5 Aug 2011

Gear Review: Cliff Keen and Brute Earguards

I test and compare three earguard models made by Cliff Keen and one made by Brute.

Cliff Keen earguards are available to purchase in Europe through Made4Fighters - who kindly sent these items for review. Brute earguards are available from most leading MMA webstores.

The views expressed in this review are my own opinion. I have worked on various projects with a number of fightwear companies, none in connection with this review.

Let's face it, earguards are dorky with a capital DORKY. Find me ONE cool photo of a person wearing earguards and I'll eat my Brute Quads. Seriously, I reckon the fact most BJJers do not wear earguards is because they look about as cool as your dad dancing at a wedding. But if you can get over the dork factor, then I present you with a number of earguard options, some of which are better suited than others...

I must have missed the Quad I and II cos you can only buy the Quad III these days. Mine is about 8 months old and I have worn it at each and every single session. From the photo you can tell it is showing signs of wear and tear but it is still intact and very much in good working order.

Brute Quad II summary:
Costs around £40
Made from EVA pads covered with harder polymer shell
Held together by five straps
Chin: thin spongy pad with velcro strapping
Pros: easy to adjust, remains fairly well in place (if strapped tightly), very slim design
Cons: pads get really sweat soaked, not very comfortable, can get hot, hard to hear
Dorky rating: 4/5

The Brutes are okay. If I had not had the chance to try on the other earguards in this review I would have quite happily carried on using them until they fell apart. A couple of times, I've not tied the velcro on tightly enough and the whole earguard has shifted whilst escaping a headlock or triangle. This caused the hard shell of the ear guards to chaff quite nastily across my ears resulting in potentially cauli-inducing sore ears. I also hate the way they soak up all my sweat and washing the earguard is fiddly as the it takes a while to dry out due to all the crevices and separate parts. The thin padding on the velcro chinstrap is also a bit scratchy at times.

Cliff Keen 'Twister' Earguard
Cliff Keen was a famous wrestler back in the day. BJJ is sort of similar so you would think that what's cool for the sport of wrestling would be cool for BJJ as well. And indeed, if the Twister is anything to go by, it seems those leotard wearing, gable gripping giants know a thing or two about protecting the ears because I absolutely loved this model earguard!

Twister summary:
Costs around £40
Made from dipped foam pads covered with harder polymer shell
Held together by three straps
Chin: ample dipped foam pad with velcro strapping
Pros: very easy to adjust and put on quickly, it was very light and comfortable. The ample air vents kept the earguards cool and did not muffle outside sound. Easy to clean
Cons: quite large coverage over the head
Dorky rating: 2/5

The Twisters are amazing! Once on, I completely forgot I was wearing earguards (no mean feat). They are not only light and comfortable, they are, dare I say it, almost cool looking (in an uber-chic-nerdy sort of way). Made4fighters only sell the all black model but I see on the official Cliff Keen website that you can buy these in loads of colour combinations. Wow! Now I can mix and match my gi wardrobe with my ear protection :D

Cliff Keen 'Tornado' Earguard
I see the Tornados as the Twisters' Big Brother. It has more straps, more protection and better still, was made based on NASA research! Holy cow, space age technology for the modern day grappler, what more could a guy need?

Cliff Keen 'Tornado summary:

Costs around £40
Made from dipped foam pads covered with harder polymer shell
Held together by five straps
Chin: ample dipped foam pad with velcro strapping
Pros: easy to adjust and put on quickly, it was very light and comfortable. The ample air vents kept the earguards cool and did not muffle outside sound. Easy to clean
Cons: quite large coverage over the head, more so than the Twister
Dorky rating: 3/5

These felt pretty much the same as the Twister earguards but somehow, a bit more fiddly and a tad bulkier. The extra velcro also meant extra sweat soaking up into the strapping, which got pretty wet. Overall a solid earguard, given the choice, I'd prefer the Twister.

Cliff Keen 'Signature' earguard
These babies look more like your classic old skool earguards. I must admit, just by the look of them online, I would not be tempted to buy these.

