3M Peltor EARbuds
3M Peltor EARbuds

A few years back I bought a set of noise isolating ear phones for use in the shop and yard. They fit in your ear like plugs and connect by wire to a 3.5 mm stereo audio jack that can be plugged into media devices such as MP3 players and phones. I bought them for those times when I wanted to listen to music or podcasts and it was too hot to wear earmuff headphones or when I needed hearing protection that could be worn with a face shield or full-brim hat.

Recently, one of the buds began to cut in and out due to wire fatigue where the cord goes into the jack. I was feeling cheated because I used them only once or twice per week. But when I looked on Amazon to see when they’d been purchased I realized I’d had them since 2009. Based on the amount of time I spend in the shop and yard I had to have gotten at least 350 hours out of them, which isn’t bad given the number of times the cord had been snagged and the jack yanked out of the media player.

The buds I had (3M AO Safety/3M Tekk 99014 Blockade Noise Isolating Earbuds) are no longer made so I replaced them with 3M’s Peltor EARbud Noise Isolating Headphones. The new ear buds are nearly identical to the old ones; the only differences I can see are the color, 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 have the advantage of blocking more noise.

In this country hearing protection is tested and given a noise reduction rating (NRR). The scale goes from 0-33 dB (decibels); the higher the number the better the protection. EARbuds have a NRR of 20 dB with UltraFit tips and 29 dB with Skull Screws—which is 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 half way up the cord. I like the clip but 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 coming up on 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 ear buds 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 ear buds.

3M Peltor E-A-R Buds are made in China and can go for about $50 online.