Nearly 20 years ago, my eyes and ears were opened to the profound dangers of hearing impairment related to woodworking. I met a tinnitus expert who was also a woodworker and had many patients who were woodworkers. At the time, I tended to take woodworking noise as just a mildly annoying part of working wood.

Key points I learned included that hearing damage from loud noise can be instant and irreversible. Ever since, I’ve kept hearing protection close at hand, usually in the form of earmuffs hung on all the on/off switches on every machine in my shop. You’ve got to touch the muffs to turn on the machines, so why not put them on.

Still, as much as I use the muffs in the shop, I also would like to enjoy listening to music or the radio while I work. Cranking up the stereo to blast over the machines seemed counter-productive, especially with noise cancelling ear protection. Then I discovered the Sync stereo earmuffs from Howard Leight and Sperian Hearing Protection LLC.

Not just stereo headphones

These are not just stereo headphones. They are sophisticated hearing protection that offers 25 dB attenuation of dangerous noise. But they also include high-quality stereo speakers and a convenient jack and cord to plug into your iPod or MP3 player.

The muffs themselves are very comfortable, with plenty of sealing padding, and they easily adjust to fit a wide range of head sizes. They can be used just like normal hearing protection muffs without even plugging them into a sound device. But where’s the fun in that?

Plugged in and protected

As soon as I plugged these into my iPod Touch, I knew it was going to be hard to go back to conventional earmuffs. The sound was great, and it made long, tedious and noisy chores like sanding actually enjoyable. One bit of caution: You do have to be careful about routing the cord. I generally tried to put my iPod in a convenient pocket, but pay attention where the cord goes so that it doesn’t catch on something as you work. I tried various strategies such as tucking excess cord in a pocket and routing it through shirts and such. See what works for you.

At a street price of less than $30 from online vendors such as Amazon.com these are a really attractive alternative to conventional ear protection. You can learn more at www.howardleight.com.

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