Without any doubt, a handgun fired at an average of 140 dB or more of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Studies by the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and others support this. Because noise-induced hearing loss from gunshots is usually gradual, the one shot fired and any possible damage to our hearing isn’t going to usually be that initially noticeable, once the initial discomfort, ringing, or pain in our ears subsides. But each subsequent gunshot we’re exposed to harms our ear stereocilia cells and adds to cumulative hearing damage over time. So, we all need to have the best hearing protection device with the most current technology available that is comfortable, protects our hearing satisfactorily, and which is not bulky and heavy, so we WILL WEAR it at the range.
Concerns About Over-The-Head Earmuff Hearing Protectors
I have several high-quality Over-The-Head (OTH) hearing protection earmuffs, but I wanted to try the latest high-tech electronic, digital In-The-Ear protectors. I don’t know about you, but some of my OTH hearing protection earmuffs are bulky, uncomfortable, and get heavy on my head after a couple of hours at the range. Here in Florida, the heat and high humidity add to the uncomfortableness. My earmuffs tend to slip on my head when I sweat, get in the way of my shooting glasses and the seal breaks, restrict head movement some, and become very hot, sticky, and slippery. Vigorous range activity, like shooting on the move or among several targets, adds to the discomfort. Eventually, OTH earmuffs require periodic replacement of their ear cushions, since they become stiff, brittle, crack, and do not seal as well for loud noises. I inspect them every time I use them. I have only one set of ears and want to protect them. Plus there can be an annoyance, like with one of my older technology OTH models which may occasionally shut off the amplifier for loud noises, then turn back on later to resume amplifying sounds with some distortion. Thankfully for me, I do not have protection altered with OTH earmuffs from interference from hair, sideburns, or a beard like some do. I suppose baldness is a benefit? Instructors know the advantages of electronic continuous active (not passive earplugs or passive earmuffs) hearing protection, since they provide hearing protection from loud gunfire noises, while at the same time the internal electronic microphones, speakers, and amplifiers pickup voice sounds, amplify low volume environmental sounds, and project amplified conversational voices. Modern sound compression and digital technology, in advanced and usually more expensive hearing protectors, lets you continuously and clearly hear all or most of the sounds in the environment, but compressed into a lower-volume continuous stream of sound, without the on-off sound from older stop-gate technology. With sound compression, you hear more sounds than you can without ear protection, but all at a safe volume level. The shooter can hear surrounding sounds at normal levels, or even louder with amplification. Then when a dangerously loud gunshot sound is detected by the electronics, the speakers are momentarily deactivated until the noise reaches a safe level again. With modern electronic active hearing protectors, I do not have to shout and raise my voice level for student range commands and instructions. This is a SAFETY advantage for everyone. I encourage my students to get active, electronic hearing protection with at least a 23 NRR. What is NRR?
NRR: An Important Criterion for Selecting Hearing Protection
For me, in addition to the comfort, electronics, and safety factors, the most important criterion for selecting hearing protection is the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Hearing protectors are rated for their attenuation or level of noise reduction that occurs with their use. Protectors with higher attenuation reduce more noise. The NRR level is printed on packages of hearing protectors. My book Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials has 3 chapters on my selection criteria details, selecting proper hearing protection, and my recommended electronic hearing protection devices.
Generally, if you shoot regularly and fire large caliber and magnum rounds outdoors, most of the hearing protectors with a minimum of NRR 23-25 will give you adequate protection. When shooting large caliber or magnum rounds (or any rounds) frequently, with high-volume shooting, and for indoor ranges, shooters can consider using dual protection (passive earplugs worn with earmuffs) or use a higher NRR of more comfortable active electronic protectors. At the range for my field tests, I had no sound distortion, I could hear conversations well, and my ears were protected from gunfire at 30 dB with the lightweight TEP-100s.
Is Cost A Major Factor for Protecting Your Hearing?
