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SoundEar REVIEW: Is the sound enabled custom earplug worth the time and money?

Further to the review of the ‘Generic‘ earplug for motorcyclists by Ultimate Ear, which I’m still convinced is the work of genius; I do miss my music when riding. So I browsed their website and saw that they make a MP3 enabled earplug the ‘SoundEar‘ – the same style as the ‘Generic’ but custom fitted to your ears with a sound driver embedded so that you can plug into any device you wish.

I knew from my experience of the ‘Generics’ that the noise reduction would be brilliant so I went to their offices in Orpington (Kent, UK) to have the fitting.
The whole proceedure takes about 25 minutes:
1. A small piece of foam on a string is inserted into the ear canal (to stop the mold substrate to descending too far. It also aids getting the mold out)
2. The mold substrate is injected into your ear and you sit quietly for a few minutes without any head or jaw movement (talking and yawning etc are verboten).
3. Once the substrate is hardened sufficiently, then it’s carefully withdrawn out and placed in a sealed bag.
4. Pick the colour and whether you want the terminating plug at 45° or 90° then wait for them to be delivered by courier. This takes about 10 days.

It’s worth noting here that the cables are interwoven with Kevlar for strength then coated with Polyurethane to counter any moisture that makes some plastics go brittle.

Ultimate-Ear-SoundEar-packaging
The contents of a SoundEar delivery

Along with the small semi-hard carry case there’s some Gel (active ingredient Indian Frankincense!) and a small ‘pick’ to allow to easily remove any detritus that may get stuck in the opening. They also send you the mold that they used, so keep that safe; you send it back to them if you ever want new ones made.

The fit is the same as the ‘Generics’; the soft tactile silicone slips into your ear canal and is secured using the natural ‘lug’ at the top of the ear… the world goes quiet 🙂

Ultimate-Ear-in-ear
I took note of the well thought out label that Ultimate Ear attach to the cable that says “CAUTION! Turn down volume!” So I did…
Here’s where my iPod would normally sit when playing under the helmet.

Ultimate-Ear-original-sound-levels

I’d call that about 85%. I know this is close to the top output but this is only when I’m on the bike.
So I put the helmet on and turn it down so the level is ‘in the foreground’ yet comfortable.
Ultimate-Ear-revised-sound-levels

That’s around 50% maximum output. I try it out on a ride and was surprised to find that that’s still marginally too loud and distracting; I notch it down to 40% and now it’s like having background music whilst working… and yet I can still hear both the music and what’s going on around me.
So, not only are these plugs blocking all that extraneous nasty wind noise that all bikers get at speed, but is also reducing the required volume levels by half (look at it the other way; it has to double under the ‘old rules’!).

A right result I’d say!

But there’s more as I wore them over a period of time.
Now I do enjoy music. A lot… A few years ago I spent half a years’ wages on a Linn/Naim setup which has satisfied the audiophile in me; I’m also (in my mind) a top Heavy Metal drummer – I enjoy music and I’d like to think that I have more than average ‘ear’.
With these SoundEars, I was realizing that there instances of top end coming through that I’d never heard before – such was the subtlety. But there they were, buried in those songs that I’d had playing all those years! The bass is a little light maybe, but nothing is ‘muddled’ – the upper and lower ends are served well – you get an excellent faithful copy of the original. I was particularly impressed at being able to enjoy Rush’s “The Necromancer”  at 130kph in France.
So in answer to ‘is the reproduction any good?’ the answer is yes, very, very good. I’m not a Sound Engineer, but I’m confident that it would more than satisfy the vast majority of people.**

Conclusion:
If you ride a motorcycle for more than 15 minutes at a time, then buy and use earplugs. PLEASE remember that once you’re in the company of the insidious bastard that is Tinnitus – it’s with you for life.
If you like tunes whilst you ride, the SoundEar is a superb contender for your money.

Like with the Generics, I ride calmer with greater concentration on the ride arriving stress free with some decent tunes to absorb the time away; and reduce my likelihood of developing Tinnitus… It’s now a given that when I ride, I put these in.

The SOUNDEARS start at £180 and you can start the process HERE.

*The £25 fitting fee is waived if you visit their offices in Orpington, Kent, UK.
** Ultimate Ear also make the SoundEar 1.5 for those who “enjoy music to a high standard”. £280.

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