It’s been a while since the last ear plug review was published on webBikeWorld, so I thought it might be time for another.
I had a new batch of non-disposable ear plugs that I’ve been trying out over the last several weeks, and I offered to write an article that would take a quick look at some of these new and different ear plug styles.
The importance of ear plugs for motorcycle riding has been covered ad infinitum on webBikeWorld, so I won’t get into it again here, other than to say that motorcycle riding is a very noisy sport and it’s absolutely crucial to protect your hearing.
Once it’s lost, it’s lost for good. So protecting your hearing (and your eyesight) is essential. More on this on the webBikeWorld Helmet Noise page and the Ear Plugs page; also be sure to read the various ear plug reviews, listed in the right-hand column.
Like everyone else I’ve met who are involved in the webBikeWorld reviews, I always wear ear plugs when riding. We literally have dozens of boxes of ear plugs of all different shapes and sizes that we can choose from. But most riders find a favorite type and brand that fits well and is comfortable.
The definite consensus here is that the high-quality disposable ear plugs with high Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) of 30 or more are the favorites and, dare I say it, overall these type are the best we have found at reducing noise — when they fit correctly.
We have tried many, many different types of ear plugs and so far none of the non-disposable, or what I sometimes call semi-permanent types come anywhere close to the noise protection (i.e., attenuation) that is provided by the best of the disposables.
Favorite disposable ear plugs used frequently here include the Moldex Pura-Fit 6800 (the all-time favorite and the benchmark used for this article); Silencio ear plugs; Hearos; EAR E-A-Rsoft Grippers and others (all reviewed via the links in the right-hand column).
By the way, the uncorded EAR E-A-Rsoft Grippers are unfortunately no longer made; Rick bought a case of 4 boxes some time ago and when they’re gone, that’s the end of a really fantastic ear plug. What a shame! But, I suppose one could buy the corded Grippers and cut the cords off. I have not tried this though.
I’m not sure if there will be another disposable ear plug review on webBikeWorld this year, but in the meantime, I have this batch of unusual ear plugs that I purchased recently, and I wanted to see if any of these non-disposable ear plug styles have improved. A couple of us have tried this type on the past but haven’t really found one that compares well to the disposables.
There was no particular strategy to my purchases; I just searched around and bought a few different types. I also bought an at-home, do-it-yourself ear plug molding kit that I intend on using, and I’ll report back on that. It’s a bit fussy so I just haven’t taken the time yet to mix the compound and take my ear impressions, then send away the package to get the ear plugs molded. It’s kind of a hassle, but one of these days I’ll get to it.
Now before I get started on the reviews — and note these are just a quick take on each particular type — I’ll steal my own thunder here and say that none of these non-disposable ear plugs come anywhere close to the noise protection or attenuation that I desire. That’s just my opinion on it; I’m coming to the conclusion that the semi-permanent type ear plugs just don’t cut it when it comes to noise reduction.
And besides, most of them are uncomfortable for me. They may work for some people, but I haven’t found a pair of non-disposable ear plugs yet that both reduces noise to the levels comparable to the best of the disposables and are as comfortable either.
Plus, the non-disposable ear plugs must be cleaned often. I think it’s much better to have a few pairs of disposables when on a trip, so if one pair gets dirty, another clean pair is readily available. Remember to dispose of these carefully, or at least don’t throw them on the side of the road!
And, it’s too easy to lose a pair of ear plugs or drop them on the ground, so depending upon a single pair of non-disposables can be a problem. And finally, they’re expensive. Other than that, they’re fine!
The non-disposable ear plugs I’m reviewing here include the Alpine MotoSafe Hearing Protection System; Skull Screws (by the makers of Hearos); the WindTamer Motorcyclist Ear Plugs; and something a little different, the Blockade High Fidelity Noise Isolation Earbuds, which also act as speakers.
The Alpine MotoSafe ear plugs were suggested by a few of our European visitors. MotoSafe ear plugs are made by Alpine International BV (aka Alpine Hearing Protection) in The Netherlands. They make several types of ear plugs, each labeled for different activities, but they all look similar. These are the “Professional Driver’s” ear plugs.
Their distinguishing feature is a removable and replaceable central “wind noise” filter insert, seen as the yellow and green parts above. The MotoSafe ear plugs are supposed to allow the wearer to hear ambient noises, while they “guarantee optimum protection”.
The MotoSafe package includes the single set of ear plugs shown above, along with the two different noise filters. The green filter offers “medium” protection, while the yellow filter is supposed to provide “high” protection. The package also includes a small tube that can be placed over the end of the ear plug stem to insert it or remove it from the ear. A small red textile case is also included, which can be used to store the ear plugs and parts.
