4x hearing protector comparison (3M Worktunes Connect, 3M Peltor Optime 105, 3M E-A-R, misc plugs)

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Review by jamsomito posted 12-30-2018 08:45 PM 2056 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
4x hearing protector comparison (3M Worktunes Connect, 3M Peltor Optime 105, 3M E-A-R, misc plugs) No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I’ve been using the ear plugs with solid neck band for years. Generally I really liked them but some issues left me wanting to explore other options. I recently picked up a couple over-the-ear options and thought I’d write up my thoughts on all the different hearing protectors I use. I have not been able to test the longevity of these but I have a few work sessions on each under my belt. My thoughts are below, TLDR at the bottom:

3M E-A-R plugs with solid neck band

3 stars / 5

I used these things for years in my shop (several pairs), and I still do for work (I’m an engineer with occasional need for hearing protection in mechanical rooms). I love the hard neck band because they always stay around my neck and are available at a moment’s notice for quick jobs – I always have some protection available. I tried the kind with a flexible cord between the two plugs but they kept getting snagged on stuff and would slowly work off my neck when I wasn’t using them because of how they rubbed on my clothes, or would pull out of my ears when I was using them for the same reason – I hated those. I have 4 pairs of these with hard bands I like them so much. 2 I should probably throw out. They get dirty from ear wax and junk wherever you store them, and while it is kind of gross, I’ve never had issues because of this. I’m assuming this is because they’re not a true in-ear solution because they have pressure from the band. It’s just kind of hard to chuck them frequently at $6-10 a pop. I find NRR to be adequate for most shop tasks and mechanical rooms, although they are rated less than true, stand-alone, in-ear plugs. I find that for long, extended sessions, or particularly loud applications, they do not offer quite enough protection. For example, a 2-3 hour sanding session with my shop vac whining away and the ROS on full blast, resonating my whole work bench in my little enclosed shop nook in the back of my garage will leave me with slightly ringing ears afterwards, and the droning gets irritating. Also, I position the neck band so it’s elevated, but it always sags back down and rubs against my shirt – the neckband picks up the vibrations and amplifies it in my ears, which is particularly annoying. This is what spurred my look into something different. But you simply can’t beat the convenience and small size, so they continue to be perfect for my job. They’re also small and don’t make you hot or sweaty.

In-ear compressible plugs

4 stars / 5

These work well, are small, don’t make you hot or sweaty, but are one-time-use and disposable. Don’t get the 3-4 packs, get a tub, they’re way cheaper. Also make sure you get the right size. I have some smaller ones and they never sealed quite well enough in one of my ears. The correctly-fitting ones, however, rival the best hearing protection I’ve tried, and I have no issues with those loud or extended sessions. However, please do not reuse these. I’m not a germophobe, but early on in my woodworking hobbywhen I didn’t have proper PPE options, I reused a pair and got an outer ear infection. Use once and throw away. They go all the way in your ear- this should be pretty self explanatory. Other than the disposable nature, and the slightly reduced convenience putting them in and taking them out, the size, weight, non-existent heat build up, and NRR make these hard to beat. I keep a jug around all the time for things like cutting the grass, or before I had my over-ear protectors, those long and loud sessions that needed a bit more protection.

