Very few Bluetooth earmuffs allow you to take a phone call in a high noise (>90 dB) environment.
Having now tested the 3M Pro-Comms (90546-SIOC) against a lawn mower, saw, and router, I can report that these do the trick: callers can hear me when it gets loud, and I can hear them.
Until very recently, I had only found a single mid-priced Bluetooth headset (the Honeywell Sync Wireless) that worked for taking calls against loud machine noise. With all others, communication was simply impossible unless you turned off the mower.
Yes there are $300+ premium headsets with very good mikes out there, but often that’s simply overkill. In any case, it is above budget for many of us.
My impressions summarized
I have found the Pro-Comms to be very versatile electronic hearing protectors:
- They have a comparatively high noise reduction rating (NRR) of 26, they sound good, and they have a very good volume limiter and a stable Bluetooth connection.
- The combination of deep ear cups and gel cushions gives my ears plenty of space.
- Thanks to the boom mike, callers can hear me even when I am in a very loud (100 dBA) environment. The mike is adjustable in all directions and can be placed directly in front of your mouth.
- The volume-adjustable and mutable awareness mode allows you to hear what’s going on around you in a controlled way (the speaker output for this awareness mode is electronically limited to 82 decibels).
- The Pro-Comms don’t come with a built-in battery, but with both rechargeable and disposable batteries (2 AA) I can continuously play sound for >40 hours.
The main downsides from my perspective:
- At 468g (1.03 pounds) (including two rechargeable AA batteries), these are pretty heavy earmuffs.
- While the headband force (clamping force) is fine, the rubbery top can become a bit hard on my head after a few hours when I don’t wear a ball cap. I can remedy this by using a headband cover but that’s an extra cost.
- The headband adjustment mechanism is stubborn. At times, I can’t adjust the muffs while wearing them. I then have to take them off to change the extension. Your unit may not have this issue and I can live with it. But, 3M had already figured this out perfectly with their Worktunes and Peltors, so I don’t understand why headband issues keep creeping up with the Pro-series.
All in all though, the pros clearly outweigh the cons.
The 3M Pro-Comms are very good Bluetooth hearing protection earmuffs, and I recommend them if you want to communicate well in a high noise environment and listen to music/audiobooks.
At this price, no other Bluetooth headset I am aware of is as versatile and complete. Moreover, all functionality I was able to test is well implemented.
A while ago, I tested the Pro-Protect. I have found them to be similar in many respects and I like them.
However, the microphone on the Pro-Comms is so much better that it is well worth the upgrade if you need to take calls in loud environments. Also, the volume limiter in this headset appears to be more sophisticated (see below).
Now there is a downside to the boom mike: while you can rotate it out of the way when you are not using it, it could still get caught in a bush or something. Moreover, it also needs more care when stowing the headset away.
So if you don’t need a headset to take/make calls and communicate in a loud environment (i.e., you can turn off the noise source to take the call) or primarily want Bluetooth earmuffs to listen to music, the Pro-Protect (if you want the awareness mode) or one of my other Bluetooth earmuff favorites are good and more economical alternatives.
Noise reduction: rating and labeling
In their standard headband configuration, the Pro-Comms have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 26. Alternatively, you can also attach the muffs to a hard hat. In that configuration they have an NRR of 25.
Compared to other Bluetooth earmuffs and headsets an NRR of 26 is on the high side.
Both the manual and the box include the required EPA label, stating the noise reduction rating, the exact model number and the manufacturer. Moreover, the manual also includes a detailed noise attenuation table by frequency.
This is important and should be a given, but it needs pointing out because some manufacturers still don’t provide the detailed attenuation table (from which the NRR is calculated). Some even only state the NRR as a number but don’t include the EPA label.
