Power tools are noisy. They can be unpleasant to listen to at best, and at worst they can lead to permanent hearing loss. My hearing has always been pretty good, and I find loud noises painful, so I always put on hearing protectors before I fire up a table saw, bandsaw, shop vac, router, sander, or any other noisy power tool. While foam plugs have good ratings, reducing the sound by 29 to 32 dB, they take time to insert in the ear canals. Muffs are more convenient to put on a moment before I turn on a machine.
For many years I’ve been using AO Safety WorkTunes muffs with a 22 dB noise reduction rating and a built-in AM/FM radio. They have worked well, but they were getting rather beat-up, and I finally got fed up with the painfully loud squeal of the low-battery warning signal.
The 3M WorkTunes have been a pleasing upgrade from my old muffs. They have a 24-dB noise reduction rating and comfortable pads that provide a good seal around my ears. The headband has a soft pad at the top; it’s removable, a nice feature if you like to wear a baseball cap and don’t want that button on top pressed against your skull. The left cup houses the two AA batteries that power the unit. There is an optional lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged while installed in the WorkTunes by way of a common micro-USB cable.
The right cup has a power button that turns the muffs on and off when held for two seconds. Twisted, it controls the volume. When the noise of the tool is loud, the volume in the stereo WorkTunes speakers can be cranked up, but built-in software will protect your hearing by turning the volume down if it is kept too high for too long.
There are also two small buttons on the right side: source and function. The source button makes selection between AM radio, FM radio, Bluetooth, and Line-in. It also controls the music equalizer settings of Flat, Pop, and Rock. The function button will save and recall radio stations and pair Bluetooth devices. A large dial below the button tunes into radio stations; stops, starts, and scrolls through YouTube videos on Bluetooth; and answers, rejects, and disconnects telephone calls.
With each function of WorkTunes a woman’s voice announces the selection. It’s a great improvement over my old muffs’ eardrum-piercing signal.
The WorkTune’s sound attenuation in the workshop takes care of all my loudest power tools and yet I can still hear someone speaking in a normal voice. The fit is comfortable, and I could wear the muffs for a long spell of power-tool use. The sound quality of the integral radio is good, although if the FM is in stereo, I find it hard to distinguish separate sounds coming from left and right. With Bluetooth, YouTube music videos playing on my smartphone have obvious and excellent stereo sound. The WorkTunes can be up to 25′ away from the Bluetooth signal source; beyond that, the signal breaks up. That’s enough to give me free range in my shop.
If a phone call comes in on my smartphone while I have the Bluetooth connection on, I’ll hear the ring tone and I can answer with a press of the tuning dial. I can hear the callers clearly enough, but I come across to them echoey and distorted and the sound of my own voice is muffled. Of course, I’d often be wearing the muffs when making noise in the shop, and that background noise would only make matters worse. The most important thing is hearing a call come in and being able to pick it up. Then I can tell the caller to hold on a second while I shut down the machinery and use the phone normally.
The WorkTunes hearing protectors will see a lot of use in my shop and will almost certainly be at the top of my list of most-used tools. My hearing is good enough to hear a straight pin drop on a rug at ten paces and I intend to keep it that way.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Magazine.
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