Flare ISOLATE PRO Ear Plugs Review
Flare Audio certainly have a very enthusiastic marketing department working on their ISOLATE / ISOLATE PRO plugs, but does this marketing prowess translate into an equally good product?
The ISOLATE plugs are aluminium while the ISOLATE PRO are titanium, otherwise they are the same. There is also a mini version for people with smaller lug-holes. And please don’t blame me for the shouty all-caps ISOLATE, that’s how Flare write it.
I thought I may as well go all-in so bought the ISOLATE PRO version.
ISOLATE PRO Basics
SNR: 36 dB
Features: Reusable, metal body, changeable heads
As ever, full ISOLATE PRO performance data include APV is included on our hearing protector performance data page.
ISOLATE PRO Performance and claims
From the off, we need to be clear that Flare’s marketing department are prone to a lot of flights of fancy when it comes to describing the performance of the ISOLATE and ISOLATE PRO ear plugs, with things like ‘the only sound you hear is via bone conduction’ and the phrase ‘switch off your ears’.
It’s also interesting that Flare’s roots as an audio company really show on their website with loads of hyperbole about how they sound but very little actual data, and this is reflected on the pack. When I bought mine I had to email Flare to ask for the HML and APV data, which is now available on our Hearing Protector Performance Data page.
The ISOLATE PRO have an SNR of 36dB which is strong, but not uncommonly so. At the time of writing, there are 15 other protectors listed on our Hearing Protector Performance Data page which have higher levels of noise attenuation than the ISOLATE PRO, (which itself has stronger performance than the ISOLATE).
It is hard to know when to stop when looking at Flare’s marketing for the ISOLATE and ISOLATE PRO ear plugs as so much of it is just… what’s a polite word for ‘bollocks’?
No ear plug, or ear muff, will ever give NO sound transmission through it, thereby leaving "no direct sound entering through the ears". This is simply impossible. You do not and never will hear only through bone conduction when wearing an ear plug, any ear plug. Bone conduction may become a larger component of what you hear but that is not what Flare are saying here - they say you hear nothing from sound entering the ear. Nonsense. Flare themselves say the ISOLATE PRO attenuates noise by 36dB, so if you are in an area of 90 dB(A) you will still have 54 dB(A) of noise coming through the plug itself.
They also make a bold claim that their performance is simply ‘superior’:
Flare make two specific claims there, that the ISOLATE PRO attenuate to ‘a much greater level’ and also ‘far more evenly across the full frequency spectrum’. We know the first of those is simply untrue and many standard protectors offer the same or stronger protection. It is important to remember that ‘stronger’ does not mean ‘better’ in hearing protection despite that being how Flare present it by the way, but what about the claim for a ‘more even’ reduction as this is important for music and musicians?
ISOLATE PRO performance for musicians
For musicians, what you ideally want is for the plug to reduce volume levels without changing the frequencies of the sound, so it still sounds natural but just a bit quieter. This is what Flare are referencing above by the ‘more evenly’ claim.
An indication of how evenly a protector reduces the noise is how little variation there is between the three HML values - the smaller the variation the less the plug distorts the sound.
The ISOLATE PRO reduces the high frequencies by 35dB and the low by 31dB, giving a range of 4dB between the high and low frequency bands. That is indeed a pretty good and is a fairly even reduction across the spectrum, but a good 20 or so protectors on our list have an even smaller range and therefore are better for musicians. The ISOLATE PRO are far from the best option for musicians and definitely do not attenuate the noise ‘far more evenly across the full frequency spectrum’ than foam, plastic, etc. plugs as Flare boldly state. Thats just marketing fluff and made-uppery.
If musicians are looking for hearing protection, have a look at the Howard Leight Multi Max - only a 1dB difference in attenuation between high and low frequencies, and only cost about 20p, or the Arco Premium Plugs which again are 1dB difference and cost about 12p. They just don’t have the same marketing hype surrounding them.
ISOLATE PRO price and value
Even cheapo plugs like the Arco Essentials Disposable, EARsoft FX or Leight Max all offer more protection than the ISOLATE PRO, and in the case of the Arco plugs, for 9p. The EAR Push-In plugs offer more protection than the ISOLATE Pro, are also reusable like the ISOLATE PRO, and do it for 58p versus the ISOLATE PROs £50.
For the standard ISOLATE ear plugs, there are dozens of hearing protectors on the market which offer higher levels of noise attenuation than they do, and at a price of a few pence versus the £25 asking price for the aluminium ISOLATE plugs.
Is the extra £25 worth it for the ISOLATE PRO over the standard ISOLATE? There is 1dB of difference between them which is well within the margin or error for slightly incorrect fitting. So no - 1dB is pretty much trivial and that £25 extra effectively buys you pretty much nothing.
