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Best Shooting Hearing Protection [2018]: Passive to Electronic

There’s been a lot of excitement lately about the Hearing Protection Act making silencers more accessible and less regulated, but silenced or not, the crack of gunfire still deserves respect.  After all, silenced isn’t really silenced at all.

What if I told you that the percussive vibrations of each gunshot actually kill vital little hairs deep in your inner ear?  And then what if I told you that can open the door to a high pitch ringing or humming noise that can last forever?

No, I’m not your mom, but I am doing this for your own auditory well-being.  And if you’re good—and you read on—you’ll never forget your ears again.

Shooting with Hearing Protection
Shooting with Hearing Protection

Shockwave, Meet Inner Ear

Everyone always talks about the middle ear.  That’s mainly the eardrum and those three little bones with cool names: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup.

But what really causes Hearing damage though is what happens in the inner ear.

You’ve seen the diagrams showing the cochlea.  It looks like a delicate ivory nautilus suspended in a brain galaxy.

Anatomy of the Ear
Anatomy of the Ear

Inside, picture a spiral staircase.  Only this passage is just 2 millimeters wide and maybe 30 millimeters long all coiled up.

Sound races along the outside of the staircase, but in the middle are the organ of Corti (yup, sounds ominous) and the basilar membrane.  Both are long and thin, with the organ resting on the membrane.  All along this little assembly are tiny little hairs.  They register sound and transmit it through the auditory nerve to your brain.

But—and here’s the kicker—exposure to an intense sound—that’s 140 dB or more—can make segments of the organ of Corti separate from the basilar membrane.  Portions of it actually tear away and float around.

Sound Decibel Chart
Sounds you hear all the time can have a huge effect your hearing.

So you end up with an inflamed lesion that causes an accompanying chemical reaction.  Hairs die.  Scar tissue forms, and even with rest, the tiny hairs typically continue to degenerate.  A cascade effect takes over, and the entire auditory central nervous system goes deaf.

Researchers suspect that tinnitus—that high pitch noise inside your head that won’t go away—“begins as a result of the brain trying to regain the ability to hear the sound frequencies it has lost by turning up the signals of neighboring frequencies.”

One more thing: noise exposure is cumulative.  Each loud sound is killing ear hairs, so you need to be thinking about total exposure over the course of days, weeks and years.

Ready for some hearing protection yet?

Proper Hearing Protection

First of all, forget cotton balls, tissue, packing peanuts, or my personal old-shooter favorite, cigarette filters.  While they are better than nothing, they are also next to nothing.  At best, you’ll get a reduction of maybe 7dB.

Cotton Balls as Ear Plugs
Cotton Balls are Barely Better than Nothing

Effective choices for hearing protection come down to

  • earplugs,
  • earmuffs,
  • combinations of the two and
  • some techy alternatives with sound-circuit technology.

There are so many options, there’s no reason not to protect your ear hairs.  From neon foam-on-strings to high-tech headphones, there’s something for everyone. 

What you should be looking for is a minimum noise reduction of 15dB, but 30dB is preferable.  Pair a good set of plugs with muffs and you might shut out another 10 to 15dB or so.

Decibel Comparison of Different Rounds
Decibel Comparison of Different Guns and Rounds

You know the load you like to shoot, but a conservative 140dB is a common figure for an average muzzle blast.  A .22 will be less, a magnum more.  With quality protection, you can start approaching a range that’s still loud—as in chainsaw- or sandblast-loud—but may be up to 1,000 times quieter.

Pros and Cons of Hearing Protection Options

Hearing protection is an investment, but it’s a lot like exercise equipment—it’s productive only if you actually use it.  It’s no use buying a $200 set if they’re always going to be somewhere else.  Likewise, going cheap but getting something you hate isn’t going to work either.

So let’s take a look. There’s something for everyone—even the high-tech crowd.

Traditional earplugs fit inside the ear, forming a seal that blocks sound.  They come in a range of sizes, configurations and materials—from foam to hypoallergenic rubber and moldable polymers.  Earplugs tend to be more efficient at handling low-frequency noise.

Foam Ear Plugs
Foam Ear Plugs Are the Run-of-the-Mill Hearing Protection Option


  • Least expensive option.
  • Highly effective.
  • Disposables available in bulk at pennies per pair.
  • Some rated 30dB or better.
  • Available strung or unstrung.
  • Reusable models washable.
  • Some models moldable for custom fit.
  • Compact for transport.
  • Good for tight spaces; no snagging.


  • Fit constraints for narrow or wide ear canals.
  • Comfort varies widely.
  • Muffles all sound indiscriminately; works too well.
  • Foam models require proper roll-down insertion, removal and reuse.
  • Some models difficult to pair with muffs.
  • Moldables more expensive; may be difficult to alter.
  • Fumble-and-loss factor in dirty environments.

Traditional ear muffs come on a headband and have foam pads that cover and form a seal around the entire ear.  For those who don’t like the over-the-head fit, a few versions have back-of-the-head wrap designs.  Muffs typically are better at screening out higher frequency sounds.

weak hand only shooting
Weak Hand Shooting Drills with Ear Muffs


  • Convenient to put on and take off repeatedly.
  • Comfort level.
  • Easily paired with earplugs.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Foldable models compact.
  • One size usually fits all.
  • Durable.


  • Can be bulky, heavy.
  • May snag or bump in confined spaces.
  • Comfort issues, especially in humidity, hot or wet weather.
  • Can interfere with proper cheek weld.
  • Issues with safety or prescription glasses and proper ear seal.
  • May not provide as much noise reduction as earplugs; can require pairing with plugs.
  • Hats or long hair, anyone?

