Product Review: Big Ears BE-1C Stereo Ear PlugsPosted: February 14, 2011
Product: BE-1C Stereo Ear Plugs
Manufacturer: Big Ear, Inc.
Web Site: www.bigearinc.com
Features and Specifications
• Designed to be easily worn under a helmet
• 50” twisted cable, hardwired with double reinforcement on the bottom of the earpieces
• Standard gold-plated 3.5mm stereo plug
• Inner body made from soft acoustic vinyl material
• Single transducer design
• Balanced armature drivers with a 35Hz – 16kHz frequency response
• Sensitivity ~ 112 dB/mW
• Acoustic separation – approximately 18 dB
• Attenuates external noise by approximately 25-30 decibels
• Limited liability one year warranty on defects and workmanship
I had myself fitted for Big Ears in February 2009 at the International Motorcycle Show in Greenville, SC. I had been looking for a headache-free, no-hassle solution with decent sound quality for a while. Not that I was ready to listen to music while riding at the time, but I knew the day would eventually come. I can’t live without my tunes when I’m on the road, no matter how many wheels the vehicle happens to have. I had gotten a set of Bose earbuds from hubby the previous Christmas and I had gotten a little more spoiled in my requirements for fit, comfort, and sound quality.
Available (Problematic) Options
I had already experimented with the various styles and brands of earbuds I managed to collect over the years, from a $9 no-name set of cheapies to my treasured $100 pair of Bose ear candy.
The vertical style is not an option for me to use under a helmet. Even if I can manage to keep them properly positioned in the ear while putting on my full-face lid, they eventually cause a headache due to pressure put on them by the helmet’s cheek pads. More often than not I couldn’t even get them to stay properly positioned in the first place.
The button style earbuds, such as the white sets that come standard with every Apple MP3 player purchase would just fall out. I tried using blue painters tape or masking tape to help keep them in, a suggestion I’ve picked up online somewhere during my research into the various tune-channeling options available to motorcyclists. That helped a little with getting them to stay in while pulling the helmet over the head, but my long hair interfered with the application, so this wasn’t workable for me like it was for the guy who had suggested the solution. Further, I wasn’t about to carry a roll of tape around with me, just so I could secure my ear candy to my head. Putting foam covers on them worked a little better, since the foam kept them from sliding out of the ear so readily, but one slight tuck on the wire would dislodge them or pull them out completely.
Wire pulling is a frequent occurrence when riding. The wires tend to snag on collar buttons, zipper pulls, get tangled up with your neck-warmer or other loose clothing. You’ll inadvertently pull on them with the cuffs of your gauntlet style gloves, which will dislodge the earbuds or completely yank them out of your ears. Where you put your player and how you routed your wires became of paramount importance to continued listening pleasure while on the bike.
The helmet speakers that come with most bike-to-bike communication systems, such as those manufactured by ChatterBox or Cardo Systems, are engineered for optimum voice output. Music sounds horrible over them, flat and tinny. No bass but plenty of treble. Thank you, but I’ll pass. I’m far from considering myself an audiophile when it comes to sound quality, but I do have moderately high standards.
Why the Big Ears?
Sound quality is actually what finally sold me on the Big Ears when hanging out at their booth at the IMS. The other huge selling point for me was that they were also noise attenuating hearing protection. Wind noise is a huge problem when using bike-to-bike communication systems, even the best noise cancelling microphone won’t help if the speakers can’t overpower the ambient noise levels. Not to mention that having to crank up the volume just to be able to hear your riding buddy or your favorite tune is not going to do your continued good hearing a favor. Once those cute little hairs in your eavesdroppers die off, they’re gone forever. Dead. You’ll never hear that frequency again. I’m a child of the 80s, I already have hearing loss from cranking that Progressive House up way too loud. =D
Hanging out at the firing range with one ear plug just tucked in for looks didn’t help matters much either. But I couldn’t clearly hear the instructions being yelled at me without having to turn my head and look at the speaker. Not good when you’re armed (with the mode selector turned to “AUTO”) and dangerous.
The combination of custom fitted made-for-your-ear plugs with stereo earbuds built in has a huge advantage: the volume level can remain relatively low without loss of listening pleasure. On longer trips just turn off your sound source when you’re tired of listening to your tunes, radio show, podcast, audio book or whatever your road tripping pleasure happens to be and enjoy the quiet ride the earplugs provide. It takes a lot longer to grow fatigued and drowsy when you’re not constantly accosted with the coma-inducing noise of rushing air and the constant hum of your engine at highway speeds.
Important auditory clues, such as sirens, car horns or the signal bells at railroad crossings can still be heard, if you don’t crank it up like it’s 1999. I find conversations at red lights, yelling over idling engines breathing through not-quite-legal pipes, or the quick talks at fuel stops still possible, as long as I put the player on pause and look in the direction of the speaker. Your mileage may vary; as I’ve mentioned earlier, I already have mild hearing loss in one ear.
The No-Sound Version: Custom-fitted Ear Protection
I like to wear earplugs at the race track. The reduction in noise level definitely helps me keep my focus better; which is strange, because on the street I use music to keep focused and on the track it is distracting. Different style of riding, so maybe it isn’t so strange after all. But I hate keeping up with those little disposable foam ones; even the rubber flanged ones aren’t much better, although insertion into the ear canal is definitely easier. The foam plugs are really hard for me to get into my ear correctly; they always seem to want to re-expand before I’m ready. They can also fall out. They are a pain in the (r)ear! I end up not wearing them a few sessions in. I have used my Big Ears as earplugs by wrapping the wires up and shoving the little bundle inside the collar of my race leathers held in place by my UnderArmour base layer and the upper edge of my chest protector; however I’m always afraid that the wires might come undone and I end up tearing them up while moving around on the bike.
