Etymotic ER•20XS Motorsports High-Definition Earplugs Review
There’s nothing better than spending a day at the races—the motorsport races, of course (sorry, Marx Brothers). Unfortunately, as exciting as seeing cars rev their engines and peel down the track is, it’s also dangerously loud. While I’ve known many people who refuse to wear ear protection as some sort of test of masculinity, your hearing is very important and should be protected throughout your life. In fact, studies now find that hearing loss is linked to the development of cognitive problems such as dementia. So, why wouldn’t you wear ear protection?
Etymotic Research, a leading engineering and production company, has been studying and producing innovative ear- and hearing-related products for over 30 years. Among its vast collection of headsets, earbuds, personal sound amplifiers, hearing tests, and custom-fit products, the firm sells earplugs that are particularly designed for use around motorsport events. I recently took a look at the company’s ER•20XS MOTORSPORTS High-Definition Earplugs to see how well they work and if they’re more effective than generic plugs.
ER•20XS MOTORSPORTS High-Definition Earplugs Review
Product: ER•20XS Earplugs for Motorsports
Size: Package is 4.5″ x 6.5″; earplugs are Universal Fit
According to Etymotic, the ER•20XS earplugs have a uniquely-developed three-flange design that’s intended to “reduce the volume” at all frequencies, rather than simply muffling the sound so you don’t hear it. That way, communication and hearing is still clear without being overwhelming or damaging. The plugs lower sound evenly to 20 decibels at all frequencies, reducing the noise’s impact on your hearing in addition to side effects like headaches and fatigue.
When you purchase the ER•20XS earplugs, you’ll receive a plastic case containing three different sets of eartips:
- Standard high fidelity 3-flange (grey)
- Large 3-flange (clear)
- Foam cylinders (grey)
The package also contains a black rubber carrying case, and small gold chain and cord to use as lanyards. Unlike what the picture on the package shows, each tip does not gets its own set of base stems; wearers must remove the interchangeable ear tips from the stems to switch configurations. It takes a lot of careful effort to remove the tips without damaging them or the base, so I’d recommend finding the configuration you like most and sticking to it.
When opening the product, the plastic packaging is firmly sealed but a breeze to open without needing a pair of scissors (great for opening on the go). It includes a directions pamphlet and all the components mentioned earlier. From first inspection, they’re all sturdy, well-constructed items.
Instructions for Use
Like most earplugs, the tip is gently inserted into the ear until the canal is sealed, stopping before the point of pain or discomfort. These flexible tips should be moistened and twisted when inserting and removing, for ease of movement. The stems include flexible tabs for easy grabbing, which I found very helpful—although I was concerned at times that they were sticking out too far.
The earplugs can be stored in the black carrying case, though the case is too small to hold all three pairs at once, so pick the ones you want to carry.
Depending on how frequently you use them, and how well you wipe them off in between uses, the earplugs should last 3-6 months, possibly more if infrequently used. To clean them, wipe them with a damp, warm cloth, avoiding chemicals or submersion in water.
Road Tripping: Read our review of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Overall Assessment: Does It Do What It Advertises?
You can read technical specs, sales pitches, and product descriptions all day, but when it comes to a product like earplugs, it’s all about if they work or not. That’s what everyone wants to know.
To put the ER•20XS earplugs to the test, I compared generic, grocery-brand foam earplugs with Etymotic’s standard 3-flange plugs. The 3-flange tip fit snugly into my ear, much better than I thought it was going to (I have shallow, wide ear canals, so I’ve not had the best luck with earplugs). Upon initial insertion of both types—one in each ear—the generic foam tips stopped almost every sound entering my ear. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
Throughout the weeks, I used the competing earplugs in a variety of situations, such as a local drag strip race, power tools in my garage, working on the car while it’s running, and listening to a live music performance. In every situation, I more clearly heard what was going on while wearing the ER•20XS earplugs, as if the sound waves entering my ear were more balanced. I was able to hear the announcer while the race was transpiring; I was able to understand words from other people as I was working with power tools; I was able to distinguish the words of songs and not just the throbbing base. While the generic foam plugs reduced noise also, it didn’t clarify the sounds like the ER•20XS did.
From my experience, the grey ER•20XS sponge tips didn’t compress and re-shape very well, so I’m probably not going to use those very much. But, the three-flange tips are the best earplugs I’ve used and I’d highly recommend purchasing them if you’re often around loud noises.
You might not give much thought to what earplugs you use—if you use any—going just for the cheapest disposable options. But your hearing is very important and sensitive; it’s worth the investment to purchase earplugs that work. ER•20XS High-Definition Earplugs do a fantastic job of blocking high and intense noise without cutting off sounds altogether. My experience using them was positive enough to persuade me to reconsider how I take care of my ears from now on.
- Aaron WidmarSenior Editor
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.