Date reviewed: June 2020 | Tested by: Patricia Stiemke | Price: £19.95 | www.earpeace.co.uk
Bennetts Rewards Member and key worker Patricia Stiemke has the EarPeace earplugs on review for Bennetts BikeSocial. Riding every day in them, this is her honest opinion…
I have a dodgy relationship with ear plugs. I know I need them but I have no loyalty when it comes to finding the ultimate balance between protecting my hearing, the clarity of what comes out of my intercom speakers at a reasonable volume, and cutting out my biggest noise nemesis; the wind.
The EarPeace ear plugs for Motorsports on review here are the latest hearing protection product under my scrutiny, and they’re worth writing about. I’ve tested them while wearing my HJC RPHA11 and AGV K6 helmets, riding a 2019 Honda CBR500R for 1,500 miles, covering all kinds of roads.
The science behind the need to wear hearing protection when riding a motorcycle at any speed above 40 mph has been covered in this excellent BikeSocial article. Suffice to say, unless you spend your time on two wheels puttering about town, you will be exposed to levels of wind and engine noise that will almost certainly lead to long term hearing damage.
Apart from the statistics, I can safely say that on the few occasions that I forgot to bring any ear plugs, I have been acutely aware of how tiring and nerve grating the constant exposure to noise can be; it made me irritable, less able to hear anything else after stopping for a rest, and feeling more overall fatigue from the ride. I can honestly say that full sound exposure detracts from the pleasure of riding and the constant concentration needed for negotiating those back-road twisties.
Wearing helmets with different degrees of padding has not had a sufficient impact on noise levels to cut out the need for proper ear protection. No helmet, despite manufacturer claims, is quiet enough to not need ear plugs.
The EarPeace plugs consist of soft conical flaps with a thicker hollow centre that accommodates the three different hard plastic audio filters. The centre section also has a soft, unobtrusive tab attached that you grip to insert or remove the plugs from the ear canal.
Changing filters is straightforward by squeezing the flaps together and pushing out the filter. If you have sharp or long nails, it pays to be careful so as to not damage the soft material.
The package insert gives very good instructions on how to insert and remove the plugs but for those of us on the edge of needing large print books, the product website has the same detailed instructions, cutting out the need to search for the magnifying glass. Essentially, you stretch back the earlobe a bit to straighten the ear canal, hold onto the tab and push the plugs in until both flaps have formed a seal with your skin. They do not recommend pushing the plugs any further after letting go of the tab but I find myself still pushing a bit more to get the fit just right. As long as you can still get a hold of the tab and it feels comfortable, you’re doing it right.
I find it useful to moisten the flaps a bit to ease the fitting, but that is a matter of personal technique and hygiene as moisture – depending on its source – is a breeding ground for bacteria.
The removal is quick and painless with a little pull on the tab. I tend to rinse them quickly in some cold water and let them air dry. However, the instructions state not to submerge the filters in water. Ear Peace recommends just using a damp cloth to wipe them down and give them a soapy wash, with filters removed, if they get really dirty.
For storage, the package comes with a handy aluminium cylinder with a carabiner hook for keyrings and a screw top at either end of the cylinder concealing two chambers inside. One is large enough to contain a pair of plugs and the other can accommodate the third plug supplied as a spare in the package.
Ear Peace recommends storing the plugs in the aluminium case when not in use. Personally, I use the cylinder when I’m out and about and have no opportunity to clean them. I also would not recommend attaching them to the actual ignition key due potential damage to the case or scratches to the ignition block if the wind flops it about.
Three filters are supplied (you get three of each)
So how effective are they? I think it partly depends on how sensitive your hearing is to begin with. I know for a fact that my hearing has been damaged by, well, life and attending multiple large-scale concerts, finding myself almost next to the stacks a few times. With that in mind, your experience might be different, but I find these plugs strike a very good balance between reducing wind noise and still being able to hear what I consider to be essential sounds.
The three filters (you get three of each) are clear, red and black. The clear ones are completely inadequate for cutting out wind noise to a degree that I can live with. They did a marvellous job, however, at a Foo Fighters concert, mitigating the impact of the screeching guitars just enough to make it a truly enjoyable experience.
