With today’s available technology and the shooting needs at the range, electronic ear muffs are priced for every budget and application with many diverse features. Preserving your hearing must be a top priority for everyone when shooting because of the high decibel sounds encountered. There is no excuse not to use hearing protection to block out the dangerous decibels that can cause permanent hearing loss and which allows normal conversation when shooting at the range for improved safety. Some neglect to use hearing protectors when shooting and if they do use them, they do not use adequate ones. What criteria do you use to select satisfactory hearing ear muffs for shooting? What about electronic amplified ear muffs? What are a few possible choices to consider for moderately-priced satisfactory electronic ear muffs? Below are my thoughts about hearing protection, some of my criteria for selecting satisfactory ear muffs, and some options for moderately-priced electronic hearing ear muffs for shooting.
Permanent Hearing Loss is a Real Possibility
A typical gunshot sound ranges from 2-5 milliseconds in duration. The longer you’re exposed to a sound, the more damage it can do to your hearing. Hearing damage isn’t just about volume, it’s also about time duration.
For example, 4 minutes of listening to a loud chainsaw is obviously going to be less damaging to your ears than 4 hours of listening to that chainsaw. But what about a gunshot and is unprotected exposure to one gunshot really going to damage your hearing? YES! According to Dr. William Clark, senior research scientist in charge of the Noise Laboratory at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, one shot from a .357 magnum pistol, which gives out 165dB for just 2 milliseconds, is equivalent to spending over 40 hours in a noisy workplace. Recognize that because noise induced hearing loss is usually gradual, it sneaks up on us over the years. So one shot fired and any possible damage to your hearing isn’t going to usually be that initially noticeable, once the initial discomfort, ringing, or pain in your ears subsides. But each subsequent gunshot you’re exposed to is another added exposure of noise, so hearing damage is cumulative over time with those hazardous exposures of sound adding up to serious damage to your ears and possible noise-induced permanent hearing loss. Now don’t be alarmed; there is an easy solution. Establish your criteria of what you want in your hearing protection, select the ear muffs that match your criteria, and IMPORTANTLY be sure and ALWAYS use them whenever you’re shooting or in noisy situations. Don’t tell your grandchildren that they should not make the mistake you made when you were younger and did not wear hearing protection.
Price and Features as Hearing Protection Criteria
There are standard passive and electronic amplified ear muff options which range from about $15 to well over $1,600. Yes, more than $1600 if you want special molded features in the ear or want other features due to existing hearing problems, for example. I do not use solely passive protection since they block out all or a large majority of sounds and I regularly teach firearms classes. As an instructor, I need to be able to hear my students questions and comments clearly at all times and they need to hear my instructions and guidance. So, I use amplified active electronic ear muffs. Really, I believe that anyone at a shooting range needs to clearly hear others so as to be more aware as to what is happening around them, to help ensure safety at all times, in addition to protecting their hearing. I recognize that it is a real pain to have to continually take off and put on your passive hearing protectors at the range or wherever. While the low-cost passive muffs provide hearing protection, battery-powered electronic components inside the electronic muffs have microphones, amplifiers and speakers that gather, amplify and transmit low volume sounds inside the ear cups. You can have the gun shots and noise muffled significantly with the active electronic protectors, while hearing others talk in a normal tone and level without adjustments. So preserve your valuable hearing and don’t take the chance of losing it for a few dollars.
