I liked my old pair of 3M noise-isolating earbuds, so when they finally gave up the ghost, I replaced them with 3M’s new Peltor EARbud Noise Isolating Headphones. The new earbuds are nearly identical to the old ones; the only differences I can see are the color, the angle that the cord comes out of the plug, and the choice of tips to put in your ears. Peltor EARbuds come with two sets of tips: compressible foam Ultrafit tips, and silicone Skull Screw tips. Some folks say foam is more comfortable, but I prefer the Skull Screws, which block more noise.
In the U.S., hearing protection is tested and given a noise reduction rating (NRR). The scale ranges from 0 to 33 dB (decibels); the higher the number, the better the protection. EARbuds have an NRR of 20 dB with Ultrafit tips and 29 dB with Skull Screws—more protection than you’ll get from many plugs and most over-the-ear headphones.
There is a shirt clip and a mute/volume button halfway up the cord, but I would be just as happy to control volume with the media player alone.
The only thing I don’t like about these headphones is that the audio volume is electronically limited to 82 dB—the OSHA limit for an 8-hour day. I sometimes wish I could turn it higher, but then that would defeat the purpose of wearing hearing protection.
If there’s a downside to using hearing protection with audio, it’s that you might be surprised by someone approaching you or not be able to hear someone call out a warning. I won’t listen to audio on a busy jobsite or while operating tools that require a lot of concentration, like table saws and routers. But I’m fine with listening when I’m alone and operating non-hazardous tools, such as sanders, vacuums, and gas-powered string trimmers and blowers.
As with any in-the-ear hearing protection, you’ll occasionally have to clean the tips. This is especially true of these earbuds because if the hole gets clogged, you can’t hear the audio—though they’ll still function as hearing protection. The manual says to clean the tips by wiping them with a cloth. I used alcohol and paper towels to clean the silicone tips on my old earbuds.
3M Peltor EARbuds Noise Isolating headphones are made in China and sell online for about $50.