I tried Flare Calmer earplugs to help my sound sensitivity, and now I can enjoy going out again

All three sizes of the Flare Calmer earbuds sat in front of the open carry case
(Image credit: Future)

As a neurodiverse person, sensory stimulation can be entirely overwhelming. Add to that the rich heritage of misophonia from my mother’s side, and I’m in for a treat whenever I leave my house.

A few years ago, I had little choice but to pull up my big girl pants and head outside with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to hand, but the pandemic and the resulting increase in availability of goods online meant that I quickly reverted to  becoming a bit of a hermit – until I started using Flare Calmer, that is. 

Flare Calmer are earplugs, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of removing or reducing sound altogether, the silicone hearing device is designed to reduce certain frequencies and sound distortion using a tiny waveguide, dampening the resonance that happens in the concha of the human ear. 

Basically, these earbuds are designed for people with sound sensitivity, reducing some of the harsher frequencies that tend to be the major stressors in neurodiverse and misophonic people.

Might I finally be able to leave my house again without feeling so anxious and overwhelmed? I put the Flare Calmer through their paces in three different environments that typically trigger my sound sensitivity, and here's what I found.

  • The grocery store
  • A busy restaurant
  • On public transport

Not soundproof, but sound smart

Before leaving my house, I was keen to get a feel for my new buds. When you first put them in, you won't exactly feel an immediate sense of bliss. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to notice any difference at all if you’re already in a relatively quiet environment. Leave them in for a few hours, though, and you’ll most definitely feel their absence.

Flare sent me three sets of buds; the standard earplugs, the Flare Calmer mini and the Flare Calmer Pro, which is lined with an aluminum waveguide. 

The standard and mini sizes both fit my ear comfortably, but the standard worked slightly better for my personal ear size. These felt perfectly fine to wear for hours on end with minimal discomfort, although the first few days I wore them, my ears were quite itchy at times.

I found the Calmer Pro buds significantly less comfortable, though, suitable only for about 2-3 hours max in my experience. However, the payoff is that they perform far better. My ears would ache after around the two-hour mark, which continued for some time even once I'd removed the buds, so these felt more like buds for special occasions such as concerts or sporting events.

Diagram showing how Flare Calmer reduces resonance in the human ear's concha

Diagram showing how Flare Calmer reduces resonance in the human ear's concha (Image credit: Amazon / Flare Audio)

Stop, look, listen

First, I thought I’d start small with my outdoor adventures with a trip to the grocery store – although the environment can actually be one of the most anxiety-inducing for me. 

The bright lights and high ceilings, the maze of aisles and the constant hum of ambient sound from freezers, fridges and cash registers really itch my brain, so I’ve barely been able to pop to my local store since the pandemic began.

With the standard Flare Calmer in situ, I headed out. Since I was about twelve, I’ve always worn earbuds in my ears when I’m out and about walking, even if I'm alone. This has led to a few too many close calls with speeding drivers and even some unsavoury characters – so this was a big deal for me.

I didn’t notice any immediate effects, but certainly found myself jumping less at surprising sounds. In the supermarket itself, I felt more focused and in control, which made what can sometimes be an hour-long, distressing trip into one that took only forty minutes.

The next stop was eating in a busy restaurant. Eating sounds, heavy breathing and even the sounds of coughing and sniffing can significantly trigger my misophonia, especially when in close-quarter environments and combined with clanging cutlery. 

Using the Flare Calmer buds in this environment was almost a little weird, and I think will just take some getting used to. However, I found my ears attuning even more so to the sound of talking on nearby tables when the higher-frequency sounds were trimmed back – which was a little distracting, to say the least. 

It’s been a long time since I didn’t feel a degree of anxiousness in this kind of setting, so perhaps this is just what it’s like for everyone; but I felt a little like a spy in a movie, wearing an earpiece with which I was trying to listen in on dodgy dealings nearby. Nevertheless, it was a definite, albeit subtle improvement.

The Flare Calmer Pro earbuds in someone's hand

(Image credit: Future)

Do you hear what I hear?

My last test with the Flare Calmer earbuds was on the London Underground; a fearsome opponent for any audio device. From the screeching of decades-old tracks to the whistle of uncomfortably hot wind whipping against the carriages, there’s no subway quite like it – much to the chagrin of my ears.

An intrepid explorer sporting newfangled gear, I minded the gap and traversed two of the most notoriously loud train lines, according to passenger complaints (Evening Standard) – the Northern and Victoria lines. 

In short, I’m pleased to say the earbuds worked… kind of. Surprising and sudden noises, in particular, proved a lot less stressful for me, and I was far less jumpy in general. This is especially true while wearing the Flare Calmer Pro; instead of hyper-fixating on the uncomfortable sounds, I was able to maintain focus and do some writing, which is rare for me while in transit. 

However, note that the Flare Calmer certainly aren’t – nor do they claim to be – noise-cancelling earbuds, so you can’t expect them to eradicate all of the worst audio on public transport. My go-to will always be headphones; however, I found traveling with others a lot more enjoyable when I could quickly pop in my earbuds and speak freely.

On the road again

The Flare Calmer buds aren't suitable for round-the-clock usage; we still don’t know how much, if at all, they might affect our ears long-term. However, from the past few weeks testing these buds, I can say that they’ve certainly helped me take a step towards living comfortably.

Conditions such as misophonia aren’t terribly well understood at present, and we still have so much to learn about neurodiverse conditions. As matters improve, this understanding will filter across to product design and development. 

Products such as the Flare Calmer are demonstrating how simple, well-designed tools can help improve our quality of life – and for me, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Josephine Watson
Managing Editor, Lifestyle

Josephine Watson (@JosieWatson) is TechRadar's Managing Editor - Lifestyle. Josephine has previously written on a variety of topics, from pop culture to gaming and even the energy industry, joining TechRadar to support general site management. She is a smart home nerd, as well as an advocate for internet safety and education, and has also made a point of using her position to fight for progression in the treatment of diversity and inclusion, mental health, and neurodiversity in corporate settings. Generally, you'll find her watching Disney movies, playing on her Switch, or showing people pictures of her cats, Mr. Smith and Heady.