“What? Did you say something?”
Sound familiar? If you go to gun ranges, you may know this scenario all too well.
I’m a big fan of electronic hearing protection. The passive kinds, like foam plugs and exterior earmuffs, are perfectly safe and do a great job, but the electronic versions offer other benefits.
With electronic ears, you can easily hear not only range commands, but also what’s going on around you. You can have a conversation with your shooting buddies without risk of hearing damage from that .257 Weatherby Magnum in the next lane. You can teach a new shooter, or learn from a more experienced one, right at the firing line. For these reasons, I carry extra sets of electronic earmuffs in my range bag all the time.
Good electronic hearing protection has become affordable, so there’s no reason not to upgrade. If you decide to make the jump, your very first decision will be in-ear or exterior.
Exterior electronic muffs are readily available. If you choose this option, you might have to deal with sweaty ears if you shoot in warmer climates. They can also be uncomfortable with shooting glasses, as the frames have to pass under the ear pads and that pressure may become painful.
On the plus side, exterior muffs are simple, effective, and relatively inexpensive. You can also use standard batteries and turn them off between outings. Some even have music-player inputs if you want to achieve some shooting Zen during long practice sessions.
Not so long ago, in-ear electronic protection cost a small fortune, but it is now more affordable and effective. The devices have no impact on your choices of hats or shooting glasses. They generally fit entirely inside the ear. With the right fit, you won’t know you’re wearing them. They also won’t interfere with cheek weld when shooting rifles or shotguns. There are two downsides: They will cost more than exterior models, and most types use hearing-aid batteries that need to be replaced every 7 to 10 days.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite picks.
Etymotic GunSport Pro
I’ve been using a set of Etymotic GunSport Pro electronic earplugs for about a month. Wow! I’m spoiled. In short, they provide most of the benefits of those bulky exterior electronic muffs, but they fit entirely inside your ear. Each plug runs on a #10 hearing-aid battery. These units feature a 25dB noise reduction rating and that can be improved a bit with a really good seal in the ear. To achieve a personalized fit for every ear, Etymotic includes seven different pairs of ear tip adaptors. Rubber flanged, foam, and glider types offer a range of options.
The Etymotic GunSport Pro electronic earplugs provide most of the benefits of those bulky exterior electronic muffs, but they fit entirely inside your ear. mfg photo
What I like best is the natural sound quality. In the LO (normal) mode, conversation is perfectly natural. The units provide protection against gunshot noise, but also will reduce the level of additional continuous loud ambient noise by about 15db. In the HI (enhanced) mode, the system amplifies sound so you can hear more sounds (hunting, anyone?).
You can pick up a set of Etymotic GunSport Pros for $299.
Howard Leight Impact Pro
The Impact Pro model offers heavy-duty hearing protection. They are large exterior muffs and provide up to 30dB of blast noise protection. The electronics not only help dampen dangerous noise levels, they also amplify safe levels of sound up to four times. Assuming others are wearing similar muffs, you can carry on normal conversations while surrounded by gunfire. These are especially suited for pistol shooting at indoor ranges. Of course, you can use them anywhere, but some may find that the large size interferes with cheek-weld position when shooting rifles or shotguns. Howard Leight offers a solution for that too, which we’ll get to next.
The Howard Leight Impact Pro offers heavy-duty hearing protection. They are large exterior muffs and provide up to 30dB of blast noise protection. mfg photo
There are two things I particularly like about the Howard Leight design. First, the battery compartment is accessible from the outside. Many electronic earmuffs have battery compartments inside, behind the foam that covers your ear. On hot days, this area can get sweaty and you have to remember to open up the compartment, remove the batteries, and let things dry out. Second, the on/off and volume control is a single dial that is inset into the earmuff body. It’s very unlikely to get inadvertently turned on while bouncing around the inside of your shooting bag. On more bonus feature: the Impact Pros feature a music-input jack. If you shoot your best while listening to old DEVO tunes, knock yourself out!
The Impact Pro models run about $70. They use standard AAA batteries and the automatic shutoff feature keeps them running.
Howard Leight Impact Sport
The Howard Leight Impact Sport model has many of the same features of the Impact Pro model, but is, by design, more suited to rifle and shotgun use. The muffs themselves are low profile and the tradeoff is that sound reduction is limited to 22dB. The Impact Sport models still provide electronic sound reduction for noise above 82dB. You’ll also find the handy features of exterior battery access, a music-input jack, and automatic shutoff after four hours of inactivity.
The Howard Leight Impact Sport model (right) shares many of the same features of the Impact Pro models, but are, by design, more suited to rifle and shotgun use as they have a lower profile. mfg photo
Champion Ear Muffs—Electronic
With a street price of just $28, it’s hard not to make the leap to electronic hearing protection. The noise reduction rating on Champions’ Ear Muffs—Electronic is 25dB—is comparable to most passive electronic muffs. Partially recessed control knobs allow individual control of right and left sides. The unit folds for easy storage in your shooting bag and they’re easy to adjust for size.
These muffs are “standard” size and are great for handgun use at indoor ranges. Whether they will interfere with rifle and shotgun shooting depends on the individual, so if those are your games, be sure to test the fit first.
Walker’s Game Ear HD Elite
For field use, you might want to consider products designed to both enhance and protect hearing. Walker’s Game Ear makes numerous models of in-ear plugs and exterior muffs that both protect and enhance your hearing. For about $199.99 you can get a set of Walker’s Game Ear HD Elite plugs.
Walker’s Game Ear makes numerous models of in-ear plugs and exterior muffs that both protect and enhance your hearing. These are Walker’s Game Ear HD Elite plugs. mfg photo
These are behind-the-ear units. The electronics container hangs behind your ear and connects to an in-ear plug via a small tube that goes over the top of your ear. This arrangement allows more space for sound-enhancing features while minimizing weight and pressure on your ear canal.
The HD Elite models provide 29dB of noise reduction and 40dB of sound enhancement. They’re great for hunting applications where you want to listen carefully to environmental sounds without risk of hearing damage from a sudden gunshot. The HD Elites run on a #13 hearing-aid battery and provide an audible low-battery warning.