Motorcycle earplugs review: Go cheap or go custom moulded?
Earplugs are critical for protecting your hearing when riding above 50 miles per hour. Joe Bacon looks at the options, from cheap disposable plugs to custom moulded earplugs that last up to three years.
For the last few years I have used moulded earplugs as I got a good deal at a motorbike show and decided to give them a go. Until then I had been using cheap disposable ones but was always frustrated that one would seat better than the other, driving me nuts! The moulded plugs ensured that they fitted perfectly every time, but at a cost.
I recently lost my moulded earplugs, less than ideal as they are not cheap to replace. However, it presented an excellent opportunity to see if I have been paying more than I needed to for custom plugs and actually would disposable ones have been more cost-effective? I decided to compare three different types of earplugs, based on a number of attributes, using a recent track day trip to Cadwell Park circuit. As well as the sessions on track, the journeys there and back gave me a rounded view of how each earplug performs.
The earplugs on test
The cheapest plugs I used were the Oxford SNR 39’s, which come in a pack of 25 pairs for only £10 (purchased on eBay). They are made of foam and you simply roll/ pinch to insert into your ear, the foam then expands to block out the wind noise.
Next up I chose some from Auritech which were £20 from Amazon, for which you get a single pair. The silicon cones conform to the shape of your ear canal to block out the noise but, unlike the cheaper foam offerings, they also have filters which allow you to hear more clearly both conversations and your music if you have a Bluetooth headset.
Finally, I also purchased some moulded plugs from Ultimate Ear. These require moulds to be made from which the silicon plugs are then produced and sent to you. The whole process takes around 30 days, unlike the others which are readily available. This made the review a little tricky as my day to Cadwell was less than 30 days away. Fortunately, Ultimate arranged for me to see an Audiologist in London to get my moulds made and then I paid for the express service to get the plugs made up within 10 days, just in time. This did make the plugs pretty expensive at £155. The filtered plugs are £85 and then there was the Audiologist fee of £30 (you can get the moulds made at Ultimate for free but I didn’t have time to get to them). Finally, the express service was £40. There are also more expensive versions that included speakers built into the plugs.
So, how did they do? I have rated each type based on different attributes below based on my experience of using them:
Noise reduction – how much wind noise was shut out as a result of wearing the plugs
Oxford foam earplugs – 8/10
Auritech silicon cone earplugs – 7/10
Ultimate Ears moulded earplugs – 9/10
Comfort – wearing the plugs, both for each 30-minute track session and wearing them for more extended periods (up to a couple of hours)
Oxford foam earplugs – 5/10
Auritech silicon cone earplugs – 9/10
Ultimate Ear moulded earplugs – 7/10 (I would rate these as 9/10 once they bedded in)
Shelf Life – how long do the plugs last before needing to be replaced?
Oxford foam earplugs – 3/10
Auritech silicon cone earplugs – 8/10
Ultimate Ear moulded earplugs – 10/10
Cost – how much does it cost to purchase them, as well as replacing them?
Oxford – 10/10
Auritech silicon cone earplugs – 9/10
Ultimate Ear moulded earplugs – 5/10
It was an interesting test, as I had forgotten what it was like to use the other types of earplugs, having used moulded plugs for the last few years. The most surprising part of the test was that they were all very good at reducing the noise and more closely matched at this that I had expected. Using them back to back at the circuit gave a fair environment and I used the same bike and helmet (HJC RPHA 11).
The comfort of the foam plugs is very good, but the same problems are there still: I cannot, however many times I tried, get them both to seat properly. You also have to be very careful not to disturb their position when putting on your helmet. The Auritech plugs were also very comfortable and were better in terms of fit and staying in the right place, only occasionally moving and feeling like they were going to fall out. The Ultimate Ear’s which were moulded to my ear shape were not as comfortable initially as they take a little time to bed in, and these were the first time I had used them. My previous plugs were made by Mercury Hearing and had the same initial issue. Now I have been using the Ultimate’s for a couple of months they have softened a little and are extremely comfortable.
The foam plugs just come in a small plastic wrap and with nowhere to store them other than your pockets you end up losing them pretty quickly. They might well be much cheaper, but you end up using a lot of pairs! There are also different styles of the foam plugs and, for my ears, I have since found straighter shape versions fit better than the ‘traffic cone’ variety I tried on the test. The Auritechs come with a metal canister that means you have somewhere to store them when you are not wearing them; I attached mine to my keys lanyard. The Ultimate Ears came with a small case which included some cleaning wipes, gel and a cleaning tool. I also ordered mine with a cord that attaches to each plug and has a small clip to attach to your neck scarf so that they can hang loose if you are taking them out when stopping.
In summary, they will all cut out harmful wind noise, but the comfort of the Auritech and Ultimate Ears means that for me, they are worth the additional investment. When I need to replace the plugs again in the future (you are supposed to replace moulded plugs every three years as your ear canal can change shape) I will most like opt for Auritech. At £20 for a set, they offer comfort, value for money and seat well the majority of the time. As I no longer commute and don’t ride more than a handful of times a week, they work well. However, as I have now spent the cash on the Ultimate Ears, I will use these until they need replacing. They are the better of the three plug types, but the cost is significantly more than the others and not justified, for the riding that I do.
Get yourself sorted:
If you don’t currently use ear plugs you should read more on the dangers of not using them here: https://www.bikerandbike.co.uk/ear-plugs-vital-every-ride/
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