The double cups on the MotoSafe plugs just don’t fit snugly into my ears. It’s like they’re too short and too rounded to grip inside my ear canal. So it was very difficult to keep them in my ears.
As with most ear plugs, the best way to insert them is to reach around the back of the head with the opposite hand and pull the ear up and back to stretch open the ear canal while the ear plug is inserted. Once the ear plug is in, the ear canal sort of tightens up over the ear plug.
But the MotoSafe ear plugs don’t feel secure in my ears. That may be one of the reasons why they just didn’t perform for me. I’d say they only reduced the noise about half of what a good foam disposable ear plug is capable of.
The NRR of the MotoSafe ear plugs isn’t clear to me; there’s no one single number on the package. But neither the yellow nor the green noise filters seemed to do very much. I can hear too much wind noise inside a full-face helmet. So I can’t really recommend these. The price seems high also; it’s pretty easy to buy an entire box of 200 pairs of, say, Moldex Pura-Fit 6800 or other nice foam disposable ear plugs for that amount, and they’d probably last as long or longer than the Alpine MotoSafe ear plugs anyway, which are difficult to keep track of and easy to lose or misplace.
WindTamer Motorcyclist’s [sic] Ear Plugs are another type of semi-permanent silicone ear plug. These have 6 cones or circles designed to grip the inside of the ear canal.
There’s some type of small insert in the center; it can just be seen in the WindTamer ear plug on the right in the photo above, just under the large cup. This is a Hock’s Noise Braker Acoustic Damping Filter, which is supposed to “use the laws of physics and the principle of resonant decay” to “reduce all sound approximately to the volume of normal speech”, according to the insert in the package.
The entire body of the plug seems relatively soft and comfortable, and the 6 cones do grip the ear canal much better than the Alpine MotoSafe ear plugs. But be careful — the WindTamer ear plugs are about 30% longer than the MotoSafe ear plugs, and it seems relatively easy to insert the WindTamer ear plugs too far, to a point where it can cause some pain. In fact, my ear canal hurt every time I used these, and I still hurt after I took them out.
WindTamer ear plugs are relatively easy to find for sale at various motorcycle retailers.
Sorry — these just don’t seem to do the job any better than the MotoSafe ear plugs. I can hear too much wind noise inside the helmet and they seem to provide only about 1/2 the noise reduction of the benchmark Moldex Pura-Fit 6800 disposable ear plugs. That, combined with the uncomfortable pain I feel, makes these a non-starter.
I couldn’t find any manufacturer’s claims on NRR for these.
Price: $9.95 Manufacturer: TM Manufacturing, Inc., but unclear who actually makes these and I can’t find a website. Made In: Unknown
Skull Screws by Hearos are apparently supposed to be making ear plugs “cool”. I’ve seen them in a few H-D shops and other cruiser locations. Notice the photo above — the ear plug body is actually shaped as a screw, and the holder that comes out the end looks like a bolt.
So the idea is that when these are “screwed” into your ears, the “bolt” hangs out the side and you look like Frankenstein. They come as one pair in the small plastic case shown above.
The problem is that the body of the ear plug seems too soft. It looks like disposable foam ear plug material, but it feels sort of like soft rubber; they’re supposed to be designed to make it unnecessary to roll them up before inserting them in the ear. Also, that “bolt” that runs up the center is made from hard plastic.
I can feel it under the softer rubber, and the end of the bolt sticks out too far, so it touches the liner of some helmets and dislodges the ear plug as I pull on the helmet (full-face). Also, these are long and feel hard and they are uncomfortable with that center plastic “bolt”, so I feel pain when wearing them. Perhaps these are designed for open-face cruiser helmets?
If the ear plugs are not inserted correctly and if a part of the ear plug touches the helmet liner, we have found that more noise can be transmitted to the rider than wearing no ear plugs at all.
The manufacturer rates these as an NRR of 30, and I’d say they seem to be transmit about 1/3 more noise than a properly inserted pair of Moldex Pura-fit 6800 ear plugs. This is mostly due to the fact that I can’t quite get the Skull Screws to seat correctly; the rubber seems almost too pliable. The bottom line is that they just don’t seem to work all that well and may have more style than substance — if screws coming out of your ear can be considered stylish.
Price: $5.49/pair Manufacturer:DAP World, which is Aero Technologies (Hearos). Made In: U.S.A.
Blockade Noise Isolating Earbuds
Here’s my separate Blockade Noise Isolating Earbuds review. This was moved to its own page rather than include it with the others, because these also function as acceptable speakers. Believe it or not, these actually seem to work better than the other non-disposable ear plugs reviewed here.
