This is not a Flares Audio ‘audio’ product that delivers sound, so hopefully, nobody is mistaking this for a new IEM from Davies Roberts: The Mad Scientist, as I call him now. His ISOLATE is simply a high-quality earplug of sorts that I am not even sure of how to classify.
Truthfully, I’ve had a funny conversation with Marcus, the owner of Headfonics, about how to classify this product and neither of us knew how to categorize it properly.
Does it fall into the designation of noise cancellation products (NC), does it place more appropriately into noise filters or perhaps bone conduction? The truth? It is all three in one and unlike any other “earplug” I’ve ever used.
Flare Audio’s ISOLATE comes in two versions as well as in multiple colors and including replacement tips.
ISOLATE, a standard version made of “Solid Aerospace Aluminium” that will sell for £15.99. The basic dimensions are 1.76g, 17.5mm long, 8.5mm diameter so not that much bigger than a standard IEM driver shell.
ISOLATE Pro, a higher-end version made of “Solid Titanium Grade 5 metal” will sell on Indiegogo for £24 and is slightly heavier at 2.89g, 17.5mm long, 8.5mm diameter. The EARFOAMS replacement tips will be available in packs of 3 after the campaign ends.
Outstanding. My Pro version feels hefty and as solid as can be, bullet-like and dense with a high-quality vibe from top to bottom. They are really not much different, if at all, from Flare Audio’s immensely successful R2A and R2PRO IEM’s from last year.
There really isn’t much else to say here: each plug is a solid chunk of metal and the memory foam tips are of Comply quality, so it receives the highest marks possible for an IEM style housing.
I can’t compare it directly to anything with similar housings because I know of nothing on the market that uses materials in this manner. The VModa Fader’s are pretty popular among the audio crowd, but I failed to uncover what type of metal they actually use.
In Vmoda’s cross-section photo of the Fader, which you can view on their website if you wish to see it, it seems like there are ridges, divots, and areas for sound to freely bounce around. IE: they don’t seem like a solid husk inside there, but the ISOLATE’s from Flare Audio does.
That seems really important for actually blocking sound and such, wouldn’t you say? As far as what is actually inside the ISOLATE, I’ve just got to trust Davies on that with his cross-section photo above, which illustrates very little to almost no space between components for sound to move freely.
My Experiences With Earplugs
As an audio reviewer and someone whose hobby it is to experience music through various audio equipment for hours a day, I’ve always struggled to keep my ear’s tiddly bits safe and tidy.
This isn’t always the easiest feat to accomplish at loud venues or when demoing speakers, when I am at NAMM and hear nothing but blasting music and live performers who let their guitars scream incessantly when visiting other audio enthusiasts who insist on blasting their Magnepans or Martin Logan speakers to absurd volumes or even when my niece shrieks at her favorite cartoon series for going to commercial.
Typically, I’ve used the Vmoda Faders as my go-to sound killer and they’ve done an alright job. I know full well how many different brands of plugs are out there that were “intended to keep your ears safe in loud places” that simply fail to do as such, due to working at a specific type of job that required usage of earplugs at all times.
12 years ago, when I worked in a large manufacturing plant, we workers had to walk down a large flight of steps to reach the factory floor.
Just before opening large, sound isolating doors to enter, we had to pick up our plugs and would be denied access if the security guard didn’t see us putting them in our ears before entering the doorway.
Earplugs were distributed in a large vending machine type of contraption and it seemed like every week, they were a completely new brand or new type: some were foamies that needed to be rolled and allowed to puff in your ear, others were rubber. I think it is safe to say I’ve experienced dozens of brands and types of earplugs, even going as far as to keep a few custom molds from my custom IEM’s for usage as sound blockers as well.
The reason I forced a trip down memory lane is that I’ve never experienced an “earplug” quite like Flare Audio’s ISOLATE Pro. I’ve got to say that upon the first usage, I started experiencing some extremely positive, but weird qualities that I didn’t fully understand until I spoke to Mr. Roberts about them.
Test 1 – The Road and Wildlife
“Our ISOLATE Ear protectors do not absorb sound, they block it.” – Davies Roberts, Flare Audio
Upon hearing this, I understood it even less and it wasn’t until I investigated further to uncover just what the hell I was experiencing. My first field test baffled me to no end, I’d trekked through a small forest area near my home, confused by my ability to hear birds chirping and a stream running nearby.
I’d thought the isolation factor wasn’t exceptional. But, when I started walking back home, I noticed that I could hear the environment around me in a purer tone and texture than what you’d expect while wearing an earplug.
