David Frane_Castle Crest Media LLC

Plugfones are earplug headphones that allow you to listen to audio while blocking ambient sound from tools and machinery. There are a few different models; I have the most basic corded model and the Bluetooth model.

Corded Plugfones plug into the jack of a smartphone or media device. When paired with a phone or media device, the Bluetooth version allows you to listen to audio without a wired connection—and allows you to answer the phone or ignore a call with the push of a button.

The world is filled with wired and Bluetooth devices that allow you to listen to audio with ear buds or plugs. What’s different about these is they have an EPA noise reduction rating (NRR), so you know they will block a certain amount of ambient sound. Plugfones’ devices have received an NRR of 25, which means they will reduce noise exposure by about 25 dB. The earplugs need to fit perfectly for this to happen so the manufacturer (of these and other earplug phones) recommends cutting the NRR in half (de-rating) to account for a less than perfect fit. So if you’re working in an area with 100 dB of sound (for example—a circ saw or chain saw), Plugfones will reduce your exposure to somewhere between 75 dB (100-25) and 88.5 dB (100-12.5). It’s worth noting that the PEL (personal exposure limit—as set by OSHA) is 85 dB for an 8-hour day. Subject your ears to more than that on an ongoing basis, and there's a good chance your hearing will suffer.

The models I tested block external sound without limiting the volume of your audio device—so if you crank up the volume, you may subject your ears to enough sound to damage your hearing. A surefire way to avoid this is by using one of Plugfones’ VL (volume limiting) models. VL models limit audio volume to a maximum of 82 dB. The downside is there may be times when the ambient sound drowns out the audio from the volume limited headphones.

Plugfones are available in a number of colors and models. I had the basic corded model (Executive; about $25), which comes in gray. Identical models are available with orange (Motorhead), pink (Performer), or green (Ranger) plugs. The “Contractor Yellow” model has yellow plugs and is equipped with the volume limiting feature mentioned above (costs approximately $30). The cordless Bluetooth “Liberate” model goes for about $100.