I had planned on including the Perfect-Fit Breaker-Vented Custom Noise Reduction ear plugs in this survey of non-disposable ear plugs, but I just haven’t been able to make the molds yet. So I thought I would include a photo anyway.
This kit was purchased from the Earplug Superstore; it’s expensive at $129.95. As you can see, it looks a bit complicated. The product is mixed together and a mold must be taken of the ear canal, then sent away in the included box to get the permanent ear plugs made. I haven’t worked up the ambition to do this yet.
Although I’m interested in trying these, the problem here will be keeping them clean and not losing them. Also, the manufacturer specifically does not list an NRR for these, which is curious.
There are many types of custom ear plugs available; these are the Perfect-Fit Breaker-Vented Custom Noise Reduction ear plugs, made with a “Hock’s Noise Braker installed that lets the inner ear breathe and lets the wearer hear normal speech”.
The company claims that “the Noise Braker acts to prevent hearing damage from extremely loud noises including gunfire, nail guns, concert music, wind noise on motorcycles and many noises commonly encountered in manufacturing environments”. We’ll see…
I just haven’t experienced anywhere near the noise reduction I feel is safe with any of these non-disposable ear plug types. I I suppose something is better than nothing, but I’d much rather use a good disposable ear plug like the Moldex Pura-Fit 6800 or the EAR Grippers with an NRR of 32, both of which I think are much more comfortable and offer better and safer noise reduction.
From “M.F.” (11/09): “I am a psychotherapist and an ex-music teacher so my hearing has always been important to me. Thanks for emphasizing this important little equipment item.
I think that the reviewer’s main problem with these non-disposables comes down to fit. As with other safety equipment, if they don’t fit well they will be uncomfortable, less effective, and less likely to be worn. Certainly, lack of a snug fit will negatively affect the amount of noise reduction.
I have found that the Hocks Noise Brakers work well for me, but not right out of the box. When I first got them they stuck out a little too far inside the helmet, so I cut down the stem a bit. After rummaging through the garage for a pair of needle nose pliers to help me get them out of my ears (oops), I ordered another pair. This time I cut off the smallest flange and they work perfectly.”
From “P.O.” (5/09): “I used the Alpine ear plugs several times. While they worked OK for me (but then, I’m 64 and surely have some hearing loss already), the problem I found with them is that when inserted deep enough to work well, they were then so far in and firmly planted that it proved very difficult to remove them by myself.
I have since gone to Etymotics’ hearing protectors, which must have a similar system to pad the volume down about 20 dB while preserving the normal frequency response one usually hears. The Etymotics protrude slightly farther than the Alpines, allowing both more control when inserting them and making it much easier to remove them.
I just purchased another three pair from Amazon at about $9-11 per pair, and plan to give a pair each to my daughter and her fiancée to bring to rock concerts, as one can still hear the music just fine, it’s just quieter with the Etymotics in place.”
From “D.C.” (5/09): “Like you I tried several disposable style ear plugs. While most were comfortable I could never get them to stay in correctly and they usually came out a bit every time I put on my helmet. I was at a Cycle World show and decided to buy permanent custom ear plugs from Big Ear. They work great and seem to reduce the ambient noise better than the foam ear plugs. They cost around $70 but well worth it. I would highly recommend them to anyone and have.”
From “B.G.” (5/09): “Since you reviewed the Perfect Fit kit at $129, I would like to mention custom made earplugs from an audiologist.
I’ve purchased 3 pairs total in 6 years and love them. Noise rating is 30Db, and they cost me $50/pair. You do have to be careful about not losing them, but I find that getting them in the really bright orange color helps when you do drop them.
Since they’re custom made, the fit is very comfortable and I can insert them in about 1 second per ear – no rolling foam between my greasy fingers.
I buy mine from someone who has a booth at a motorcycle show, but just about any audiologist can make them.”
From “W.J.” (5/09): “In regards to the comment (from W.W. below) that disposable plugs can be reused, I strongly suggest that as a bad idea. While I use mine for about a week on my work commute, which comes out to about 10 times, they are noticeably degraded at the end of the week. This makes them both harder to insert properly and also noticeably reduces their effectiveness.
Also, many disposable ear plugs are constructed of open cell foam, which means that they tend to harbor and grow bacteria over time. The foam cannot be sanitized by washing because you cannot clean all those pores out. I personally don’t think it is worth the risk and I think it is very bad advice when the whole object is protecting your hearing.”
From “W.W.” (5/09): “Environmentally, disposable earplugs are pretty bad for the environment. You can wash them and reuse them. I found out by reusing a couple plugs that I found in pockets of pants that had gone through the washer. They work just fine.”