I just didn’t notice until later that the literal quality of those sounds somewhere in the trees around me was very nice, they weren’t muted or blurred enough for me to even notice it. I simply went along hearing them just fine and thinking to myself “Gosh, I can hear them so clearly, so this must not be great at isolation.”
Those wildlife sounds around me were of course dimmed, but not severely muted or muffled. There is a massive difference between what earplugs do normally to sound around you and what these ISOLATE’s seem to have accomplished.
Later, I stood near a construction site a few blocks away and near a busy road. I could hear and feel every car drive by me…then it hit me…uhm, not the car, the fact that I could both hear and “feel” the car rumble through my entire body and my face, into my ear.
I popped in the Fader’s from Vmoda and tried the same test, which resulted in a completely wonky, offset feel to everything. I could not sound locate properly anything in the area, nor could I feel the sub frequencies of a car rumbling past me over the road nearby.
The construction work sounded like I was swimming underwater, muted and unclear, thick and hazy. Swapping back to the ISOLATE’s, I could hear significantly more detail and clarity for everything around me, but as if the volume were turned down, or as if it were all a music track I’d had playing on my portable player and I’d simply lowered the volume: Balance was retained, although dimmed to a lower volume overall.
I thought surely this couldn’t be possible for a piece of hardware to actually protect against specific dB levels beyond a certain point, but it seems I was wrong. Software isn’t needed, nor is active noise cancellation ala Bose or similar electronically censored and processed sound dampening. More testing was needed to confirm.
Test 2 – Tempting Fate
After a few days of playing around with these ISOLATE Pro’s outside, I came to the conclusion that I may need to tempt fate for a proper test.
Putting my body and ears on the line, I did what nobody else should do: I placed the ISOLATE’s in my ears and then placed over-ear headphones on as well. I then booted up my music player and amplifier slowly but surely, getting to a dial level on my amp that I know to be absurdly loud and even dangerous.
Yet, at that point I could hear and feel the music playing, a good amount of detail preserved. I copied the test at this point in volume with the Vmoda Fader with an end result of pure mud and thickness.
Fader to ISOLATE
Swapping back to the ISOLATE’s, I pushed my amp and headphone as high as it could go and felt worried that my amp wasn’t driving the headphone properly, as I felt like the dB level I was feeling and hearing wasn’t sufficient enough to justify 100% full volume on a powerful amplifier with an efficient headphone.
So, I took the headphone off and placed it on the table nearby, still playing high levels of volume and then removed the ISOLATE from my ears. The result was gasp-worthy, the headphone and amplifier had done their job in blasting music to such a ridiculously loud level, that I really didn’t think the headphone I used could even get that loud to begin with.
This was 100% deafening levels of dB piped through that headphone and I had just been wearing it under the protection of the ISOLATE.
What astounded me most was that I could feel the sub-bass in a clean and purer manner of texture and tone than I would ever have expected. This product actually retains very nice detail in extremely loud dB’s of noise, but also let me hear birds chirping and my cat meowing nearby when I used them as test subjects.
How on Earth did that happen? The Physics here don’t seem to add up, but I retested multiple times with the same end result: The ISOLATE let me retain low level sounds like birds or cars passing by, but also retained more than audible detail in excessively loud music piped directly into my face.
It actually handled both ends of the spectrum here by allowing low levels of dB’s to be heard, all be it quite dampened in literal volume factor, but also protected against insane levels of loudness while keeping detail.
Testing with Molds
I tested with my Noble K10 custom IEM’s master mold’s made by the audiologist a while back, which are just hardened putty basically that custom IEM makers use to craft the molds for your custom monitors.
These are generally a solid chunk of rubber-like matter that are made in the exact shape of your outer and inner ear canal. These molds cancel noise more than the ISOLATE. That really means little, because it is near complete muting and muffling of everything around you.
I can’t feel anything around me, I had no clue my neighbor was driving right beside me while I was walking down my home complex’s private road, could not hear the birds cleanly or even hear the phone ring nearby while sitting on my couch. None of that was ever a problem when using the ISOLATE.
Is This Bone conduction?
Another revelation occurred even later on a brief car trip I took with family out of the city. Using the ISOLATE’s, I could both feel and hear the bass from the car stereo, as well as the rumble of the car rummaging over the highway.
That is a sub-frequency of the tires rolling over pavement that I can’t hear otherwise, certainly always masked by something else entirely that my ears are picking up from other sources. The experience was deeply relaxing, but I couldn’t understand what was causing this very clean, very low bass experience coming from the car itself driving over highway roads, at least not until I spoke to Davies again.
