Ask RideApart: Earbuds for Riders
My husband and I are looking for some good-quality - yet comfortable – earbuds that we can use while riding two up. We ride a 2015 Ultra Classic Limited Harley and want to be able to talk to each other, as well as hear music when we aren’t talking. We currently have some over-the-ear headphones and after a few hours, the area behind our earlobes is sore from the headphones, our sunglasses, and helmets. Do you have any solutions?
Thank you so much for your time,
Well Kenda, this is a pretty broad question but I think we can help point you in the right direction. When you are intent on having music or communications while riding a motorcycle, you'll have to make a concession somewhere. You can hear the sound well but sacrifice comfort. Or you can be comfortable and sacrifice sound. The best solution to finding that perfect compromise is to be patient and take the time to try a few options.
In this age of information it doesn’t hurt to take the advice of folks who have found solutions that work, so in an an effort to get the answers, we scoured the forums where some of the most devout long-distance riders reside.
There are a lot of options out there. First, let’s look at cheap and basic earbuds you can get anywhere. These are the hard plastic buds with some form of rubber-type material that plugs into your ears. The soft portion is supposed to form the seal and keep them in place but they typically have a piece that protrudes, so the trick is finding a set that doesn't get hung up on the inside of your helmet when you try to put it on/pull it off.
The ones that seem popular with riders are JVC Marshmallows. For about $10 they give you decent quality without forking out a ton of cash. They’re cheap and a little bit feeble, so you can tear the cord; be careful when putting your helmet on or taking it off. There are many different variations of this type of earbud, so if you cant find these specifically, just use what you can.
If the JVC feel good and you don’t mind messing with the cords, then you can step up to the high-end sound and improved durability of something like iPlugz Sports – Gen II. These have been popular among ADV riders because they offer great sound and are very durable. But they are around $300 a set, so you should use the el-cheapos for a while to make sure you can deal with having a plug stuck inside your earhole for hours on end.
If it turns out that you like these traditional style earbuds there’s more good news. You can tailor the fit with replacement tips from a company called Comply. I was surprised to find there’s actually a market for customized earbud pads, but such is the modern world.
Beyond the traditional design, there are more unique styles that plug deeper into your ear canal without protruding outside the ear. This recessed fit is what makes it easier to get your helmet on and off, plus the seal around the ear cuts down on wind noise. The S-Plugs are very popular because they are on the affordable side and have great sound quality as well as a 30-day guarantee. So, if you hate them, you can just send them back. It’s important to note that for use on a motorcycle, you should get the short cord with single speaker.
The next option are the custom molded earbuds. The real benefit here is that they form a perfect seal in your ear. This drowns out wind noise and allows sound to come through loud and clear. The trick here is to get a set that fit inside a helmet. There are many variations to choose from but the Fuze Bluetooth are the ones that many riders are going with these days. They custom fit your ear and the design is almost flush, so they don’t contact the inside of your helmet. Plus they are only $60, so not too expensive.
Alternatives to the Earbud
Since you had trouble with comfort while using over-the-ear headphones, you may want to consider going with a different type. The Syphon Wrap is a flat electronic speaker designed to be installed inside your helmet. They aren’t cheap but they will not be press against your ears and they reportedly offer great sound and comfort, and are apparently easy to install. I have not tried these but there were quite a few riders raving about this product.
I hope these suggestions help get you pointed in the right direction. But if you choose to avoid all of this earbud advice and try a variation on the in-helmet speaker system. There may be a simple solution for you guys since your bike is likely equipped with a Bluetooth system in the stereo. If that’s the case, go with the Fuze. Or you can just get an aftermarket communications system like the ones built by Sena or Cardo Systems. In this instance the com-kit typically comes with remote speakers that will Bluetooth into your bike’s stereo or your phone and they run in the $200 range.
I personally have found that having speakers on the outside of my ears inevitably pushes against them and gets irritating. I have not had good experience with earbuds either, because they put too much pressure on my ear canal. Earbuds tend to poke into your head a bit more than a simple earplug, and I've never been able to deal with that personally.
The main thing is to find the set-up that works for your ear shape and personal needs. Take your time and don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the perfect set-up right away. There are hundreds of options out there so it will take time to find what works best for you.
A few years ago we posted an article on the subject of earphones that work on a motorcycle. It may also be of some help when you are ready to make the big decision.