I like to listen to music and podcasts while I’m working, but hate having to stop and restart every time I do something loud. This is why I like solutions where I can have both hearing protection and audio together.
My previous solution of plugging a Bluetooth adapter into a pair of WorkTunes stopped working well. There was a bad connection in the plug and the audio would randomly cut out.
One option would be for me to buy 3M WorkTunes Hearing Protector with Bluetooth. The price has gone down since then, but another product came to mind.
Recently I’ve been seeing several other tool reviewers thanking IsoTunes for giving them IsoTunes Pro noise-isolating Bluetooth earbuds to try, but I hadn’t seen many actual reviews. Figuring I could kill two bird with one stone, I decided to buy a pair and do a review. I could have asked for a sample, but I was tired of working in silence and wanted to get them now.
After a bit of searching, I found the IsoTunes Pro earbuds on sale at a local Rockler. I called to make sure they were in stock and then went to pick them up immediately. The sale is over unfortunately, but I paid $80 at the time. After applying some gift cards that were burning a hole in my pocket, I barely even noticed the charge on my card.
As soon as I got into my truck, I pulled them out of the packaging and started charging them so they would be ready when I got home. With this break in the story, let’s go over the features and talk about what these earbuds can do.
The IsoTunes Pro are Bluetooth earbuds that when properly inserted into your ear can reduce exterior noise by 27dB. They are OSHA-compliant hearing protection, plus they limit the in-ear playback volume to 85dB so you can’t ironically damage your hearing using hearing protection.
They feature Bluetooth 4.1 and are compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled devices. They do implement the EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) feature of Bluetooth, which hopefully means they won’t cut out or garble audio as much as older Bluetooth headphones can.
IsoTunes says the Pros are rated to IPX4, making them sweat and splash proof, and presumably this applies to both the ear buds and the inline controller.
The controller has play, pause, and volume controls, as well as the ability to change tracks. It also has a noise cancelling microphone for taking calls. The USB charging port lives on the side with a little rubber door to protect it from water and dust.
Although the battery is tiny — it lives in the little inline controller — it can power the earbuds for up to 10 hours of audio or talk time. You can also supposedly leave them on standby for 10 days straight, which is helpful if you forget to turn them off at the end of the day.
Rather than using a photo of my ugly mug, ear hair and all, here’s one of IsoTune’s models showing how the earbuds are worn. The tip of the earbud goes into the ear canal and the body rests inside the ear. The first few inches of wire out of the earbud are memory wire, which you can bend it around the back of your ear to help keep the earbud in place.
The tips of the IsoTunes Pro are removable. Each set come with three different sizes of memory foam tips to fit different sized ears canals, plus an additional soft rubber tip.
Also included with the IsoTunes Pro earbuds are a USB charging cable, earbud cable organizer clips, and a carrying case.
IsoTunes gives the Pro earbuds a 1 year warranty and will refund your money if you send them back within 30 days of purchase. They list for $90 on the IsoTunes website. If you order from their page you can save $10 in exchange for giving them your email address. You can also choose free standard shipping, so it looks like you can get them shipped to your door for $80.
Buy Now (via Product website)
Alternately you can get them shipped for free from Amazon for $90
Buy Now (via Amazon)
It was just recently announced that you can buy replacement tips from the IsoTunes’ Website. A 3-pair pack will run you $17.
When I got home, I bunched up the medium foam tips that come installed and jammed them into my ears. They weren’t very comfortable, but I thought I’d try to get used to them for a while. After wearing them with these tips for a few hours, my ear canals were sore. So I tried the smaller tips and it made a huge difference in comfort. I haven’t had any discomfort since switching.
The tips can be removed by unscrewing them from the threaded stem of the earbud body. IsoTunes provides small, medium, and large foam tips as well as soft rubber tips. I’d definitely recommend experimenting with the tip sizes if you experience any discomfort.
You can just see the threads inside this foam tip.
To properly insert the foam tips in your ear you have to crush them as small as possible and quickly stuff them into your ear before they expand. Above you can see the size difference between a fully expanded foam tip and one that’s been squished. I found that even with the smallest tips, I still have to apply pressure for several seconds as the tips slowly slide into my ear canal and seat properly.
Stuart’s Note: Pulling up on the top of your ear with your opposite hand can sometimes make for a better fit, as with disposable foam ear plugs. I believe that’s the “proper” way to insert expanding foam ear plugs.
Next, you have to turn the body of the earplug so it sits correctly in your ear. Finally, you need to guide the wire around the outside of your ear until it wraps around the back of the ear.
