Guns, optics and nylon are the topics that get the most attention in the tactical industry. Earpro on the other hand is a topic that is touched pretty seldom.
You got your Peltor or Sordin over the ear systems anyways, right? Now over the Ear Systems are easy to put on and off and and losing them isnt an issue. However, those Systems are offering serious limitations. One of their biggest issues is their incombatibility with some helmet design and their tendency to get in the way when trying to achieve a proper cheekweld with your rifle, even worse; in dynamic scenarios they tend to slip.
Those who had to patrol for hours with over the ear systems in hot areas also know how uncomfy they can get and when talking ear pro we should always talk tolerance. In-ear solutions are often handled as the stepchild of the industry, ignoring the fact that brands like Silynx or Invisio are creating integrated comms In-Ear solutions that outperform their headphone brothers in almost all areas.
Those Systems are most often very pricey and therefore not affordable for the average shooter. Isotunes, a staple of the industrial earpro world for decades, is trying to change this with their current line of affordable electronic in-ear protection. Isotunes did send us two of their systems the wireless „CALIBER“ and the wired „ADVANCE“ in this review we will cover our 6 months of experience shooting the „ADVANCE“ model.
The Isotunes Advance is a simple affair. It comes in a semi rigid zippered hardcase. Included is a micro USB charging cable, a manual, a clamp mount, a pair of triple flange cones and four pairs of foam cones in the sizes XS, S, M, L and XL. Of course the earpro itself is included. It consists out of two earphones with an ear hanger each, both are connected by a cable.
Both earphones are labeled with a L and a R, indicating in which of your ears each is supposed to fit. One side of the connecting cable features a processing cable and the other side features sound regulation, the user interface for paired devices and the on-off button. On the very same side you find the micro USB port for charging.
The whole construction is rugged, made from some kind of polymer which isnt described any further and its IP67 rating so far defeated rain and sweat without any issues. Buttons are rubberized, same goes for the hangers, which are a brilliant feature that we will talk about later. The earplugs are simply screwed over the studs of the earbuds, so losing them isnt a risk. A con regarding the presence of a screw on system is the fact that it is a bit harder to order custom molded earplugs for this system. So yes, basically you have mobile phone earplugs connected with a cable, there isnt much more to say about the construction.
It gets interesting when it comes to features, while the Advance isnt a military integrated comms system it features a bluetooth connection which allows you to connect with up to two devices. This includes your mobile phone, allowing you to accept or reject calls and of course to listen to music.
The two rubberized buttons on the control panel and the center button are all dedicated towards connecting devices and interacting with them. Now a huge potential issue for tactical applications is that you cant deactivate the pairing mode. As soon as you start the system the system will say „Bluetooth pairing mode“ and tiny lights will flash for approx 30 seconds. I would have liked an option to deactivate bluetooth pairing in the field. But as said before, this is a system mainly dedicated for the range and hunting.
Now what compensates for this are the incredible specs of the System. We are talking NRR 26 here. For comparison, the two most popular analog in ear-pro solutions for shooters, the 3M Combat Arms 4.0 and the SureFire EP4, have a NRR rating of 24. Only the Surefire EP5 and upwards have comparable or better specs and lack an electronic sound regulation. The popular Peltor Comtac 3 over the ear System actually only has a NRR rating of 23.
Additionally to those specs we get the tactical sound control system, which basically reduces loud impulse noise and amplifies silent noise, creating great situational awareness. This is actually performed at least at the level of an Invisio headset with almost no disturbing noise pollution at all.
Battery life is more than 10 hours and a full charge takes 1,5 hours. Again, i would love to see a non-Bluetooth version as I actually think that most power is consumed by bluetooth.
You should take your time finding the right earplugs, while the triple flange cones are the most versatile ones the sized foam earplugs are worth it as they create the best seal. Talking about seal, the Isotunes sports advance can be used in conjuction with over the ear protection and its low profile allows the over-the-ear solution to seal almost seamlessly. But more on that later.
Once you get over the annoying desire of the Advance to pair with your phone or whatever you get a more than decent product for the money. I wasnt awaiting to much from that product, despite the fact that Isotunes is an authority in the civilian industry for a long time. The combination of crystal clear sound and comfortable plugs create a level of ear pro tolerance I only experienced when using invisio so far. One time a friend approached me during a break on the range and I actually forgot to remove my earpro as I wasnt aware it was there anymore. This is a really good thing. Our other reviewing editor made similar experiences.
The cable connection and the hangers are another great feature, as Iam constantly afraid of earpro falling out of my ears in general. The very presence of the hangers and the safe and snug fit eliminate this fear at all. I usually route the cable along the back of my neck so it does not get in the way. The small clamp which is supplied can be mounted to your collar or your kit, although a bigger clamp would be beneficial for kit. Anyways, I was never afraid of losing my earpro.
Another surprise was how well the Advance did work in conjuction with over the ear solutions. We tested them with 3M Peltors, Sordins and Walkers. You can turn the noise regulations on both headsets on parallely and you will only get marginal disturbances. I personally prefer to turn my over the ear solution off as the noise amplification and regulation of the Isotunes does the job perfectly.
We shot pistols, carbines and even machineguns using the Isotunes Advances in a standalone configuration for hours and over 6 months. Average exposure to gunfire of our reviewers was one hour a day and no one of us ever felt unpleasant or weird. Sadly without having a lab this is the only way to measure the actual performance of ear pro. The longest period of shooting in a row was about 6 hours on one day.
For heavy weapons like shoulder fired AT missiles, explosive ordnance or a higher duration of exposure to gunfire I highly advise to use double hearing protection. Also due to the medicore battery life and the need to charge the system (instead of changing a battery) I would highly advise you to take non-powered spare EP with you.
Overall our experiences with the Isotunes Sports Advance are overwhelmingly positive. I would actually like to see a military version with features like being powered by an AAA or coin battery, coaxial port and IP68 rating. But all in all we have a potential gamechanger here that can take on way more expensive ear pro and has become my favorite system for the range and even short exercises. For 150 bucks you get a versatile and most importantly, comfortable system that you are willed to carry and use.