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The author wearing WorkTunes

Self portrait by Josh Centers

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3M WorkTunes Headphones Make Yardwork More Tolerable

Yardwork season is here in the Northern hemisphere, and for those of us blessed (or cursed) with lawns, that means time spent every week with loud, monotonous mowing, trimming, and leaf blowing. What if you could shut out the noise while also listening to something more interesting, like an audiobook, podcast, or maybe just some music?

You could put earbuds in and slap some hearing protection over top, and for many people, that might work fine. But earbuds aren’t for everyone, and in my experience, AirPods and earmuffs work together poorly, if at all, because the earmuffs often knock the AirPods out. So why not roll hearing protection and headphones into one product? That’s exactly what the 3M WorkTunes are, and you can buy them from Amazon for around $50. I’ve owned a pair for about a year.

The 3M WorkTunes

Thanks to a built-in battery and Bluetooth, you can use the WorkTunes entirely wirelessly, which is important for eliminating cables that could catch on something while you’re working. Of course, you can’t escape cords entirely. The headphones charge through a micro-USB port, and a standard 3.5 mm auxiliary port lets the WorkTunes connect to non-Bluetooth audio players.

The WorkTunes advertise an 8-hour battery life, and they hold a charge well. I turned mine on for the first time in months and was pleased to see that they still had a full charge. I know this because when you turn on the WorkTunes, a voice tells you through the speakers what the charge level is—”battery high” in this case. The voice also provides feedback when you connect to a device, like an iPhone.

Despite having a built-in rechargeable battery, the WorkTunes weigh a reasonable 12.3 ounces (349 grams). The padded ear cups are comfortable, and the headband easily accommodates large heads like mine. I usually wear the WorkTunes with some sort of hat and sunglasses.

The WorkTunes have a built-in microphone for phone calls, but you’ll sound like you’re talking from the bottom of a well. Then again, you probably don’t want to make a phone call when in the environments the WorkTunes are designed for. Alas, you can’t use the microphone with Siri.

The one big downside to the WorkTunes is that Bluetooth reception is painfully weak, something many user reviews have mentioned. If I put my iPhone in a pocket with any other metal object, like keys, the WorkTunes regularly cut out, which doesn’t happen with my AirPods or other Bluetooth devices. So when I’m mowing, I move my iPhone to my back pocket, which mostly eliminates the problem.

Sound Quality and Hearing Protection

Sound quality is acceptable. Not horrible, not great, just alright, but you’re wearing these while you’re working, so it’s not the main thing on your mind. My main issue with the sound is that the output volume is limited to 82 dB, undoubtedly for safety reasons, but that means I have to max the volume to hear podcasts over my lawnmower.

The noise reduction rating (NRR) is 24 dB, which is on the lower end of the scale for earmuffs, which usually range from about 20 to 30 dB. To figure out how many decibels hit your ears, simply subtract the NRR from the noise level (which is possible because these are earmuffs, which aren’t as prone to user error as earplugs, per audio expert and TidBITS contributor Geoff Duncan). Lawnmowing usually runs around 90 dB and the WorkTunes (assuming you wear them correctly and for the full duration), will reduce that to 66 dB.

How good is that? Experts generally agree that continuous background noise is harmful at around 85 dB (of course, that depends on how long you’re exposed to it), so the WorkTunes do well for yard work, but I wouldn’t recommend them for the gun range. An unsuppressed .22 caliber rifle shot is around 140 dB, and that’s about as quiet as firearms typically get—a 120 dB thunderclap can cause instant hearing damage. The WorkTunes would reduce .22 caliber gunfire to 116 dB.

I also wouldn’t wear the WorkTunes while running. Besides the ungainly size and weight, the WorkTunes would prevent you from hearing engine noises and other potential hazards.

To see if the 90 dB estimate for lawnmowing is accurate, I downloaded the NIOSH SLM iOS app and did a little mowing while running the app from my shirt pocket. A dedicated sound level meter would be better, but NIOSH claims accuracy within ±2 dB.

