On the lookout for a phone earpiece that'll stand up to the demanding environments of trucking? One from ToughTested made for drivers mentions trucks in its resume and may warrant a closer look.
The company calls it the Safe Driving Mono Earbud, and it's a wired unit that claims some specifically heavier-duty features useful to "road warriors" driving things like trucks, buses and delivery vans. It was introduced as part of a new product lineup last year at the Mid-America Trucking Show, and using such an earpiece will let a driver take calls legally rather than getting distracted with a phone touchscreen or tied up with phone held to ear. Fleet Owner got ahold of one for a chance to try it out.
This ToughTested earpiece comes with a notable five-year warranty, indicating a vote of confidence well beyond typical clauses backing consumer electronics. It's got Kevlar on the inside of the cord — which is coiled in two places to help prevent hanging wire from getting snagged and tangled — and polyurethane on the outside, and the maker says it has "reinforced stress-relief" to provide 10,000 uses.
It's also certified protected from dust and splashes of water and features a very significant outside noise reduction capability of up to 23 decibels. All that, and the thing retails for $39.99.
Inside the box
The Safe Driving Mono Earbud — let's call it the SDME — arrives packed in a plastic case meant to showcase "heavy duty" in the same colors as the earpiece itself: black and yellow-orange. There are four soft ends, two larger and two small, designed to fit inside your ear and offer either greater or lesser outside noise reduction. The SDME itself has a right-angle 1/8" two-way plug and comes with a 1" straight extension adapter as well.
You start by choosing your earpiece end from two included "Flexfoam" and two "tree tips" — one large and one smaller of each — with the tree tips being the tiered, soft rubber variety often found on earbuds. Those offer what may be a more comfortable fit but less noise isolation, while the Flexfoam ends are like the earplugs commonly used in shops and other loud environments that you pinch and roll with your fingers before inserting into your ear.
On the road
To test the SDME, I took it out on the road in an empty cargo van — not a big diesel truck, but certainly with more noise than the typical passenger car. It was raining a bit and I put the windows partly down, adding not only more wind noise but the hiss of tires on wet roads and some water misting in besides. I drove along I-95 in four-lane traffic to factor in an excessively noisy environment.
Before I get to the results, I should note that you'll have to begin using the device with some kind of compromise. You can choose a tree-style earpiece end, which is easier to insert but won't keep out as much noise, or a Flexfoam end, which for me worked best just like an earplug: squashed down and then inserted into the ear. You'll want to put on the SDME and wear it before you get in to drive so you can then also use the device's call answer/end button rather than fumbling to get it on and plug it in while driving.
I kept choosing the Flexfoam ends because they keep out noise much better. The trouble in that case is that when you're not on the phone, it'll just feel like you have an earplug in one ear, meaning you'll be hearing inside your head on one side and may feel a little out of balance. That wasn't a deal-breaker for me, but it may take getting used to for a long trip or day in, day out use.
I also found the SDME's ear-shaped fitting that hooks around the back of your ear would come off of my right ear in use if I turned my head (to its credit, the Flexfoam end held the earpiece in my ear even when that happened). The SDME fit and stayed very well on my left ear instead, which wasn't what I expected.
Now the good: the product had plenty of volume and noise isolation using a Flexfoam end to hear phone conversations, even with my deliberately noisy test conditions. In even the loudest noise — and that'd be some wind, road and water-spray noise coming at my left ear as well as vehicle noise at highway speed — the earpiece stayed in place and I could hear (and be heard), and the earpiece's volume wasn't even dialed up all the way.
In fact, be careful not to turn up the volume too loud, especially given that the sound is being piped right into your eardrum with foam surrounding the transmitter to ensure a filled-out fit; in other words, turn the radio down, put the window up or try to stop whatever's causing unnecessary noise rather than turning up the earpiece more. In probably any vehicle where you can at least do that, the SDME should give you plenty of volume and transmission to carry on a conversation clearly.
So the SDME worked as promised in a deliberately challenging test. It did get a bit wet, too, which didn't faze it, also as described. But the upper end of the earpiece's wire, which is thinner than the lower end and also coiled, kinked up its coils a little after some use, whereas the thicker, lower end did not.
• Ample volume to hear over road/in-cab noise
• Noise isolation with foam ends works very well
• Water/sweat/etc. and dust-resistant as advertised
• Coiled cord keeps earpiece wire from getting out of control
• Good price point vs. product quality
• Solid make and materials
• Earpiece can be tricky to get and keep on properly
• May not fit and stay behind both ears equally well
• Thinner part of earpiece cord may be prone to kinking