I wrote about the Scala Rider Q2 bluetooth motorcycle communication system almost a month ago. I liked the ability to talk to another person on the bike, place a mobile phone call if I was stuck in traffic, or listen to music.
However, there was a major problem: the speakers that come with the Q2 suck, and I couldn’t hear much over 40MPH with my earplugs in.
I read about soldering a headphone jack connector to the Q2 unit and using and inner-ear earphones headset to eliminate wind noise. I started researching what earphones would be the next best thing to wearing my Howard Leight earplugs. Whatever I purchased needed to live up to a tall task:
- Provide acceptable protection against the ear-damaging sound associated with motorcycling.
- Be comfortable in my ears for a long period of time.
- Provide acceptable sound quality for my Scala Q2.
My research on motorcycle forums like Sportbikes.net, ADVrider.com and sport touring forums, I decided on the Etymotic Research ER6i earphones. They have quite a following from motorcyclists. The manufacturer claims up to 36dB in noise reduction, which would make them more effective than my old foam standbys. At $75 shipped from Amazon it was a lot to pay on top of the Q2 set, but without better sound my bluetooth headset would be useless.
I bit. Would the ER6i earphones do their job as advertised?
I took full advantage of Amazon’s “Prime” program, and the earphones arrived two business days later. I was impressed by the size; I was very worried about the headset sticking out too much in my ear and being uncomfortable when I had my helmet on.
The standard tip is a soft rubber-like three sectioned cone. I was a little nervous, as I had previous comfort issues with the similarly-styled SilentEar reusable earplugs. The headset comes with a variety of tips, and after trying all of them decided the standard one fit me the best. Unfortunately, I immediately recognized a problem that would doom the ER6i.
You have to jam these things in your ear hole pretty good to get decent sound protection. When you do that, however, they really hurt. The instructions state you just have to get a good seal on the third flange, which I easily did. After all, I’ve been wearing earplugs for well over a dozen years due to shooting and motorcycling. I get my foam plugs nice and deep, so that wasn’t a new feeling for me.
When I put my motorcycle helmet on, the pressure in my ear canal was so painful I didn’t want to turn my head. The ER6i were clearly too deep for comfort, so I backed them out. As you can imagine, extracting the earphones lessens their ability to both stay in and block noise. I practiced for a few days at home by just wearing the plugs around the house. I found a sweet spot between comfort and noise reduction and took to the road.
I wrote about this before when I owned my first BMW (which had great helmet speakers; Scala take note that your product sucks in this regard): riding with music is an awesome experience. Sometimes riding on the highway can become mind-numbing, and music is a good way to keep things active. I had a great morning listening to Pendulum’s “The Tempest” while riding in a torrential downpour — it was a surreal experience.
Unfortunately getting a proper fit with the ER6i was really hit or miss. I could start with a good fit and bump my ears while putting the helmet on — which resulted in a poor seal. Sometimes I would have an okay seal after putting on the helmet, but tightening the helmet strap would put too much pressure and cause me pain. Other times everything would be fine until I yawned … and then the seal would break and I got a nice WHOOOOOOSH of wind noise for half an hour. When researching my experience on the Internet, I found that others had the same problems I did. Some gave up right away, some learned to deal with the discomfort. I wonder if people who wore helmets that were too big found it easier to wear the ER6i.
Even when I did get a nice fit, I doubted the claims made by Etymotic Research in regards to noise isolation. There is absolutely no way the have a 36dB noise reduction; compared to the Howard Leights I would say they block out half of the noise as the cheap foam ear plugs. Even with the larger tips in (which really hurt) they didn’t block remotely the same amount of sound. The question I kept asking myself is if they were blocking enough noise to escape hearing damage.
After riding home with a half-sealed earphone on a really windy day, I decided the question wasn’t worth answering. Between the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t conundrum between shoving the phones deep in your canal or suffering wind intrusion, bumping the plugs out of alignment at the slights brush in my helmet, and wondering if Etymotic Research’s claims about noise reduction were true, I just gave up.
The earphones seem of nice quality, and although others have complained about the thin cord I didn’t find them to be an issue. As much as I loved motorcycling to music, it wasn’t enough to put up with the pain and the lesser noise reduction.
Not recommended for motorcyclists.