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Vario custom-made ear plugs - tried & tested

PUBLISHED: 17:19 12 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:19 12 April 2018

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Archant

Protecting your ears from the noise of gunfire just got a whole lot more sophisticated with these versatile, interchangeable custom-mould earplugs from Vario

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With smartphone iris scanning technology now on the horizon, it seems that the technological advances in our devices know no bounds. Soon those sci-fi series where people take phone calls and send messages via some kind of weird eye link-up will probably become fact, not fiction. In the meantime, I’ll just be happy if I can make a phone call on my iphone without it dropping the connection! The point is, all these technologies are driven by our desire to do more, faster, with less.

Now, thanks to Vario, a new company on the scene, these advances have filtered through to our hearing protection. Simply protecting your hearing from the noise of gunfire is SO last century! With a set of Vario plugs, you can hear the beat of the birds’ wings, block out sound altogether, listen to your music and take a phone call – all with one set of plugs.

For the past few months I’ve been testing out Vario’s electronic model and have been absolutely amazed at the flexibility they offer in terms of hearing protection and enhancement.

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SHOOTING PLUGS

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits for shooters. The electronic plugs are designed to enhance ambient sound while suppressing noises over 70dB, dramatically increasing awareness of your surroundings. There are four modes of hearing controlled via a small button on the electronics module that sits within the silicone mould. Once you’ve turned the plugs on with the pimpled button, you can then move through the other options using the second button. Mode one (one bleep) is mute mode; two (two bleeps) is clay mode; three (three bleeps) is rifle/social mode and four (four bleeps) is game mode. Here lies my only slight criticism of the plugs, as the buttons are quite small and can be fiddly at first. You also have to turn the plugs off while they are in the highest enhancement setting to be sure they are off as there is no ‘off’ tone. That said, you soon get used to using them. I have passed these comments back to the Vario team, who assured me they will take them on board.

At the highest setting, you can hear with such clarity that you’ll pick up the sound of a pheasant breaking cover or a trap being released when clay shooting. I wore the plugs on a couple of walked-up days this season, and couldn’t believe the clarity of sound enhancement.

I found the ability to clearly hear instructions along the line, or birds being flushed from thick cover very beneficial. When driven shooting, I could hear the beaters’ taps from a long way off and the birds coming way before I saw them. This improves reaction times, and can make the difference between making the shot and missing.

What also struck me was the lack of distortion or wind noise. This is achieved in part thanks to the positioning of the microphone, which is not front-facing like some; it is at the bottom of the module. I really noticed the difference here, having found this to be an issue with other electronic hearing protection in the past.

Likewise, wearing the Vario plugs doesn’t make you feel ‘alienated’ like some plugs can. Founder Jason Gibson explained that they worked on the coding to avoid that generic/artificial sound often associated with other hearing enhancement; and you can really hear the difference, especially if you’ve ever used NHS hearing aids.

The other notable aspect of these plugs is the comfort. The medical-grade silicone moulds are made by Mercury Hearing and are soft, pliable, easy to insert and very comfortable – you forget you have them in after a while.

The electronics are powered by the standard-sized hearing aid batteries and offer a runtime of 220 hours of active use. I have used mine on and off all season and not had to change the batteries; shooting instructors say they’ve got a month’s worth of daily use out of one set of batteries.

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CUSTOMISING YOUR PLUGS

There are 12 colour options available for the silicone plug and 13 for the modules, which can be mixed and matched to create a bespoke plug – think glitter, marbling, the options are almost endless, and for no extra charge!

You can also tailor the requirements for each ear, so if the hearing in one ear is worse than the other you can add filters to adjust the sound levels.

INTERCHANGEABLE

The beauty of a set of earplugs from Vario is that you can enter the market at whatever level you like and easily upgrade to any of the other options without having to buy an entire new set of plugs each time.

So, you could start with a set of passives for £99 – these will allow you to hear speech but still protect you from the noise of gunshot. If later on you want to upgrade to the electronic version, you just buy the electronics module for £299 (not a whole new set of plugs) which you then insert into your existing silicone moulds. It actually works out £1 cheaper than buying the electronics from the outset! “The idea behind this flexibility is that we don’t want to penalise people for not choosing the more expensive options straight away,” says Jason.

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BLUETOOTH FUNCTIONS

These allow you to take calls and listen to your music whilst providing you with hearing protection when shooting. Again, using the same moulds as either your passives, blanks or electronics, the Bluetooth module features built-in speakers and a connecting wire, microphone and volume control. It has a USB charging point and offers eight hours of music listening, 4-5 days of moderate use or 2-3 weeks of intermittent use from one full charge, which takes only 1.5 hours. There are no wires to your phone or other mobile electronic devices, and it is voice controlled so you can accept calls just by saying ‘yes’, returning to where you were in your music when the caller hangs up. It also allows you to skip tracks on your playlist by using the button on the unit and is water resistant so can be used in a variety of outdoor settings. Continuing the customisable theme, the speakers can be personalised to suit your needs.

The Vario system really does offer more than just hearing protection: it’s flexible and fully customisable, offering cost-effective options that will benefit you both on and off the shooting field or clay ground. Add to that fantastic customer service and ease of use, and you really do get your money’s worth. Vario are so confident in their product that they offer a 30-day, no-quibble money back guarantee.

MODULES & PRICING

* Passives: Allow you to hear speech but still protect from the sound of gunshot. These are included in every Vario package as standard. RRP: £99 (£25 modules only)

* Electronics: Enhance ambient sound (four levels) while suppressing noises over 70dB, allowing you to hear the wings of a bird or a trap being released. RRP: £399 (£299 modules only)

* Bluetooth: You can use your phone and listen to music, while protecting your hearing on the shooting ground. RRP: £225 (£145 modules only)

* Music: Available as Bluetooth or wired option to connect to phone or MP3 player. RRP: £225 (£145 modules only)

* Blanks: Block out the most sound – ideal for competitive clay shooting (or wearing in the office when it’s noisy!). RRP: Come as standard with all options

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