I’ve written before about the impressive ISOtunes Aware headphones, which use a built-in microphone that allows the user to hear their environment while preventing hearing loss from loud sounds. ISOtunes has added a new product to that lineup today, the FREE Aware. I’ve been using one for the past few weeks, and unsurprisingly they work similarly to the ones I’ve used in the past.
The main difference you’ll see right away (compared to the PRO Aware) is that the FREE Aware features entirely wireless earbuds that charge via their carrying case. The Aware microphone volume is controlled by tapping the left earbud, and music functions are controlled from the right. Volume is controlled via whatever device the Bluetooth is streaming from. Remembering the correct number of times to tap for each function takes a little bit of time to get used to, but works well once you have it down. ISOtunes did fix my minor annoyance with the PRO Aware- the FREE Aware uses USB-C for charging, the same type of cable as most cell phones.
Having no wires at all brings some interesting pro/con scenarios from a woodworking standpoint. Obviously, there’s a benefit to not having wires for tools to get caught in, but there are some tradeoffs. The headphone controls don’t work if you’re wearing gloves (like a touchscreen, they rely on the body’s electrical system to recognize input). Also, I personally like to take headphones off if I’m pausing my work for a longer conversation, letting them drape around my neck. Earbuds have to be held, or set down, which means I will inevitably lose one for an afternoon at the midpoint of some project. This of course a personal preference, and the popularity of AirPods shows that there’s demand for this style of headphone.
The difference that you can’t see right away is that the hearing protection is now omnidirectional. This means it will only reduce volume if the noise level for that specific earbud tops 85db. So if there’s a loud sound off to your left, only the left earbud will trigger, and you’ll still be able to hear from the right. If both earbuds register above 85db they will both reduce the volume. The effect in practice is quite interesting, as I could still hear what was going on but only through the opposite ear as the sound was coming from. It’s not as disorienting as it sounds though, and once you’ve had them on for a while you don’t even notice.
The new form factor and omnidirectional volume technology both bring some really great elements to the table. The price of $199.99 is undoubtedly a bit steep, but I feel like the premium quality and execution of the product justifies it, if just barely.
The ISOtunes FREE Aware is dust, sweat, and waterproof and offers up to 13 hours of battery life. It has an NRR of 25 dB.
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