We hear more than enough about dust collection, dust safety gear and
protective eyewear in woodworking forums, magazines and newsgroups, yet
ear protection and, especially reviews of protective 'earware', are not so
prevalent. So I thought we would take a look at an interesting new pair of
ear muffs released by Australian company Ozito this time around. In fact,
they are electronic ear muffs! Intrigued? Read on...
Ozito Electronic Ear Muffs
We should all know what ear muffs are, and what they do. If you don't
and you have been woodworking for a fair while, then you could possibly be
saying goodbye to your hearing in later life. Ear muffs reduce your ear's
exposure to sound simply by blocking your ears, ear canal and ear drum
with a protective covering. While this doesn't shield your ears entirely
from sound waves, it does help to dull their effect. Many people use small ear plugs that sit
inside the ear canal, and these perform the same basic task. Ear Muffs
come in many shapes, sizes, colors and ratings. Some will reduce sound
exposure more than others.
So what are electronic ear muffs? Well basically, they are ear muffs that
help to reduce sound at higher levels while still be able to hear a
person talking to you that may be standing next to, or close to you.
How they work
If you look at the image above and the ones to the right, you will see
that the electronic ear muffs look pretty much like your standard ear
muffs by design, and really, they are in many respects. What they do have
however, is a small microphone, speaker and circuitry wired into one side.
Regardless, you can use the ear muffs with or without the electronic
components turned on, and as regular ear muffs they do their job
adequately. On their own they will passively reduce noise by around 20-21
decibels. This is a reasonable reduction in sound levels, but you can buy
more expensive ear muffs that provide a higher sound reduction rating. I
have a pair of Peltor ear muffs that have a 30 decibel noise reduction
rating, but they also cost twice as much as the Ozito electronic ear muffs.
Now, the electronic components are designed to attenuate noise above 85
decibels. The ear muffs, in effect, also allow you to control the volume level of
ambient noise around you. This is the noise in your workshop or your
working environment other than the direct noise coming from your tool or
machinery, assuming your machinery is producing a high decibel emission. This is my very unscientific explanation, and to be honest, I'm
no scientific expert in the sound department, but hopefully that
description makes sense for you.
By controlling the level of ambient noise via a volume adjustment knob on
one ear muff, you cam amplify that ambient noise, so if someone comes up
next to you and starts talking to you, the microphone will pick up their
voice much better than with standard ear muffs. Naturally, it works better
if the person trying to talk to you is standing to the side where the
microphone is located (the round black projection at the top of the ear
muff). There are speakers in both ear muffs so sound coming through the
microphone is "transmitted" to both ears. Normally, I make it a habit not to talk to anyone while I have any
woodworking power tool in operation. I always wait until it is turned off
and any sharp blades or dangerous spinning components have come to a
complete stop. However, the electronic ear muffs are not solely designed
for woodworking use. They are becoming increasingly popular with race
starters at athletic events, farm workers who operate tractors and heavy
machinery and factory workers. Why? because the biggest single advantage
to these ear muffs, in my opinion at least, is that you do not need to
take them off to hear what your family member, colleague or co-worker is
saying to you, and then have to put them back on afterwards. This is especially
helpful if you also have a dust mask and eye protection on, as often, to
remove one, you may have to remove all three.
So if your job requires you to be in an area where ear protection is
constantly required but you also need to hear instructions from others or
just wish to be more aware of the ambient sound around you, these
electronic ear muffs are very handy.
First off, one size fits all. That is, there is enough adjustment
range in the ear muffs to fit from a small child to a fully grown adult,
no matter what size or shape head you may have! Each ear muff can be
adjusted up and down to sit comfortably over your ears and encloses them
fully, unless you have very large ears! The plastic head band has a lot of
'give' in it so it adjusts comfortably to fit. At the bottom of the ear
muff with the electronics is an ON/OFF and Volume switch. You rotate one
way all the way to turn it off, and it rides over a detent to turn off,
much like the old car and home stereo on/off/volume knobs of times gone
by. Turning it on and rotating the knob the other way will bring you to
full microphone volume, and there is infinite adjustment in between. There is
also a red light to indicate whether the mic and speaker is turned on or
off. The biggest problem I found is forgetting to turn it off after I had
finished using the ear muffs and, consequently, exhausting the batteries.
The more you use them however, the more you remember to turn them off
afterwards. And speaking of batteries, the Ozito electronic ear muffs use
two standard AA batteries. If you have them, I'd suggest using
rechargeable batteries. While standard AA batteries give reasonably good
life in the ear muffs, a set of rechargeable Ni-Cads, or even better, some
rechargeable Ni-MH batteries will give you plenty of battery life before
you need to swap them out, and if you forget to turn the ear muffs off,
well all you need to do is recharge your batteries instead of having to
buy new ones.
To change the batteries you must take apart that ear muff that contains
the electronics. Use a flat head screw driver to pry off the plastic cover
and access the battery compartment. Once batteries are changed, make sure
the foam insert is back in place and snap back together the ear muff
components and you are ready to go.
A product manual is included with the package, and you will probably only
need to look at it once to discover how to take apart the ear muffs to
change batteries. The rest should be very straight forward.
While I enjoy using my 30dB-rated Peltor earmuffs while woodworking,
the Ozito electronic ear muffs also provide a reasonable noise reduction
level that makes woodworking with noisy tools and machinery comfortable. I
have two young kids, and using the Ozito ear muffs allows me to be more
aware of any 'restricted' entry into the workshop by them while I am
operating tools and machinery. I find them also very useful when working
with another person, as I can communicate effectively without having to
apply and remove ear muffs constantly. This, as I mentioned previously, is
the best feature of the product.
In Australia, the Ozito electronic ear muffs retail for just AUD$29.99 and
come with a three year replacement warranty. That's a very attractive
price indeed, and in my opinion, worth a try at that price. They are
available in Australia through Bunnings Warehouses.
For more information on Ozito or their products, they have a new website