I see folks pinching pennies and not using reasonable quality ear protection for reasonable prices when shooting. Some even saying that they really don’t need hearing protection for their short time shooting at the range. Again, recognize that there is an actual retail price for the physical protectors, as well as a long-term, intangible hearing preservation price to pay. Some are scared off by the price of the hearing protectors. One said “I can’t see paying $65 or more for electronic shooting muffs when I can use a $10 passive pair that covers my ears, especially since I don’t shoot that often.” I suppose, but they will probably only last for a few outings depending on frequency of use. Also, remember, it can take only one shot from that 9 mm at 160 db to permanently ruin your hearing. The wide range of prices for shooting muffs exist primarily because of the quality, type, and quantity of electronic components, but also due to added features and quality of construction (e.g. unpadded vinyl headband, gel earcups, adjustability, auxiliary jack, one or two volume control knobs, weight, cheek-weld fit for long gun shooting, type and number of batteries used [AA,AAA,N, etc.], better quality materials and construction, leather, etc.) Lower cost muffs may have only one microphone, no automatic shut off to preserve batteries, no auxiliary jacks for music, smart phones, MP3 player, scanner radio, etc., no low battery warning light, a low battery life, no dual volume controls, no carrying case, and a basic stop-type amplifier that simply shuts off upon high decibel sounds and has a longer-second time lapse before the amplifier resumes and low tones are again transmitted to the ear. What are your needs and preferences? You may not need the $2,000 ear muffs with the extra whistles and bells and maybe the $10 ones do not provide the extent of protection you probably need. So I thought I would try to boil down the hundreds of choices and focus on just a few that I am familiar with and which are reasonably priced between $65 and about $200 with adequate features. Also, some priced a little less with higher NRR ratings and less features are included. So these are my choices below for electronic amplified earmuffs based on my criteria. You can certainly have your own equally-valuable choices based on your criteria, desired features, preferences, prices, etc.
NRR Rating Criterion
One top criterion to include in your criteria must be the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) and all hearing protection gets this rating, while some do not advertise it. Like I said in my previous usacarry articles “Select Proper Hearing Protection To Avoid Permanent Hearing Loss” on 1/3/13 and “8 Equipment Tips for Range Live-Fire” on 8/27/13, the higher the NRR, the greater the noise level is reduced. Some say that an increase of 10 dB in NRR (moving from 0 to 10 NRR) will reduce the sound you hear by about half. As a general rule of thumb, for Steady State Noise (SSN- continuous), you can subtract the NRR rating from the noise level you are trying to protect against. The 10 dB protection to reduce sound at the ear by half is measured on a logarithmic scale. That means the 10 dB would be simply subtracted from the maximum. So for a pistol blast of 160 dB, a 10 dB protector would reduce the volume at the ear by half, to about 150 dB (in my opinion not nearly enough protection in a continuous noise (SSN) environment at that level). At a 95 dB average sound level, the same 10 dB protector would reduce the noise by half, to 85 dB (a generally safe level of protection). The logarithmic scale can be very confusing, because the numbers it measures are non-linear. Remember that each 10 dB increase on the dB scale doubles the sound volume, and each 10 dB decrease on the dB scale halves the sound volume. Again, with SSN continuous noise (such as you might find from a jet engine, in a factory or a very busy gun range), subtracting the hearing protector’s NRR rating from the total dB of sound in your environment is a simple way to calculate how much protection you are getting from noise. However, more realistically for our shooting sports, consider the blast sound (or IN- Impulse Noises.) IN such as handgun muzzle blasts are very different from continuous SSN. Handgun blasts tend to be much louder than most SSN you will encounter. IN last for just fractions of a second and there is not much agreement about how to measure the kind of protection you need. In general, most experienced shooters figure out what works for them through experience. Unless you shoot frequently and a lot of large caliber and magnum rounds, most of the ear plugs and ear muffs on the market with a minimum of NRR 25 will give you adequate protection, depending on your frequency, duration of use, and volume level of course. When working with large caliber or magnum rounds and/or simply shooting a lot of lead downrange, I recommend dual protection (ear plugs worn under a set of ear muffs). So generally, I recommend a minimum NRR of 25 or greater for most low to mid caliber handguns on an outdoor range, with my preference being 28 NRR or more. For indoor ranges especially, I recommend double-plugging with electronic muffs and standard foam-type ear plugs for dual protection. To get to the higher NRR 33, for example, you could use NRR 25 ear muffs worn over NRR 31 ear plugs at the same time. Some considerations for using plugs are: 1. they are inconvenient to use for some and proper insertion is required to gain the full noise rating and it can sometimes take multiple attempts to get the plug seated correctly in the ear canal; 2. for some individuals, like a friend of mine, plugs can promote fungal growth deep inside the ear canal and cause severe itching and/or irritation. Earmuffs can also promote fungal growth, but the problem is much slower to develop with earmuffs; and 3. plugs are much more uncomfortable to wear for extended periods than most average earmuffs.
