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Etymotic Research Inc. Music·PRO Electronic Earplugs

The Music·PRO ($299) is an adaptive noise-reduction earplug that epitomizes the old adage “less is more.”

The Music·PRO ($299) is an adaptive noise-reduction earplug that epitomizes the old adage “less is more.” Now in its second generation (and I’ve field-tested both), Etymotic Research Inc.’s active, high-fidelity musicians earplugs are even more low profile, and at a lower cost than when initially launched, without sacrificing any features.

Though far from protruding before, the universal-fit Music·PRO has shaved down its original, more antennae-like form factor and been reconfigured as a “bean” that nestles even more comfortably into the auricle. An assortment of more than five ACCU-Fit tip styles (from more plush foam to deeply penetrating triple-flange silicon) assure you can achieve that imperative seal in the ear canal.

Powered by #10A zinc air batteries (inserted in an easily accessed swinging drawer), the Music·PRO combines high-sensitivity microphones, high-definition balancedarmature drivers and K-AMP signal processing, the latter functioning in two modes. By flipping a diminutive toggle (accessible while the earplugs are inserted, though you might not want to trim your nails to the quick), you can pick between +6 dB with -9 dB ducking, or “open ear” levels with -15 dB ducking.

What this delivers, unlike frequency- muffling foam earplugs, is a wide bandwidth of 40 Hz to 16 kHz, either boosted or at normal volume. However, regardless of mode, once a high-level tone is detected, the circuit reduces levels instantaneously, protecting you from the damage a large swell or strike can cause. The level reduction is applied uniformly, ensuring the dynamic range isn’t impacted, even as the sound pressure is adjusted to the equivalent of a -35 dB passive earplug at peak levels (120+ dB). And, once SPLs return to a safe level, the Music·PRO’s output intelligently recovers in increments so as not to impact the fidelity of quieter moments.

Tony Ware is a DC-based DJ, professional audio journalist, and regular contributor to NewBay Media titles. So that’s how they work. Now you’re surely wondering if they work. And the answer is absolutely. Recently, I attended a Foo Fighters show at Washington, D.C.’s Black Cat, a 700-person club (feel free to read all about it on the site of PSN’s sister publication Electronic Musician). So, imagine a six-man band delivering arena rock-sized riffs in a venue that small and you understand the need for hearing protection.

Preceding the show—part of a series of previews leading up to the release of the band’s Sonic Highways album—was a screening of the HBO docu-series chronicling the recording process. This two-part evening allowed me to test both the +6 dB and -15 dB modes of the Music·PRO. Set to boost before I entered the club, the Music·PRO assured I had no problem speaking with the staff about the guest list, eavesdropping on some conversations at the bar or listening to the television episode being broadcast on six flat screens around the venue. Honestly, the transmission was so natural that I would almost forget the earplugs were in until a sharp burst of hollering and applause would create a flutter sensation.

Flipping to -15 dB reduction as Dave Grohl and company took the stage, I experienced the sensation of dampening as the crowd’s fervor built up from 70 dB (triggering the circuitry’s threshold). And once the band kicked in full force, I had the opportunity to appreciate the next three hours of unflagging energy in relative comfort. The music came across with unaltered timbre, just without punishing effects.

So, is the Music·PRO the perfect ear fatigue solution? If your circumstances require transitioning between varying ambient levels while retaining clarity, the Music·PRO assures you won’t miss anything.
Etymotic Research, Inc.