Etymotic Earplugs: An Audiologist's Review
As an audiologist, I've been privileged to assist individuals from all walks of life in their journey towards improved hearing. I've witnessed firsthand the challenges of hearing loss and its profound impact on people's lives. However, my work isn't only about providing solutions to those who have already experienced hearing loss. Another essential part of my role is promoting preventative measures to help individuals protect their hearing, ensuring they can enjoy the symphony of sounds that life has to offer for years to come. In this review, we'll delve into Etymotic hearing protection - everything from high-fidelity earplugs to top-notch electronic hearing protection that even professional musicians would envy. So, whether you're a music lover wanting to protect your ears at a loud concert, or someone seeking some quiet respite amidst city noise, Etymotic earplugs are a sound choice, pun intended!
Why should you wear earplugs?
Before we dive into the Etymotic earplugs review, let's talk about why you should consider using earplugs. Just pause for a moment and imagine all the sounds you experience every day. Thanks to our ears, we can enjoy the beauty of speech, music, and the symphony of sounds in our world. However, as with many good things, there can be too much. The special cells in our inner ear, called hair cells, react to sounds and send signals to the brain, allowing us to enjoy our favorite song. However, due to the delicate nature of those hair cells, prolonged exposure to loud sounds can lead to irreversible hearing loss.
Did you know that just 15 minutes at a live music event without hearing protection can cause permanent damage? It's true. Plus, you may be left with annoying ear ringing or tinnitus from loud sound exposure. And it's not just a small issue - studies show that 15% of Americans aged 20 to 69 already have noise-induced hearing loss. Don't let your hearing suffer. Use earplugs to prevent this type of damage and protect your ears.
Hearing protection is beneficial in many settings, including:
- Concerts or live music events
- Loud venues like social settings with background noise or music
- Playing musical instruments or band practice
- Riding motorcycles
- Gun range
What to consider when purchasing earplugs?
Now that we've established some excellent use cases for hearing protection let's talk about what to look for in a product. In the following section, I will outline how to assess earplugs so you find the right product.
Going into my Etymotic review, I had the following questions:
- Are the earplugs comfortable for extended use?
- Are they durable for long-term use?
- What does maintenance look like?
- How does music sound while wearing them?
- Most importantly, how effective are they at blocking out noise?
What makes Etymotic unique?
There are many options out there for hearing protection, so you might be asking yourself why you should choose Etymotic earplugs. Well, let me tell you - these are not your average drugstore foam earplugs. Etymotic is a brand that has been in the hearing protection game for over 40 years, and they have perfected their craft.
Etymotic is no stranger to the hearing healthcare industry. The company's history spans four decades in acoustic research and hearing healthcare. Their products are designed with precision and technology to provide the best possible sound quality while also protecting your hearing. They're also the company behind the first insert earphones and the world's first noise-isolating high-fidelity in-ear earphones, in 1984 and 1991, respectively. Their pioneering efforts in this space created a new consumer electronics category. More recently, they joined forces with Lucid Audio in 2018, a partnership built on the shared vision of advancing and improving hearing healthcare for consumers. So, if you're looking for high-quality hearing protection from a trusted brand, look no further than Etymotic.
What makes Etymotic unique is its use of advanced technology to provide clear, natural sound while reducing noise. Many earplugs block out high-frequency sounds, which can alter the quality of the music or speech you're trying to listen to. However, Etymotic earplugs use a special filter that reduces noise evenly across all frequencies. This means you can still hear the music or speech clearly, as it was intended to be enjoyed, but at a safer volume.
With Etymotic's fantastic reputation in the audio space, I was excited to try their products out for myself. So, without further ado, let's dive into my Etymotic earplugs review!
The Etymotic Earplug Collection
Etymotic offers a range of earplugs to meet different needs and preferences. Let's take a closer look at some of their top products:
- High-Fidelity ER20XS Universal Fit Earplugs: These earplugs are perfect for concerts, festivals, and loud events. They have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 13 dB, which means they reduce sound by about 20 decibels across all frequencies. This level of protection is ideal for loud music or social settings with background noise.
- MusicPRO High-Fidelity Electronic Musicians Earplugs: These electronic earplugs are perfect for musicians or music enthusiasts who want to protect their hearing while still enjoying the full sound experience. They use active noise-cancellation technology, so you can hear conversations and music without damaging your ears. The NRR varies from 28 dB with foam ear tips to 24 dB with silicone ear tips.