Here is the noise reduction table by frequency band for the 3M Pro-Comms and other Bluetooth headsets I use and like:
|Earmuffs [mean attenuation in dB, (SD)]||NRR||125 Hz||250 Hz||500 Hz||1000 Hz||2000 Hz||3150 Hz||4000 Hz||6300 Hz||8000 Hz|
|3M Pro-Comms (headband), gel cushions||26||19.6 (2.8)||23.3 (2.7)||30.8 (3.2)||36.8 (2.7)||35.9 (2.8)||42.7 (3.4)||43.5 (2.9)||43.2 (3.1)||43.7 (2.7)|
|3M Pro-Protect (headband), gel||26||18.8 (2.8)||21.8 (1.9)||31.0 (3.0)||38.0 (3.3)||35.5 (3.1)||40.5 (3.8)||43.2 (4.0)||43.0 (2.6)||42.9 (2.2)|
|Honeywell Sync Wireless, foam||25||20.4 (3.4)||23.0 (2.4)||29.3 (2.0)||36.5 (2.8)||34.1 (2.9)||33.0 (2.6)||35.0 (3.3)||35.2 (2.1)||35.2 (2.2)|
|3M WorkTunes Connect + AM/FM, foam||24||20.3 (3.5)||21.6 (2.7)||30.4 (3.2)||35.7 (3.1)||33.1 (3.0)||36.4 (3.6)||38.9 (3.9)||37.3 (3.4)||36.4 (3.6)|
|3M Worktunes Connect, foam||24||18.6 (3.2)||21.0 (2.3)||28.5 (2.6)||32.4 (3.2)||35.1 (2.6)||39.1 (3.3)||41.4 (3.1)||41.7 (3.1)||41.1 (3.3)|
Noise reduction: personal impression
The Pro-Comms (NRR 26) reduce noise well.
The consistency of the seal of the gel ear cushions is excellent. I couldn’t break the seal regardless of how much I moved my head. For comparison, with the Sync Wireless (one of the few other consumer headsets with a boom microphone), at times when I move my head from side to side, the muffs leak noise.
I tried them in three different high noise situations (different frequency spectra):
- Gas-powered lawnmower (95 – 98 dBA).
- Metal-cutting circular saw (98 – 102 dBA).
- Router (ca 100 dBA).
In all three situations, I felt well-protected.
I also compared them to two of my other favorite Bluetooth earmuffs, the 3M Worktunes Connect+AM/FM (NRR 24) and the Honeywell Sync Wireless (NRR 25).
I was OK with the noise reduction of all three muffs, but subjectively, the Pro-Comms reduced noise in the above-mentioned environments more effectively than the other two.
Overall, for me, the weakest of the three were the Sync Wireless.
I think this is because they have to be at maximum headband extension to fit my head. Moving my head from side to side weakens the seal of their ear cups. If your hat size is on the smaller side, you likely won’t experience this issue.
In any case, with both the Pro-Comms and the Worktunes, the seal remained good regardless of how much I moved my head.
Sound quality and maximum volume
I tried the Pro-Comms with newer (EDM, rock, pop) and older recordings (mostly rock) as well as podcasts and audiobooks.
They have a balanced sound quite similar (but not exactly the same) to the Pro-Protect I tested and reported on in an earlier post.
The Pro-Comms appear to have even better volume management and go a bit louder (see below for details), so they have an edge over the Pro-Protect (whose volume management was already good).
Vocals sound very good with this headset, and they have the right amount of treble for loud environments (i.e., they sound bright but not sizzling). The bass is present and quite balanced.
Personally, I would prefer a bit more punch and bass extension, especially for listening in high noise environments.
In any case, the way these earmuffs sound, I can get a lot of enjoyment out of my music.
Maximum volume management and limiter
As per the manual, the Pro-Comms attempt to limit the maximum volume to 82 decibels, which is common in hearing protection headsets.
In practice, they go a bit louder than most other Bluetooth hearing protectors I own, and they also reduce external noise more effectively.
I tried them against external noise levels between 95 and 100 dBA and found them loud enough for everything I listened to, even older music (often recorded at a lower level) and podcasts and audio books.
In my tests, the Pro-Comms’ intelligent volume control worked very well.
In fact, it worked better than the volume limiter of the already good Pro-Protect and clearly better than that of the Worktunes Connect+AM/FM and the Honeywell Sync Wireless.
I think the reason for this is that by default the Pro-Comms employ a noise dosimeter rather than a hard limiter.
Surprisingly, 3M doesn’t mention the dosimeter function of this headset at all.
Note: A dosimeter accounts for noise exposure over time (typically a work day), rather than strictly limiting the volume at every moment. This allows for listening at a somewhat higher volume for periods of time.
