Machismo metal band Manowar once held the dubious distinction in the Guinness Book of Records of being the loudest band in the world – clocking in at close to 130 decibels during one of their concerts in the 1990s. When asked to comment on their noise notoriety the band members replied, Huh?
Some degree of hearing loss is almost a certainty of age, but can also be mitigated by using hearing protection throughout life. Repeated exposure to sound over 85 decibels (from hereon referred to as dB because I’m too lazy to type the entire word) invites the potential for long-term hearing damage. Climb over 100 dB and the potential becomes more of a certainty, so much so that the Guinness Book eventually decided to exclude the ‘loudest band’ category from their records for fear of too many bands damaging too many eardrums in a quest to hold the record. Perhaps the Guinness Book will eventually include a ‘goofiest display of homoeroticism’ category, a record that Manowar should hold for a long, long time.
Most of us who ride off-road are vigilant about the use of safety gear, but one area that’s often overlooked is our ears. With aftermarket exhaust systems on modern four-stroke motorcycles flirting with the 100 dB mark, and open-road wind noise in excess of 80mph, it can get pretty loud inside your helmet. Presumably, this is the reason I see more and more riders popping out ear plugs after they pull their helmets off.
My problem is that I enjoy the cam and valve duet of my bike – the growl of a thumper tearing through the woods is music to my ears and soothes my soul the way a Manowar concert does to concert goers in Prague, Stockholm, or some other east European sideshow. I also like to be able to hear miscellaneous engine components as they slingshot themselves off my bike, and, reluctantly, have occasional communication with others in my riding party.
I know, I know – riding motorcycles is a great way to spend the day with friends without ever having to speak to them. In reality though, you’re going to communicate when you stop. Whether it’s pertinent information such as ‘your chain flew off and is now wrapped around your neck like an umbilical cord’ or subtle pleasantries like ‘you brake check me in a corner again and I’m going to T-bone at full throttle’, riders need to be able to have quick dialogue over idling engines without removing their helmets.
Dubs Acoustic Filters by Doppler Labs is a happy-medium solution designed for noise reduction without sacrificing the clarity of sound. Since we hear different tones with different levels of sensitivity, these plugs route sound accordingly through different levels of filtration in several different sized chambers. The engineering is based upon the loudness of the signal, similar to the way a carburetor’s main jet and idle jet work in conjunction. The end result is a 12dB reduction in noise, while still retaining sound quality.
Well-constructed using 6 different types of materials, these are a far cry from the disposable safety orange ear plugs. Sizing is one size fits most and although I did read some consumer complaints of sizing issues, there’s the old adage that opinions are like earholes – everybody has them. If you have ears that belong on the bridge of The Starship Enterprise or similar to the denizens of Middle Earth these might not work for you. For my average (freshly shaven) ear canals they fit perfectly.
On the bike I found Dubs to be comfortable and, after a little while, didn’t even notice I had anything in my ears at all other than several years accumulation of wax. Wind noise at highway speeds was still prevalent, but no longer bothersome. In fact, the Dubs seemed to accentuate the deep baritone of my FMF pipe over the static white noise of wind noise.
Of course, not all the sounds were pleasant. Sticking anything in your ears can cause sound amplification inside your head, particularly when talking or chewing. It’s a physiological phenomenon that these acoustic filters can’t overcome, so clipping a branch with my helmet while riding sounded like a cannon being shot in my skull. But this is something indicative of ear plugs in general, so I can’t hold it against this particular pair.
The only thing I didn’t like about these are the fact that they’re easily lost. Almost entirely black, save for a fine frame of colored pin-striping around the exterior, I popped these out while stopped and promptly lost them where my black Giant Loop bag meets my black Seat Concepts seat. I hear eye sight diminishes with age as well, so I wish these were offered in the day glow 80s colors that youngsters have resurrected – it would make them more visible when accidentally dropped. Doppler Labs was kind enough to include a hard storage case with these plugs, and at $25 a pair it’s the least they can do.
If you’re inclined to wear plugs when riding, these could be good investment. They’re just as comfortable as disposable ear plugs (if not more so), allow you to hear when you need to, and eventually (and I do mean eventually) they’ll cost you less. Provided you don’t lose them.