Working on a noisy job site, mowing the lawns or cutting the hedges. You might enjoy that ambience or you might want to not only block it out, but replace the sounds of machinery with music, podcasts or audiobooks. There are a few ways to make this happen and we put them to the test to see which option works best.
Wearing ear muffs is a safe and approved way to block ambient noise and protect your hearing. They take damaging sounds and silence them. But if you are working in a noisy environment for a good amount of time, you might want to listen to some tunes. We added a pair of Apple AirPods into the mix and found the AirPods Pro with the shorter stems provided a good fit and covered them with the ear muffs. This is a workable solution for a short period of time. We tested a number of bluetooth earbuds and found that after an hour or so, sweat will build and one or both will fall out, into the earmuffs and you’ll hopefully catch them when you lift the cups. And if you receive a call, you need to remove the ear muffs for the buds to pick up your voice. The replacement was to combine the two; earmuffs with bluetooth headphones built in.
Image: Tactix Gen 3.0 Bluetooth Ear Muffs.
Bunnings offers two options and we got our hands on both. The first is the $69 Tactix Gen 3.0 Bluetooth Ear Muffs. These earmuffs offer Class 5 hearing protection and they’re comfortable to wear over long periods of time. The built in battery will get you through a typical work day averaging close to 11 hours of use before needing to be recharged. We easily connected these ear muffs to our Android and iPhone smartphones in testing and found it easy to get started. The Tactix Gen 3.0 allows bluetooth audio streaming for any content from your smartphone but also has a built-in FM tuner. This means that even if your phone isn’t nearby you can use these independently for your favourite radio station, unless it’s talkback on AM.
There are a number of buttons on this to get used to but the dial for power and volume made most adjustments easy. A small screen helps you understand which mode the Tactix is in and best of all shows you a battery indicator. These ear muffs are IPX3 rated so some rain or a spray from a hose won’t destroy them, but they’re not for swimming with.
The 3M WorkTunes are more expensive at $99 and appear more simplistic. With one single button on the product, no screen, no dials, no FM radio and less fanfare overall, you’d assume the Tactic is immediately better value. All controls, including powering the 3M alternative requires multiple taps or holds of the single button but we were still able to easily connect it to our smartphones in test. The snug fit and matching Class 5 hearing protection made these similar to wear and block ambient noise like the Tactix option. Where things changed however was when you began playing content. Sitting indoors with either pair in use, they sound great. But when you’re sitting in a noisy environment things take a turn. For me, handling a zero-turn mower for hours I was only able to really enjoy using the 3M WorkTunes.
Image: 3M WorkTunes.
The 3M WorkTunes are a mile ahead when it comes to the audio experience. They’re not only able to bring in less ambient noise but if you are listening to podcasts or audiobooks, you’ll hear every word perfectly with the 3M WorkTunes but that isn’t the case with the Tactix alternative. If you only care about music then the Tactix could suffice but your brain might be filling in the gaps where you’re not hearing correctly. The areas where the 3M WorkTunes lack however is in it’s limited controls on the earmuffs themselves. We would have loved volume control on the 3M WorkTunes instead of having to pull our smartphone out each time. You can control tracks with the single button including answering calls but the Tactix makes all of that much simpler. Given our shifts using earmuffs usually involved a good playlist or long podcasts and audiobooks, we didn’t need to use the controls often or adjust the volume. If budgets are tight, the Tactix is a better choice than using earbuds inside earmuffs every time. However, for the extra $30 upfront and even with less features, we pick the 3M WorkTunes over the Tactix alternative.