It appears that the Pro-Protect (the smaller sibling) only offer limiter mode while the Pro-Comms allow you to choose between dosimeter (was the default in my unit) and limiter. This may also be why the two headsets don’t sound quite the same.
How can you toggle between dosimeter and limiter mode?
My headset came set to dosimeter mode, so chances are you don’t have to do anything.
To change the setting, turn on the headset by simultaneously pressing the power and the push-to-talk buttons. Keep both buttons pressed until you hear the voice assistant either say limiter mode or dosimeter mode (ignore all other voice prompts).
This is the mode you have now switched the headset to.
If it says limiter mode and you want back to dosimeter (or vice versa), just turn the headset off and repeat the above-mentioned sequence.
The headset remembers the setting, so you only have to do this once.
How does the sound compare to the 3M Worktunes Connect+AM/FM and the Honeywell Sync Wireless?
Sound quality: WTC+AM/FM = Pro-Comms >> Honeywell
The WTC+AM/FM offer a bit more bass, which prefer. I like their sound. On the other hand, the Pro-Comms have the better volume limiter, so I put the Pro-Comms on par with the WTC+AM/FM.
In particular with older recordings and audio books, I get more fun out of the Pro-Comms because I can play them louder and they reduce outside noise somewhat better.
The Honeywell Sync Wireless sound clear but a bit thin and they seriously lack bass. Their tuning is fine for communication and audiobooks but with music both 3M headsets sound a lot better.
The Pro-Comms do all three music, audiobooks, and communication well.
Note: Unlike most other headsets, the WTC+AM/FM muffs also have a dosimeter mode. The one in the Pro-Comms, however, seems to give users more leeway when it comes to maximum volume for shorter periods of time. Alternatively, it could be that the Pro-Comms simply adapt better to different recording levels in the source material.
Call quality and microphone test
Here I am focusing on what callers on the other side are hearing.
Note: Thanks to their very effective noise isolation, hearing callers with the Pro-Comms, even in a very loud environment (100 dBA), worked just fine.
Not much to report here. In a quiet environment, the call quality was very good. My voice sounded loud and clear.
Moderate and loud background noise
I tried the Pro-Comms in a moderately noisy (70 dBA) as well as in a very loud coffee shop (85 dBA).
Callers had no problems understanding me regardless of how loud the place was. The boom mike worked very well.
Some background noise was noticeable in both conditions but it faded into the background amidst the much louder mike.
Among my other budget Bluetooth muffs, only the HL Sync Wireless (also with boom mike) can handle loud coffee shops well, so I compared the two directly:
The performance of the Sync Wireless and Pro-Comms in a coffeeshop environment was very similar. I would call it a tie.
Note: Most other Bluetooth muffs, including the Pro-Protect, Worktunes, and Connex, fail at sufficiently separating speech from background noise in such an environment, making phone calls difficult. In my tests, 75 decibels were already challenging. The boom mikes make the difference.
High noise environment (95 to 102 dBA)
In the following, I am again reporting on the two boom microphone headsets, the Pro-Comms and the Sync Wireless.
Why these two?
In high noise situations, such as against a lawnmower (95 to 98 dBA) or a metal saw (98 to 102 dBA), my voice gets completely lost with all my muffs without boom mike. Making or taking a call is impossible.
The 3M Pro-Comms work in all three tested high-noise situations mower, saw, and router for taking calls.
Their noise suppression is less aggressive than that of the Honeywell Sync Wireless, which leads to more background noise.
For example, the lawn mower in the background can still be heard as such by a caller while with the Sync Wireless it appears more like some kind of wind noise.
On the other hand, with the Pro-Comms voice quality remains almost unaffected in all three conditions while the suppression of the Sync Wireless at times does somewhat affect clarity.
Against the lawn mower, the Sync Wireless had an edge, while against the router the Pro-Comms performed better. Both headsets performed equally well against the metal saw.
So all in all, it’s again a draw.