You DO usually get what you pay for. What price are you willing to pay for protecting your hearing from possible permanent damage? There can be a wide range of prices for shooting hearing protectors because of the quality, type, and quantity of electronic components, but also because of the added features. Some features are worth the added charge, while others may not be for you. Your call! What do you do at the range or in a self-defense situation and your batteries stop working? Why take this dangerous chance? You could consider a rechargeable battery system. Do you want a padded headband, gel earcups, adjustability, water resistance, one or two volume control knobs, lightweight, being rechargeable, short charging time, many rechargeable cycles, a certain type and number of batteries, a charging indicator, one-button operation or not, a retention cord, availability and several replacement earbuds included, a nice cheek-weld fit for long gun shooting, quality materials and construction, etc. Lower-cost hearing protectors may not have latest state of the art digital technology, any or much-reduced electronics, have only one microphone, no automatic shut off to preserve batteries, no low battery warning light, a low battery life, no dual volume controls, no carrying case, no rechargeable batteries or recharger, and a basic stop-type amplifier that simply shuts off for high decibel sounds and has a longer-second time lapse before the amplifier resumes and low tones are transmitted to the ear. You may not need the $2,000 protectors with the extra whistles and bells. And maybe not the $25 passive set without electronics? But you do want hearing protectors that have your desired and sufficient NRR rating, are comfortable, safe and allow you to hear others, and meet your preferences, so you will wear them. For several years, I have used my high-quality set of Peltor Tactical Pro OTH earmuffs with active electronics and amplification that work fine with an acceptable NRR, so I know their quality standards and advanced electronic technology. 3M is a well-respected technology company. So, I asked 3M Peltor to send me their high-quality electronic amplified hearing protectors that have at least a 23 dB NRR or higher rating, that fit “in the ear,” are lightweight for comfort, and that are conveniently RECHARGEABLE. I appreciate them sending me their modern Peltor TEP-100 model, their tactical digital, rechargeable, water resistant, electronic in-the-ear earplugs. The TEP-100 package includes 2 rechargeable, water-resistant (IP67 Standard) electronic earpieces with batteries, 4 pairs of replacement eartips (S-M-L sizes & Skull Screw), a portable waterproof charging hardcase, an earplug lanyard cord, 3 AA alkaline batteries for charging case, wind screen adhesive stickers that go over the microphone, and User Instructions. The small and portable case charger uses 3 AA batteries (included) and the earpieces with Lithium Ion batteries charge while in the case, so they are always charged up. Yes! If you want, you can by-pass the batteries and use the case’s USB port for charging. Here are its specifications and features.
RECOMMEND. I want a good balance among comfort, protection, and communications function for my hearing protectors, along with easy and quick charging capabilities, and the Peltor digital electronic TEP-100 earplugs meet the challenge. Shooting at the outdoor range with these In-The-Ear Peltor TEP-100 earplugs was fun and my sweat did not even cause slipping or broken seals nor any problems with them, in our Florida hot and humid 90 degree heat. They are water resistant and very lightweight at less than 3 ounces for both earplugs. After a while I honestly did not even realize I was wearing them. There was a solid seal in my ear canal and I could still hear others. The soft and flexible silicone and plastic device with its flanges was sturdy and fit snuggly in my ear. And the In-The-Ear protector type is very comfortable and convenient for me and the NRR rating was fine for protection outdoors. But, it is very important to fit them correctly in your ears. Use the Roll-Pull-Hold technique for insertion. Necessary and easy to do and if fitted properly they will fit tightly in your ear canal for fine protection. Take the time to fit them correctly. The flanges provided a tight seal in my medium-sized ear canals and there was no interference with my shooting glasses or ballcap. The Skull Screw tip gives a secure fit with 30[ dB NRR protection. They were small, convenient, portable, and easy to carry around. Easily charging the durable Lithium Ion batteries for the earplugs in about one-and-a-half hours was a big plus. Also, the small, charging hard case was portable, easily fit in my range bag, durable, and was very useful. Incidentally, 3M tested and recommends them for Hunting, Law Enforcement, Military, and Shooting applications and I see why. Properly protect your ears and do it in comfort. Remember, you only have one set of ears and once your hearing is gone, you cannot totally bring it back. Consider upgrading your ear protection. Be safe!
3M Personal Safety Division (Peltor)
St.Paul, MN 55144
Photos by 3M Peltor and 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.
© 2017 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 [email protected].