3M Peltor Optime 105

4 stars / 5

These are the best/cheapest over-ear protectors I could find (paid ~$20). Indeed, noise reduction matches the best protectors I could find (properly-fitting in-ear plugs), and I reach for these as my go-to on longer, loud sessions, or for really loud things. The pad on the top and the cushions around the ear feel a little cheap, and I’m sure the top pad in particular is going to rip over time, but I find that I don’t need to abuse this particular part as the fit around my ears is pretty good and it isn’t stressed much. Moving from in-ear style to over-ear style, I quickly found the drawbacks of glasses or wearing hats, both of which can cause the seal around your ears to break and noise to leak in. With some thin-sided glasses it works well, but be careful with ballcaps – I have a small head (which explains some of my idiocy – small brain) and my caps sit below the tops of my ears and I can’t use these like that. I need to remove my cap or fiddle with it until it’s just right to get that good seal around my ears. I do manage to make it work, however, just a minor, but notable inconvenience. Also, these protectors are huge. I mean giant cans sticking off the side of your head. Fortunately I rarely ever occupy that space except for when I’m standing up after picking something up off the floor by my table saw – in this case I suppose I’d rather hit the ear muffs than braining myself on the corner of the saw top like I usually do. However, they’re not something you can really keep on your person when you’re not using, so after getting a tool setup, I usually have a quick jaunt across my small shop to pick them up off their holster on the wall before I can get started. Again, another minor inconvenience. But, despite this, they are comfortable and are tied for the best protection of the units I’ve tested.

3M Worktunes Connect

4 stars / 5

These guys are what got me in a PPE purchasing mood. I paid about $42 for mine. Those long sanding sessions really suck, and having something that can connect to my phone for music or podcasts is a godsend for the monotony. I looked at the standard Worktunes set, which is almost regarded as the gold standard, but they looked bulky, and I didn’t need or want the AM/FM radio. The Worktunes Connect solves both those issues by dropping the radio but keeping bluetooth. And I have to say, that feature alone really makes these stand out. I don’t need the best audio quality – any podcast is better than no podcast – but these sound fine enough to me, so no complaints there. Some people complained about a volume limiter, but to me they got plenty loud enough. They are comfortable and seem better built than the Peltor ear muffs directly above. Connecting to a device is easy if you read the manual and are at all technologically inclined. Battery life is really good. These would have been my perfect pair, but on a 2-hour sanding session, I did end up switching to the Peltor’s because the drone of my shop vac and ROS in my small enclosed area was getting to me. Physically these are comfortable, but the noise reduction on the Peltors was simply better, and I was left wanting more from the Worktunes in extended, loud sessions. For everything else though, these are fantastic.

Take these with a grain of salt, but here’s a numerical summary:


TLDR: I wasn’t able to find a perfect solution, but amongst all of these they address all my needs, and now I have something for visitors too. The best noise reduction and hearing protection of these is tied and goes to the simple in-ear plugs (provided they fit right), and the over-ear Peltor 105’s. They were all comfortable enough, but if you’re in a hot, sweaty area, the in-ear plugs are best. If you want bluetooth, the 3M Worktunes Connect are a godsend, but I did want a bit more noise reduction for particularly loud or extended sessions. For convenience, my top pick is the semi-in-ear 3M E-A-R with hard neckband, and I still use these for my day job where quick, impromptu protection is needed.

View jamsomito's profile


433 posts in 936 days

12 comments so far

View lew's profile


12860 posts in 4265 days

#1 posted 12-31-2018 02:28 PM


I wear hearing aid (US Navy jet noise damage) and over the ear “muff” style is all I can use. The WorkTunes Connect looks really interesting as they are Bluetooth compatible.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View cmmyakman's profile


246 posts in 3166 days

#2 posted 01-01-2019 05:03 AM

Good information Jamsomito. In addition to woodworking I also shoot at an indoor range and have been pleased with the performance of the Decibullz that I get on Amazon. When shooting at an indoor range, I also use ear muffs over top the Decibullz. But the Decibullz are pretty quiet and comfortable for long term use in the wood shop by themselves.
You follow the directions by heating them in water and mold them to the inside of your ears, so they fit great and block out much of the noise. If you screw up the shaping process, you can redo it. Here are some detailed directions for fitting the Decibullz to your ears:

-- You can't fail if you don't give up.

View jamsomito's profile


433 posts in 936 days

#3 posted 01-01-2019 05:17 AM

Interesting product, thanks for sharing.

View Redoak49's profile


4184 posts in 2499 days

#4 posted 01-01-2019 12:18 PM

I go with the highest rated noise reduction which are the simple foam ear plugs at 33 db . The Peltor are only 30 db.

