For the last 17 years, we have made wearing hearing protection mandatory for our employees. We’ve tried all kinds of different ear plugs or over-the-ear headsets but prefer the Howard Leight foam earplugs. In fact, looking at my Amazon order history, I’ve purchased more than 1,400 pairs of these ear plugs.

Last summer I was trying to find something that would provide hearing protection, but also play music and be comfortable. I read Chris’s review in October of the Tough Tested Jobsite earbuds but held off buying because I wanted something wireless. I don’t want a cord that can get snagged on tools or material. Then David Frane wrote a piece about PlugFones, which combine hearing protection with the ability to play music wired or wireless. I emailed and ordered the Liberate model.

Features. This model is cordless, connecting very easily to my smartphone through Bluetooth 4.0. It comes in a small case that fits the PlugFones, charging cord, and extra foam or silicone tips. The device itself has just three buttons. A center, “universal” button turns on/off, play/pause, and answer/end a call. The left right buttons operate volume, and with a long press can go forward or backward to the next track.

I found the inline mic to be good quality. No one complained about voice quality; apparently my mellifluous voice was accurately transmitted. The mic is located about even with my jawline.

One of the big questions is, what about battery life? PlugFones claims up to 8 hours. I found it more reasonable to expect 6+ hours. If I know I’m going to be working alone all day, then I just charge it at night and then again at lunch to keep it going through the day. The maker says to allow one to two hours to charge.

Since we are very serious about hearing protection, the other major question for me is, how well do the plugs work at lowering noise of saws and nail guns? According to the manufacturer, they have a certified 25db reduction. My regular earplugs have noise reduction of 32db.

When I look at the numbers, I find they don't tell the whole story. I replaced the silicone tips on my PlugFones with the foam tips and I feel like I hear less from the saws than when I'm wearing the Howard Leight. I like this because I can keep the music turned down. What good is it to block the excessive noise of tools but then blast music into my ears? We need to block excessive noise, but still be able to hear for safety reasons.

The PlugFones Liberte come with replaceable earplug tips of varying sizes and styles, as well as a case and charger. They sell for $99 online and are available in yellow/blue (shown here), gray/black and orange/blue.
The PlugFones Liberte come with replaceable earplug tips of varying sizes and styles, as well as a case and charger. They sell for $99 online and are available in yellow/blue (shown here), gray/black and orange/blue.

A lot of the noise reduction comes from properly fitting earplugs. Honestly I can’t comment on exactly what the noise reduction is in practice, but as an example, while I was writing this review, I had the PlugFones in (and music off) and couldn’t hear myself type on my laptop 16 inches away from my ears. Real scientific I know, but it gives you an idea.

Whether it is because of being used to wearing earplugs or not, I found the foam earplugs to be comfortable; I didn't get any headaches or ear pain even after prolonged use. Five pairs of replacement plugs cost about $8 with free shipping for orders over $40, so I recommend ordering enough to get the free shipping (and if you really want to be cool, order the pink Performer replacements).

PlugFones make more than just the Liberate model and also has a model that has a noise limiter built in. So far using them for a few months I have to say I don’t have one complaint.

Pros
Wireless
Hearing protection
Easy to use
Take calls
Play music/podcasts

Cons
None

Soap Box. Ok, with the exception of every employee of our company, none of the trades - including equipment operators that come on our jobsite - wear hearing protection. In fact when we work on projects with other framers or siders, they always make fun of us. I guess the bright side is that as I get older I’ll still be able to hear them.

This graphic regarding noise is worth checking out. In my view wearing hearing protection is a must, and it is easy. I feel strongly that not wearing hearing protection is downright stupid and it doesn’t help us in the trades to promote professionalism. We have had code officials, and customers comment positively on our use of PPE. When an official or customer sees that a company is taking care of their employees, they are more likely to conclude that we’ll also take care of the construction of their home.

To be honest though, wearing hearing protection does take some time to get used to. We’ve found that on a crew, everyone needs to wear it so we get used to calling out numbers and communicating loud enough to be heard. After wearing it for a while I feel I get used to listening for voices, it almost is like we are more aware of our surroundings. My brother tried to sneak up on me while I was wearing PlugFones with music going and running a screw gun. It didn’t work and I think it is because we get used to being more aware (also he’s really bad at sneaking up). This is similar to wearing a large brim hat, you have to keep your head on a swivel to not hit your head on something unseen.

Back in 2002, we were building a custom home right on the putting green of a golf course. Some golfers told the customer that we were the loudest crew they’d ever heard (there was a lot of construction around that course), he asked if we said anything offensive, and they said no. We don’t allow vulgarity on our jobsites, but we are loud because we need to be heard. We have not had one noise complaint, although some neighbors have told us they get a kick out of us singing to music they can’t hear.

Bottom line: take care of your body and your employees and set a good example.
(don’t worry I was wearing a safety harness while on the soapbox).