The NIOSH SLM app
On the left is a reading taken during my mowing session. On the right is the saved data from that session.

While the mower was running, the sound level hovered around 90 dB, so the general estimate is pretty good (I was using a Cub Cadet push mower for those keeping score at home). Over my 6-minute session, the maximum sound level detected was 96 dB, but the A-weighted average (LAeq, which cuts off the higher and lower frequencies that people generally can’t hear) over the period was 90.2 dB.

But the WorkTunes aren’t merely hearing protectors, they’re also headphones, which complicates the calculation of how much sound reaches your ears. Since decibels are computed logarithmically, you can’t just add the suppressed noise level of the lawnmower (66 dB) to the maximum output of the WorkTunes (82 dB). Thankfully, there’s a handy online calculator that can handle the math and give us the right answer, which is 82.1 dB.

As I mentioned above, experts like the Centers for Disease Control agree that noise levels of 85 dB can cause hearing damage when experienced for more than 2 hours at a time. My regular hour-long mowing stint at around 82 dB probably isn’t good for my ears, but it’s still an improvement over the raw 90 dB output of the mower. Anecdotally, I’m less tired when I finish mowing, and I get to listen to whatever I want while working, so for me, the WorkTunes are a win.

However, if you spend a lot of time using a lawnmower, weed trimmer, or leaf blower, I’d recommend a more effective hearing protector, probably one without a built-in audio player. And as I said previously, if you’re doing something that involves intense sounds, like firing a gun, the WorkTunes won’t provide sufficient protection.

But for the average person who spends a few hours a week mowing or doing other loud lawn work, the WorkTunes can help protect your hearing and make your chores a bit less tedious.

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Comments About 3M WorkTunes Headphones Make Yardwork More Tolerable

Notable Replies

  1. Another choice.

    Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 - Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

    I bought these a while back to allow me to listen to my iPhone/iPad while flying on MD80 planes. Especially in the back. All planes really but the MD80 back seats are the worst for a constant drone.

    They have been great. And don’t have the bluetooth or mic issues mentioned about the Motorolla. The noise cancelling is great. On a plane someone can talk to me and I hear them. A bit muffled but at that point I can turn off the noise cancelling or remove them. Many times I’ve done the DFW hike between gates a mile or so away with them on either listening to music, podcasts, or making phone calls. Controls are nice.

    And yes I also use them to mow the yard and do other things outdoors. I’ve answered calls while mowing. (I turn the mower off at that point.) I don’t know the DB reduction but it is a LOT.

    They DO cost more but given the drawbacks mentioned for the Motorolla unit I’d still pay the extra. Amazon has them just now for $140.

    And yes, the battery seems to last forever. I’ve never started with them fully charged and come off a flight or gotten to the end of the day with the battery dead.

  2. I’ve been using LG Tone bluetooth canal style headphones for years to do light construction and other similar noisy tasks (no lawn - hurray) and answer rare phone calls. My son uses them now too, and he works in heavy construction. They have the advantage of being light, not pinching my head, or hurting the top of it. The cord is so fine that I could put muffs over them if I need too.

  3. Do the headphones block out the noise you need to hear in order to be safe - either working or playing?

  4. With the Tone canal phones, you can hear people talking or cars on the street if nothing is playing. Podcasts are usually quiet enough so you can hear the necessary sounds to be safe. Loud music usually makes it hard to hear regular outside sounds so I limit that to “safe” situations.

  5. Yep. The Plantronics I mentioned have the dual mics on all the time if noise cancelling is on. I find that monotonous sounds vanish, sudden sounds like someone yelling at me or even talking if nearby get through. Diminished a bit but I
    hear them.

  6. Not so much about the article, but rather a link in the article. Has anyone decoded the mysterious Amazon pricing matrix?

    Josh says these headphones are about USD45. Clicking the link shows USD55. I see this in other places like the WireCutter too…never match the price quoted in Articles.

    Am I some sort of Amazon (prime) noob, or do Amazon play with pricing according some heuristics?

