Minuendo Lossless Earplugs - Do They Work as Advertised?
Hearing protection is an important, albeit underutilized, tool in the hearing loss epidemic we face. Fortunately, hearing protection devices are now as varied as eyewear. This means we can choose appropriate devices based on our activities: industrial work, hunting, sleeping, music, and more.
The Minuendo Lossless Earplugs are a newer hearing protection device designed for music exposure. I measured their performance in the HearingTracker Lab. Grab a pair of headphones and click play on the video below to hear Minuendo for yourself, and continue reading for my detailed review.
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Before diving into the review, there are specific considerations regarding hearing conservation for music. It is a common goal to choose hearing protection devices with more uniform, or equal, sound reduction from low to high frequencies. This is key in preserving music fidelity as instruments live within different regions of the frequency spectrum.
This should sound familiar if you have ever worn squishy foam earplugs to a concert. Bass guitar and the thud of drums remains audible while vocals are lost. On that note, let’s take a deeper look at the Minuendo Earplugs.
Minuendo Lossless Earplugs
Minuendo earplugs are advertised as a high-fidelity hearing protection device designed specifically for professional musicians and music lovers. They offer a reported 7 to 25 decibels (dB) of passive attenuation. As this is achieved with acoustic filters, there are no onboard electronics requiring batteries or charging.
Minuendo Lossless Earplugs.
Stepless noise reduction
A unique feature of the Minuendo earplugs is that they allow you to adjust the amount of sound attenuation by way of a sliding lever on the device's outer shell. In other words, you can very flexibly tune the exact amount of protection you want in the moment, based on the sounds you are exposed to. For example, maximum attenuation may be well suited for performances while adjusting the devices to minimum attenuation can aid communication backstage. This is convenient and may mitigate the urge to remove earplugs which can increase your overall exposure dose.
It should be noted that there are other devices on the market, such as the Alpine MusicSafe Pro, offering different levels of attenuation. However, this normally requires you to physically change small acoustic filters which can prove challenging in crowded low-light situations.
What’s in the box?
In the box, you will find a cleaning brush, around-the-neck leash, and a carrying case. There is also an array of flanged and formable foam ear tips of various sizes. This is a notable offering as a poor fit can significantly, if not completely mitigate, the efficiency of a hearing protection device. Lastly, the earpieces are magnetized so that they stay looped around your neck when using the provided leash.
What's in the box?
Subjective Sound Quality and Fit
I was able to test the Minuendo earplugs in several music and noise based situations. Obtaining a good acoustic seal was not difficult given the provided tips. Furthermore, inserting the devices was easier than some foam formable earplugs as they do not insert as deep within the ear canals. While this has its benefits, there is also the trade-off of greater occlusion and autophony, i.e. my voice and any chewing became very boomy. The devices were also notably lighter than I expected given their size, making it easy to feel unencumbered and wear them long-term.
Regarding sound quality, the stepless level works well offering impressive control over sound entering the ear canal. With the adjustable lever closed, there is considerable high frequency attenuation placing the sonic footprint similar to many foam and industrial earplugs. Adjusting the level towards the open position (i.e. less reduction) drastically changed the sound profile and provided more uniform sound reduction. Harmonics of strummed guitar chords, consonants, and room reverberation were again audible. Furthermore, occlusion and autophony was lessened by the reintroduction of high frequencies and a more open filter.
The adjustable lever served to be a useful feature. However, there were two considerations that arose during use. The first and more inherent issue is that both levers move independently. This amounts to slightly more adjustment time especially if the levers are not being set at an extreme. Conversely, some users may find independent control beneficial as you can intentionally provide more or less attenuation based on the ear. While this is not conventional, it is an option.
The second consideration was that the lever would bump, or tuck behind, the antihelix of my pinna when adjusted to the open position. This was a minor issue and will be different for everyone based on their pinna shape and hand size.
Normal Listening Versus Minuendo Earplugs
In these comparisons, you will hear how Minuendo earplugs reduce sound entering your ear canals. Check out all the settings to hear the full range of the Minuendo plugs!
A Deeper Look at Attenuation
The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is the best metric available for estimating the sound attenuation characteristics of a hearing protection device. Higher numbers are not always desirable and it is widely known that laboratory computed NRRs overestimate real-world performance. In fact, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a 25% to 70% derating of this value based on the type of protector involved.³
Considering this, I wanted to check how the Minuendo’s reported NRR of 7 to 25 dB would compare to my own measurements. To accomplish this, standard audiometric pure tones were presented to a miniDSP Earphone Audio Response System (EARS) via a Yamaha HS5 powered monitor. Several measurements were taken for each ear tip and at the open, medium, and closed lever positions. The process loosely followed testing procedures outlined in ANSI S12.6-20161¹. However, as a manikin was used insertion loss was calculated based on the difference between the unoccluded and occluded response.
