The Duocom headset is designed to fit under a crash helmet, providing good sound quality at the same time as reducing external sounds to a safe level. This makes it something of a niche product, but I hesitated so long before taking the plunge and buying it that I wonder if there are others in the same position and hope this review may be of use to anyone who is wondering whether or not to buy this product. It was only after trying them while flying to Malaga that I discovered their other use as a superb solution to the problem of listening to music in an environment of high background noise, such as a bus or a plane.
The reason for the hesitation is the predictable one, in that they are expensive, listing at £199 a set. To make things worse, it is impossible to try before you buy as they are custom made for each individual. As part of the over a year of "should I or shouldn't I?" I found that although they do not advertise it widely, Specsavers Hearing Centres supply them for £160 a set, easing the pain a little.
What do you get?
At the end of a process I shall describe below, you end up with a smart, lined leather pouch containing a pair of custom made in-ear headphones, with a sturdy flex about a metre long terminating in a standard 3.5mm mini jack plug that you can plug into any sound device. The headphones can be moulded in a range of colours, though the default is black. I didn't think about colour when ordering so black is what I got. The headphones look rather like in-ear hearing aids, though unlike hearing aids they have wires coming from them.
How do you get them?
An audiologist will take an impression of your ear canals by firstly putting a little plug in your ear to stop the impression material going too far and damaging your ear drum and then squashing soft silicone in, leaving it to set for about 5 minutes and then pulling it out. My audiologist in Specsavers in Scunthorpe was both charming and efficient, getting the job done in no time and putting me at ease with the unfamiliar procedure. It felt a bit weird as the impression material went in, though not uncomfortable. I had an irrepressible urge to cough, which the audiologist told me was a very common reaction. So, about 15 minutes after arriving at Specsavers (a good half of which time was spent putting the world to rights rather than real business) I was on my way again.
Some 2 weeks later I got the call to say they were ready so back I went. A different audiologist this time, but just as charming and efficient, who showed me how to pop the headset in my ear, checked I was comfortable and sent me on my way. The headset comes with a tube of "comfort cream" but I have never used it as the custom moulds fit like the proverbial glove and go in and out easily, staying exactly in place until you need to remove them.
Up to the point of getting the headset I had always worn earplugs when riding my motorbike. Many motorcyclists do this, because the wind roar is so intense at anything above town speeds that you can permanently damage your hearing if you do not take this precaution. So the first trial was just to put them in, without plugging them into my ipod, to see what the noise attenuation was like. It was fantastic, outperforming any brand of earplug I had previously tried. No real surprises there as Duocom is branded as a premium product and it is custom made for each individual ear canal. The brilliant thing is that enough external sound still gets through, so you can hear sirens or car horns but the wind roar is massively reduced to a really comfortable level.
At the same time, it was obvious that they would be comfortable for extended periods of time on account of the fact that not sticking out at all from your ear, your crash helmet does not press on them at all.
Now for the ipod test. I plugged the ipod in, set it to a moderate volume and set off on the road. Well, the attenuation of external noise continued to be so good that, at all legal speeds the music could be heard clearly without adjusting the volume. As for the music quality, it was the best I have ever heard from anything other than over the ear Sennheisers. It's worth remembering that my middle-aged ears cannot catch the higher frequencies anyway now, but the sound had a depth to it that I did not think was possible with miniature headphones, with plenty of middle and bass. And best of all, even with your favourite tunes on you can still hear enough of the outside world to be safe, but without that awful wind noise.
These are marketed as a long-life product. The lead to the music source is clearly sturdy and the manufacturers talk about a life of 3 to 5 years of everyday use. Time will tell, but I feel confident at the moment that they will live up to expectations.
Value for money
With such an expensive product it will be an individual call. For me, the combination of comfort, sound attenuation and music on the go is unbeatable and my only regret is that I dithered so much. This is a seriously good product. Its other noteworthy use is one that may make it worthy of consideration by those who use public transport. Many regular headsets are useless on planes, trains and buses because the background noise is so intrusive. Not with these, it isn't!