Noise-isolating earphones are hitting mainstream, and that’s a good thing. Apple and nearly every other digital audio manufacturer in the world distribute their phones and digital devices with open earbuds that not only sound crap, but that ruin ears on short order. The volume of an earphone has to rise 8-9 decibels above ambient noise to be heard. To be enjoyed, however, music has to be punched much louder. Using open earphones on the bus, in the tube, or about town is the perfect recipe for destroying your hearing.
Last year, Etymotics introduced custom-fit ear pieces for their popular line of noise-isolating earphones and headsets, but other companies offer custom-fit ear pieces for a variety of earphones.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal took them for a spin and really liked them. Etymotics’ custom-fit ear pieces come from Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS), the manufacturer of the excellent (and pricey) T1 Custom-Fit earphone. If you can isolate your surroundings enough, music, games, and movies sound so much better: better details, dynamics, and oh-so-lovely bass. And with enough isolation, you barely need to adjust the volume of your iPod at all. I keep my iPod touch stuck at about 1/6 volume with my custom earphones – it is more than enough.
Noise-isolating earphones have their own disadvantages: outside noise is reduced by up to 26 decibels, severing your awareness of what’s around you. Of course, the same thing can happen by raising the volume of your earbuds to dangerous levels – which brings up a serious issue: you and only you can prevent being run over by a bus whilst air-plucking to John Denver.
They also cost more. A full-custom earphone will set you back anywhere from 200$ to >1000$ and a custom-tip can do as much as half of that. But the market is just warming up and it’s about time it did.
The iPod and iPhone have great movie and music-playing capabilities, and with loads of people pairing-down to just one device, the step up to safer earphones should be natural. Go ahead, if earphones that sound better than Apple’s pack-ins can be had for about half the price, what’s keeping you on the dial-an-ear-doctor route of blasting your ears with el-cheapo buds?
I never leave home without some sort of isolating earphone. Currently, it is the oh-so-good soundingEarsonics EM3Pro, an expensive full-custom earphone. But my all time favourite is the universal-fit Audio Technica CK10, or if when the economy is in a shambles, the 39$ Head-Direct RE2. Economically speaking, noise-isolating earphones have come a long way. You can pick up the MEElectronic Ai-M9 for 19$ and enjoy your music at safe levels.
If you tend to watch movies or listen to music, you should think about dropping your buds for either universal-fit or custom-fit earphones. If not, say good bye to stereo sound from any source and hello to sign-language classes.