Most of us enjoy background music, radio or podcasts playing while undertaking maintenance tasks around the home, working on our latest projects in the shop or sweating away on the jobsite. These types of audio helps make repetitive tasks less onerous, noisy work environments less irritating and strenuous work more bearable by putting us in a better mood, relieving tedium and helping us to relax.
An important caveat however, is that listening to audio shouldn’t distract us from the work at hand, whether that’s doing something at all dangerous or learning a new task. Also, you need to be aware of the effect that listening to audio may have on your co-workers and clients, and how it can compromise everyone’s safety. In particular, wearable listening devices can prevent you from communicating effectively with co-workers, or hearing alarms, sirens or other warnings, while cords connected to the devices can get caught up in power tools, scaffolding, and the like.
Otologists (ear doctors) warn that listening to music at high volumes for extended periods of time through wearable devices can result in permanent hearing loss.
There are two categories of wireless listening devices through which you can stream music from your smartphone using Bluetooth (BT) technology: wearable devices, consisting of earbud/earphones and on-ear/over-ear headphones; and standalone devices, consisting of speakers and radios.
The lightest and most popular of all wireless listening devices, earbuds are placed outside the ear canal, on the outer concha ridge of the ear. They can fall out while outside noise can seep in. Earphones (in-ear phones) are inserted inside the ear canal, and are generally covered by thick silicone or foam plugs (cushions or tips). They seal the air canal better so are more effective at noise isolation. Wireless models will have a built-in battery. Some have active noise cancellation technology and a built-in microphone so you can answer your smartphone. Playback time ranges from four to eight hours. Recharging is typically via micro-USB to USB. Plugs provide some noise reduction (NRR) value, typically in the range of 25dB. Some devices use one-size-fits-all plugs, while others offer a choice of small, medium or large plugs. Well-fitting silicone or foam plugs are crucial, so try to purchase from an outlet that provides a return policy just in case the plugs don’t suit you. Devices specifically designed for sport, running and fitness will likely be more durable. These are a good choice for use at the workbench, for service technicians or working around the home or garden. From $50 to $400.
Wireless range of 100 feet, up to 100 hours of standby time, 20 hours of music play and 10 hours of talk time. Have a flexible neck band and come with FlexFoam plugs (provide a 23dB NRR) and triple flange ear tips in both small and medium sizes. Kevlar-reinforced tangle-free cable with a durable braided nylon cover. Headset is IP54 rated for water, sweat and dust resistance. Battery takes one hour to recharge via a micro-USB cable. Neck band vibrates for incoming calls and low battery. Five-year warranty. Verdict: Secure, comfortable fit, easy-to-manipulate control buttons, very good sound quality, built-in speakers, clear microphone and good blocking of ambient sound.
Wireless range of 100 feet, delivers up to eight hours of play time, weighs 4-1/4 ounces. Single button for power on/off, BT sync, play/pause, and answer/end phone call. Separate buttons control volume up/down and song progression. Comes with four silicone and four foam user-replaceable one-size-fits-all plugs. Foam plugs provide 25dB NRR. The 14″ model incorporates a microphone. USB recharging takes about two hours. Ninety-day warranty. Verdict: Good sound quality and super lightweight. Cord less durable than Pro-Comm, and I had to remove from ears to manipulate controls.
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Popular because they offer superior comfort, better sound and noise isolation. On-ear headphones rest on the ears, covering the ear canals, which can allow ambient noise to seep in. Over-ear headphones completely close over the ears providing superior noise isolation but make them heavier and more prone to overheating the ears. Those that offer active noise cancellation will perform better in noisy workshops. As with earbuds/earphones, wireless models will have a built-in battery, and some offer a built-in microphone. Wireless range can be up to 150 feet. Playback time can be in excess of 25 hours. Recharging is via USB or AC adapter. Ear pads can be made of polyurethane, fabric or leather and on all models are replaceable. Good choice for use in the workshop, in heavy noise environments such as construction and landscaping or working in and around the home. From $100 to $700.
Wireless range of about 30 feet, delivers around 16 hours of playtime, weighs 14-1/2 ounces. Soft replaceable ear pads deliver a 25dB NRR. Nicely padded headband and easily adjustable ear cup housing that seals well around the ear. Features air flow control that provides better overall protection for both low and high frequency noise, and volume management technology that keeps noise below 82dB. Recharge via USB cable or AC adapter. Includes a standard 41″ cable with 3.5mm input jack for connecting to other devices. Boom microphone has fabric sock to deaden ambient noise. Verdict: I can wear these for hours at a time without any discomfort. Sound is excellent, and controls are easy to manipulate. Does a very good job of blocking ambient noise, and the microphone worked well.
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Vary widely in size, shape, durability and runtime. Those marketed by power tool companies are the most rugged and run on the company’s 12V/18V batteries or AC power. Most others use built-in batteries that are charged via an AC adapter; those marketed as sport or outdoor speakers have more durable housings. Almost all have USB (to charge a mobile device) and AUX ports (to connect other devices like MP3 players). Some have a built-in speakerphone. From $50 to $550.
Wireless range of 100 feet, runs on 12V MAX/14.4V/18V batteries or AC power. Separate buttons control volume, pausing and song progression. AUX port. Charge devices via a 2.1A USB port. Durable PVC plastic 7-3/4″ cube-shaped body with top-mounted flip handle, heavy rubber overmold and metal speaker screen. Weighs 6 pounds. Carries IP64 rating – maximizes dust and water resistance. 4″ and 1-1/2″ 10W speakers. Enclosed storage for battery and mobile device. Three-year warranty. Verdict: Super durable design, handy enclosed storage, instant Bluetooth pairing, and clear, crisp sound.