Cliff Keen 'Signature' summary

Costs around £36
Made from hard polymer shells covered by dipped foam pads
Held together by five straps
Chin: rubbery pad with stud buckle fastening
Pros: Quite light and slim
Cons: Very fiddly to adjust and a bit less ventilation than the other Cliff Keen models
Dork rating: 5/5

I must admit, these look pretty horrid and the very fiddly way of adjusting the straps didn't help me fall in love either. They were very light but the strapping was really annoying, especially under the chin. If I loosened them however, the earguards became prone to slipping, so tight was the only way. There was also a strange echoey effect whilst wearing them due perhaps to the shape of the plastic cups.

Final conclusion
Sore ears are an inevitable fact of life for grapplers everywhere, but can be avoided. I find it truly amazing that folk would rather stick a syringe into their ears to drain excess fluid and sit with an ice pack stuck to their lug-holes for hours on end than wear a pair of earguards. I put this down to the simple fact that they look dorky. Personally speaking, I've long ago thrown away any notions of trying to look 'cool' at BJJ class (well ok I might be slightly vain when it comes to my choice of gi). Earguards for me are an essential part of my fightgear wardrobe. so, it you are looking for a recommendation on which ear protection to buy, my own opinion is that I highly recommend the Cliff Keen Twister earguard.

PS: I was also given a chin strap accessory but I did not test this.

Fits both adults and little lady warriors

Thanks to Made4Fighters for sending me these items for review.


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Georgette said...

Excellent review as always, Meerkat :)

Do you have opinions on which earguards are more or less uncomfortable for your opponents? For example-- I prefer ear guards that have some element of softness or at least not-hard-plasticness on the external part of the ear cup, because when I use my head for control (often) I don't like to be rude to my sparring partner.

Meerkatsu said...

Darn I knew I missed something Georgette. Well I had no complaints from my sparring partners with any of the headgear I used. Inspecting each one closely I would probably guess that the Cliff Keens are better than the Brute due to the hard outer shell of the latter.
Having said that, I rarely drive my head into the zone, most of the time I'm playing guard.

Andrew Deacon said...

Interesting piece. I use the Brute myself if my ears are sore, just to keep training. I've stitched the small loop between the crown straps in place which considerably improves the way it stays together. Personally I find a little vaseline on the ears prevents trouble and I only need the Brute occasionally, but I will wear it. I thought if I were to wear one all the time I would try the new Bad Boy soft guard which looks similar to the discontinued Shockwave, although soft guards are not very useful *after* you've hurt your ear of course. I always thought the Quad III would be kinder to training partners than the Cliff Keens, which appear to have some protruding hard plastic guards. Is this not the case then?

Meerkatsu said...

The protruding plastic cups on the Cliff Keens are flexible soft vinyl-like plastic, so if they did knock or chaff against an opponent, my guess is they would not inflict too much in the way of abrasive contact compared to the Brutes, which are much harder plastic. The Brutes are also moulded to contain large areas with sdharp edges, which *could* catch on your opponent.
However, as I stated in the comment above, I generally play a very guard based game so my head does not often go near my opponent's head.

André said...

I have both a Brute Shockwave (purple!) and an Asics Unrestrained, and I've thought of reviewing/comparing them, but I haven't got the balls to post photos of myself wearing them!

Anyhoo, I like the Asics enough and with the neoprene cover over the ear pieces I don't think I'll everhut/cut anyone.
You've had the Shockwaves so no need to talk about those.

Lonely Blue Belt said...

Maybe you could add an addendum and test the chin cup? I quit wearing ear guards because of the god awful gag reflex, (insert your favorite joke here) but seriously I can't have something permanently stuck under my chin in BJJ it sets off the "im getting choked alarm" in my brain and I'm constantly in stead of spitting. I wanted to buy the chin cup but didn't know if they actually worked.

Anonymous said...

Could You published more Brute ear guard photos? Execution, seams etc?

Unknown said...

Great review mate. Thanks for taking the time. You're a legend

Anonymous said...

I used some that are custom from a company called Danmar Warrior. They will customize your headgear with any logo, and they are the only ones to make them in house.

Anonymous said...

I noticed on your blog you used the Brute shockwave ear guards in 2009. How do they compare to the twister?



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