Test result details for calls in a high noise environment
|What||3M Pro-Comms||Honeywell Sync Wireless||Assessment|
|Lawn mower (95 to 98 dBA)||Lawn mower can be heard; perhaps a bit disturbing, but boom mike can easily overcome the noise.|
Voice is loud and clear.
|Noise can be heard but it is not clear that it’s a lawn mower; noise suppression is effective. Voice quality is somewhat affected but clear.||Both headsets work for taking calls. Sync Wireless have an edge.|
|Metal saw (98 to 102 dBA)||Can hear the saw, but not very loud. Voice is loud and clear.||Can hear the saw, but not very loud. Voice is loud and clear.||Both headsets work for taking calls. About equal performance.|
|Router (100 dBA)||Can clearly hear the router; it is a bit disturbing, but voice can still be heard clearly.||Can clearly hear the router and it is a bit disturbing.|
Voice can be understood but the noise suppression negatively affects clarity at times.
|Both headsets work for taking calls. Pro-Comms have an edge.|
Microphone recording quality
When you make a standard phone call, the frequency range is limited to a narrow range from 300 to 3400 Hz.
To assess how the microphones perform when not limited by the phone network, I also recorded notes with a voice memo app.
This is what I found:
The mike recording range for the Pro-Comms is from 20 to around 8000 Hz.
For comparison, the Sync Wireless record in a much narrower range (from about 100 to 4000 Hz).
As a consequence, my voice sounds more natural with the Pro-Comms in voice memos.
The Sync Wireless recordings retain their narrow-band phone-like sound quality. I suspect this is because they use an earlier Bluetooth standard (that only supports the narrower range).
In any case, I much preferred the Pro-Comms for recording voice memos.
Wearing comfort: headband and ear cushions
The Pro-Comms already have gel ear cushions in the standard configuration. With many muffs, you get foam and need to buy gel as an upgrade.
The cushions are comfortable and comparatively wide and deep. My ears are on the larger side, but I have ample space in these earmuffs.
The headband is made out of steel-wires and has a rubber top with cut-outs for a ball-cap and ventilation.
The headband clamping force is fine and when wearing a ball cap I find the earmuffs comfortable.
Without a ball cap, however, the rubber top starts feeling a bit hard on the head after a couple of hours. I keep my hair very short, which probably doesn’t help.
To remedy this and keep everything comfortable, I use a headband cover (not included) I bought for other muffs.
The top of the Pro-Comms is wider than that of most other muffs, so the velcro areas don’t completely overlap. But, I can still close the cover and it works just fine.
By all means, try the earmuffs first without a cover. But at least you know there is a solution if you like the Pro-Comms but need more cushioning.
Headband adjustability compared to that of other Bluetooth earmuffs
The Pro-Comms and Pro-Protect have the same headband. It is as adjustable as that of the Worktunes Connect and more so than that of the HL Sync Wireless (on the small side), so it should fit most heads. The Worktunes Connect+AM/FM’s headband though still holds the crown in terms of expandability.
When I put on the earmuffs, at times the extension mechanism gets stuck, and I can’t adjust the headband. I can solve this by taking off the muffs and then adjusting the headband, so I can live with it. This could definitely be related to my particular unit.
Still, I think 3M needs to look into the headband of the Pro-series:
With my units of the Pro-Protect and the Pro-Grade, the sliders were too loose and the ear cups would at times slide down all by themselves.
Now I am getting stubborn sliders.
This is puzzling to me, given that the same mechanism has worked for me for years without any problems on 3M’s Worktunes and Peltor muffs.
Honeywell also uses a similar mechanism without any issues.
The Pro-Comms have three large buttons on the right ear cup. The buttons provide good tactile feedback even when wearing gloves.
1. Power (= multi-function) button
- Press this button until you hear Power On/Off (for about 3 seconds).
- Directly after powering on, double-press in short succession to enter Bluetooth pairing mode.
- Press once to play/pause.
- During an incoming phone call, press this button to answer/terminate the call.
- While playing sound, double-press/triple-press to go to the next/previous track.
In general, the multi-function button works fine. The only thing I find confusing is that sometimes double-pressing means entering Bluetooth pairing mode while at other times, it means skipping to the next track.
2. Ambient volume button
- Press this button to cycle through 4 ambient volume levels.
- Long-press to mute ambient sound. Short-press to go back to awareness mode.
This works like a charm and after powering off/on, the Pro-Comms remembers the volume you have set.
