In my ongoing search for the best hearing protection, I got my hands on the Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs. What’s the LE? That stands for Law Enforcement. These earplugs were first and foremost designed for our men and women in blue. As you can guess, that means there’s a degree of protection against gunfire. But what about impact wrenches, machinery, and the like?
Etymotic didn’t forget about those of us in the trades with this design, so we’re not going to assume that it’s only the loudest noises they’re good for. Let’s dive into this high-tech hearing protection and see if it’s a good fit for you.
Typically, I avoid in-ear hearing protection because it’s tough to get a comfortable fit. Over the ear protection has its comfort issues as well, but I tend to fare better with them. To help, Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs come with seven different earpieces to fit most ears.
- Small 3-flange (7-11 mm)
- Large 3-flange (8 – 13 mm)
- Small long stem 3-flange (7 – 11 mm)
- Large long stem 3-flange (8 – 13 mm)
- Small foam (6 – 9 mm)
- Large foam (8 – 13 mm)
- Foam glider (8 – 11 mm)
When I go for in-ear protection, I usually prefer foam because it fills the space in your ears and gives you the best protection. For my ear shape, the large 3-flange is a bit more comfortable for me. Finding the most comfortable tips is a big deal – you’re much more likely to wear your hearing protection if you’re not uncomfortable. The only thing to watch out for with the 3-flange tips is that you get a good seal since it’s not quite as fool-proof as the foam.
Dual Mode Switch
You have two modes to work with on your Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs. Mode 1 is the most useful for job site work. This one maintains your natural hearing level for regular noises and gives you blast protection for those quick, ear-piercing sounds. With just the physical design, you’re getting the 25 NRR you see on the package. What makes it the best bet for tradesmen is that it also covers a 15-decibel adaptive reduction for steady-state sounds that fall in the 90 – 120 SPL range.
The other mode – affectionately called “hi” – covers hearing enhancement and blast protection. This time, the natural sound levels you were hearing get amplified by 5x. This is mainly going to benefit hunters, law enforcement, and military who need to listen with a high degree of location accuracy and may be entering into high noise levels without warning. This mode doesn’t cover steady-state sounds like machinery and constant medium-high tool noise levels, so it’s not as beneficial in construction.
Having just wrapped up our oscillating multi-tool shootout with a few 100+ decibel units in there, I went back to see how well Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs can reduce the tool’s noise level while giving me the awareness of what’s going on around me. I also checked them out with some impact tools.
Two things struck me immediately. First, for tools I tested running 100 – 104 decibels, the combination of physical and adaptive electronic noise reduction brings it down to a very reasonable level. That’s impressive, but not surprising. What really got my attention was the other noises I could still hear and the clarity of them. Etymotic’s ability to filter different sound frequencies and prioritize which ones to bring down while still maintaining hearing accuracy of lower-level sounds is game-changing.
On the job site, hearing protection is a must, but so is effective communication. That need is magnified around loud equipment that carries a risk of serious injury. Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs give you the ability to cover both effectively.
You’ll notice a small red filter in each earplug and some spares in the box. These are what Etymotic calls ACCU•Filters. These serve two functions: enhance sound quality and prevent earwax and debris from making to the receivers. If you notice that your natural or amplified hearing isn’t coming through well anymore, it’s time to swap them out with one of the replacement sets in the kit.
Additional Field Notes
While the filtering, noise reduction, and sound quality levels are outstanding in these earplugs, I have a couple of other concerns. The dual mode switch and battery door are both easy to access, even for a fingernail chewing person like me. However, the switch doesn’t give me the greatest confidence level for toughness. The battery door is also vulnerable if you pull it back too far. Realistically, there’s little risk while they’re in your ears. You just need to treat them gently when you’re switching modes or replacing batteries.
These earplugs require a #10 zinc air (AKA hearing aid) battery in each side. According to Etymotic, you’ll get somewhere in the 10-day range if you leave the batteries in. You can extend that out to roughly 14 days if you flip the battery out when you’re not using them. These batteries are pretty cheap – as little as $0.25 each on Amazon right now and Etymotic includes an 8-pack in the box. While I’d love to have a rechargeable set, this is probably a good way to go since you don’t have to remember to recharge them or what to do when the cells finally go bad.
One quick note – air zinc batteries only give you around 4 weeks before they fully discharge on their own, even if you’re not using them, once you pull the tab off. With such a short life anyway, Etymotic chose not to include a power switch.
Price and Value
Getting your hands on a pair of Etymotic EB15-LE’s isn’t cheap. At $299, you’ll have to weigh the benefits against your budget. While you can certainly grab standard earplugs and even some electronic models for less, there’s a quality level here that I haven’t experienced in other models. Part of it is that adaptive mode that covers sound levels firearms ear protection usually doesn’t. Part of it is just how clear the low-level sounds are. For me, it’s a fair price for the combination of protection and sound quality.
When hearing is critical – both protecting it and for communication – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better in-ear solution than what the Etymotic EB15-LE electronic earplugs offer. Their ability reduce blasting noise and steady-state noise while giving you extremely clear situational awareness sets them apart from the other solutions currently available. If you’re looking for premium electronic ear protection, Etymotic gets my vote.
Etymotic EB15-LE Electronic Earplugs Features
- In-ear design
- 360° horizontal plane situational awareness
- Uncompromised sound detection and localization
- Unrivaled speech intelligibility in loud noise
- Dual mode switch: Adaptive Hearing Protection + Blast Protection and Hearing Enhancement + Blast Protection
In The Box
- 2 electronic BlastPLG earplugs
- Durable neck cord
- 7 pairs of ACCU-Fit eartips
- Cleaning tool
- ACCU•Filters and filter removal tool
- Protective Case
Etymotic EB15-LE Electronic Earplugs Tech Specs
- Model: Etymotic EB15 LE
- NRR: 25 dB
- Frequency Response: 50 Hz – 16 kHz
- Transducers: High-definition, balanced armature driver
- Power Source: #10 Zinc Air (hearing aid) batteries, 8 included
- Price: $299
- Warranty: 1 year