There’s no getting away from it, watching live music is an exceptionally loud pastime. Especially if you have a penchant for the heavier side of the artform. You don’t need us, or any of the skull-crushing bands on this loudest bands on earth list, to tell you that long-term exposure to loud music can be damaging to your hearing. That’s why we have no shame in recommending our readers invest in proper earplugs for concerts; protecting your hearing in the earlier stages of your gig-going career will ensure that you won’t be hanging up your moshing trousers early.
The subject of this review is the Flare Audio Isolate Pro earplugs. Flare made their start in the live audio world, building PA systems and loudspeakers for live events, before pouring their expertise into a debut line of Flare earplugs back in 2015. Since then, they’ve sold over 300,000 pairs of plugs and expanded their line to include everything from earplugs for sleepers to in-ear headphones for music fans.
We’d heard plenty of positive things about Flare from musicians and gig-goers alike, so we’ve been keen to put some to the test. For the purposes of this Flare Audio Isolate Pro review we’ve been sent a pair of the Titanium edition earplugs. We tested them at a Less Than Jake gig on Friday 8 April at Bristol Academy (UK).
Flare Audio Isolate Pro review: Features
There are clear, aluminium or titanium versions of the Isolate Pro earplugs. This relates to the material of the central stems. The clear (plastic) models are the cheapest, with the aluminium model sitting somewhere in the middle, price-wise. It really is down to your budget as to which ones you opt for, but we like the titanium model for their looks, their light weight and durability.
Whichever set you opt for, each one comes complete with the central stems, alongside two sizes of soft memory foam tips - in standard and large sizing - and a small mesh carry bag.
The Isolate Pros also come in recyclable packaging - including sealed envelopes for the Isolate Pro stems and foam tips - which is a nice touch.
Flare Audio Isolate Pro review: Usability & comfort
The Flare Isolate Pros come deconstructed in the packaging, but the supplied installation instructions are easy to understand and it only takes a couple of minutes to be ready to plug your ears. To construct, you simply push your preferred size of memory foam tip onto each stem until you feel a soft click, after which they feel pretty secure – there are no worries about foam tips coming loose in your ears with these.
We would recommend testing the tips for the right fit before you leave the house for your first gig. We tried swapping out to different sized buds during the gig, and the fear of losing one of the tiny black tips on the dark venue floor was very real. Drop one of those and you won’t be finding it again.
Inserting the plugs into your ears is a cinch. With the correct size tip installed (we opted for standard size), simply scrunch the end as tight as you can, pull the top of your ear up and backwards, insert the plug gently into your ear and wait for each one to expand – this takes around 15 seconds. During this time you feel the foam slowly expand before achieving what feels like fantastic isolation, as if the sound guy is slowly turning down the volume and dialling in some EQ.
Overall, the Isolate Pros are on the small side, which makes them nice and discreet for those who prefer their plugs to be inconspicuous. You really only have the slim stems poking out of your ears. In a dark venue with everyone focussed on the stage, they’re barely noticeable.
In use, these plugs are pretty comfortable. You certainly know you have something in your ears, but they’re so lightweight you barely know they’re there. We wore these for the full 90 minute headline set without any fatigue or noticeable discomfort. Some earplugs - we’re looking at you, free foam earplugs - make their presence known instantly and constantly. Not these.
As part of your research you may read user reviews reporting that the Isolate Pro foam tips tear when you insert the stems through them. We didn’t experience this during multiple uses and felt the tips were tough enough; our advice would be to exercise caution when installing the buds rather than forcing them. Then, once you’ve found your size there really is no need to remove the tips again anyway. Flare Audio sells replacement tips (a pack of six will cost you around £4.99) and they recommend that tips are replaced every 6-8 weeks or at least regularly cleaned – using disinfectant and a damp cloth – to ‘prolong their lifespan’.
Our only real criticism of the Isolate Pros, is that they are so tiny we can imagine losing them quite easily during the melee of a live show. We were mildly concerned about losing one (or both) on the venue floor when taking them from the supplied mesh carry bag to our ears before the first support band kicked in. Some plugs we’ve tested come complete with a string to connect the two together. This obviously makes them more conspicuous, but adds an extra layer of security for your plugs. Considering the cost of the Isolate Pros, we’d welcome this as an option.
Flare Audio Isolate Pro review: Performance
According to H.E.A.R, the average concert volume is between 110 and 120 decibels (dB), with the standard talking volume sitting anywhere between 40 and 60 dB. Flare claims that the Isolate Pro earplugs deliver an average attenuation (that is, the reduction in energy from sound waves) of 32 dB across the frequency range, which means the harmful volumes of live music are reduced to a far healthier level.
The fear with earplugs is that, whilst you obviously wear them to limit the damaging frequencies hitting your eardrums, you’re also reducing the impact of the music itself. We all attend gigs to feel the energy and movement of the music. We get it. But we can report that, while the Isolate Pros did reduce the overall volume as expected, we also experienced enhancements in the bass frequencies, particularly the bass guitar and kick drum, meaning the music still felt nice and punchy. The plugs also helped clear up some of the muddiness in the raw live sound (ie. the sound without plugs in). And post-gig, we’re happy to report zero ear fatigue and zero ringing.
Flare Audio Isolate Pro review: The competition
There’s a lot of choice in the earplug world and we would always recommend spending as much as you can afford on high quality, built-for-purpose plugs like the Isolate Pros, but we also get that they cost the price of a gig ticket themselves. For a more wallet-friendly alternative, the Vibes High Fidelity earplugs are a worthy alternative. Their sound attenuation is a little lower than the Flares, but they cost almost a third less, come with three tip size options and a useful carry case.
For a mega budget option, try the Fender Musician’s earplugs. They’re dirt cheap and no frills (you won’t find any tip size options here), but if you simply want to protect your ears from the venue to the rehearsal room without paying the earth (and without any fancy features), you can do no wrong with with a pair of these in your wallet.