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.
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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 *Update Below*
- 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
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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.
I don’t know about the pro, but I have the normal version of these that have a magnetic catch, so when you take them out the buds connect together so they don’t just fall off. But the big thing, as far as grossness goes, is that the spare pair of buds came in a little baggie in the carrying case. If you go to that website, they have ear wax proof buds, which might cut down on the grossness.
I love mine. I wear them when I cut the grass. I really like being able to listen to podcasts or audible when I am mowing. The battery life is amazing. Last’s all day.
As with any other bluetooth thing, you have to realize that with the buds, the antenna can only be as big as one of the little boxes along the cord where the buttons are. So there are times when, with my phone in my pocket, if I turn my head, the audio might skip because my body is blocking the bluetooth signal.
I’m sure you would have mentioned if it did, and would probably be happier with the audio, but do these have Apt-X / CSR Bluetooth audio codec? I won’t buy anymore bluetooth audio devices without.
From the bulleted list on the IsoTunes website:
– Features aptX® high definition audio playback
I didn’t mention it because when I researched it , I found out aptX is just a proprietary Qualcomm codec. It’s not an open standard, and I didn’t think it was particularly relevant.
If you think it is worth having, I’ll do some more research.
I’m not unhappy with the audio, I think it’s maybe equivalent to a $20 to $30 pair of corded earphones rather than a $90 pair of corded earphones. But you are cordless, getting a 27dB noise reduction, and really good battery life for it’s size
hmm I do use a wired setup from time to time. Shure E3c buds which are which were made to be studio monitors for stage performers. mine are over 10 years old the new models are different.
either way I stick them in – plug to phone or something in my pocket – win. They are 27db reduction too. I sort of like the idea of the BT bit but I’d want it to be up to date and I’d probably want that control bit be bigger
Like the idea might give some a try sometime.
Koko the Talking Ape
I prefer wires to BT. Better sound, usually cheaper, more reliable, no battery to worry about. But around power tools, you have to be careful, as Stuart says.
Useless. What you want for podcasting is a micro mono bluetooth earpiece under your normal earmuffs. I listen to 30+ hours of podcasts per week this way and I tell you – it is the only way. I have a fistful of different earpieces like that, dirt cheap from China with decent audio quality Look up a micro model like S530 or S530 plus, for better audio quality QCY 26.
Thanks, I’ll take a look. Even if I don’t use it all the time, it’s good to have a backup.
Thank you J.G ! I took your advice and purchased the Coualx QY8….
These are Fantastic, The ear pieces did not fit right at first, but these Bluetooth Noise cancelling Earphones came with about 8 pairs of assorted rubber adaptors, so I was ables to set up a very comfortable fit. all for $16.99.. I’m very Pleased /Bob
Best solution I’ve found: https://www.howtogeek.com/57481/how-to-make-custom-silicone-ear-molds-for-your-in-ear-monitors/
It takes a little work, but for the cost of a cheapo set of Bluetooth earbuds on Amazon and the Radians earplug kit, you get excellent sound isolation, comfort, and convenient (low volume) music or podcasting while you work.
I don’t know why but I can’t listen to anything in the wood shop but when doing mechanic or metal work I listen to the radio.
Having voices right in my head is always distracting. No comments please.
Sounds like a no go to me.
If you’re looking for good noise isolation and still maintain good audio quality, take a look at Etymotic’s earphones. You can get custom-fit molds for them but even using the standard triple-flange or foam tips you’ll get an almost dangerous level of noise isolation (you definitely don’t want to go jogging with these). Tools like my lawn mower and Stihl brushcutter are reduced to distant hums.
The ER4x series is their reference-quality earphones. Expensive and pretty unforgiving (you’ll hear the flaws in your music). I also have a pair of their HF5s and those are the ones I generally recommend. Their noise isolation is just as good, the audio is still very good, and they’re a whole lot cheaper. Only downside is they’re not cordless so you’ll need to use a bluetooth receiver (you can find them for ~$10 on Amazon).
Just checked Etymotic’s website to see if they had official NRR figures. Looks like they’re rated at 35-42db noise reduction. Now THAT’s noise isolation.
Excellent review, thanks! I love bluetooth in the car, but I’m still not sold on the headphones. I use an ipod shuffle when working out because they are tiny, cheap (sorta), and I won’t mess up my phone with sweat. For less demanding shop work or for prolonged needle gunning, grinding, etc i guess they might be okay.
I really wouldn’t want to go back to corded headphones.
Yeah sometimes BT can be really finicky, but I look at it this way: If I have to spend a few minutes every now and then fussing with BT not working well, that’s equivalent to having to route headphone cable through my clothes every time I use then so they don’t catch on something.
Even when I run the cord through my clothes I’ve destroyed a few sets of headphones by somehow catching the cord anyway and fraying or breaking it.
If you can find a cheap set like the Motorola S305 I’ve been using for years, BT might be worth a try to see if you like it. Or like J.G. said about a cheap micro mono bluetooth earpiece might be worth trying too.
I have a set of the Pro and I’m fairly pleased with them. I’m not expecting high end quality when I’m mowing or running a saw. I heavily used a pair of Jaybird Freedoms. I wanted them because I hated fussing with wires when I was landscaping and didn’t need hearing protection. I was willing to sacrifice quality for convenience. The sound quality of the ISO tunes is reasonable. Not $90 quality, but like Benjamin said $90 doesn’t do hearing protection and most aren’t cordless.
I can relate to the frustrations of having people want to talk to you with them in. I’ll switch to the rubber tips if I don’t need hearing protection for this very reason. I find the very loud voice prompts unnerving when they power on and when the phone connects. My biggest gripe is reception, they aren’t as good as my Jaybirds. I frequently have audio cut out if my phone is in my pockets. I’m assuming it’s because the Jaybirds had the BT receiver in the earpiece and the ISOTunes is in the control and my neck isn’t helping. I’ll consider running the wire around the front but, contrary to Benjamin, I like it on the back of my neck and out of my way.
I haven’t had the problem with the audio cutting out in my pocket, but I was just using them with the Milwaukee One-Key drill on low and they were cutting out so badly I had to stop using them. I’m not sure if if was the bluetooth or the PWM the drill uses on low speed.
I had a couple situations where I thought it could be interference, but I’m not positive. I did mow and do yard work with the wore around the front and it seemed to help, except for when my arm was directly inline with the phone and headphone controls.
Agiang Joy Andoukie
Hi. Do they block out sounds of people talking loudlynarohnd you?