- Lucid Hearing Motorsports Earplugs: Specifically designed for motorsport enthusiasts, these earplugs offer an NRR of 13 dB, providing protection in noisy environments such as races and rallies. They are designed to fit comfortably and snugly, ensuring they stay in place even during high-speed activities. Additionally, they are constructed with high-quality materials for lasting durability, making them a trusted choice for motorsports events and other extreme activities.
- Lucid Hearing OTC Earplugs: Over-the-counter earplugs are often sought after for their ease of purchase and affordability, and Lucid Hearing fulfills that need without compromising on quality. These earplugs effectively reduce ambient noise with an NRR of 12 dB while ensuring that the sound quality of music or conversations is not compromised. Made from soft silicone material, they offer comfort for extended usage, making them an excellent choice for anyone seeking a balance between noise reduction and sound clarity.
Etymotic Earplugs Review
Unboxing, Testing, and Notes
I had the opportunity to try out four distinct products from the Etymotic hearing protection line. All four products provided excellent noise reduction without distorting the sound. I was able to wear them for extended periods comfortably, and they stayed snugly in place. From high-fidelity earplugs, perfect for music and social events, to specialized earplugs designed for industries and motorsports, they've got something for everyone. I tested the ER20XS High Fidelity Earplugs, the MusicPRO Elite Rechargeable Electronic Earplugs, Lucid Hearing Motorsports earplugs, and the Lucid OTC hearing protection. Stay tuned as I share my in-depth review of these remarkable hearing protection devices.
Lucid Hearing OTC Hearing Protection
Etymotic's partnership with Lucid Audio brought forth the Lucid Hearing Over-The-Counter (OTC) Hearing Protection earplugs. These earplugs replicate the ear's natural response, so the sound quality is preserved but at a quieter level. This means the music and voices are not muffled, making these earplugs ideal for use in concerts, clubs, theaters, aircraft, construction sites, yard work, airshows, parades, and even athletic or motorsports events.
The standard size of these earplugs comfortably fits the majority of ears, thanks to the three-flange design. I found the standard size comfortable to wear. With frequent use, replacing your ear tips every 3-6 months is recommended. However, due to their design and function, they are not recommended for use with impulse noises such as gunfire or for sleeping. The filter that protrudes from the ear canal isn't noticeable during regular daytime wear, but it could be uncomfortable if you try to sleep in them (especially side sleepers). The focus remains on maintaining a clear and natural sound at a safer volume level.
Lucid Hearing Motorsports Hearing Protection
Designed specifically with motorsports and track racing enthusiasts in mind, Lucid Hearing Motorsports Hearing Protection earplugs share a lot of the same great sound quality as the OTC earplugs with attention to fit. Anyone who engages in motorsports knows how snug it can be to wear any extras under a helmet. These earplugs have been meticulously designed to comfortably fit under hats, helmets, and other headgear, ensuring that your need for protection doesn't interfere with your passion for speed.
Their essential function is to reduce the potential for hearing damage caused by the roaring engines of machinery and vehicles, the clamor of tools in a pit stop, the boisterous crowd at sporting events, and even the thunderous beats at concerts. These earplugs are your ultimate companion to protect your hearing without compromising on the thrill and excitement of the event.
However, it's important to remember that these earplugs are not recommended for use with impulse noises such as gunfire. They're also not designed for sleeping or swimming. Their primary purpose is to provide clear, natural sound at safer volume levels in loud, adrenaline-pumping environments.
ER20XS Universal Fit
The ER20XS earplugs from Etymotic stand out with their reusable, low-profile design. They nestle discreetly in the outer ear with minimal protrusion on most ears, making them comfortable to wear at concerts without drawing attention or clashing with your outfit. I found them very comfortable for extended wear. The earplugs include a small, flexible pull tab for easy removal, a convenient neck cord, and a carrying case with an attachable keychain loop, making them user-friendly and portable for on the go. Performance-wise, the ER20XS earplugs match the original high-fidelity Etyplugs developed by Etymotic for musicians. Without compromising protection, they offer an identical response through 4 kHz and an improved high-frequency clarity above 4 kHz. The richness of music is preserved, and speech remains clear, just quieter, with a 13 dB NRR for equal sound reduction across the frequency spectrum.
