Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hearing Protection: Sperian L1 Slimline Earmuff Review

Sometimes you just want to be left alone. While locking yourself in a completely dark room may shield you from being touched, seeing, smelling, and tasting, it doesn't necessarily block out sound. The reason may be that you're lucky enough to be living in an apartment and have 5 neighbors (up, down, across, left, right), or the room you're in isn't good at blocking sound. Short of spending thousands of dollars to shore up your entire isolation room, you may want to turn down the noise for yourself only. This is also true if you have noisy friends or family, need a break from coworkers, block out a vacuum cleaner, etc.

Slimline Earmuffs Top View
Hearing Protection: Earplugs or Earmuffs?
I have found a lot of uses for hearing protection for dangerous and nuisance noises. You can read my piece about hearing protection out in public here. But I won't lie, popping in earplugs takes a bit longer, and can be a bit less comfortable every now and then. The point is that it's nice to have options for everything including hearing protection. Earplugs and earmuffs are the only ways I know of to tone down noises outside of addressing the source.

Earmuffs are good in that they are relatively huge accessories that are harder to lose and easier to put on or take off. Another benefit may be that they are more sanitary because you don't have to put these "inside" you like earplugs going into ear canals.

On the other hand, they are huge and more cumbersome. Because they cup around your ears on your head, as opposed to going into a small ear canal, they more easily shift and move around. I've noticed that when this happens, the seal of the earmuff's cups around the ears is broken, and more sound is let in. Despite this, I still prefer using earmuffs in certain situations.

Slimline Earmuffs Front View

Time for New Earmuffs
I have a pack or two of earplugs and two sets of earmuffs. The last pair I got was bought from a local chain store and they were fine. My only complaint was that they had really thick ear cushions that tended to cup over my ear than around the edge. They were also all plastic and didn't look "cool". These were used for vacuuming and for getting to sleep -- noisy people in house.

Sperian RWS-53006 Lightning L1 Slimline Low Profile Earmuff
At some point, I found the Sperian Lightning L1 Slimline Earmuff on -- pair number two. They were cheap, they looked good, used multiple materials, and they had a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 dB.

I've usually had more success finding earplugs with a NRR of 33 dB or any value over 25 dB than earmuffs. The 3M Peltor X-Series Earmuff has a NRR of 31 dB according to Amazon, but notice how much thicker the cups are. From my experience, an NRR of 25-ish dB is pretty typical for earmuffs. Obviously, if you look hard enough you may be able to find something better, it just seems easier to get earplugs that reduce more noise for cheaper. Something to keep in mind.

Slimline Earmuffs Side View
Fit and Comfort
Note that this only applies to my head, which I like to think is on the moderate size end -- maybe a bit wider than average.

As you can see in the front view picture, these earmuffs have an elastic headband that naturally wants to close together. This is the typical earmuff design to provide the proper seal and protection when a head gets inserted between. From what I remember, they only have one adjustment point between the cups and the headband. The connecting wires on each side can be extended or retracted.

I had a lot of trouble adjusting the earmuff at first because I couldn't figure out how to extend them from their fully closed position out of the box. Long story short, there was a lot of pulling at the wrong points before I realized where I was supposed to adjust it -- at the cup end for my pair. Instructions were provided, but I do not recall them having a diagram.

When put on, this earmuff does fit better than my last pair. The thinner foam cushion goes around my ears more easily. In comparison, my old pair required more pushing and twisting of my ears to nudge them into the cup hole. I find the Sperian set pretty comfortable and have worn them for hours at a time in bed. In comparison, my last pair occasionally left my ears in pain after waking up in the middle of the night because the cushion had been sitting on top of my ears for so long.

The headband should be fine. I tend to adjust headbands just high enough so that they don't touch my scalp because my shaved head likes to grip things very well. It'd probably be more secure to have the headband touching my scalp, but they haven't come off yet.

Slimline Earmuffs Cups
Noise Reduction
I do not have the know-how or equipment on how to quantify the amount of noise reduction accurately or quantitatively. However, from my experience with using earmuffs and earplugs, this Sperian earmuff appears to let in slightly more noise than my older earmuff and earplugs. In its defense, the earplugs I've used should all have been rated at an NRR over 25 dB -- most are 28 dB or 33 dB.

As for my other earmuff, I cannot find a label on them saying how much noise they block. When I look up the label on Google, I get conflicting information. One site says that they're rated at a NRR of 27dB and the other says 23 dB. If it were the former, then no explanation would be necessary.

Different models may have different responses to different frequencies though, so one set may reduce certain frequencies more than others. My "testing platform" was switching between the two pairs with the TV on. Also, my neighbor was nice enough to be hammering something next door too at the time. To reiterate, this is a totally subjective test.

Occasionally when moving my head around, I can feel and hear the seal of the cups around my ears break. This tends to let in more noise. I don't think it has anything to do with the headband not resting on my head, but it's possible.

How are they?
They're good. I find the Sperian Lightning L1 Slimline Earmuff to be a good looking and relatively comfortable earmuff. For only about $15, they're very low priced. Personally, I would look into getting a set with an NRR of 30 dB or more if I had to do it again. And for serious ear protection, I'd go straight for earplugs that usually block more noise and fit more securely.

Poor Man's Noise Isolating Headphones?
Sunscreen: Beating the sun, burning eyes, I hate you.
Usefulness of a Sound Level Meter
Wearing earplugs in theaters, subways, concerts, everywhere!