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Sunday, May 18, 2008

An occasional look at products the travel industry insists we need.

WHAT: Comply NR-10 High Tech Noise Reducing Earphones

AIMED AT: iPod/MP3 listeners who want to hear the music, not the conversation of the guy sitting in the next seat, without having to crank it up.

HOW MUCH: $79.95 plus $3 shipping.

BUT DO THEY WORK? One of my pet peeves is hearing the outside world when all I'm trying to do is commune with Springsteen. My collection of tossed-aside earphones? Eleven and counting. After all these failures, I finally settled on the standard iPod issue, outfitted with smaller tips to fit my Lilliputian ears. I resigned myself to the fact that, unless I cranked "Thunder Road" up to concert-deafness levels, I would still hear the surrounding cellphone symphony while riding the Metro, or the drone of the engine while flying to New York.

So when the Comply earphones arrived in the mail, promising to block out outside noise, I was all in. I skimmed over the technical data: passive noise reduction rating of 29dB or better, blah, blah, blah, before tearing open the box. The earphones are equipped with foam tips, similar to those designed to block out a partner's snoring. Two sizes of tips are included, so you choose the ones that fit your ear.

I had a bit of trouble inserting the earphone: You have to squish the foam while pulling your ear open, and then quickly push the foam into your ear canal and hold it in place for 15 seconds every time you use them. But once I mastered the technique, voila. Even before I turned on the music, the noise around me had taken on a subdued, underwater quality.

I tried the earphones at work, plugging them into my computer and listening to some gentle alternative music at XPN.org. When my boss came over to talk, I couldn't hear her. (I won't say whether that was a good thing.) I plugged them in at my gym, where a cacophony of blaring TVs, heavy-metal music and yakking treadmillers usually renders my iPod useless: Not only could I hear my louder rock tunes, but the dulcet strains of the Soggy Bottom Boys came through, and I didn't have to raise the volume. The earphones stayed in place even when I increased the treadmill speed to a fast jog.

I still have to see all those mouths moving, but it's good not to know what they're saying.

-- Carol Sottili

Available from Comply, 800-872-8986, http://www.complyfoam.com. A pack of three extra foam tips is available in slim or standard size for $17.95.

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