MusicPro Elite Rechargeable Electronic Earplugs
One of the most exciting products in Etymotic's hearing protection line is the MusicPro Elite Rechargeable Musicians Earplugs with Active Hearing Protection. The MusicPro Elite earplugs are a true game-changer. The first thing that caught my attention was the carrying case. It feels like a small toolbox that holds everything snugly in place and fastens securely shut. Inside the case, you'll find two pairs of ear tips and one pair of foam tips to ensure you find the perfect fit in the ear. The soft silicone is comfortable in the ear, and the foam tips allow more flexibility in fit, as they can expand to fit various ear canal geometries. However, foam ear tips will need replacement after each use.
These earplugs come with a higher price tag, but I was genuinely amazed with the sound quality. After a short time, I forgot that I was wearing them. These earplugs represent a significant leap in hearing protection technology and are designed with musicians and discerning ears in mind. The primary goal is to deliver natural sound quality while providing essential protection when noise levels risk damaging the wearer's hearing. The MusicPro Elite employs active technology that continuously examines incoming sound and operates in two distinct modes: low and high.
The Low mode provides transparent pass-through audio for sounds under 90 dB, beginning compression at 60 dB. If the noise level surpasses 90 dB, the earplugs offer 15 dB of attenuation for sounds above this level. They feature a super-fast attack and release, effectively attenuating only the harmful noise. The High Mode, on the other hand, amplifies soft sounds and conversational speech while maximally reducing loud, impulse sounds. This dual-functionality allows for a versatile and adaptive hearing protection experience, catering to various environments.
The attenuation is also impressive on these devices, with an NRR of 28 using the foam tips or an NRR of 24 with the three-flange style. I found that the sound quality remained high, even with the attenuation. The earplugs are visible in the ear but resemble an earbud.
One point to note: the control function buttons are not synced, so you'll need to press the button on each earplug to change them.
I loved the convenience of the rechargeable case, which can recharge the earplugs up to 20 times on a full charge. The earplugs themselves last up to 16 hours on a single charge. You can also connect the case to a USB port or wall charger to recharge, making it easy to keep them powered up for your next event.
How did Etymotic earplugs do on testing?
When it comes to comfort, the Etymotic earplugs exceeded expectations. Their ergonomic design and hypoallergenic silicone material ensure a snug fit that doesn't cause discomfort even with prolonged usage. However, it's essential to note that the superior comfort offered by these earplugs hinges on correct usage, including proper insertion and sizing. So, how do you ensure that the earplugs are inserted correctly? Here are a few tips:
- First, pull your ear upwards and outwards to straighten your ear canal.
- Next, gently insert the earplug, twisting it until it's seated comfortably in your ear.
- It's also critical to ensure you have the right size. If the earplug constantly falls out or causes pain, it might be too big or small. You may need to try different sizes to find the perfect fit.
Proper insertion is essential for maximum attenuation and comfort. The three-flange style stays in place well but also creates a pressure seal in the ear canal. It's critical to insert and remove them gently. The instructions layout very well how to properly insert and remove the earplugs.
The Etymotic earplugs are extremely durable, designed to last anywhere from 3 to 6 months, depending on the frequency of use and care. This ensures you get top-notch hearing protection for an extended period. The availability of replacement ear tips further enhances the durability. These can be purchased separately, making it possible to maintain the effectiveness of the earplugs even after the original ear tips have worn out.
A noteworthy aspect is that the Motorsports earplugs and the OTC hearing protection are accompanied by a small, square carrying case. Although useful, a case with a keychain loop might be more user-friendly, as not all users may remember to carry the case in their pockets. Cases like this are hard to locate in a purse or bag. However, Etymotic has considered this in the design of the ER20XS, which does come with a small attachable keychain. In addition, the MusicPro Elite Electronic earplugs are equipped with a neck cord, helping users keep track of their earplugs and ensuring they are always within reach. This attention to detail underscores the brand's commitment to user convenience and accessibility.
Keeping your Etymotic earplugs clean is crucial for their longevity and your ear hygiene. Regular maintenance will ensure their optimal performance and durability. While foam earplugs cannot be cleaned, most of these earplugs use silicone ear tips.l Fortunately, cleaning these earplugs is a straightforward process. Here is a simple guide to cleaning your Etymotic silicone earplugs:
- Gently remove the earplug from your ear. It's essential to avoid pulling too hard, as this could damage the earplug and cause discomfort due to the pressure seal.