    Thanks

    Rob

  7. Amazon prices change dynamically all the time. I periodically save items into my cart as I’m deciding on something. Come back a day later and it’s up $.03 or maybe $10 or maybe down $.58. You never know.

    Plus you have them pricing according to the type of account you have and your typical purchases.

    It is all based on maximizing their profits.

  8. Yeah, in this case, I see the price change too and have updated the article accordingly. With Amazon pricing in articles, we just try to get a ballpark because of the constant changes.

  9. I bought the 3M Worktunes headphones last fall and used them while blowing leaves. I still have an iPod and it worked perfectly with my nano.

  10. Seems like a nice idea, but I can only imagine how sweaty those things would be by the time I finished mowing the lawn.

  11. Rob

    You can get inexpensive noise cancelling headphones for a few bucks less than these. Why not go that direction vs these more limited ones?

  12. Disclaimer: slighty off-topic:
    Instead of noise-cancelling headphones, lawn owners should consider less noisy options in the first place. Leaf blowers, for instance, are not just a freaking nuisance, they are completely unnecessary in most cases. A wide broom removes your leaves equally well from your sidewalk or street. Similarly, if your lawn is not humongous, you may want to consider a mechanical (and thus essentially quiet) lawn mower. Both have the nice side effect that they give some exercise too – and on top have a smaller environmental footprint:)

  13. Can devices like Bose noise-canceling earbuds significantly reduce the decibels presented to one’s eardrums? Of course I realize the user can turn up the volume of the audio output of the earbuds, and this could defeat the purpose of canceling external noise. But assuming one listens to the programmed sound at a low decibel level…??

  14. Yes, no, maybe.

    Depends. Any sound reaching your outer ear will transmit some sound into your hearing system. As someone who flies a LOT I gave up on ear bud type things and got over the ear headphones. Huge difference. As I mentioned up thread the noise
    cancelling on my Plantronics made it even better.

    More to your point, for me to understand movies on the plane, (seat back, iPhone, or iPad), I typically had to crank the volume up so much to cover outside noise with earbuds that it worried me about what it was doing to my hearing.

  15. Not sure how you define humongous, but on my 1/3 acre lawn with about a 1500sf house plus driveway a reel type push mower would be a lot more than a decent workout. Add in my 20+ rise from front to back and that I’m 65, and no way.

    But I do use a gas-powered push power that is self-propelled.[1] I use that as my excuse to not join a gym like my doc keeps telling me to do. Plus the 2 to 4 cans of yard waste, leaves, and acorns I get to rake, sweep, shovel up every
    fall into spring helps when not mowing.

    Anyway, my over the ear units make this great for me and my mower is nowhere near as loud as my neighbors leaf blowers.

    [1] And if you think “self-propelled” makes it easy, stop by this summer and I’ll let you get a workout going up the hill while dodging trees and such.

  16. Currently they are $59.97 with free shipping on amazon USA. On Amazon UK they are £81.79 + £8 delivery within the UK = $117.10. That’s pretty much double the price! To get them to Ireland, add another few spondulicks…

  17. Do you have any recommendations?

  18. I actually own a reel lawnmower and used one the first year I lived at this house. It worked well enough, but it was easily jammed by twigs, so mowing took twice as long as it does with my gas mower, and the results were messy because if I had weeds that grew too high (like wild onions, which grow much faster than grass), they wouldn’t get cut at all. After a year of using a reel mower, a scythe, and a grass hook, I bought a self-propelled zero-turn pushmower and a high-quality string trimmer. I also got a leaf blower, but I’d just as soon use a broom most of the time.

  19. Rob

    After reading the article I was ready to buy the ones linked but then looking around I found MPOW ANC headphones. The specs say they have better noise reduction and they have more features as full noise canceling headphones. I just ordered them so I cant comment on how good they are but the reviews were good on Amazon:

    The price is slightly less too.

    I previously had something like “DEWALT DPG15 Digital AM/FM Hearing Protector” and I found the ones built for the workplace were not actually that study and had poor sound and battery use.