Those clear filters (labelled as ‘Medium’ level protection) have a mean Single Number Rating (SNR) of just 17. SNR is the standard used in Europe for measuring noise level reduction in decibels. The SNR of 17 dB seems to apply mainly to sounds around the 250Hz mark. As wind and engine noise is in the lower frequency ranges (up to 500 Hz), it’s not as effective as the SNR for the red filters (19 dB at 250 Hz) or the black filters at an SNR of 23.3 dB at 250 Hz. At higher frequencies (≥ 1000Hz or screeching guitar level) all three have a much higher SNR.
Personally, I found the black filters (labelled as Max level protection) the best option. They are a bit bulky and harder to fit properly into the core of the plug, but they cut out the most annoying parts of the wind noise – the high pitch whining – and they dampen the engine noise just enough so as not to be an irritation, yet not enough for me to miss the rpm levels for gear changes and to alert me when something isn’t quite right.
I can still hear emergency vehicles, although probably not quite as far away as with the red filters. Having said that, I still have plenty of time to get out of the way of incoming blue lights.
I can also still enjoy the music inside the helmet from my Sena SMH-5 without any loss of fidelity, and can hear my better half breathing heavily into the intercom.
The red filters (referred to as High level protection) are just a little too weak for my taste. The engine noise reduction is the same but there is too much wind noise, which drowns out any advantages of having a bit of a better sound from my speakers.
Both red and black filters still make it possible to carry on a proper conversation without the need for removing the plugs when stopped. I still feel the need to shout, though if I am wearing a helmet as well as I find it almost impossible to hear speech adequately when wearing a helmet together with any kind of ear protection in place; it all turns into a series of mumbles. Someone with pristine hearing might fare better in this situation.
The EarPeace earplugs are also very comfortable to wear. They don’t slip easily once in position and they don’t creep while wearing, so they don’t become painful over time. Even when off the bike, I feel no urgency to remove them. If I’m in the centre of a busy town, I find it quite soothing and comforting to keep them in while off the bike. They’re an absolute godsend on the Underground.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I have tried a variety of different ear plugs over the last three years and instead of ranking any as better or worse, I can only give a bit of food for thought for those choosing hearing protection…
I started with disposable foam plugs and they did an adequate job of cutting out noise, but you couldn’t hold a conversation and they tended to pop out of my ears and even rip on several occasions.
I then tried out the first incarnation of Ear Peace and found them to be very good, but as the highest protection they offered were the red filters mentioned above, it still was not quite what I was looking for.
Next I moved on to moulded plugs and they were the best at the time. However, my ear canal seems to be a bit volatile when it comes to staying in the same shape. The left ear plug lost its effectiveness and let in the really annoying high pitch wind whistle I am so allergic to. I was kindly offered a newly moulded replacement set for free ,which was fine for about six months before both my ears decided to change shape again and I put the moulded plugs in the drawer.
Next I got a set of plugs made of a harder material than the Ear Peace and were thinner and longer. Unfortunately, I’ve now forgotten where I got them and who makes them. Of all the ear plugs, including the Ear Peace I have now, they were the absolute best for reducing wind noise to an almost undetectable level. However, they were a bit too efficient; I could still hear the emergency services and music levels were okay, but speech was an absolute chore and most importantly, I was missing the cues from my engine to change gears.
As I do not want to be a slave to my instrument panel in traffic, I attune to the engine noises, so not hearing them is really disconcerting, enough for me to compromise.
So, the Ear Peace plugs are now firmly attached to my key chain.
The Ear Peace M’s are a low cost, solid solution for protecting your hearing to a degree that avoids long term hearing loss due to wind and engine noise, and doesn’t require you to learn sign language to communicate while wearing them. I really like these plugs as they let me hear what I need to and protect me from the most annoying parts of wind noise. They are comfortable, easy to use and a doddle to maintain. The choice of filters means you can use them in other environments such as concerts, and they even come in petit sizes for those with smaller ears or younger pillion passengers.
I recognise that the choice of hearing protection is a very individual one, and judging from comments I have read when these subject has been written about, there is no one best product for everyone, but I can recommend the EarPeace with a good conscience and, as someone who is quite easily irritated with certain sounds and noises, these are what I will be using for the foreseeable future.