Review: Etymotic Research HD15 Hearing Protection
Noise Reduction Goes Digital
It’s no secret, pickup owners tend to be an active bunch. These folks enjoy the great outdoors. On weekends they can be found hunting, fishing, riding motorcycles, shooting skeet, or doing anything else that gets the blood pumping. In addition to recreating outdoors, these same truck owners frequently engage in blue-collar hobbies and professions. They get dirty working in fabrication, machine shops, manufacturing, repair shops, construction, and all the other jobs that keep this great nation humming along. What these all have in common is their proximity to loud noises and environments. Hearing damage is irreversible, and all of us who are exposed to loud noises on the regular are in danger. Thankfully there are many ways to protect this precious sense, from foam plugs that cost pennies to high-end digital plugs. We’re testing the latter.
Over the years we’ve used a pretty wide variety of the standard hearing protection players. Passive over-the-ear muffs are inexpensive and work well for blocking all noise; active over-the-ear muffs have been our standard go-to; and foam plugs live in our bag as an emergency backup. So when presented with the opportunity to test a set of HD15 electronic earplugs from Etymotic (pronounced et-im-oh-tik) we quickly jumped at the opportunity.
Before we get too deep into it we need to address the elephant in the room: price. At nearly $300 these earplugs are not inexpensive. At this price point we feel it’s fair to say that they are not for everyone. If you’re constantly exposed to loud noises or enjoy recreational shooting and don’t like or can’t use bulky over-the-ear muffs, then these are a solid option. However, if your exposure to noise levels that may potentially damage hearing is infrequent, there are less expensive options available.
The first thing to note is that we tested the HD15 units. However, the company also sells a model called the GSP15 (GunSport Pro) that is functionally the same as the HD15, only the packaging differs. The HD15 earplugs come with a variety of different eartips, allowing for exact fitment in the wearer’s ears. When inserted, these plugs allow for natural hearing until noise levels that exceed the preset safe-exposure limits are detected. When noise is detected the plugs automatically activate and reduce heard volume by up to 15 decibels (the plugs have an overall Noise Reduction Rating of 25 dB.) The plugs’ internal circuitry automatically and gradually increases the amount of protection offered as noise levels rise.
They also have what the company calls “blast” or “sudden impact” protection, allowing the plugs to react very quickly to impulsive sounds created by gun blasts or hammer impacts, for example. When detected, the earplugs jump to full protection instantly, while still providing seamless protection.
For those who would like better-than-natural hearing when noise levels are low, the HD15 units provide two levels of use: HI and LO. When switched to HI the earplugs amplify sounds up to five times that of ambient, which could help with having conversations around the shop, for example, while still retaining all of the protection offered by the plugs.
We’ve been using the HD15 earplugs for several months now with great success. They fit our ears great and protect thoroughly. Outdoor shooting sports and outdoor automotive work is where they really shine. We prefer to use them in LO mode, as HI does almost too good of a job amplifying ambient sounds. When used while shooting the plugs react so quickly to the sudden sound that the transition is indistinguishable. We’ve also used them while running a grinder and impact wrench while working on trucks and find them to be much more comfortable for extended use than standard over-the-ear muffs. Each plug uses a single #10 battery, typical of hearing aids, and they are estimated to last between 80-100 hours. For us this meant replacing the battery each time we used the plugs, as once the battery is opened the clock starts ticking, whether it’s in use or not. We also noticed that indoors, whether in the shop or at the range, if there was a lot of loud background noise the plugs would develop a bit of static. Protection wouldn’t diminish, however.
Overall we’re extremely impressed with the Etymotic HD15 earplugs. They are super comfortable and incredibly simple to use. We feel that they work just as well, if not better, than our standard over-the-ear units and are far less cumbersome. The cost of entry is steep, but if you plan on using the plugs frequently and keeping them for many years it becomes negligible. Using a new battery each time also can be seen as a pain; however, many of the people whom these would be a good fit for are using battery-powered earmuffs already. Based on our experience we highly recommend them.