Ear tip sizes were selected for best fit such that the Minuendo Earplug had a good insertion depth and seal. Several recordings were then made from 125 to 8000 Hz with and without the Minuendo Earplugs at maximum attenuation. The devices were completely removed and reinserted between recordings to better account for insertion variability. The average attenuation characteristics can be seen below in Figure 1. There were considerable variances, especially in the higher frequencies, between tests. This illustrates how impactful the ear tip and resulting acoustic seal is. Everyone's ears are different and given the selection Minuendo provides, you should easily find a size that comfortably creates a good seal with your ear canal. Based on the tests, the foam ear tip appeared to provide the greatest and most consistent attenuation in the higher frequencies above 2000 Hz. This suggests that the foam ear tip may be more appropriate for those with more extreme exposures, sensitive hearing, or general aversion to this frequency range.
Figure 1: Average attenuation characteristics of the various ear tips when the Minuendo Earplug is set at maximum attenuation.
It was also important to check the functionality of the stepless slider. The previously described process was again used to assess the attenuation characteristics with the acoustic filter set at a closed (maximum attenuation), median, and open position. The foam ear tip was used for all recordings as it provided the best intra-test reliability.
Figure 2: Average attenuation characteristics of the acoustic filter at various lever positions.
It is clear in Figure 2 that there is an increase in sound attenuation as the slider moves from open to closed. While this does not appear to be a perfectly linear transformation, the configuration remained relatively constant. It is important to note that the greatest attenuation was observed in the higher frequency ranges. This was especially true when the slider was oriented towards the closed position. This is common for most protection devices and this may also be attributed to several factors in the test setup. Overall, the stepless slider appears to work as advertised offering a gradual increase in attenuation from the open to close position. This aligns with my subjective testing as well where room ambience and higher frequencies became more audible.
Does the stepless slider work?
Overall, the stepless slider appears to work as advertised offering a gradual increase in attenuation from the open to close position. This aligns with my subjective testing as well where room ambience and higher frequencies became more audible.
Does Minuendo deliver 25dB attenuation?
All together, my testing suggested a NRR of roughly 5 to 30 dB. This is clearly different from the 7 to 25 dB advertised by Minuendo. This illustrates the variability in testing styles and setups. With that said, the attenuation measurements included in this article are presented for demonstration purposes only and are not meant to be interpreted as laboratory data. Measurements were obtained on an acoustic manikin that may not meet international standards for anthropomorphic head and torso simulators. Furthermore, the miniDSP EARS do not account for the roughly 40 to 60 dB attenuation limitations observed when testing on humans².
The Minuendo Lossless Earplugs are a unique and effective hearing protection device. The ability to adjust protection on-ear is very convenient and may remove some barriers that drive people to discontinue use of their hearing protection. The biggest drawback to these devices is the cost. They are currently sold for around $159 which is considerably more expensive than most universal fit protection. For reference, the industry standard Etymotic Research ER20 high-fidelity universal fit musicians earplug can be purchased for less than $20.
The best hearing protection device is the one that you actually wear. To this end and as a final public service announcement, visit an audiologist to get a baseline hearing test, discuss your hearing needs, and review hearing conservation. If you are regularly exposed to loud sound, annual or bi-annual follow-up should be part of your game plan to verify your methods are protecting you.
Minuendo devices have a lot to offer if you are looking for earplugs with adjustable attenuation. While you may find better sound quality from other hi-fi earplugs, their stepless slider gives you options based on your environment. The assortment of ear tips also ensures you’ll be able to get a good fit.
- ANSI (2016) (R2020). American National Standards Methods for Measuring the Real-Ear Attenuation of Hearing Protectors. ANSI S12.6-2016 (R2020). Acoustical Society of America, Melville, NY.
- Berger E.H., Kerivan J.E. (1983). “Influence of physiological noise and the occlusion effect on the measurement of real-ear attenuation at threshold." J Acoust Soc Am. 74(1):81-94.
- NIOSH (1998). “Criteria for a recommended standard: Occupational noise exposure: Revised criteria, 1998.” DHHS (NIOSH) 98-126. Dept. Health and Human Services, Public Health Services.