NPR x EarPeace Earplugs Review with Audio Samples
I recently acquired the NPR Music x EarPeace earplugs and measured their performance in the HearingTracker Lab. In the video below, you can hear my overall impressions and a few audio recordings of their performance. Click play now to hear them for yourself! Also, continue reading for my detailed review.
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EarPeace Hearing Protection
EarPeace first launched in 2010 offering a single high-fidelity universal fit earplug. Today, their line of hearing protection devices has expanded to include earplugs for music, live entertainment, motorsports, and sleep. It has been their mission to improve hearing loss awareness and, in doing so, they have become a trusted brand for musicians and companies such as Metallica and Redbull.
Continuing that lineage, EarPeace recently collaborated with National Public Radio (NPR) creating the NPR Music x EarPeace. This exclusive device offers their “true to life audio experience” with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 13 decibels. This device will be the main focus of this review. However, EarPeace confirmed that it is identical to the highly acclaimed Music Pro with high protection filters.
The NPR Music x EarPeace earplugs.
What’s in the Box?
NPR Music X EarPeace plugs come with hi-fidelity tuned acoustic mesh filters and both standard and small ear tip sizes. Three of each are included so you have a replacement should a piece be lost or damaged. This is a nice offering as silicone tips do not last forever and acoustic filters can degrade with exposure to debris and or moisture.
EarPeace plugs have a traditional look consisting of a multi-flange silicone ear tip. An extended pull tab is present to ease device insertion and removal from your ear canal. The NPR Music x EarPeace also boasts a newly patented contoured shape improving the device’s fit3.
Unlike some earplugs, EarPeace filters are separate and can be completely removed from the silicone ear tip. This is beneficial if you have different strength filters as you can better tune your protection to the environment and your personal sound preferences. Furthermore, this makes it easier to clean both pieces without introducing unnecessary moisture to the delicate filter.
EarPeace "Max Protection" filters offer 24dB of volume reduction.
Both a plastic and aviation-grade aluminum keychain carrying case are included. Perhaps ironically, I find this to be the most exciting offering of these devices. The small transparent plastic case can be appropriately used to store extra tips and filters. However, the metal case can, and should, be connected to your keys so that they are always with you. Loud environments are not always predictable and hearing conservation is generally a passive concern. Therefore, a case such as the one provided can assure that you are never caught off guard without protection. The metal case can store a pair of plugs and even an extra tip in the upper and lower compartments, respectively. Two rubber o-rings ensure that both compartments remain waterproof.
Subjective Sound Quality and Fit
After wearing the NPR Music x in various environments, I found them reminiscent of many universal fit earplugs. The standard size offered the best seal with my ear canals and the contoured shape did provide a comfortable fit. With extended use I was able to forget that earplugs were in my ears. This is no doubt the result of the soft silicone ear tips which also made insertion and obtaining a good acoustic seal effortless. The extended pull tab also worked as advertised and was easily accessible.
The filters can be removed and reinserted with minimal effort. I found this to be a highly desirable feature as I could remove them before cleaning the silicone ear tips so as to not introduce them to moisture. Due to the larger circumference of the filter, it also made the ear tip sound bore drying time shorter.
The sound quality of the NPR Music X ear plugs was slightly underwhelming. They did not offer as linear, or uniform, of an attenuation profile as expected given the ultra hi-fi claim. I found the sonic footprint characteristic of more industry oriented hearing protection devices whereby high frequencies are attenuated considerably. This can be seen in measurements below and heard in the provided sound samples.
NPR x EarPeace Versus No Earplugs
In these comparisons, you will hear the impact of NPR x EarPeace on reducing the overall volume, as well how the earbuds affect sound quality.
Volume Matched Comparison
OK, next let's see what happens when we increase the volume to get a similar volume at the eardrum. This will help you to hear how the earplugs affect the sound quality when we take the sound reduction out of the picture.
A Deeper Look at Attenuation
I wanted to see how my subjective opinions compared to more objective measurements. To accomplish this, Room EQ Wizard (REW) was used to present pure tone sweeps to a miniDSP Earphone Audio Response System (EARS) via a Yamaha HS5 powered monitor. Several measurements were taken for both the standard and small ear tips. The process loosely followed testing procedures outlined in ANSI S12.6-2016¹. However, as a manikin was used insertion loss was calculated based on the difference between the unoccluded and occluded response.
To assess ear tips and the associated acoustic seal, recordings were made from 125 to 8000 Hz. The NPR Music X earplugs were completely removed and reinserted into the ears between recordings to account for insertion variability. Average attenuation characteristics for all recordings can be seen in Figure 1. Both ear tips performed similarly with the standard size offering slightly more attenuation across the spectrum. This is due to an improved acoustic seal which was consistent with my subjective testing and ultimate decision to use the standard size for my ears. Furthermore, the NPR Music x can be seen having a more sloped, as opposed to uniform, attenuation profile. For example, my measurements indicated an average 9 dB of attenuation at 250 Hz compared to roughly 30 dB of attenuation at 4000 Hz.
Figure 1: Average attenuation characteristics between the large and small ear tips.
It is also important to consider fit variability as a device's acoustic seal can change from one insertion to another. To illustrate this, Figure 2 shows six separate tests and the resulting average (indicated by the blue line). The greatest variability can be seen in the lower frequencies which should sound familiar to anyone who has routinely used hearing protection devices. This further highlights the importance of selecting the most appropriate ear tip size as it can help reduce these variations.
Figure 2: Average attenuation characteristics of the small ear tip.
To this end, you can perform a useful subjective test at home when selecting ear tips for yourself. Use a Youtube video or signal generator to present a lower frequency (e.g. 63 or 125 Hz) from your computer speakers. Switch between ear tips in search of the best comfort and low-frequency volume reduction. This paired with proper insertion technique will lend confidence to your conservation efforts.
Do NPR Music x EarPeace Plugs offer 13dB of Attenuation?
EarPeace lists an NRR of 13 dBs for the provided filters. My testing suggested slightly more attenuation with an NRR closer to 17 dBs. Both numbers support that EarPeace devices can offer reliable and sufficient protection if used properly.
Regardless, 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 NPR Music x, and Music Pro, are contending earplugs offering both reliable protection and comfort. The included aviation-grade aluminum case is a fantastic addition and, if connected to your keys, will almost guarantee that you have the means to protect your ears when needed.
I did not find these devices, and the High Protection filter, to offer very linear attenuation. Therefore, they may not be ideal for more mild exposures, symphonic instruments, vocals, or in general those seeking the most uniform sound attenuation possible. The provided sound samples align perfectly with my subjective listening experiences—so listen to them and be your own judge. With that said, it is possible that the EarPeace Medium Protection filter would offer a more uniform profile. Regardless, there are many use cases for these devices, e.g. drummers, those with greater sound sensitivity, those more susceptible to hearing fatigue.
As a final note, it may be worth purchasing the Music Pro as you can select between various strength filters. If you are unsure which filter is most appropriate for you, speak with an audiologist to better assess your hearing needs and exposures.
The Earpeace NPR Music x offers reliable protection at a modest cost. While the devices are extremely comfortable and easy to get in, their attenuation is not as uniform as some other high-fidelity earplugs. With that said, they support a great cause and come with a great keychain carrying case.
All ratings on a 5-point scale with 5 being the best.
- 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.
- Clark, J. (2021). Sound Attenuation Device (U.S. Patent No. D938,013S). U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.