A couple of months ago, I tested the wired Plugfones Guardian: I liked their nice balanced sound.
I also found out that the silicone tips fit my ear while the foam tips were too small.
Many users like silicone tips for their ease of use and durability, so I decided to also test the Bluetooth model, the Plugfones Liberate 2.0.
Moreover, you ears may be smaller than mine, and the Liberate’s foam tips a good fit.
In this post, I am mainly sharing my experience with these work earplug headphones using silicone, but I will also comment on foam.
We are looking at noise reduction, design, sound quality, call quality, and Bluetooth connection.
The Plugfones Liberate 2.0 earplug headphones sound very pleasant. I find them enjoyable with all kinds of music and audiobooks. The bass is nice and punchy but not excessive.
With the silicone ear tips, I get a comfortable seal and decent noise isolation (albeit not as good as with fitting foam ear tips).
(Plugfones’ foam tips are too small for my ears and unfortunately they only come in one size.)
I found the Bluetooth connection (5.0) to be stable, even through two walls. These earphones can only connect to one device at a time.
In quiet environments, call quality is good, but as it gets louder (e.g., coffee shop) the microphone picks up most of the background noise.
Communicating in a high-noise environment (mower or louder power tools) did not work. Calling parties commented that the noise drowns out my voice (and I tried to speak loud).
(To put this in perspective: In a high noise environment, very few headsets work for making calls. See section Call quality for more details.)
Overall, the Liberate 2.0 are a good option for people who want silicone earplug headphones with Bluetooth.
Build Quality and Design
The Liberate look like corded earplugs. If it wasn’t for the control and battery modules, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from other earplugs.
The wire is 1.9 mm thick, about 0.6 mm thicker than that of the Plugfones Guardian.
These earphones come with a removable flexible rubber collar. For me, the collar is necessary to keep them from moving around.
When the wires rub against my shirt collar, I get a little bit of cable noise, but nothing excessive. Wearing a T-shirt, I hear almost none.
For comparison, the thinner-wired Guardian, and many corded silicone earplugs exhibit more ”cord-noise.”
Depending on how deep you have to insert them to get a seal, it may be tempting (or even necessary) to pull on the wires to get them out.
Over time, I can see this as a potential point of failure.
At this point, I haven’t had them long enough to comment on durability.
Tip: To avoid pulling on the wires, tie a short piece of thin sewing thread around the earphones’ nozzles before attaching the ear tips. Pull on this thread when you need to remove them.
The manufacturer advertises them as “sweat proof/moisture resistant” but does not state a specific IPX-rating.
Given the above wording, I would avoid using them in heavier rain.
Ear tip selection
The Liberate 2.0 have interchangeable ear tips. They come with one size of foam and one size of triple-flange silicone ear tips (2 pairs of same-size foam and 2 pairs of silicone were included).
With the silicone tips, these earplug headphones have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 27. The silicone ear tips fit my ear.
Here is a size comparison with reusable standard silicone earplugs:
The foam ear tips (NRR 29) are too small for me.
I think they could work well for people with small ear canals, but they are definitely not one-size fits all.
Here are the foam tips, compared to the medium ISOtunes ear tips (black), the small Mack’s Slim Fit (purple), and the normal-size 3M-1100 (orange).
It would be best if the manufacturer offered multiple sizes of foam ear tips (and perhaps several sizes of silicone as well).
So for me, it is silicone ear tips with these headphones.
Before using these (and other earplugs) in a high noise environment, I recommend you test that you are actually getting a decent seal:
In particular with earplugs, don’t rely on the noise reduction rating (NRR) alone.
The plugs may fit my ears but do nothing for you.
If you intend to use your earplugs in an occupational setting, check whether your employer has access to a professional fit testing system. These systems can give you a personal attenuation rating.
Home / free options include NIOSH’s Quickfit and using a fitting noise (see section How can you test the fit of your earplugs).
I encourage you to at least initially try Quickfit a few times to get some experience with what works best for you.
Noise reduction and maximum volume
I tested the Liberate in two different high noise environments:
- Gas-powered lawn mower (95 dBA): more sound energy in the low-and-mid frequencies.
- Saw cutting through metal (98 dBA): high frequency peak (8 to 10 Khz)
Subjectively, these work earphones effectively reduced both noise spectra.
I also used NIOSH Quickfit to check whether I am getting at least 15 decibels noise reduction and I did.
Finally, again using Quickfit, I compared these to the ISOunes XTRA 2.0 with foam tips (review).
With the XTRA, I had to turn up the “earplug-in test signal” a lot louder to hear it, so the XTRA were definitely more effective.
Moreover, in my ears well-fitting foam tips maintain their seal when I swallow or move my jaw while silicone tips sometimes can become loose and need readjusting.
In summary, using silicone ear tips, these earphones effectively reduce noise for me, but not as well as foam.
On the other hand, triple-flange silicone tips are easier to insert and clean, and they last a lot longer.
(If you have a smaller ear canal, Plugfones foam tips might work well for you, giving you better noise isolation than I was able to achieve.)
Many work earplug headphones attempt to limit the sound level to 82 or 85 decibels to prevent users from playing music at an unsafe level.
In my experience, this is more than loud enough for most music, provided the ear tips seal properly.
Plugfones Liberate 2.0 don’t limit the maximum volume, and like many standard earphones they can be played too loud.
But, I understand some people want that freedom.
