Review: Minuendo Lossless Ear Plugs
Variable attenuation, linear response, sleek aesthetics: the earplugs of the future are here.
I’ve ‘ruined’ many a good live show experience by wearing foam bullet earplugs. Yet, like you, I care enough about my long term hearing to know high SPL situations warrant some form of protection. It’s one of the tradeoffs of having ears discerning enough to appreciate a good mix in a good room but also trying to protect them; those squishy expanding pellets are often a necessary evil. You might be bouncing in the mosh pit, cranking up your boutique amp or practising your rudiments, but it feels like you’re stuck in an isolation booth – no highs, no atmosphere, no fun.
Thankfully, there are better earplug options to guard your eardrums in a more high-fidelity fashion. Minuendo is one of them.
The Norwegian start-up created the fanciest ear plugs to ever grace your ear canals – there’s a lot more to them than a typical set of stuff ’n’ forget earplugs. Marketed as ‘lossless hearing’, Minuendo earplugs are designed to maintain a relatively flat frequency balance while attenuating sound. In other words, you get to enjoy the live mix at a non-harmful level. The slick little devices look so sophisticated they’d easily fool you for a pair of wireless Bluetooth earphones, but no, a pair of Minuendos don’t contain digital capability of any sort.
You may be wondering: earplugs with a more linear attenuation have existed for a long time. Custom moulded earplugs are designed for a similar goal too. Then how is Minuendo anything new?
VARIABLE PASSIVE ATTENUATION
Besides the neutral frequency balance, the big deal with Minuendo is the continuously variable control which adjusts attenuation between 7-25dB SPL. Minuendo achieves this in a completely passive product: no electronics or power requirement here. A small lever atop each earplug moves an acoustic membrane in and out of position to determine how much sound is being blocked out.
The benefits are obvious – I, for one, am grateful to be spared yet another device in my house that needs regular charging. Plus, there’s less to break in a product void of ICs and software. Not to mention, the passive attenuation control actually works incredibly well.
I was taken aback by how natural the world sounded after popping the earplugs in for the first time. Quieter, of course, but at the lowest 7dB setting, the result was mostly the disappearance of ambient sounds: the clock ticking, the fridge humming, the distant sound of traffic, all gone. But it’s easy to have a conversation with somebody at this attenuation level and people’s voices sound surprisingly natural. I actually took them out a couple of times to prove they were indeed impacting what I hear.
Push the levers forward towards the maximum 25dB decrease in level and you have that sense of stepping into a quiet room. However it doesn’t completely destroy the high end. Minuendo’s frequency response plots illustrate the exaggerated treble rolloff at higher attenuation levels and, in use, it doesn’t feel like a big compromise on clarity. There’s a distinct lack of the muffled and muddy sound characteristic of the foam bullet alternatives. In fact, the high-end roll-off suits high SPL applications. Loud sources like a drum kit, guitar amp, saxophone or lawn mower all sound quite natural at full attenuation – a huge benefit for rehearsing musicians in particular. Impressive indeed.
NEED TO KNOW
A set of Minuendo earplugs comes with a generous selection of tips – three squishy foam varieties, two sets of three single/double-flanged silicone domes, and two triple-flanged ones that you’d see on most other linear off-the-shelf earplugs. The triple-flanged tips gave me the best seal although there’s a slight sacrifice on comfort compared to the foam types. Either way, be assured the box will contain an option that’ll suit you.
The neat oval zip-up case has a firm shell to protect the units from being flattened in a backpack or gig bag. Inside you’ll find a leash and cleaning brush, the latter of which loops onto both earplugs to dangle them around your neck when not in use. The magnetic silver rings on the earplugs let you snap both together to form a secure loop around your neck with the leash.
I appreciate the succinct yet detailed user guide which not only gives recommendations on getting the best fit but contains separate frequency response specifications for the different types of tips. It’s obvious the fidelity aspect was important to Minuendo’s creators.
I understand if you think the near-$200 price tag is steep. However, having put Minuendo to the test I am far less sceptical. If you’re frequently exposed to high sound pressure levels (be it a festival show ground or construction site) then a couple hundred dollars isn’t a big (tax deductible) investment if it means your hearing lasts another 20 years. And if you’re a stickler for quality sound and loathe what the foam bullets do to you, there again, it’s a no brainer.
Then we have what I think is the key selling point: the variable control. Being able to transition from 25dB of protection down to 7dB when someone wants to have a chat is both invaluable and genius. What’s more, the earplugs come with a 10-year warranty and 30-day money back guarantee. As far as I’m concerned, Minuendo is a wise purchase for anyone wanting to take good care of their ears.