The photos on the IsoTunes site show the wire connecting the two buds wrapping around the back of the neck, but I’ve been routing it in front because I find it disconcerting having something touch the back of my neck while I’m working. The way I’ve been routing the wires also makes it easier to find the controller.
The process of getting the earbuds in place properly still takes me about 10 to 20 seconds per ear, even after using them for several weeks.
I was surprised when I first inserted the earbuds and turned them on. When you first turn on the earbuds, they say: “Power on, your phone is connected” at maximum volume, which I thought was way too loud. I found that even when you’ve adjusted the volume, the announcements the earbuds make on power up and power down are always said at full volume.
The first few hours I was listening to podcasts and I was a little disappointed with the audio quality, this is also when I was using the larger foam tips. After attached the correct size foam tips for my ear canals, and acclimating to the sound of the earbuds, I feel the audio quality is adequate. Of course sources are going to vary wildly, but I find speech is clear and understandable and I’ve even come to like the quality.
Then I started listening to music and was pleasantly surprised, especially by the bass response. I like listening to faster and heavier rock, metal, and pop, which usually has quite a bit of base and the earbuds kept up quite well. And when the occasional cheerier higher pitched song slips into my playlist, the high frequency response is adequate.
I know people are concerned about damaging hearing using earbuds that isolate outside noises, but I’m not sure how you could even come close to damaging your hearing listening to audio with the IsoTune Pro earbuds in your ears. I find that I have to turn the volume to about a quarter of full to to listen comfortably. I don’t know what dB this ends up being, but I’d hate to try to use these at the max limited volume of 85dB.
The reason you are using these though is to protect your hearing, and while audio quality is important, the bigger question is how well do these earbuds attenuate loud noise. I’ve used these earbuds mowing the lawn, using saws, running the vacuum, and running my dust collector, and I can listen to a podcast at the same level as when it’s silent around me — I don’t have to raise the volume to hear the audio clearly.
Lately I’ve been noticing that one of the most jarring noises in my shop is when I’m using air to blow things off. While other machines are loud enough to be annoying and eventually cause hearing damage, I feel that I’m damaging my hearing instantly when I pull the trigger of my blower. When I’m wearing the IsoTunes Pro earbuds, that sound doesn’t bother me a bit.
As for comfort, I’m used to wearing earmuffs in the shop, and I like being able to take them off and replace them quickly. The downside is that they can interfere with safety glasses. I’ve never been a fan of the in-ear hearing protection. It’s kinds of gross, it takes time to insert and remove them, and did I mention it’s kind of gross.
After using the IsoTunes Pro earbuds for a while I think I’m over the grossness. Or maybe it’s just the foam doesn’t pick up as much earwax as other in ear protectors I’ve worn.
The time it take to remove and re-insert the earbuds is still a problem. With ear muffs, when somebody wants to talk to me I just pull them off, but with the earbuds, I’ll try to listen to them, get frustrated, and end up pulling one bud out of an ear so I can hear them. If it isn’t something important, I get a little cranky because I have to spend time getting the tip to sit properly in my ear again.
I haven’t had any issues with the quality of the earbuds other than after a few days of the badge fell off the left earbud. It seems the glue failed. The other badge is still firmly affixed, so this just must have been a fluke.
As far as quality of build: I’ve removed and replaced the tips more times for pictures than most people would using them for a year, and the connection between the earbud body and tips is as solid as ever. The only build quality issue was that name plate falling off, but that’s just a decoration.
I’ve since listened to the IsoTunes Pro earbuds for several hours a day for a few weeks. I’ve decided the audio quality is decent. I don’t think it’s as good as a pair of $90 earbuds, but then most earbuds don’t have a 27dB NRR rating either. Noise isolation is also very good. I’ve only ever raised the volume one click when using tools.
One thing aspect that surprised me is that these earbuds have paired flawlessly every time I’ve turned them on. I haven’t had a glitch yet. I’ve had connection issues with most other Bluetooth devices I’ve used.
- Good noise reduction
- Decent audio quality
- Doesn’t interfere with glasses
- Connect reliably to my phone
- Can be gross or uncomfortable
- Putting them in is harder than slapping on muffs
- A little more expensive than similar solutions
If you don’t mind wearing in-ear style hearing protection and want to listen to audio while you work, I’d definitely recommend giving the IsoTunes Pro earbuds a try. I haven’t tested the policy, but again supposedly IsoTunes will take them back if you don’t like them.
Stuart’s Safety Note: Even though these are wireless, there’s still a control and power cord connecting the ear buds to each other. There are certain types of power tools I would be reluctant to wear any kinds of cords around. Just something to keep in mind.