They don’t, however, remember whether you have muted them or not, which I would prefer. So if you typically don’t want to use the awareness mode, you have to mute them every time you turn them on.
3. Push-to Talk button
This button, in conjunction with the phone app Zello, allows you to talk to a coworker who is also wearing the Pro-Comms (Walkie Talkie function).
I have so far only bought one unit and not yet tested this function.
Music and awareness mode volume are separate, which is good.
(You don’t want to have to let in more ambient sounds to increase the volume of your audio book and vice versa.)
While the awareness mode volume can be controlled on the headset, you have to use your phone to change the music volume (like on the Worktunes Connect).
I would prefer having an extra volume knob on the earmuffs like you get with the Worktunes Connect+AM/FM and the Sync Wireless, so I don’t have to take out the phone to adjust the volume.
The Pro-Comms, unlike the Pro-Protect, do have a wired audio input (3.5mm jack). Unfortunately, as per my tests, it is a mono-audio input. This may be good enough if you are looking to connect a NASCAR scanner or another kind of radio.
But, if you primarily want to listen to music via a wired connection, mono doesn’t cut it. In that case, I would go with different earmuffs (e.g., one of the Worktunes models).
Bluetooth connection stability
The Bluetooth connection stability of the Pro-Comms is very good.
Indoors, I am getting a solid connection through two walls with my phone (Samsung A52 5G) about 42 feet (13m) away, turning and moving whichever way I like.
Outdoors, with no obstacles between phone and muffs, I am getting a good connection for up to about 65 feet (20 m).
(3M recommends a maximum distance of less than 25 feet, which these exceed by far.)
- The Pro-Protect (sibling without boom mike) perform as well as the Pro-Comms.
- The Worktunes Connect+AM/FM and the Honeywell Sync Wireless have a somewhat weaker Bluetooth radio. They start cutting out at 13m through two walls.
How to connect the Pro-Comms via Bluetooth?
I recommend you wear the headset so that you can hear the voice assistant while you follow the procedure below.
1. Press the power button until you hear Power On.
Voice Assistant: Battery High.
Alternatively, if you had already paired the headset with a phone, the earmuffs will attempt to re-connect and if the phone is within range, you may get:
Voice Assistant: Battery High. Bluetooth Connected.
2. Regardless of whether you are pairing a new pair of Pro-Comms or just want to pair to a different phone, double-press the power button in short-succession to put the headset in pairing mode.
Voice Assistant: Bluetooth Pairing.
3. Locate the entry 3M-Pro-Comms in your phone’s Bluetooth list and tap that entry to connect:
Voice Assistant: Bluetooth Connected.
Where can you find your Pro-Comms on Android?
On Android (example Samsung Galaxy A52-5G), under Bluetooth (long tap the icon).
Check both the list Paired devices as well as the list Available devices:
If you can’t find the entry 3M Pro-Comms in either list press Scan.
Where can you find your Pro-Comms on an iPhone or iPad?
On an iPhone and iPad, under Settings->Bluetooth, check both the list MY DEVICES (previously paired) as well the list OTHER DEVICES.
If you can’t locate the entry in either list turn off your iPhone’s/iPad’s Bluetooth and turn it back on to rescan.
Do the Pro-Comms support multiple active Bluetooth connections (multi-point pairing)?
The Pro-Comms can only be connected to one device at a time.
So you can’t, for example, listen to music via your computer while still taking calls from your phone (or monitor calls from two different phones at the same time).
The headset is powered by two AA batteries (not included).
I have tried both disposable alkaline and rechargeable batteries. Battery replacement is easy, and the compartment has a locking mechanism against accidental opening.
I am getting more than 40 hours of continuous music streaming (ca 75% volume) with activated awareness mode before I have to recharge.
The only downside of rechargeable batteries is that remaining battery is being reported as high for almost the entire duration and then transitions to low in a very short period of time.
(Unlike disposable batteries, rechargeable NiMH keep a steady voltage almost until they are empty, which fools the battery reporting.)
To avoid running out of batteries, I have a spare set of batteries with me.
Awareness mode and level dependent hearing protection
Like passive earmuffs, the Pro-Comms reduce environmental noise via their noise isolating ear cups.