Good review but would have been helpful to provide the rated noise reduction for each.

When I was working in an electric furnace steelmaking shop, we used the foam type as they had the highest rated noise reduction.

The foam ear protection are cheap and throw away so you do not worry about them causing ear infections. The over the ear ones should be cleaned.

View jamsomito's profile


433 posts in 936 days

#5 posted 01-01-2019 01:38 PM

Click on the links for actual NRR if you need it, should be easy to find. This was my experience – every protector will fit everyone differently and give different results.

EDIT – here you go:
Neck band plugs: NRR 28
In-ear plugs: NRR 33
Peltors: NRR 30
Worktunes Connect: NRR 24

To my ears though, the in-ear and the peltors were the same. I did have a set of foam in-ears that didn’t seal well and noise reduction was probably 5-10 db. Maybe I just have weird ear canals.

Also, I think the use case is different in a one-man hobby shop than a production facility that’s loud all the time. Disposable in-ears would probably rank higher on the convenience category in that case. If you’re putting them in and taking them out a few times per hour though, it’s not ideal.

View Holbs's profile


2243 posts in 2539 days

#6 posted 01-01-2019 05:26 PM

I worked the Air Force flightline with jet noises so double ear protection (ear muffs / in-ear plugs) were mandatory. For woodworking, I just rely on my Peltor over the ear protection. It works to my satisfaction for it’s ease of use and safety DB levels.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

View kocgolf's profile


398 posts in 2688 days

#7 posted 01-01-2019 05:54 PM

Thanks for the comparison. I have used the Peltor alone for years, but got so sick of not being to hear the music and podcasts. I tried ear buds under the muffs but they are a pain and fall out a lot. I have tiny ears and nothing fits. I just got the Worktunes for Christmas and haven’t even tried them. I can’t wait though! I plan to use them for the lower noise long sessions (sanding of course!) and for the bigger long milling sessions I am sure I will use double protection foam plugs and muffs. Hard to hear a podcast over those times anyway.

View jamsomito's profile


433 posts in 936 days

#8 posted 01-01-2019 06:01 PM

Cool, let me know your thoughts on them when you have a chance to try!

View Green_Hornut's profile


164 posts in 3130 days

#9 posted 01-02-2019 02:48 AM

I have a pair of Bose noise canceling ear buds, QC20. They work by generating a mirror image sound wave to what your ear is hearing which effectively cancels out the sound wave. Quiet as a tomb. I would like to hear from somebody who knows what they are talking about, what is the impact to the ear drum? I have experienced hearing loss over the years and need to preserve what I have left. Does generating a mirror sound wave actually save hearing or does it just cancel out so the ear drum does not recognize the sound but is still being subjected to damaging levels of sound?

-- Mother Nature always bats last.

View jamsomito's profile


433 posts in 936 days

#10 posted 01-02-2019 03:37 AM

Well I’m not an expert but thinking about it, sound is just a pressure wave. By filling in the troughs, or less dense air, with high pressure air matching the peak density, the result is just a steady increase in pressure. The real world is much more complicated though, and I have no idea if this is clinically proven as a viable method of protecting hearing. Seems like it would be though.

Maybe a good check would be to see if anyone manufactures a hearing protector that relies on noise cancellation as opposed to noise isolation. Certainly the most common are noise isolation. I’m unaware of any but I haven’t really looked far and wide either.

View Steve's profile


1580 posts in 1092 days

#11 posted 01-05-2019 04:00 PM

I just recently got the 3M worktunes connect and I love them. They seem to be quieter than my Howard Leight shooting ear muffs and are a bit slimmer. I only wear over the ear protection, since those in ear foam plugs still open you up to hearing damage via the front and rear of the ear canal being exposed.

View GR8HUNTER's profile


6448 posts in 1222 days

#12 posted 01-05-2019 04:08 PM

I have and love THESE :<))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN

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