    A 30-50 hour noise canceling headphone I can pair to multiple devices sounds better to me and I hope they can handle the dusty environment fine.

  20. I have a small yard. I use a manual push mower. Better cutting than a power mower but it has problems if the grass grows too tall. I need to borrow a neighbor’s power mower for a one time use, some of my grass grew too quickly with all of the rain I gotten this season. The makers of manual mowers recommend against using them if the grade of your lawn is too steep.

    I use an electric leaf blower along with my rake. It makes taking care of the leaves much, much easier. And I don’t have a child living at home any more to do the work for me.

    I agree that the outdoor power equipment isn’t always necessary but please don’t make broad proclamations. There are cases where having the power [fill space here] makes sense.

  21. Have owned worktunes for a couple years now.

    They’re decent but not absolute winners / far from perfect due to inferior design and cost cutting.

    Comfort. The space inside the cup is very shallow, so they will press the ears down and become uncomfortable within hours.

    Noise reduction is just adequate. Worse is the fact that, as a wearer of glasses / sunglasses / safety glasses, the foam band is very shallow as well and does little to conform around the frame … seriously cutting down the protective rating.

    I have $10-25 hearing protectors with deeper cups and thicker seal band, with next to no reduction in protection. With the worktunes I almost have to wear ear plugs when using my safety prescription sunglasses for outdoor work. As such I can only use the worktunes for certain tasks.

    And, with the average protection comes the fact that you need to fiddle with the audio every time there is a change in noise level; there is no volume knob / adjustment like some other models. If you enjoy the sound level half way during a more quiet periods of time, once you crank up the blower/mower/saw … you need to max it out … which requires you to get your phone out of your pocket etc. Idle the garden tool for whatever interruption, the music is way too high, so get the phone back out, …

    With maybe $5 extra in materials for a bit of cup depth and foam; plus a volume button; this thing would be 5 stars. As it stands, I don’t recommend it.

  22. That set you linked is something one would use on an airplane, public transportation, etc … It should not be used as hearing protection while operating powertools and it would not be approved in a workplace setting requiring hearing protection.
    Protective devices have passive noise cancellation first and foremost with a fully enclosed cup; and some have added bluetooth and headphone speakers added for audio.
    There is only so much active noise cancellation can do, and when it comes to durability, in a work environment, that unit will not last.

  23. Rob

    I understand the logic there, but am not sure that the set wont do better for the mowing application. I’ll post here once i’ve received them and done some mowing. Nothing like a real world test to confirm. Worst case the kid gets some ANC headphones and I have to buy a different set.

  24. Hoping it works out …

    Do you have a quiet-ish push mower? Versus a large riding mower.

    I wear ear plugs + over the ear hearing protectors while using our loudest equipment, which would be a big riding mower with vacuum trailer in tow; 6" wood chipper and up; extensive hours on the chainsaws; … I wouldn’t do those tasks with the worktunes set as I find too much sound gets in around the safety glasses frame …

  25. Rob

    Large riding mower with pull behind bagger that also has an engine. I’ve been using my old broken Dewalt am/fm hearing protectors over airpods in my ear. Hearing protectors over the airpods aren’t great for a number of reasons.

  26. I agree. Hearing protectors over audio earbuds do not work well, as invariably either the cord tugs or pushes them out of place, or the elongated battery part on the cordless version gets touched and then they’re loose in the ear … and fall to the ground when you lift the cup, etc.

    What I tried to say ( but wrote without enough detail ) was that for the noisiest tasks, I skip the audio, using hearing protection ear plugs combined with over the ear hearing protection; because I find the passive noise cancellation lacking, especially with the 3M unit when I wear safety sunglasses … and I figure I’d rather be without music or radio for a couple hours versus potentially getting more hearing damage. So, I’m genuinely curious how a conventional headset with active noise cancellation will work out.

  27. Rob

    Definitely agree there, pure protection is better. But hard to sit in relative silence for a 5 hour mow.

  28. If it takes 5 hours to mow your lawn…dude, you’re doing something wrong:-)

  29. Or you have a huge lawn :wink:

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