ISOLATE PRO are reusable while some others are disposable
The ISOLATE PRO are reusable while some of the others (but not all) it is compared against are disposable, but you have to re-use the ISOLATE PRO a hell of a lot to be saving money compared to disposables. The Arco Essentials Disposable plug is stronger than the ISOLATE PRO, and you would have to reuse the ISOLATE PRO 555 times to begin to save money over the Arco disposables, and within that you would have to spend more to change the ISOLATE PRO’s foam tips, at another £9.99, so add even more to that reuse target. In reality, that’s not going to happen. The EAR Push-In however are also reusable, perform more strongly, and cost about 58p versus the ISOLATE PRO’s £50.
ISOLATE PRO fit and comfort
I have now used these things many times over more than a year now, sometimes in high noise factories and sometimes under my helmet on a motorbike.
They are easy to get a tight fit - lift the ear slightly and they slide in nicely and do stay in - I don’t have a problem with them working loose. The ISOLATE PRO plugs arrive with a selection of foam sections which push onto the end of the metal body, allowing a range of sizes for different users. They are washable for when they come out again.
In work, for periods of up to maybe a couple of hours (at most) they are OK but after that they really do start to hurt, to the point I have had to take them out to swap to other protection which is something I have never had to do with other forms of hearing protectors.
ISOLATE PRO for motorbikes
On a motorbike, the ISOLATE PRO are just painful. The helmet pressure against the ears pushes the ears against the plugs and it REALLY hurts after a very short time.
I tried them again last week just to be sure and put them in before leaving a client site in Enfield. I got to the first services on the M25 and had to pull over to stop and take them out again as it was quickly turning into agony. And before you say it Flare, yes, they were properly inserted all the way.
ISOLATE PRO other comments
Is the ISOLATE and ISOLATE PRO’s metal construction better than ‘normal’ plugs?
No - as the performance data shows, other plugs costing pennies have better overall noise attenuation and better low frequency attenuation, indicating the metal construction adds nothing other than style and, well, flare.
Too much protection?
It is worth noting that when choosing hearing protection at work then as mentioned above, stronger is not always better. You want the user to be somewhere in the mid-70dB range under the plug and too much protection isolates the wearer and can lead to decreased compliance and also an inability hear alarms, fork lift trucks, conversation, etc. In a lot of workplaces a 36dB reduction is actually too much protection making these ISOLATE PRO plugs, and others with similar performance levels, an inappropriate choice.
Flare constantly market the ISOLATE plugs by saying how powerful the plugs are but it is rare indeed when on a noise assessment I have to recommend the most powerful protectors I can find and most companies need more of a middle ground protector with less noise attenuation, so people aren’t isolated from their surroundings.
Flare’s claims for the ISOLATE PRO and tinnitus
This claim is one I find so irresponsible that it genuinely angers me.
There are many many types of tinnitus, and tinnitus can be hellish for sufferers. Some forms of tinnitus DO have a cure, yet here are Flare saying ‘there is no cure for tinnitus’, and then claiming that their over-priced plug will ‘stop your tinnitus from worsening’. If your tinnitus is caused by noise then it will indeed stop it getting worse, as will any hearing protection - that’s nothing special to the ISOLATE plugs. But a lot of causes of tinnitus are not noise so not only are Flare telling people their tinnitus is not treatable when in reality it may well be, they are also promising their plug will stop it worsening when it may well be completely irrelevant to that person’s tinnitus. The marketing people need taking round the back of the office and giving a good hard slapping for this one.
ISOLATE PRO Summary
A triumph of marketing hype over reality. Performance is good but no better than other protectors costing pennies. £50 gets you slightly less overall noise attenuation and less low frequency attenuation than other protectors costing tiny fractions of the price, and some those are also reusable. And they hurt.
When they arrived the presentation effort and attention to detail is again very clear with rather Apple-esque quality packaging. However, the ISOLATE PRO packaging, while high on glitz is disappointingly low on all-important actual data which for hearing protection is vital - you need to know how good they are otherwise they are pointless.
For motorbikes, they are horrible. Painful. Their sound reduction is no better than many other options out there. Just don’t.
For musicians, there are a lot of other protectors out there which will have less distortion than the ISOLATE PRO plugs.
They offer weaker performance and a more painful fit than other plugs costing tiny fractions of what the ISOLATE PRO plugs cost. Aside from being shiny and having very enthusiastic marketing there is nothing to support or justify their price. Despite spending £50 on them I only wear them if I find myself doing a noise assessment and there is nothing else in my bag, which says it all.