Wireless range of 100 feet, runs on AC with included adapter or any DeWALT 12V/20V MAX battery. Separate buttons control volume and pausing. Charge devices via a 1A USB port. AUX port. Durable PVC plastic body with carry handle and rubber overmold. Compact at 4-3/4″ × 5-1/2″ × 7″ and weighs 4-1/2 pounds. Two 2-1/2″ 3W speakers. Three-year warranty. Verdict: A compact, take-anywhere design with instant Bluetooth pairing, good sound but some distortion at maximum volume, no control of song progression and no IP rating.
Wireless range of 33’, runs on internal rechargeable 5.2 Ah battery for 10 hours+ play time. Connect two devices at once. Power/syncing, volume, pausing/speakerphone and song progression buttons. No auto shutoff. Built-in microphone. Charge devices via a 1A USB port. Comes with 24″ AUX cable. Measures 2-5/8″ × 3″ × 8″ and weighs 1.4 pounds. Hard plastic shell covered in a soft rubber, carries IPX6 waterproof/dust rating. Two 2″ speakers, and two passive subwoofers. One-year warranty. Verdict: Great sound with no distortion at high volume. Durable case for optimal protection. Long six- to eight-hour charge time. Control buttons hard to see.
Wireless range of 33 feet, runs on internal rechargeable 4.0Ah battery that is recharged via AC adapter. Up to 18-hour play time. Power, pausing and combined volume/song progression buttons. Built-in microphone. Charge devices via a 1A USB port. Comes with 14″ AUX cable. Measures 1-3/4″ × 5″ × 8″ and weighs 1.8 pounds. Thermoplastic polyurethane body with rubber foot. Carries IPX7 waterproof rating. Two front-facing speakers and side-facing passive radiators. One-year warranty. Verdict: Natural sound with no distortion when the volume is cranked up. The boost mode option increases volume to its maximum but increases distortion somewhat. Convenient size for workshop, in the truck, around the home.
Wireless range of 100 feet, runs on AC with included adapter or any Milwaukee M12/M18 battery. Impact resistant roll cage. Separate buttons control volume and pausing/pairing. Charge devices via a 2.1A USB port. AUX input port. IP54 rated for water and dust protection. 6.5″ × 13.75″ × 7.5″, weighs 5.3 pounds. 40 Watt dual channel digital amplifier and 6 speakers: 2 high definition mid-woofers, 2 high-range tweeters, 2 passive radiators. 1-year warranty. Verdict: Up to 16 hours play time with 5.0 Ah battery. Big sound for the small to medium size jobsite.
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These AM/FM radios have a built-in battery charger and are designed to withstand the drops, knocks and bumps of the workshop and jobsite. Some run on the batteries used to power cordless power tools, others have built-in batteries. Most can also be run on AC power. Some have separate control buttons, others have buttons that control multiple functions. The majority enable you to control your device from the radio interface. Virtually all have USB and AUX ports.
Wireless range of about 35 feet, runs on 18V battery or AC power and delivers four to five days play-time on medium volume. IPX3 (splash-resistant) rating. Single 2-1/2″ 10 Watt speaker with Dynamic Sound Processor (DSP) that automatically adjusts sound at all volume levels. Built-in microphone. Four FM presets but no AM. Compact 4″ × 6″ × 4″ size and 1.8 pound weight. Includes AUX cable, 1/4″-20 thread tripod mount, swiveling hanging hook and carry bag. 3-year warranty and 30-day satisfaction warranty. Verdict: Super compact and ultra light, with a distortion-free sound. Control buttons easy to manipulate. Long play-time.
Wireless range of 150 feet, runs on 14.4V/18V batteries or AC power. Up to 22 hours runtime on 18V 6Ah battery. Separate power, volume, tuning, pausing, pairing, equalizer, memory, clock and song progression buttons. 20 FM/10AM presets. Easy view upward-tilting bright LCD display. Includes 1-amp USB and AUX ports plus 4 AC power outlets. 13-3/4″ × 14-1/2″ × 13-1/4″ rigid frame with recessed top-mounted handle, thick rubber overmold, IP54 dust/moisture rating and metal speaker screens. Weighs 24 pounds. Four corner speakers and one bottom mounted speaker provide 360° sound. Enclosed storage bays with integral rubber seals for battery and mobile device. Free PowerBox app. Three-year warranty. Verdict: Fully featured, super durable and impressive sound at all volume levels. The ultimate sound box for the jobsite.
Wireless range of 100 feet, runs on 20V MAX and FlexVolt batteries or AC power. Eight-hour runtime on 20V MAX battery, with 3-amp battery charging. Power/volume, tuning/song progression, mode, mute, equalizer, clock, pairing, buttons with 10 FM/5 AM presets. Easy view upward-tilting bright LCD display. Includes 2.1-amp USB and AUX ports plus two AC power outlets. Has 18″ × 12-1/2″ × 11″ rigid frame with top mounted and four side handles, thick rubber overmold, and metal speaker screens. Weighs 14-1/2 pounds. Two 20-watt 3-1/2″ speakers, two 1″ tweeters, two air ports. Enclosed storage bay for mobile device. Three-year warranty. Verdict: Basic features in a robust roll cage design, great sound with minimal distortion at high volume levels. No enclosed battery bay.
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Carl Duguay - [email protected]
Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.