Review: Flare Audio ISOLATE ear plug marketing
In the ISOLATE, Flare Audio have come up with an ear plug that is certainly very different to the standard types on offer by the major manufacturers, and accompany them by some very slick marketing. The ISOLATE and ISOLATE Pro plugs have pricing to match the marketing though, at £25 and £50 per pair respectively, but is the marking anything other than sales fluff? As someone who has spent the best part of two decades working in the noise safety area, and who has conducted many thousands of hearing tests on people, here are a few of their claims and statements examined more closely to see how true or accurate they are.
Flare ISOLATE plugs and tinnitus
This is a rather bold claim that the ISOLATE plugs will stop damaging sounds from entering your ears, and then a very clear statement that this "will prevent your tinnitus from worsening". To start to look at this we need to look at the causes of tinnitus, one of which is indeed noise, but also includes any ONE or more of these:
Getting older - that's not 'old', that's 'older' so middle-aged onwards.
Infections of the ear
Too much loud noise
A build-up of earwax
A bang on the head
Some medicines are called 'ototoxic' part of which means they can cause tinnitus, this can include fairly common antibiotics and aspirin.
High blood pressure
As well as all these there are many many more causes, added to which the NHS also says that one in three people with tinnitus has "no obvious problem with their ears or hearing".
So let's be clear, there are a lot of causes of tinnitus, and even with that big list, for a third of all tinnitus sufferers there is still no identifiable cause.
Oh, and by the way Flare, your statement that 'there is no cure for tinnitus' is deeply misleading. There is no cure for some forms of tinnitus but there is a cure for other causes. You cannot simply blanket all causes into one and this is worrying and misleading for sufferers who may come across your statements in a web search.
In this light then Flare's blunt claim that their ISOLATE plugs "will prevent your tinnitus from worsening" is firmly in the marketing fluff side of things. If your tinnitus does happen to be caused by high noise exposure, and you are still having high noise exposure, then the ISOLATE plug will help, but then again so would any hearing protection. Which brings us nicely onto the second claim.
Result on tinnitus claims: Marketing fluff
ISOLATE plugs are superior and attenuate better
There are some key words in this. 'Superior', 'attenuate to a much greater level' and 'far more evenly'. This one is very easy to examine closely as Flare, like all other hearing protection manufacturers, have to have their plugs tested and certified, and that data can be compared. And handily I have already done this on the hearing protection data part of this site which lists around 200 types of protector and their performance levels.
Let's look at 'attenuate to a much greater level'. The simplest measure of this is called the SNR, Single Number Rating, which is an overall rating of how powerful the hearing protector is, in decibels, with the higher the number the more powerful the protector is.
The ISOLATE Pro have an SNR of 36dB, while the standard ISOLATE have an SNR of 35. These are good numbers, but as they 'superior to silicone, plastic and foam' ones?
Out of the already limited list of hearing protectors I have analysed there are eleven types of hearing protector on the market which are more powerful than the ISOLATE Pro plugs, and eighteen which are more powerful than the standard ISOLATE.
It is of note that of the eleven products above, all bar one are ear plugs like the ISOLATE Pro, and have prices in the range of a few pence, compared to £50 for the ISOLATE Pro.
So, the ISOLATE do not "attenuate to a much greater level" than silicone, plastic and foam plugs as claimed by Flare.
And their second claim of a far more even response over the frequency range? This again is easy to assess thanks to HML data. This is the number of decibels the plugs reduce noise levels by at the high, medium and low frequency ranges, again measured in decibels. The larger the difference between the three figures, the less evenly the protector reduces the noise by and the more it distorts the frequencies being heard.
The ISOLATE Pro have a HML of 35, 33, 31, meaning a range of 4dB, while the ISOLATE have a HML of 35, 32, 29 so a range of 6dB. That is again pretty good, but Flare are claiming their plugs are not just good but 'superior'. A quick and not-exhaustive study of the data identifies 16 types of hearing protection which have a lower range in their HML data than the ISOLATE Pro, and 30 which are better than the ISOLATE. 16th and 30th in a far from exhaustive list of hearing protection is not very 'superior'.
For the record, the best ones on my list are Howard Leight Max Lite and the Arco Premium Plugs, both of which have a HML range of just 1dB so perform almost identically across the frequency range, and cost 16p and 12p respectively versus £25 and £50 for the ISOLATE and ISOLATE Pro.
Result on claims of being more powerful and even: This one is not so much marketing fluff as downright untrue.
Claims on just hearing through bone conduction
This is one Flare trot out very regularly in their social media posts and seems to be something of a slogan for them. There is no other way of putting this one other than it is utter, utter, utter bollocks. Complete crap. Made up tripe. It is such nonsense that it doesn't even deserve the respect of a carefully worded statement on it. The plugs do not block all sounds and leave bone-conduction as the only means of hearing something, they simply don't. The SNR and HML data above proves it. If you are in a noisy area of say 100dB(A), the ISOLATE will mean that about 65dB of sound still passes through the plug and into your ears. That is fine as 65dB is about the level of a quiet office, but it is still some noise. Yes, you will hear by bone conduction as well as you always do but still hear a lot via the normal route. Absolute marketing nonsense.
Result on 'hearing by bone conduction only' claim: Absolute nonsense.
Summary on the ISOLATE and ISOLATE Pro marketing
Flare Audio make some damn good audio equipment but in that far more subjective world you can use marketing flights of fancy to describe your product. The move into hearing protection has brought them into a world of medical facts, well-documented and tested data and above all, a much greater need for honest accuracy. Flare however seem to still be using the hyperbole they are used to on the audio product side of things and this sits very very poorly in something as important as hearing protection. The ISOLATE and ISOLATE Pro plugs are good, and expensive, but they are just as good as other products on the market and absolutely do not live up to Flare's marketing claims as examined here, some of which are misleading, some of which have no basis in reality at all, and some of which make inaccurate and worrying statements on medical conditions which sufferers do not need to be reading.