Quieten down, please!

Perhaps it is a sign of impending middle age, but sometimes many of us wish the world would just quieten down. Colleagues' talking, spouses' snoring, kids' screaming... has someone just turned up the radio?! Too much noise makes it hard to concentrate, sleep or relax. And, for those that have to work in a noisy environment wearing ear defenders or earplugs cuts out high frequencies, but leaves a bass ridden drone that seems virtually unattenuated. Many complain that this imbalance adds stress and fatigue as the brain compensates for the mismatch.

This is also a problem for music lovers that attend gigs giving rise to the question of whether to wear earplugs or not. Wearing them muffles the music and unbalances frequencies, distorting the listening experience. And then there are the musicians themselves, of course, that mostly opt to avoid ear protection for exactly that reason – it muffles and unbalances the music they create.

The challenge

The challenge this month is therefore to come up with a better way of reducing or alleviating loud volumes. An ideal solution would be to attenuate all frequencies evenly, essentially turning down the volume of the outside environment, for example at a music concert.

Alternatively, any solution should also offer the option to, as close as possible, completely block out sound altogether. For example, if you need to concentrate at work, relax on an aeroplane or get some sleep with a ‘snorer’.

Material choice is bound to be important here. Many ear protection products rely on foam materials that work by absorbing soundwaves. However, these tend to only block certain higher frequencies and might reduce potential damage but fail elsewhere.

Sound needs a medium to pass through, so perhaps forming a vacuum in the ear canal might prove the ultimate sound barrier? Keep in mind, however, any solution should be practical to wear and be preferably passive, though this is not a prerequisite.

The solution we have in mind will be revealed in the September issue of Eureka. In the meantime, have a think of how you might tackle this problem, and let us know your ideas by emailing tim.fryer@markallengroup.com or leave a comment on the Coffee Time Challenge section of the website.


The solution to last month’s challenge about how to create a better earplug comes from Kickstarter company Flare Audio with its Isolate product. It claims that these allow people to ‘switch off their ears’, isolating them from the sonic symposium outside.

It certainly placed a huge importance on material choice, avoiding the normal polyurethane foam and replacing it with aerospace grade aluminium, and also a denser titanium for those that need complete attenuation.

Flare Audio said that while solid metal is a good conductor, it need a direct connection to act as such. It said its ISOLATE technology works by using a dense material, in this case a metal, suspended in a soft memory foam to isolate it from the effects of sound conduction. The result, it claimed, is total direct noise isolation.

“When you isolate a small piece of metal or dense material in soft foam inside your ear, sound waves can’t penetrate the flexible medium of air and it becomes the perfect isolator,” said Flare Audio’s founder and inventor, Davies Roberts. “Understanding this principle is what inspired us to develop the perfect ear plug.”

The Isolate earplugs were originally designed for loud music gigs, enabling a reduction in overall volume while keeping frequencies at the same level, however, it uses as a better earplug are ubiquitous.

ISOLATE will go on general sale later this year.