Written by 6:28 am Headphone + Accessory Reviews

Maybe it’s Time for Professional Help?

The world is getting louder. Merely walking down a city street puts you the line of fire for an amazing array of hearing-killing noise. What’s a human to do?

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I’m a firm believer in earplugs. I always carry a pair of soft
rubber plugs in my front pants pocket along with lip balm, an eyeglass micro
cloth, and several flat-picks. But rubber earplugs often deliver too much
attenuation – conversations at normal levels are muffled. As a result I don’t
know of too many people who put in earplugs at the start of the day and then
leave them on. I know I don’t. I also rarely put my earplugs in when I’m on the
street since it’s good to be able to hear that car before it hits you. So,
although I carry my 20 dB attenuating rubber plugs everywhere I go, they don’t
save me from sirens, car horns, and other random hearing-killing urban

What’s an audiophile to do? Perhaps it’s time to call in some
professional help in the form of Etymotic’s newest ear-protection devices, the Music-Pro
high-fidelity electronic musicians earplugs
. These are the first “active” earplugs that can, in their active mode,
actually amplify sound.

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Compared to the cost of a good pair of rubber earplugs the
Etymotic Music-Pros are expensive (list price $399), but unlike soft plugs,
which are merely a molded hunk of rubber, the Music Pros have battery-powered
internal circuitry that can either amplify or attenuate incoming sound. The
Music Pros have two active modes; one delivers a steady 15 dB of
attenuation, the other supplies 6 dB of boost in quiet environments and
then gradually attenuates sound as it gets louder. At 70 dB levels the second mode begins to attenuate sound so that it’s 10 dB down by 90 dB with a maximum
attenuation of 20 dB at 110 dB sound pressure levels. Etymotic claims that at
above 110 dB levels the Music Pros have the same amount of attenuation (-35 dB)
as their rubber earplugs due to a special limiting circuit, but I did test this
feature since I rarely (on purpose) find myself in an environment with 110 dB
sound levels.

After using the Music Pros for about a month I’ve found that
they are specialized beasts. At the sound pressure levels where I normally use
earplugs I found that I preferred the Etymotic Ety Plugs HD
because they deliver far more attenuation (-35 dB verses -10 dB) in the environments where I need to use earplugs.  For my uses the regular Etymotic plugs do an
excellent job, but I can’t use them in many situations where I need to hear quiet conversations or where the steady-state noise level is low with only the
occasional blast of loudness. That’s the sort of situation that the Music Pros
were designed to handle. If I lived in NYC I’d use Music Pros every time I
stepped foot outside my apartment.

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Obviously if you intend to use a pair of earplugs for any
length of time they had better be comfortable, very comfortable. Etymotic
supplies seven different ear-tips to try to cover every type of ear canal. For
me one of the triple-flange tips worked nicely, going in deeply enough to make
a good seal without discomfort. Switching from active to passive mode is accomplished
via a small two-way toggle switch on the plugs themselves. You can tell when
the Music Pros are in active mode because they emit a low level hiss. For some
prospective owners this hiss could be distracting, but after a few minutes of
use I found it was less noticeable. The hiss also gives you a cue as to whether
the plugs are fitting well and passing high frequency information correctly. As
you reposition the plugs in active mode the hiss frequency can change. When the
hiss sounds open and unattenuated, the plugs are fitting properly.

Like their very similar Gun-Sport-Pro electronic earplugs the Musician-Pro earplugs are best for reducing sudden very loud sounds. If you
use earplugs primarily to reduce steady-state sounds under 110 dB you would be
better served by the Etymotic Ety Plugs or another soft, rubber, passive
earplug. But if you must regularly abide in environments rife with sudden loud
sounds The Etymotic Music-Pro  musicians
earplugs could save your hearing.

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