As a matter of course, I’ve ordered myself a pair of BE-SP Solid Ear Plugs in red to use for racing, while hanging out on the company’s web site for the purpose of looking up model designations and specs. =D
Big Ear earplugs cost between $84.95 and $104.95 (plus $9.30 for shipping), depending on the model chosen. The difference is the material used and the process of manufacture; noise attenuation is the same for either model. Both come in a variety of colors to choose from.
The BE-SP model, which is the cheaper of the two, is made from what Big Ear, Inc. calls Sani-cast™, employing a process called Sani-mold™, for a sanitized and bacteria-resistant product, using a Polyvinylsiloxane-based material.
The BE-LGSP model is made from a material which is a form of acrylic, called Mediflex™.
Warranty and Customer Service
Their products come with a 30-day fit guarantee and a one year limited liability warranty for their electronic and non-electronic products. The solid earplugs carry a three year warranty. The limits of the warranty are explained in full detail on their web site, where you can easily find the information and forms necessary to return your product for fit adjustments, repair service, or warranty issues. If you have questions email or call them, they are happy to help out.
Allow Some Time For Delivery
My set arrived within their stated delivery time frame, which was 6-8 weeks in early 2009. They arrived at my door in a padded envelope which was shipped via USPS Priority Mail. They were packaged in their hard carrying case, with easy to follow fitting and cleaning instructions and two small cleaning tools to remove ear wax buildup.
Take Care Of Your Big Ears
Follow the fitting instructions and you shouldn’t have any issues. Mine were a little uncomfortable at first, and I wasn’t sure if the fit was right. But I stuck to what the instructions told me, and they ended up being perfect once my ears became accustomed to them. Although I thought about returning them for a fit adjustment at first, I ended up not needing to do that.
Take the included cleaning instructions to heart. The naturally occurring ear wax buildup can destroy the transducer if it works its way into the internals deep enough or block the sound canal and you won’t be able to hear your music at all. I use the little wire loop and what looks like a plastic mini-punch to free the canal of any wax buildup and then use a very small amount of hand sanitizer (sans Aloe Vera or other moisturizing ingredients) to rub over the outer surface of the ear pieces. Be careful not to use too much, you do not want the moisture getting inside the sound canal and killing the transducer.
I had to return mine for service once because they had an unfortunate mishap which crushed one of the ear pieces. Accidental damage due to dumbassery is not covered under warranty; that one goes entirely on your own books. Be mindful of your Big Ears, remember how much they’ve set you back in the bank account and don’t take lazy shortcuts like Miss Busa.
I used to strap my 16GB iPod Classic, nestled securely in its waterproof Otterbox, to my right thigh, so I could manipulate the controls while riding.
(FYI of Occasion: The iPod’s click wheel cannot be operated with gloved hands; however you still have the option to stop, pause, play and skip. Volume control and menu navigation are not possible, however.)
I had gotten lazy and just hooked the ear pieces to the retention clip that held the Otterbox to its armband. One day, while exiting a burger joint, they had worked loose and fell to the ground. I dragged the ear pieces by their wires and Mr. Slow, who was walking directly behind me, had the glorious opportunity to put a size 11 boot down onto my business. Crunch! Not good. Entirely my fault, but he still felt bad.
It cost me close to $180 to get them repaired and I was out of tunes for about six weeks. Learn from my mistake and put those puppies where they belong when you’re off the bike and not using them: Wrapped up in their little protective hard case in your tank bag or jacket pocket.
Big Ear, Inc. repaired them and they look and sound as good as new. They did an excellent job and answered all the questions I had. I didn’t think the damage would be repairable, so I sent them a macro shot of the damage via email and was told that although they looked to be in repairable condition, I best send them in, so the technicians could take a look and give me an estimate as to how much the repair would cost if it was feasible at all. The repair was roughly half the price of a new set, which makes sense since I trashed half a set. They were returned to me via Priority Mail in a little soft case with a set of new cleaning tools.
My personal experience with the company’s customer service is outstanding. I have no complaints. They answer their emails within one business day and are friendly and helpful over the phone. They give it to you straight. All information is posted on their web site. The turn-around time for service or new orders is known up front. And you have to approve the repair cost before they start work. There are no surprises. That is the way I like to do business. They also keep you updated as to the status of your order or repair, with tracking numbers and status changes.
I give my Big Ear BE-1C a big “get them if you can afford them” recommendation. This product is Miss Busa stress tested and approved. They are rugged, have withstood over two years of wire yanking and have operated under extreme temperatures that almost cost my iPod its life. They sound as great as a set of mid-level Shure earbuds; they have worked flawlessly in the freezing cold of 19˚ F at 75 mph and in summer temperatures reaching a nice and balmy 105˚ F. They will serve you well, as long as you clean them regularly and keep them off the floor. If you’re ever at a venue and see a Big Ear booth, don’t hesitate. Get fitted, it’s free and without any obligation to buy. They keep your molds on file for quite some time (I think he said it was three years, but give them a call just to be sure) and if you later decide to pull the trigger on a set, you then simply go to their site and order. I told the husband to get fitted also, but he said he wasn’t interested in a set of earbuds in that particular price range. Now he wished he had, after seeing how happy I am with mine. He said that if Big Ear, Inc. has a booth at the IMS (which is the weekend after next in Greenville, SC) this year, he’s going to get fitted. Again, I had opportunity to speak the hallowed words: “I told you so.” And again, I got to hear the sweet ringing of life’s most awesome three-word sentence: “you were right.”
(Miss Busa Fun Fact: “I love you.” is not woman’s favorite three-word sentence. “You were right” is the new “I love you.” I told you so.)
“Tested & Approved”
Would you like to know more? Yes, please. / No, I’ve had enough.