I was recently able to test a pre-production prototype of the soon-to-be-released hearing protection Altus Stealth 28 HTBT Earbuds. The earbuds are scheduled to be released in April, 2022. They offer an attractive form factor that is well designed to provide superior comfort and ease of use. The electronics in the prototype unit that I tested were okay, but could be improved upon. Altus promises better performance in production versions of the unit.
In December of 2021, SurvivalBlog posted my review of the Axil GS Extreme Earbuds. I found them to be excellent earbuds, but a bit pricey, with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $199.99. I was interested in reviewing some less expensive units that would make this technology more accessible to SurvivalbBlog readers. Then an event occurred that forced my hand.
It was a wintery day in mid-February with light snow and temperatures in the mid-teens. It had been almost two months since my wife, “Kari”, and I had last seen our grandchildren. This was much too long by our standards of reckoning. An early January visit had been canceled when Kari and I contracted Covid. A late January visit had been canceled when it did not fit the schedule of my daughter’s family very well. We were hoping that nothing would interfere with this third attempt at a visit.
Our usual dog sitter was out of town when we made our original visit plans in early January, so we made reservations with an alternative. We had now rescheduled our reservations with the dog care alternative a couple of times.
I had made the reservation with the dog care alternative because I had formerly known of it as a “kennel”. Times had changed, and it was now a “Pet Spa and Resort”, with prices to match its new name. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Our hearts were yearning for our grandkids, so we bit the bullet and kept the reservation.
Our beagle, “Tucker”, finds riding in the car to be a very stimulating experience. He proclaims this excitement loudly and often in a classic beagle bay.
Since both Kari and I had previous experience with riding with Tucker in the car, we were both prepared. I was wearing the Axil earbuds, and Kari was wearing a pair of muff-style hearing protection. After Tucker was delivered to the “Spa”, our hearing protection went into the back seat.
A couple of hours later, Kari and I were nearing the midpoint of our journey to the grandkids’ house. We decided to pull off at the next exit and get some lunch.
The events of the next moments are preserved in my memory as a series of disjointed video clips rather than as a continuous narrative. There is a clip of Kari saying “Uh oh” as I looked up and noticed a drift of snow on the exit ramp. There is a clip of the car hitting the drift and beginning to yaw. There is a clip of hitting a couple of highway reflectors as we slid sideways toward the ditch. There is a clip of two 4X6 signposts rushing toward my side window. And there is a clip of me staring at a deployed side-curtain airbag as the car gradually slid to a stop in the bottom of the ditch. Life then gradually resumed normal speed as Kari and I exited the vehicle.
In the confusion of clearing out the vehicle before turning it over to the insurance company, the Axil earbuds disappeared. I decided it was time to prioritize the search for the next pair of earbuds.
After some diligent searching, I contacted Altus to ask about testing their Stealth 28 earbuds. I was interested in the Altus earbuds because of their reasonable price point and because they are American-made. Altus Brands President, Gary Lemanski, offered me the chance to test a pre-production prototype of the new Stealth 28 HTBT version. I jumped at the chance. The prototype was shipped to me a week later.
Opening the Box
The shipping box included a nice hand-written note from Mr. Lemanski:
Tom, I have not written a user manual for this product yet but I think it is pretty self-explanatory. Right button for on/off, left for amplification levels . . . . Looking forward to your comments. Gary. P.S. Remember this is a 3D print prototype. The production version will be more robust; sound even better!
The box also contained a nice zippered nylon case containing the Stealth 28 HTBT prototype, an assortment of foam and silicone tips in various sizes for the buds, and a USB C charging cable.
The first set of tips that I tried were a little too small. The largest foam tips provided an excellent fit.
When I first tried to use the unit, I had trouble turning it on and off. Mr. Lemanski kindly explained that I needed to hold the power button down for three seconds in order to turn the unit either on or off.
When the unit is turned on, the user can use the left button to toggle between four different sound levels. I really like the location of the controls at the back of the neck while the unit is being worn. They are easy to find and manipulate.
I inserted the buds into my ear canals with a corkscrew motion, and turned on the unit. There was a slight hissing sound in the background, especially at the higher volume settings. The volume at the lowest setting was not much higher than the volume when the unit is completely off. I turned on a radio, and tested the various volume settings to see which one best corresponded to the level of perceived volume when the plugs were removed. I found that the highest volume setting roughly corresponded to the experience of not wearing the buds at all.
The First Range Session
A couple of days later, our church sponsored a range session as a part of our Spring Mission Conference. The missionary that we were hosting enjoys hunting and shooting, so we thought it would be a good opportunity for others with similar interests to enjoy his fellowship.
I wore the ear buds throughout the range session. They enabled me to engage in normal conversations with the participants as a range officer, while protecting my ears from excessive noise.
I felt that the buds worked well during the range session. During the course of the session we fired rifles chambered in .223 Remington, 22 Magnum, 300 Blackout, 7 mm Remington Magnum, and .308 Winchester.
The .308 was an AR platform rifle with a barrel that was about 16 inches long. It produced the most noise by far of all the rifles that we were firing that day. I noticed some degree of discomfort while the .308 was being fired, and experienced some tinnitus following the range session. I concluded that the highest volume setting was not a good choice while the .308 was being fired.
The Beagle Test
A few days later, Kari and I decided to have another try at making the long-delayed trip to visit the grandkids. This time we had reservations with the regular dog sitter. I put in the Altus earbuds, put the leash on Tucker, and headed for the car. The wind was blowing pretty hard, and I noticed some wind noise artifacts in the earbuds on the way to the car.
In the car, Tucker put his left paw on my right shoulder, his right paw on the front passenger seat-back, and began to bay loudly directly at my ear. In the enclosed space of the car, this was too loud on maximum volume. The sound level was okay when I adjusted it down to the second lowest volume setting, but this setting made it a bit difficult to hear ambient noises at normal levels.
I had the same experience when I picked Tucker up a couple of days later. The prototype buds did not filter out enough noise at the highest volume settings, and did not transmit enough ambient noise at the lower volume settings.
The Second Range Session
The next day I tested a shotgun for an upcoming article for SurvivalBlog. I was getting too much shotgun report noise at the highest volume settings, and too little ambient noise at the lower volume settings. I waited too long to turn down the volume, and noticed some tinnitus after the range session.
With a manufacturer suggested retail price of $79.99 and more than 20 hours of battery life with each charge, the Altus Stealth 28 HTBT provides a reasonably priced hearing protection alternative. The unit is attractive, with the controls in a comfortable and easily accessed location at the back of the neck. If production units are able to filter out the loudest impact sounds while transmitting normal background noise at an appropriate level, the new Stealth 28 HTBT will provide an excellent tool for range or field use.
Altus Brands was kind enough to provide me with a prototype of their new Altus Stealth 28 HTBT for testing and evaluation. I tried not to let their kindness influence my evaluation of the product, and believe that I have succeeded in remaining objective. I did not receive any other financial or other inducements to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.