- Using a baby wipe or damp cloth, gently clean the surface of the earplug. Baby wipes are a good choice because they are soft, gentle, and contain mild cleaning agents that won't damage the earplug.
- Clean the ear tips, but be sure not to push any debris further into the earplug.
- After cleaning, allow the earplug to air dry completely. This is essential as any moisture left inside the earplug can create build-up.
- Store your clean earplugs in their protective case to keep them safe and clean for their next use.
Remember, consistent cleaning and proper storage is the key to maintaining your Etymotic earplugs and ensuring they last. It's also essential to replace the ear tips as recommended by the manufacturer to maintain their effectiveness.
In terms of sound quality, Etymotic earplugs are simply top-notch. There's no denying the outstanding reputation that Etymotic has built over the years; thankfully, their earplugs don't disappoint. They are designed to reduce noise evenly, maintaining sound quality while protecting your hearing. Whether it's the thunderous roar of a rock concert or the subtle echoes of a classical symphony, the Etymotic earplugs work to deliver the true essence of the sound, just at a safer volume. This balance between protection and sound fidelity ensures you never miss a beat while safeguarding your hearing.
The variety of products on offer from Etymotic caters to a wide range of attenuation requirements, which is a notable advantage. The filter used by Etymotic is designed to reduce noise across all frequencies evenly, which means that you can still hear the music clearly, even at a lower volume. From musicians who need to protect their hearing without compromising on sound quality, to motorsport enthusiasts who need to block out harmful levels of noise, there's something for everyone. A standout feature is the smaller filter tip found in the motorsport earplugs. This minute detail may seem insignificant to some, but for a motorbike rider, it's a game-changer. The smaller tip offers a comfortable fit without sticking out and improves the wearing experience, greatly influencing whether someone wears the earplugs consistently while on the bike. Etymotic's understanding of its users' needs shines through in these thoughtful design elements. The versatility across their range and commitment to comfort and functionality make Etymotic earplugs a sound choice for any noisy environment.
However, it's essential to note that while the non-electronic hearing protection offers good sound quality and comfort, these earplugs are not sufficient for use at the gun range or other very loud environments. Despite their excellent noise reduction capabilities, they may not offer the high level of protection required in environments with extremely high decibel levels. In such cases, it would be advisable to use earplugs specifically designed to handle extremely loud noises or to supplement the earplugs with over-the-ear protection. It's always better to err on the side of caution when protecting your hearing, especially in environments where noise levels can exceed safe limits.
The benefits of Etymotic earplugs include:
- High-quality sound
- Comfortable fit
- Fits most ear canal sizes
- Effective noise reduction
- Durable construction with replacement ear tip options
- Easy maintenance and cleaning process
- Versatile range of products to suit different needs and environments
Overall, Etymotic earplugs are a reliable choice for protecting your hearing in various noisy situations. They offer high-quality sound, comfortable fit, and effective noise reduction without compromising on style or durability.
The drawbacks of the Etymotic earplugs are:
- No keychain attachment for the OTC and motorsport earplugs carrying case
- Clear earplugs are more prone to discoloration with wear
- The electronic earplugs are a fantastic product, but cost may be prohibitive
Etymotic emerges as an understated winner in the hearing protection category. Its offerings may not boast the curb appeal of Loop or carry catchy names like Eargasm. Yet, they deliver where it truly matters - effective noise reduction, exceptional sound quality, and superior comfort. These earplugs are a testament to the adage that sometimes, the substance is indeed more significant than the style. The OTC and motorsport earplugs are budget-friendly hearing protection for nearly all ear sizes and shapes. While the electronic devices may come with a higher price tag, the quality of sound, comfort, and durability they bring to the table makes them a worthwhile investment for those seeking maximum, high-fidelity, reliable hearing protection. Etymotic earplugs are, thus, an excellent choice for preserving your hearing without sacrificing the pleasure of sound.
In conclusion, as an audiologist, I can attest to the importance of adequate hearing protection. Etymotic earplugs genuinely live up to their promise of exceptional sound quality, comfort, and effective noise reduction. Fortunately, the range of hearing protection products means that there is something for every budget, and it only takes a small investment to protect your hearing health. In our world, it's crucial to protect our hearing, and it's much easier to do it when it doesn't mean compromising our enjoyment of music and sounds around us. Whether you're a musician, a motorbike rider, or simply someone who values your hearing health, Etymotic earplugs are a worthwhile consideration.