Thomas Müeller of Acoustix | Ultimate Ears Stories from the Field

We sat down with Thomas Müeller of Acoustix & Don’t Lose the Music in New Zealand and had a very indepth chat about SPL (sound pressure level) reduction in regards to UE PROs and how that pertained to drummers specifically. First let me give you a little background.

Thomas established Acoustix Hearing Technologies in 2004 and from there has used his expertise to setup ‘Don’t Lose The Music’ an initiative to encourage use of good quality hearing protection for musicians, audio engineers, VJs, DJs and those who enjoy live music or club-going.

Hi Thomas, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I help people who are challenged with their hearing; I understand the technology that is necessary to provide solutions to ensure that they can hear clearly in all sorts of listening environments.

I support and assist musicians, sound engineers and audiophiles in their quest for hearing their perfect sound quality, especially for optimum performance on-stage and off-stage. It is better to prevent and protect than to aid after, as there is no cure for premature permanent hearing loss.

For those are are new to IMEs, In your opinion what are some of the advantages to investing in a pair of custom in-ear monitors versus a generic in ear solution?

Every musician’s ears and ear canals are shaped and sized differently. Advantages that custom In-ears offer over generic In-ears are easy insertion, ease-of-fit, significant noise isolation, and consistent hearing of your own mix because of the exact positioning in your ears every time you wear them. They take away the frustration on stage of not being able to hear properly because generic In-ears are not fitting your ears properly and end up becoming a distraction instead. Cables on custom In-ears are generally replaceable too, as opposed to cables of generic IEMs available on the market.

What was the trigger in starting your research into IEMs and Noise Reduction?

For several years, I have been supplying and fitting musicians with custom ER-Musician hearing protection and/or custom Ultimate Ears In-ear-monitors to help protect and preserve their hearing critical to their career.

One of my musicians, a drummer whom I supplied with custom Ultimate Ears, wondered if the stated level of noise isolation provided was correct.

As all musicians I work with express concern about preserving their hearing as best as possible, and while there is trust in the products I supply, I am looking for efficient and effective methods to verify that these products do indeed deliver the level of attenuation or noise isolation as stated by the manufacturers.

Can you tell us some of the things you discovered?

I have discovered - in my case study with the drummer mentioned above - that his Ultimate Ears do provide 25dB noise isolation across the frequency range of traditional hearing testing from 125Hz – 8000Hz.

So I guess it’s obvious … but things are very loud behind the kit. What would an ideal SPL be?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the deafness that occurs when the ears are exposed to sound decibels in excess of what they can handle.

New Zealand’s national standard for occupational noise exposure is an eight-hour equivalent continuous sound pressure level of 85dB(A) which would be ideal but often is not the case behind a drum kit. Drum kits are significantly louder with 90 -100db considered on the quieter side.

In terms of SPL reduction especially in terms of drummers what are some potential solutions you have thought of?

Drummers who are conscious of their hearing tend to start off with wearing foam plugs, which is a starting point for hearing conservation, which is better than not wearing any protection at all. It is a primitive solution because the density of the foam plug’s material muffles and compromises the audibility and clarity of the music.

The next, most basic solution is using Etymotic Research’s ER-20; these are affordable and offer better (than foam plugs) hearing protection whilst maintaining the audibility and clarity of music much better than foam plugs do.

The solution for a beginner is getting a pair of custom moulded ER-Musician hearing protection, either with 25dB or 15dB attenuation, depending on the music genre. They are obviously pricier, but well worth it as their attenuation characteristics are flatter and an improvement over the ER20’s attenuation.

The advanced potential solution is a set of generic In-ears, which provide noise isolation and better hearing of click-track on stage behind the drum kit.

The professional solution is to invest and acquire a set of custom (Ultimate Ears) In-ear-monitors.

However, I have been informed by drummers that where db levels become excessively loud for them behind the drum kit, especially with various genres of heavy metal music, Peltor headphones (cans) are worn over the top of their In-ears for additional attenuation and better audibility of click-track which has to compete in that environment.

How can we help people understand how severe the potential threat to a drummers hearing is? Do you see the potential evenly across the drum world i.e.(studio musicians vs. live sound, amateur vs. professional) How can we encourage more people to take better care of their ears  

I see the potential evenly across the drummers’ world because there is always the risk and potential of unintentional or accidental damage to a drummer’s ears, whether this takes place in the studio or on stage. I think that raising awareness and education is a positive means of encouraging more people to take better care of their ears; I am certain that they would love to spend quality time with - and be able to hear - their future children or grandchildren later in life.

This is all really fascinating and very useful information. I love what you are doing on do you have a presence in other places i.e. social media or web forums where people can contact you?

I would love to connect with more musicians, especially those based in New Zealand and Australia, and I’m happy to provide further information to anyone who is interested in this research. I also plan to publish material on related topics in future so feel free to follow me on Twitter (@dontlosemusic) or Facebook (

Again thank you for taking the time to sit with us and say a word or two about your research.

Back to PRO BLOG