Of all the requests we get at Earjobs, none appears more commonly than a set of noise protecting earmuffs that can also take calls and play bluetooth audio. Historically, we’ve had to offer a not-quite-there solution, buy a pair of bluetooth earphones with noise protection and wear them beneath your earmuffs. But no longer!
In this hands-on review, we’re trialling the ISOtunes LINK, a light-weight over-ear hearing protection solution that will keep your ears safe while also letting you take calls and listen to audio from your bluetooth enabled device.
- 23 NRR sound rating, meets OSHA and NIOSH requirements for use as a workplace hearing protection.
- Noise-isolating microphone blocks steady-state noise for clearer calls.
- SafeMax Volume Limiting technology keeps noise inside device below 85dB.
- Lithium-ion battery with additional support for AAA batteries to extend battery life (14 hours with lithium-io, up to 28 with AAAs).
- IPX4 sweat and water resistant: good for sweaty days in the garden.
First Impressions and Unboxing
The ISOtunes LINK is packed in the largest box of the ISOtunes range, though it’s a super simple unboxing and set-up procedure. Inside, you’ll find the link, a USB charging cable, and a brief quick start guide outlining the various button functions (more on that later). To set-up the LINK, simply hold the middle button down for three seconds, powering on the device and activating the bluetooth sensor. You can then see it in your smartphone’s device list. Once connected, the LINK will remember your phone, automatically reconnecting when powering back on.
At the moment, the ISOtunes LINK is only available in one colour, a black-and-orange colour scheme that makes it easily noticeable (great for worksafe wear!) It would be nice if the LINK matched the rest of the ISOtunes range with a matte black or safety green colourway, the matte black particularly could help position the LINK as a subtle option suitable for commuting with. You can still wear it out and about, it just looks a bit more like workwear than you may want.
Fit and Comfort
The LINK’s earcups telescope out, with the headband feeling quite stretchy and malleable. It easily fits on larger or small heads and you can customise the reach and fit of the device by playing with the telescoping arms. For an electronic earmuff, it’s on the lighter side of sets we’ve trialled, though the cups can get a little warm particularly on hotter days. The cups are, however, very springy and comfortable, there’s no pressure-based discomfort on the ears when worn. It fits snugly, but comfortably.
The LINK is rated to NRR 23 -- roughly the same level of hearing protection as you would get on a standard set of earmuffs or a shooter’s earplug. When worn, they’re remarkably powerful. The earcups fit snugly (but not uncomfortably) creating an airtight seal that gives great sound blocking. If you’ve been frustrated in the past by the fit of particularly noise cancelling earphones, the LINK is a really promising alternative: it’s almost impossible to wear them incorrectly.
In terms of sound protection, NRR 23 is good for a lot of uses. As mentioned, it’s about equivalent to shooting earplugs, and is more than enough to handle lawnmowers, power tools, or engines. It’s not going to be sufficient for the loudest industrial workplaces, but is a great hearing protection solution for particularly the home handyman.
Sound Quality and Calls
But let’s talk about how it sounds. I tested the ISOtunes Link with a combination of phone calls, music, and podcasts. To my ear, it’s the clearest and cleanest sounding audio solution from ISOtunes yet. They have good dynamic range, the sound quality is particularly evident due to the strong insulation and noise blocking of the set. In a quiet room, I was able to clearly and easily hear my music playing on the very lowest volume setting. In louder contexts, the music was still audible at a reasonable volume.
The built in SafeMax technology limits speaker output to 85 decibels. The argument for this is simple: if you’re going to so much trouble to keep harmful sounds out, you shouldn’t then undermine all that with the loudest possible set of headphones. I found I still got a great volume from these, even with SafeMax.
Calls are similarly good. A built-in microphone boasts of being able to isolate and remove solid state noise. Your mileage will vary with this: while it does a good job with certain noises, anything too variable will still make its way into your calls. The microphone is, however, compatible with Google Voice and Siri, meaning you can control your device hands free where necessary.
For cycling through music or answering calls, the LINK is operated from a set of five buttons on the right ear-cup. A single press of the central button can pause and play music or answer calls. There’s also two volume buttons and a skip and rewind button. These are adequately tactile and give a good click so you know when you’ve toggled them, but they could be more explicitly divided -- it’s not always clear what button your finger’s hovering over. That said, they’re hardy buttons -- good for in the field rough and tumble.
The ISOtunes LINK is a hard wearing bluetooth earmuff with good noise protection and the best sound recorded in the ISOtunes range. It’s an affordable option for Bluetooth noise protection and likely to fulfil a niche for people who prefer an earmuff form function without sacrificing on sound quality.
- Great sound quality.
- Incredible battery life.
- Light and comfortable.
- High noise protection for the majority of users.
- Buttons need more differentiation.
- More colour options would be nice.
- Certification for the Australian sound standard would make these a more appropriate workplace solution.