With the Liberate, I had no problems listening to even the quietest recordings and audio books.
On the contrary, with theses earphones, you have to be mindful that you don’t compensate for a poor seal and ensuing insufficient noise reduction by cranking up the volume.
Alternatively, the manufacturer also offers a volume-limited version (82 dB) for occupational/industrial applications, the Plugfones Free Reign VL.
Complete noise attenuation data available?
The Plugfones Liberate 2.0 came with one size of foam ear tips (ComforTiered Foam, NRR29) and one size of silicone ear tips (ComforTiered Silicone, NRR 27).
The EPA noise reduction rating labels for both types of ear tips are printed in the quick start guide and on the box.
Unfortunately, I could not locate (or obtain) the noise attenuation data by octave frequency (supporting information) from which these NRRs are calculated. It was neither on the box nor in the quick start guide.
This should be easy for the manufacturer to include as it comes with the test report!
If you intend to use these earplug headphones in a corporate/occupational setting, you may want to check with your organization’s safety personnel what is required.
I listened to the Liberate with the silicone ear tips since I got a good seal with these.
(Foam might sound somewhat different.)
With both rock and modern dance music, the Liberate have a punchy bass and singers’ voices sound good (high-mids are perhaps a bit forward).
The earphones sound nice and clear; higher treble is somewhat rolled off, so they are not the most detail revealing but also not fatiguing, even after many hours. They are definitely not sizzling.
I also enjoyed listening to classical music, jazz and acoustic guitar with these.
Podcasts and audio books were clear and easy to understand.
Overall, I think these earphones are very well tuned for listening in a noisy environment.
They could also be used as easy listening earphones, but you are paying a premium for the noise reduction rating.
Note: there is also a black version that looks less like work earplugs.
I made phone calls in three different settings:
1. Quiet room
Result: Good call quality.
2. Moderate noise (along a small street with traffic; moderate coffee shop; lawnmower at a distance)
Result: the microphone picks up a lot of background noise. The call quality varies. Sometimes it is OK, but at other times call parties complain.
When I used messaging apps with these earphones in the same settings, the call quality improved and was mostly satisfactory.
3. High noise environment (lawnmower 95dBA; metal saw 98 dBA)
Result: The noise drowns out the speech. Communication was not possible.
Call quality summary
All in all, the microphone preserves speech well (it sounds good in messaging apps) but rejects too little background noise.
I am only able to consistently make good calls in quieter environments.
For comparison, the ISOtunes XTRA 2.0 microphone cancels more background noise and works better for me against moderate noise.
In high noise environments, the XTRA struggle just as much: speech gets cut out along with the background noise.
With the Liberate 2.0, speech gets drowned out rather than cancelled.
So far, the only thing I have found to work well in high noise environments are earmuff headsets with a boom microphone, such as the Honeywell Sync Wireless (review).
Battery and Charging
I am getting more than 13 hours of continuous playtime out of these earphones until the voice assistant starts nagging: Battery low.
So battery life is great.
(They are advertised as 12 hours.)
Fully recharging takes about 2 hours with a phone charger (5V, 1A).
The earphones have a micro USB port (not USB-C) and come with a charging cable.
A charger is not included, but I already have plenty.
Bluetooth Connection and Pairing
The Liberate 2.0 come with Bluetooth 5.0 and support one active connection at a time (i.e., you can’t stream music from one device and still receive calls from another.)
I found the Bluetooth connection to be stable even at a distance: with my phone (also Bluetooth 5.0) being in a different room—two walls and 30 feet away, I had no issues listening to music and taking calls.
(This test is too much for many of my older Bluetooth headphones.)
When I covered the control module with my hands, having my phone nearby, I noticed no interruptions; however, when in a different room, the connection can become unstable.
Overall, I found the Bluetooth stability of the Liberate to be good.
The first time you power on the Liberate, they automatically go into pairing mode.
Voice assistant: Pairing (LED flashes red and blue.)
To connect, tap the entry “PF Liberate” in your device’s Bluetooth list.
Voice assistant response: Connected (LED slowly flashes blue.)
The next time you power them on, they automatically reconnect.
To pair or connect to another device
With the earphones powered-off, long-press the center button until you hear the voice assistant: “Pairing.” (LED flashes red and blue.)
To connect, tap the entry “PF Liberate” in your device’s Bluetooth list
Voice assistant response: Connected
(LED slowly flashes blue.)
The Plugfones Liberate 2.0 sound good and work well on both iOS and Android in all apps I have tried them (Music, Podcasts Foobar2000, VLC Player, YouTube, Audible).
With triple-flange silicone ear tips, these earphones block a decent amount of noise for me.
The good thing about silicone tips is that they are durable and easy to insert and clean.
On the other hand, well-fitting foam ear tips can block more noise and respond better to ear canal changes (e.g., due to jaw movements).
I would like to see these earphones come with two or three different sizes of foam ear tips (not only one) and two sizes of silicone tips.
If you prefer foam, the ISOtunes XTRA 2.0 are a good option (review). They have rated foam tips in four different sizes (but no rated silicone tips); for me, their foams are definitely more effective at reducing noise.
Alternatively, you could also try the economical Plugfones Guardian (review) first to check how well the ear tips fit. They are wired and more prone to cable noise, but they come with the same ear tips and sound similar.
Note: To me the Liberate sound a bit better (better bass) than the Guardian but that may be down to the Bluetooth module. In any case, I like the sound of both.