In addition, they have a volume-limited awareness mode that lets you hear what is going on around you via the speakers in a controlled way (using two external microphones, one in each ear cup).
The environmental sound piped into the speakers is limited to 82 decibels to protect your from loud noises.
This allows you to talk to other people and better hear machine and alarm sounds without taking off your earmuffs.
To me, the awareness mode makes most sense when I want to protect myself from intermittent loud noises:
Suppose awareness mode is on and you are talking to your coworker. The radio is playing in the background. You have set the ambient volume so that you hear everything as if you weren’t wearing earmuffs.
Suddenly another coworker starts hammering away at sheet metal, producing loud sounds, “bang, bang,” perhaps exceeding 100 decibels.
These bangs are also being picked up by the microphones and reproduced via the speakers, but their noise level is electronically being limited (i.e., reduced to) to 82 decibels.
Along with the bangs, other ambient sounds (such as your coworker talking and the radio in the background) are reduced as well, i.e., the limiter turns down the volume on everything. When the bangs stop, the ambient volume goes back to normal.
Ambient volume button to adjust the awareness mode in 4 steps
To my ears, steps 1 and 2 are quieter than what I would hear with open ears, step 3 is about open-ear volume, and step 4 offers a slight amplification.
You can also completely mute environmental sounds by long-pressing the ambient volume button (see basic operation). Then the Pro-Comms work just like passive hearing protection earmuffs.
Unfortunately, you have to mute them every time you turn the on if this how you usually want to use them. Per default, they go back into awareness mode. However, they do store the volume level you have set them to.
It’s not a big deal but I wished they’d also remember whether awareness mode was on/off.
How good is the awareness mode on the Pro-Comms?
Using the awareness mode, I can communicate quite well with the headset on, and I can hear where sounds are coming from. I would, however, still prefer to have a longer conversation without the headset when my hearing is not at risk.
The awareness mode still has a bit a “mike-speaker-feel” to it:
Higher-frequency sounds are somewhat attenuated, so some detail is lost. On the other hand, lower-frequency sounds present in the environment are also somewhat reduced, which improves speech clarity in a loud environment.
All in all, it is a very decent but not 100% reproduction of what you would hear with open ears.
How does the awareness mode volume work in conjunction with your music volume?
Bluetooth volume and awareness mode volume are controlled separately, which is how it should be.
With the volume button on the headset you cycle through the 4 ambient sound levels. Long-pressing this button mutes the microphones.
The Bluetooth volume (e.g., music, audiobooks, and incoming calls) is adjusted on your phone.
So you can, for example, completely mute the awareness mode and but still listen to your music or audiobook at your desired volume.
On the other hand, when hearing alarms or your machine is important, be mindful not to play the music loud, as this would drown out environmental sounds or force you to increase your awareness mode volume.
But this is just the way our hearing works.
How does the awareness mode work against constant noise (e.g., a lawn mower / chain saw)?
The limiter also effectively reduces lawn mower / chain saw noise piped in via the speakers to 82 decibels.
As would be expected, for as long as the noise lasts, quieter environmental sounds also disappear:
Your coworker would have a hard time outshouting the mower you are operating.
In my opinion, the best use case for the awareness mode is to help you hear your environment and communicate with people around you while protecting yourself from intermittent loud noises or shorter bouts of continuous noise.
One good reason for keeping the awareness mode on even in a constant high-noise environment is that you may get helpful information by hearing more of your machine (e.g., to help you detect malfunctioning).
On the other hand, muting the awareness mode leads to maximum reduction of the constant noise backdrop. For me, this reduces stress, an often overlooked aspect.
It’s your call.
For a long time, the Sync Wireless were my budget Bluetooth earmuff recommendation for people who need to take calls in high noise environments.
Now I am changing my recommendation to the 3M Pro-Comms.
In my tests, the Pro-Comms were as good for taking calls, they sounded a lot better, and the seal of the ear cushions was more consistent—leading to more effective noise reduction. Moreover, they have an awareness mode and a better volume limiter.
The one advantage the Sync Wireless still have is that they are a lot lighter (310g, 10.9 oz vs. 468g, 15.8 oz). If weight is a major concern or you are getting them for a bargain price, they are still great Bluetooth earmuffs for taking calls.