Many activities, such as operating heavy machinery, enjoying loud concerts, or shooting guns at a range, generate harmful levels of sound. Ear protection reduces such noise to prevent long-term damage, but it can be difficult or inconvenient to adjust the volume when one needs to hear "normally." One of the latest forms of protection attempts to solve this dilemma with a design that allows more or less sound to pass through with the push of a button. We get some ears-on to see how well the ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs differentiate themselves from the field.
Design & Comfort
The ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs are made of lightweight silicone, foam, rubber and plastic, with the standard durability that one would expect from such materials. Despite the simple construction, these plugs are designed to be reusable and long-lasting through normal wear. Just be sure to store them safely in bags or front pockets to minimize the chances of damage due to heavy gear or muscular posteriors.
The ear plugs boast a push-button feature that permits the additional passage of sound when desired. This is ideal for times when one needs to hear a little more clearly without the hassle of removing and reinserting ear plugs. The acoustic valve operates like a click-pen, where each press toggles between open and closed by way of a small spring and rubber ring that serve as the mechanism for this audio gateway. Everything, excluding the removable ear stabilizer, shares a connected opening to allow sound to pass through to the ear.
The soft rubber stabilizers are flexible, moderately adjustable, and contour easily against the ear. With proper positioning, these stabilizers maintain a hold without excess force that can lead to early fatigue. Those with more sensitive ears can choose to remove the stabilizers, which does allow a greater range of in-ear positioning. And by choosing a proper-sized tip, most users should feel a good fit with minimal fuss.
Each set of ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs come with four foam tips and four silicone tips. These two types differ in shape, texture, and also noise reduction. The foam tips are designed to block a maximum of 30 dB, while the silicone tips are rated at up to 24 dB. The silicone tips are slim, delivering the least amount of outward force with their thin flanges. These are more suitable for people with smaller and/or narrower ear canals. One could use them anyway, since an imperfect/loose fit is not uncomfortable in the ear, but a solid seal is necessary for effective noise-reduction.
The foam tips are wide, plush, and maintain an excellent hold within the ear. When squished, they take only a few seconds to expand back to their regular shape. Compared to the silicone tips, the foam ones have a better grip onto the X-Pro ear plug stem itself, requiring a good pinch at the base to pull it off smoothly. Neither the foam nor the silicone tips should fall out or get stuck in ears, as they require some direct effort to remove.
Most people should find the X-Pro ear plugs comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. With a proper fit, they stay in place even through sweaty, physical activity. The plugs sit lightly in the ear with a low profile, making them less outwardly noticeable and more compatible with headgear, such as hats, beanies, helmets, protective ear muffs. Despite the extremely lightweight construction, the X-Pro ear plugs can still be felt by the user. Although one may not completely forget they're wearing them, all it takes is a wee bit of distracting activity (e.g. shooting, yardwork, concerts, etc.) to have the plugs’ presence quickly fade to the back of the mind.
Due to their minimal bulk, the X-Pro ear plugs can be worn easily while sleeping. However, the level of comfort is something to be decided upon by each individual and how he or she sleeps. But with all the tested naps so far, these plugs have stayed put and done their job. When it comes to using the X-Pro ear plugs for underwater activity, it’s probably not recommended. Not only would it be difficult to remove liquid from the valve, but adding moisture to warm, dark, enclosed spaces is an ideal way to grow mold.
Hitting the button to open/close the acoustic valve directs a plastic "click" sound right into the ear. It can’t be helped, since it’s part of the design. However, repeated clicking and/or excess force can push the X-Pro ear plug a bit deeper into the canal. This is more of an issue with the silicone tips versus the foam, depending on each individual’s ear shape and how well tips fit. Since the X-Pro ear plugs are so small and light, only the stabilizers keep the plugs firmly set outside the ear.
Also, when the acoustic valve is set in the open position, the button often produces a slight rattling noise as you talk, eat, or drink. Quick head movements generate this same noise too, as the plastic parts are free to move. But if you’re ever confused about the open/shut state of the X-Pro ear plugs, a simple tap will let you know. Rattles? Open. Dull thud? Closed. The other drawback of the open valve is that, on occasion, a tilt of the head can let the rubber ring shift and unintentionally block the opening. So if you happen to look down to hammer a nail, or bend over to unplug a power cable, the acoustic value can shut (but not lock) by itself.
For testing on average-sized ears, both of the silicone tips were too tiny to be effective, leaving the smaller foam set as the best-fit option. It’s very likely that users will choose ear tip based on fit rather than a material preference.
If you’re feeling productive enough to do some yard work with powered hedge clippers, edger, mower or blower, the X-Pro ear plugs muffle a good amount of noise, even with the valve open. Closing the valve maximizes the noise reduction and takes the edge off loud sounds. While the difference is noticeable when one is paying attention, it can be easy to forget which state the valve is in when you're busy.
When it comes to listening to loud music (e.g. concerts, live bands, huge speakers cranked all the way up when you’re only a few feet away, etc.), the X-Pro ear plugs dampen/muffle as any decent set of plugs would. If you choose to open the valve, it’s easy to notice the harshness of the audio return, however, the music will develop an undesirable churning, slightly-echoed distortion. It’s not smooth at all, not like with the X-Pro ear plug valves closed or simply listening with naked ears. Those looking for hearing protection for concerts would find better audio performance with acoustic filters.
The ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs deliver great hearing protection for the price. They’re lightweight, comfortable, washable, and reusable, all qualities that one looks for in non-disposable ear plugs. The assorted ear tips and removable stabilizer provide options for individuals to find the best fit. And since the X-Pro ear plugs maintain a low profile, they’re easy to wear without getting in the way of other gear. Unique to these ear plugs is the acoustic valve mechanism that opens/closes the sound passageway to the ears. While the concept deserves much praise, the execution falls a bit short of expectations.
Most of the noise reduction provided by the X-Pro ear plugs comes from having the tips inserted. When the acoustic valve is set to the open position, there is barely a 1 mm gap between the rubber ring and plastic body. This amount of space is too meager to pass much sound through in order to make a significant difference. No matter the open/closed state of the valve, or if the surrounding environment is noisy or quiet, one can expect roughly the same level of intelligibility when conversing with someone just a few feet away. The only real way to go back to "normal hearing" is to remove the plugs entirely.
However, many will still be able to hear and appreciate the difference between open and closed acoustic valves. Regardless of that functionality, there is no denying that these ear plugs deliver when it comes to blocking out harmful noise. And they’re pretty darn comfortable. Unlike many other ear plugs that come in a wild array of loud colors, these by X-Pro keep it simple. Black goes with everything, doubly so when it comes to tactical gear.
We should point out that all the photos shown are of a "working prototype" with retail packaging. The only difference between the product reviewed and production units will be that the latter will have a black paint job with a red push button.
The Kickstarter campaign for the ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs has currently raised over 240 percent of its US$15,000 goal, with 28 days left to go. If all goes to plan, you can nab a pair for $17 via the campaign, with the retail price set to be $25.
Source: ProSounds X-Pro ear plugs