As previously asserted in my SilentEar earplug review, I take motorcycling noise very seriously. I wear earplugs all the time now, even if it’s a five minute ride down the road to Starbucks. Hearing is my only remaining good sense, I need to protect it the best I can.
Which is why I purchased 200 pairs of Howard Leight’s Max earplugs from The Earplug Store. Aside from great prices (200 for $21), their service and shipping time was excellent. I definitely recommend that you purchase your plugs from them. Rating in at a Noise Reduction Rating of 33, the Max plugs were among the highest levels of protection one could buy.
Foam earplugs normally come in two shapes: basic cylinders, and what I can only describe as “a cone with a fat ass.” The Max is the CWAF variety. I think the flared bottom of these plugs are what push it into the NRR33 range. The Mack’s Ultra Safe Sound I used to wear were NRR32 and basic cylinder in shape. I didn’t like the shape of the Max at first, but now that I’ve worn a few pairs I actually appreciate the larger base. I find it’s easier to make final fit adjustments with the larger base. The Max is also quite long compared to the Mack’s, SilentEar, and Silencio reusable plugs that I own.
The Max feels kind of rubbery, almost slimy, and given the little ear wax that comes out when I remove the Max, I’d definitely have to say they are more slick than the Ultra Safes.
One interesting thing about the Max vs the Mack’s Ultra Safes is the amount of time you have to hold them in your canal before they are completely expanded. I only had to hold the Ultra Safes for about twenty seconds; the Max requires forty seconds of expansion per plug.
After eighty seconds of putting a finger in my ears, I put on my helmet and took Cylon out for a spin. I was amazed at how great the Max was about blocking out loud and unnecessary sound. My main complaint with the SilentEar was that they allowed a lot of wind noise to pass through. The expansive, foamy Max gave out a definite NO YUO to wind noise.
The combination of the denser foam and the larger, longer plug definitely resulted in better performance from any other plug I’ve worn to date. I was really impressed with how well these worked. Oddly, I felt like I heard more clearly with the Max vs. the Ultra Safe. Everything was dulled with the Ultra Safe; I was able to wear the Max during karaoke night at still converse at normal volumes with Lady Jaye.
Somewhat related to performance — the performance of the foam, if you will — the Max seems to be good for about eight to ten uses before they need to be thrown away. They are MUCH tougher than the Ultra Safes. The aforementioned glossy coating keeps debris and creases away, two of the major things that hamper efficiency and result in a pair of discarded plugs.
Comfort and performance are a delicate balance. I recently wore them for six straight hours and they were not completely comfortable. They weren’t uncomfortable. The best way to describe it is to say that I was aware of their presence. Removing them after such a long period was also a little uncomfortable, but nothing that would keep me from wearing them for that long again. They are far more comfortable than the SilentEars, which I wore for 90 minutes the same day. I was about ready to chuck them.
Strong, silent type:
- Inexpensive, especially compared to buying fewer plugs at retail.
- Durable, good for twice as many uses as my previous favorites.
- Very effective at blocking loud noises and wind noise, without sacrificing your ability to have a normal conversation.
- Larger bases allows for fine-tuning fit.
Killing me softly:
- Too beau coup? The Max has one and only one flaw: it’s big. The size of the expanded plug is probably 20% longer than the Mack’s plugs I was wearing previously, and are probably 25% or more as wide. This will cause a big problem for folks with small ear canals, such as my Lady Jaye.
- May be difficult to find these at retail to try. I bit the bullet and bought 200 without trying them first. You may not be so lucky.
If you belong to a motorcycling club, band, whatever, buy a box of these and break them up between your group. This is as good a point as any to note that plug fit is very subjective. Based on the size of your ear canal, canal sensitivity, etc, you may either agree with this review 100% or not. If you buy 200 pairs of plugs, only to find that you hate them … well, that’s a pretty unfortunate waste. If you split these up between four or more people, the risk isn’t so high.
Howard Leight Max earplugs, I award thee:
Four and a half out of five STFU mugs!