For years I have relied on ear muffs with speakers (and more recently bluetooth) to protect my hearing while also providing a source of entertainment in the shop. But sometimes, a full set of ear muffs can be uncomfortable whether it’s because of conflicts with eye protection or simply the weight of a device sitting on my melon. So as an alternative option, I thought it was time to dip into the bluetooth earbud/earplug market. There are a few that boast some level of noise reduction but almost any earbud can be modified with aftermarket foam tips that will impart some level of protection. There are a lot of brands and a wide range of prices so I set out to test four brands that were frequently recommended to me. As usual, my testing procedures are about as non-scientific as they can be and because these tests involve things like sound quality and comfort, it’s nearly impossible to be completely objective and unbiased. I can’t stress enough that what follows are my personal observations and nothing more. Depending on your preferences, your level of perception, and how the earbuds fit your ears, you could walk away with a very different opinion. With that said, check out the results below.
ISOTunes probably is the most recognized brand in this lineup thanks to their marketing and partnership efforts in the maker space in the last year or two. This was the first set I purchased and my initial disappointment in the sound quality is what kicked off this crazy tangent in the first place. Regardless of how I rate this product, it’s the only one in the lineup that is OSHA compliant. If your job requires OSHA-compliant gear this may be your only reasonably-priced earbud option. The set features a memory wire for wrapping around your ear and seems to be of sturdy construction. Battery life is listed at 10 hours, 2 more than any other set in the lineup. Regarding comfort, I would have no problem wearing these all day.
It comes with three sizes of Comply ear tips and has a certified 27 dB noise reduction rating. In my shop and with my ears, however, ISOTunes scored a 3rd place tie for Sound Isolation.
Sound quality was just OK. If you’re not too picky about sound, you’ll like them. But in my opinion, they lacked the low-end that can be found in other brands. ISOTunes scored a 3rd place tie for Sound Quality.
I gave ISOTunes PRO 3rd place overall.
I played in rock and punk bands all thoughout high school and college and nearly every gig I ever played involved Shure microphones. So it makes me happy when I see a cool modern product like these earbuds bearing their name and I had high hopes given the price point. These certainly look cool with their translucent cases and they feature a memory wire for wrapping around the ear. The set comes with both rubber and foam ear buds as well as a nice little cleaning tool. But the isolation wasn’t as good as I had hoped so I tried a large pair of Comply tips instead. The buds actually swivel and I suppose that’s a feature, but for me it just made inserting them into my ears a little bit tricky. Battery life is listed at 8 hours. And just a cool extra feature I’ll mention is that the voice in the earbuds announces the battery life in hours every time you turn it on.
Shure refers to these as “sound isolating” and claims they block up to 37 dB of ambient noise. In practice though, the sound isolation wasn’t very good at all and even with the aftermarket Comply tips the Shure set scored a 3rd Place tie for Sound Isolation.
Unfortunately, the sound quality was average. Everything was crystal clear but it lacked the low-end punch I like to hear. Shure scored a 3rd Place tie for Sound Quality.
I gave Shure SE215 4th Place Overall. While it is comparable to ISOTunes in many ways, it costs a lot more.
The SoundPEATS are the most budget-friendly earbuds in the lineup. In spite of a price that’s almost too good to be true, they seem well-built and nothing about them says “cheap” to me. This set is an in-ear style with those hook-shaped dealies that help keep the buds in your ears. The set comes with a generous size range of tips from XS to XL as well as three sizes of ear hooks. Battery life is listed as 8 hrs. The one oddity regarding the battery is that the company recommends low voltage charging. So you’re probably looking at a computer USB port instead of one of those wall chargers most of us have for our phones. They are comfortable enough for regular use and I really prefer the in-ear style over the memory wire.
The company makes no claims about sound isolation and not surprisingly the included tips are inadequate for shop use. I purchased aftermarket Comply tips and that boosted the sound isolation considerably. SoundPEATS scores 2nd place in Sound Isolation.
Sound quality was surprisingly good. There was a nice full range including a substantial amount of low-end base. SoundPEATS scored 2nd place in Sound Quality.
I gave SoundPEATS Q30 2nd Place Overall, thanks to the high-quality sound, adequate protection, and exceptional price.
At this price range, you would expect this set to be pretty good. But as I found out with the Shure buds, that’s not always the case. An interesting sidenote is that I actually purchased these for only $99 on Amazon. I don’t know how or why, but that’s what I paid. Now it seems that they can only be found for $129 so I guess I just got lucky. This set features an in-ear design and hooks to keep the buds in place. The set comes with three sizes each of the rubber tips as well as Comply foam tips. They also have a few extra ear hooks. Battery life is the standard 8 hours. As for comfort, they are on par with the rest of the pack. This unit also announces the remaining battery life, but as a percentage instead of hours. I should also mention the odd charging cradle. This is the only one in this test that requires an additional adapter. Lose the adapter and you can’t charge your buds.
The company makes no claims about sound isolation that I could find, yet they include the Comply tips much like ISOTunes. As a result, these ear buds took the top spot for sound isolation. When standing just a few feet away from my cyclone, these made me feel like I was wearing actual ear plugs, with no unpleasant frequencies hitting my ear drums. With music playing at a modest volume, the shop noise all but disappears. This set scores 1st Place in Sound Isolation.
Jaybirds sound great! In fact they are on par with my Apple Air Pods and other wired ear buds. I was already planning on giving them the top spot for sound quality when I remembered that they have an EQ app. This app took the sound quality to a whole new level. Jabird X3 scores 1st Place in Sound Quality, by a large margin.
I gave Jaybird X3 1st Place Overall thanks to killer sound quality and excellent sound isolation that outperforms the other three. They aren’t cheap, but if you like good quality sound and want to protect your hearing, I feel it’s worth the asking price. I’ll be keeping the Jaybird X3s for my personal use.
If you’re interested, here’s a quick reference chart I made up for the shootout.