I learned that the result of high levels of dB protection like this has a bonus effect of actual Bone Conduction: sound transmitted from exterior sources through your body, not directly coming through the exterior of your ear as sound generally tends to. This directly led to the nice quality of bass I’d heard in Test 2 with extremely loud music blasting into my skull.
Reducing High dB Levels
The summation so far is that the ISOLATE reduces excessively high dB levels while retaining audible detail and keeps enough of the low dB emissions (birds, cars, construction work) audible, but also allows for some Bone Conduction to come into play with regard to the lower end of the audio spectrum.
I realized this has to be the case, due to the very clean sub-bass experience coming through my headphones during Test 2, as well as during the car trip. These ISOLATE’s block sounds too much for that level of purity in the bass. That bass must be coming through my body, my bones, the side of my head, the surrounding ear area, and my face.
If you attend a music concert, you’ll be able to hear detail much more vividly than with typical earplugs. You should be able to stand right next to a giant loudspeaker, assuming your ISOLATE is properly inserted, and not be bothered by the mids and treble at deafening levels…but your body will literally become an antenna for low-end frequencies more so than the mid/treble range.
It will flow through your face and into your ear canal with an end result of a more pure experience that isn’t garbage quality when compared to using other plugs.
Proof in the pudding, the Faders, and the mold plugs failed to retain quality and muted everything in a negative manner. The ISOLATE’s kept much more vividness and ability from top to bottom and retained much better balance across the board. Color me impressed.
This was odd because that low end coming through with the Faders and molds just didn’t feel or sound the same as when I use the ISOLATE. I’ve not a clue why perhaps it has something to do with the Titanium and memory foam, I really don’t know.
So What Makes Them Different?
The ISOLATE’s do not absorb sound as traditional earplugs tend to. Rather, they block it to a certain extent…and that certain extent is what makes them so special. They limited excessively loud, dangerous, and deafening levels of volume and actually retained clarity and detail to a nice degree.
It wasn’t muffled, nor muted and hazy feeling as pretty much every other plug I’ve ever used has done. They let me hear low-level instances of volume emissions, such as those birds, cars, and the work environment, but also intensely and safely limited the dangerous volume tests I performed.
It seems the combination of materials used are hardcoded and ideal for limitation of certain excessive dB levels beyond a certain point, as standing near-absurdly loudspeakers or full blasting max volume through headphones while using the ISOLATE below them proved to be a task that these plugs handled properly.
This is an ideal plug: to hear low-level emission and be aware of your surrounding, to be protected from dangerous dB levels, and also retain good levels of detail from music playing around you in very loud places.
Beyond that, the Bone Conduction bonus is forced because of the level of isolation in play, and sub-bass quality is impressive because of that at high exterior volume. Sounds feel purer, cleaner, and balanced without feeling hazy versus through the mold plugs and Faders from Vmoda that I used to compare.
Neither of those two retains audibility, the ISOLATEs do. That makes them unique and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in that regard.
Even our very best ear plugs aren’t particularly good at attenuating the low frequencies (that shake you to your core), that’s where the Isolate® are fantastic! at reducing the low frequencies
Mr. Allen Davey
British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association
So at the end of all this, I am very impressed by what they’ve accomplished. These are not 100% sound isolation products that drown out everything and mute the world. Rather, they are sound limiters with a penchant for retaining balance and safe audibility factor in excessively loud environments.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that is how it really should be. If you want to mute the entire world, look elsewhere and I’d recommend you make some earmold impressions for yourself to cover that.
However, if you want something that will keep your ears safe from harmful dB levels, as well as retain balance and good tone and texture to low end and up through into the treble region, then I suggest you try Flare Audio’s ISOLATE as soon as you can.
I think people active in construction, or on the music scene near loudspeakers often, will love these. Oddly enough, there is an excellent relaxation factor when I use them while sitting outside. I don’t want to mute everything, but I do want everything dimmed to the point of just being audible.
These ISOLATE’s do just that for me and I’ve been enjoying “not hearing” the normalized sound levels of the exterior environment around me. That disconnect factor is something I enjoy and that I feel is actually required at times, at least now and then, as a reviewer who constantly has to deal with sound on a daily basis. I want to distance myself from it and lately, I’ve been enjoying that escape through less sound than usual with this ISOLATE. Highly recommended.
Great job, Flare Audio! Another new year, another superb product. Flare Audio is one of a few companies that insist on pushing boundaries and exceeding the limits of socially accepted memes in the audiophile world…and naturally, their new ISOLATE is no different. I expect no less from them at this point.