My Top Recommended Hearing Protector Options (Not by store or outlet):
BRAND/Model: Howard Leight Impact Pro R-01902 (Honeywell) (Shown Above in First Picture & Here)
NRR: 30; Electronic Amplified
Main FEATURES: Single-Knob Volume Control; Rubberized Pressure Point Earcups; 4-Hour Auto Shutoff; Auxiliary Jack with Cord for audio source; AAA batteries; 4x Low-level Sound Amplification; 350 hours Battery Life; Easy External Battery Change with external battery compartment; 12.8 ounces; OSHA Compliant
Typical PRICE: $67.(Walmart & Amazon)
Warranty: Lifetime Frame
BRAND/Model: Pro Ears Pro 300 (Altus Brands)
NRR: 26; Electronic Amplified
Main FEATURES: 5.5 millisecond Attack Time for instant protection; Dual-Knob Volume Control on each earcup; Leather Ear Cushions; Lightweight 9.1 ounces; N batteries; 200 hours Battery Life; Low Profile design; No Tool Battery Change; Industry-leading DLSC™ Compression Technology; Wind Abatement Programming
Typical PRICE: $176. (Optics Planet & Amazon)
Warranty: 3 Years
BRAND/Model: Peltor SV Tactical Pro, Model MT15H7FSV (3M)
NRR: 26; Electronic Amplified
Main FEATURES: Omni-Directional Stereo Microphone on each earcup; 2-Hour Auto Shutoff; Maximum Distortion-Free Amplification; Large Gel Earcups; External Audio Input (optional cables & Wind Protection for purchase); AA batteries; Upper & Lower Push-Buttons Volume Control; 270 hours Battery Life; Low-Battery Tone Indicator; 13.6 ounces; OSHA Compliant
Typical PRICE: $200.(Ear Plug Store & Amazon)
Warranty: 3 Years
Other Lower-Priced Electronic Options with Less/Different Features to Consider:
(NOTE: NRR May Require Double Plugging & Prices Vary Considerably over time & retailer to retailer)
- Howard Leight Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs, Model R-01526, NRR 22 (note rating- so double plug), 4-Hour Shutoff, AAA batteries, 14 ounces, up to 350 hrs. battery life, auxiliary jack, Green Only, $45.
- Radians 430-EHP Electronic Earmuffs NRR 27, AA batteries, padded earcups, 12.6 ounces, 200 hrs. battery life, dual volume control, $26.
- Winchester Electronic Earmuffs, Model 99779, NRR 25, AAA batteries, large cups, 16 ounces, 200 hrs. battery life, adjustable fit, dual volume control, $26.
I hope this has helped you decide on your personal criteria for your electronic hearing protector earmuffs for shooting. Remember, the NRR is very important and you might want to consider double plugging with electronic muffs and standard ear plugs for more protection. Also, I hope the few options I mentioned have reduced somewhat your research time, given you some additional information, and saved you some decision time for narrowing down your alternatives, analyzing, and for selecting the ones you want to purchase and use. Shop around for best prices, as they vary considerably. Remember, you usually get what you pay for and don’t sacrifice your hearing for a few dollars up front. Determine your criteria and priorities carefully.
Honeywell Safety Products (Howard Leight)
Smithfield, RI 02917
Altus Brands, LLC (Pro Ears)
Grawn, MI 49637
3M Personal Safety Division (Peltor)
St.Paul, MN 55144
Photos by author.
This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney in your state or jurisdiction for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, stand your ground law, and concealed carry. This is not legal advice and not legal opinions. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2014 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.