ACS PRO17 Custom Earplugs Review

Summary:
They might seem expensive at £139 for the most basic features but (massive cliché incoming), your hearing is priceless and these plugs really are some of the best you can buy. However, the carry case and colour of the plugs left a lot to be desired.

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Price: £139.00 +
Items Included: There’s a little wire pick to remove wax and dirt from the plugs and some kind of cream to help with getting them into your ears (ear lube?*). All this, plus the plugs and an instruction manual fits into a little carry case.
Custom options: I had the grip added (which is essentially a little tab that helps you remove the plugs) as it was free. I also paid £10 extra for a custom colour but I didn’t bother with a cord (seems unnecessary to me although it might help you not to lose the plugs) or laser etching (you can only have up to 10 characters meaning a mobile phone number won’t fit) for an extra £10 each.

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Why pay so much for ear plugs? Don’t those foam ones from the local drug store do the same thing?
I’ve tried a fair few ear plugs while working as a musician. I first had the generic type, which look a little bit like a Christmas tree. They aren’t bad at all as they offer a fairly flat response (reduce all frequencies by the same volume) and are designed to reduce occlusion (the sound of your voice booming inside your head) by sitting deep in the ear canal and allowing sound waves to pass both in and out of the ear. I found two problems with them, however. The first was that, with my very narrow ear canals (partly the cause of my problems with ear wax), I found the design of these plugs uncomfortable to wear even after short periods of time. Secondly, I found that they got dirty very easily and weren’t easy to clean.
After going through a couple of pairs in the space of a year or so, I fell back into the habit of using drug store foam ear plugs. These are very annoying as a musician. With no kind of filter or design intended to allow sound to pass both in and out of the ear, occlusion is terrible with these and when playing the trumpet you can hear more of less nothing of the natural sound of the instrument, especially in a loud gigging situation. Instead, you can hear the sounds happening in your mouth such as your tongue moving. Very unpleasant. I always find myself constantly putting these into my ears and taking them out again shortly after because it’s too loud without them and extremely annoying with them.
The ACS custom line of hearing protection products is designed to solve some of these problems. The custom moulding ensures that the plugs fit perfectly in the ear and deep enough to reduce occlusion and the filters are the highest spec (the 17s are supposed to offer the most accurate response across the frequency range).

The Colour
I paid extra for fluorescent green thinking a bright colour would help prevent me losing the plugs. I know several other musicians who’ve dropped plugs at gigs and lost them on stage. The colour chart on the website shows a nice bright green but the plugs are frankly a let down. It does say that the colours shown might not be representative of the actual colour of the moulds, which is expected, but even so these are a long way off. Rubbish!

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The Case
Included was a case for the plugs and accessories. It’s very sturdy and it looks like if someone accidentally stepped on it, the contents wouldn’t be affected. It’s nice that it fits everything you need in there, but it really needs something to allow the case to be attached to something else. A key ring would do it, or maybe a little strap that will fit on your belt. It’s too bulky to fit comfortably into a pocket, especially at a wedding gig when you’re wearing a suit.

The Practice Test
I first tried the plugs out in a trumpet practice session. The sound of the trumpet is still changed slightly from the point of view of the player, but it’s much clearer than any others I’ve tried. The biggest difference is the absence of the annoying sloshing noises you hear inside your head with regular plugs. Double tonguing, unfortunately, is weird, like with any ear plugs, as you’ll know if you play trumpet. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ku syllable must be changing the shape of the ear canals in a specific way. It’s difficult to describe how it feels, but it’s a strange experience.

The Acid Test
How well do the plugs actually perform then? I tested them out at a gig and the first thing I noticed was how easy they were to wear for long periods of time. Very comfortable. Secondly, the response really is excellent. After a while, I almost didn’t know I was wearing them at all, but of course I didn’t have any ringing in my ears at the end of the night.

The Lowdown
This is pretty much an essential item for protecting your ears and they’ve nailed that bit. They sound great and they’re comfortable to wear. Custom colouring isn’t worth it though, certainly not the fluoro green and you might as well save yourself 10 quid there. The niggles with the case are annoying as well, but they don’t take too much away from how great the plugs themselves are.

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