I know what you’re thinking: “Why is a mountain bike magazine reviewing hearing protection?” Even though our sport doesn’t inherently require hearing protection, I’d bet most of us do something from time to time that requires, or should require, a little extra love for our ears.
Think building trails in the woods with chainsaws or attending Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, where the packed campground puts you close to snoring mountain bikers and late-night revelers, alike. So when Etymotic called to offer product for review (perhaps they thought we dealt in motorized bikes, too?), I took the opportunity.
That said, I do not recommend either of these products for use while cycling because they’re too effective at isolating noise, removing you from the situation at hand. Use ’em while you’re grinding off that bolt you just stripped out or while spectating at a monster truck rally, but please do not wear these while cycling!
Etymotic is an industry leader in hearing protection and in-ear audio with items ranging from incredibly expensive equipment for professional use to consumer-grade products. Both of the products reviewed here represent the budget end of Etymotic’s offerings.
Etymotic ER-20XS Earplugs
These tiny, reusable earplugs are said to reduce noise by 20 decibels across the spectrum of hearing when used correctly. And by used correctly, I mean shoved in deep. Some folks won’t be comfortable sticking these as deeply in their ears as is required. Now that I’m accustomed to the process, I don’t mind a bit.
Once in place, these earplugs are quite comfy, cut noise as expected and stay in place pretty well. Over time they work out slightly on me, requiring the occasional push to reseal.
Etymotic’s goal is to reduce noise levels but maintain the sound quality of what you are hearing. During my use, I found this to be quite accurate. Everything sounded normal, just softer.
The ER-20XS earplugs come in your choice of standard or large fit with a carrying case and neck cord for $19.95. If you’re good at keeping track of tiny things, they’re a good value. If you’re prone to losing small items, plan to utilize the neck cord.
Etymotic MK5 Isolator Earphones
As the name suggests, the MK5 Isolator Earphones effectively isolate noise while allowing you to listen to your favorite album or podcast. Noise reduction is excellent, offering a 35-42 decibel decrease to the ear. Not only is this protecting your ears from ambient noise, but it’s also preventing you from having to turn up the audio volume to hear over other noises.
Believe it or not, the audio quality coming out of these tiny little earphones was quite impressive as well, offering clear, accurate sound. That said, I’m certainly no audiophile and don’t pretend to understand all the technical specifications listed on Etymotic’s website.
I found the the MK5 earphones to be stellar for airplane travel. They almost totally eliminate ambient noise, allowing me to enjoy audio at a reasonable volume and really hear what I’m listening to.
I also had a big project pressure washing my deck and brick back “yard” this summer and was incredibly thankful to have the MK5s. During a full weekend of pressure washing, I was able to keep my hearing intact thanks to noise isolation and the sanity offered by being entertained.
The MK5 earphones sell for $59 and include a fabric storage pouch. Two thumbs up.