aware of my surrounding environment (and if I’m walking around, take special notice of oncoming cars and bikes).
Plus, listening to earbuds to drown out noise comes with its own problems. “When confronted with loud environments, be they airplanes, subways, coffee shops or even suburban sidewalks, our natural instinct is to up the volume on our earbuds,” my co-worker Tanner Garrity wrote in 2020, also noting that we can only handle 89 decibels for about 90 minutes a day…and AirPods can certainly go louder.
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The World Health Organization estimated in 2015 that 1.1 billion young people were at risk of hearing loss due to headphone and earbud use associated with smartphones. So maybe it was time to put down the earbuds and pick up some earplugs (it also didn’t help that my own hearing has notably depreciated in the past 2-3 years).
So I tried Loop. As the brand story goes, Loop was co-founded by Maarten Bodewes and Dimitri O, friends since high school, who started the company after they both got tinnitus but couldn’t find ideal earplugs. They both had some background in the field: Dimitri O’s mother is a hearing specialist, and Bodewes wrote an essay about earplugs in 2011 at the Antwerp Management School. With their line of colorful products, the idea was to make earplugs akin to sunglasses — no stigma, but stylish and something easy to take along and help you deal with uncomfortable environments (albeit sound instead of light).
How I use it: I tried out two Loop releases — Quiet and Experience — over a few weeks while on the subway, in a plane and in a chatty office. Since the concerts I had planned were mostly canceled or postponed during this time, I also tested these on a Times Square subway platform at rush hour as a subway station musician banged on the drums.
If you go to Loop’s website they offer up a quiz to help you find the right earplugs. I just kind of guessed. Both of the plugs I tested were made of soft silicone and were much more flush in my ear than any earbud. Each one also came with four ear tip sizes and a compact keychain carrying case that was (again) much smaller than any earbuds case I’d ever slipped in my pocket.
Basically just an ear tip and a silicone loop ring, the buds fit easily and snugly into my ear canals. Interestingly, Quiet is the cheaper option but the one that’ll block out the most noise (it claims 27 decibels) — supposedly ideal for sleeping or more extreme environments. Experience blocks out up to 18 decibels, and is geared more toward everyday life.
Side note: While the below social media update from Loop showcases a user utilizing Loop at a concert, they also have ’em in while driving — which, the brand admits, may not be legal everywhere. We’d suggest not wearing them if you’re operating a vehicle.
Why I swear by it: Overall, these plugs did exactly what they suggested. With Quiet, the drums on the subway became a low, distant thud and my friend’s conversation disappeared completely. With Experience, I could better hear the subway approaching and make out subway announcements — meaning, they were as garbled as usual but certainly less aggressive. Both provided a nice muffle on airplanes and drowned out louder co-workers.
The only drawback I discovered to Loop was sort of pitched as a benefit — they’re tiny, which can make the plugs awkward to both get out of your ear and place into the minuscule carrying case (I dropped ‘em a few times). If the case itself had something that could hook or latch onto the plugs, that might have helped.
One interesting advantage: Loop earplugs come in multiple colors, and you can buy more colors as accessories. At first, I wondered why I’d want, say, lime green plugs in my ears — but then I realized that a bright color visually “tells” people that you have something in your ear far better than a black earbud. And that visual clue means maybe they’ll leave you alone … or yell louder. It’s New York, either is possible.
Other options: Announced just this month, Loop Engage is supposed to offer a filter of 16db of noise reduction, making them possibly even more ideal than the Experience as an everyday, reusable earplug that you can wear in bars or at parties (or around the office).
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