Hybrids—also known as semi-insert earplugs—may be an option if you can’t stand stuff jammed in your ears or the spatial interference you can encounter with muffs.  Basically, they’re “sort-of” earplugs, that sit at the entrance of the ear canal rather than inside it, usually (but not always) on a streamlined headband.

semi-insert ear plugs
Hybrid Ear Protection


  • Comfort of soft tips held in place rather than wedged in.
  • Allows easy, quick, and repeated donning and removal.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Light and compact.
  • Available with passive sound-reducing and dampening technology; requires no batteries.


  • Typically may not offer efficient noise reduction due to lack of seal on ear canal or around ear.

High-tech electronics are stepping up the game for earplugs, ear cuffs, ear muffs, and every smart device in between.  These focus on screening out the loud booms while letting you still hear conversations and the sounds of the great outdoors.

shooting with electronic ear muffs
Shooting with Electronic Ear Muffs


  • Noise filtering; loud noises muffled but conversation and subtle noises amplified.
  • Comfort.
  • Small, compact.
  • Lots of options, including Bluetooth to enable smartphones.
  • Available in stereo.
  • Variety of formats—muffs, earplugs, semis and cuffs.


  • Price point—usually $100 and up, up, up.
  • Batteries required.
  • Not always water-resistant.
  • Expensive to lose; fallen electronic cuffs and earplugs hard to find in the field.
  • Comfort.
  • Some models are bulky, heavy.

The Brand Tour

Like any industry, certain manufacturers have mastered hearing protection.  Some are selective specialists while others offer a range of options from foam to smart.  FYI, NRR stands for noise reduction rating.  It’s a spec that should be printed, stamped or stickered somewhere on every package.

Walker’s Game Ear

If you like digital gadgets and nano tech, Walker’s will at the very least give you something to talk about. This company is fully focused on hearing protection. Yeah, they offer the little disposables and muffs for kids, but their target audience is techie shooters:

  • Pro Low-Profile or EXT Folding Muffs: Coming in at $15 to $20, these two models deliver 31dB and 34dB NNRs, respectively.  That’s a solid NNR value for a really reasonable price—good enough to pick up more than one.

Walker's Game Ear Low Profile Folding Muff

15 at Cabela's
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  • Razor Series Ultra-Low-Profile Muffs:  For a hot range, these electronic muffs have an NNR of 23 dB, two omnidirectional mikes and “full dynamic-range HD speakers.”  They automatically muffle gunshots while allowing you to hear range commands and conversations.  They have an audio jack too.  All you need are three AAAs and about $70.

Walker's Game Razor Series Ultra-Low-Profile Muffs

60 at Cabela's
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  • Digital HD X Game Ear:  This little cuff has an NNR of 29dB and a Sound-Activated Compression circuit.  Water-resistant and less than a quarter of an ounce, it’s got an “8-band graphic equalizer, four digital sound processing channels, volume and automatic feedback control, and a low-battery tone indicator.”  You can get this in versions like Elite, Power Elite and Pro, but prices start around $150 an ear.

Walker's Game Digital HD X Game Ear

140 at Brownells
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  • Silencer Ear Buds:  Tiny but mighty, these may be the coolest thing yet.  These ear buds protect your hearing while also enhancing it—without sacrificing directional hearing.  And you get both the left and the right in a slick little case with lanyard for about $175.  They’re designed to give a perfect fit and seal every time, giving you 80 hours of protection from four little #10 batteries.

Walker's Game Silencer Ear Buds

180 at Cabela's
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Howard Leight by Honeywell

This brand offers everything from earplugs to some pretty sophisticated electronic headphones:

  • Disposable Earplugs on a String:  Convenient, with an NRR of 33dB, the only complaint was that they worked a little too well!  You can buy ‘em by the bucketful.  The brand also makes versions for ladies and for tiny ears.  They’ll run you about a dollar a pair.

Howard Leight by Honeywell MAX Corded Disposable Foam Earplugs, 100 Pairs

20 at Amazon
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Prices accurate at time of writing

  • L1, L2 and L3 Leightning Series Muffs:  Model NRRs range from 23 to 30dB, and prices go $15 to $25.  These are traditional-style muffs with padded headbands, yet they’re noted for being lightweight, foldable, comfortable and low-profile.

Howard Leight by Honeywell L3 Leightning Series Muffs

27 at Cabela's
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  • Impact Sport and Impact Pro Series Muffs:  These will cost you more—$60 to $85—but they’re a different kind of tech . These will suppress sounds over 82dB yet let you turn up the volume on conversations or nature.  Impact Sport is more low-profile. Impact Pro has an audio jack and input cord.

Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Pro Sound Amplification Electronic Shooting Earmuff

60 at Amazon
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Prices accurate at time of writing

Pro Ears

Known for quality, Pro Ears does passive, electronic, custom-fit, in-ear hearing enhancement and everything in between.

  • Ultra Pro Muffs:  We’re talking leather ear cushions here, 30dB NNR and noise-dampening dielectric construction.  They’re sturdy, with snap-in ear, and you can probably pick up a set for under $40.

Pro Ears Ultra Pro Muffs

35 at Cabela's
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  • Stalker Gold Muffs:  It’s hard to go wrong with anything from the Pro Ears Gold Series.  With Dynamic-Level Sound Compression™ technology, amplifying Automatic Gain Control and a built-in microchip processor, what’s not to like . Add stereo, onboard diagnosis and 80-percent white noise elimination and these appeal to hunters, professionals and competitors alike.  You’ll need about $300 to call a pair yours.

Pro Ears Stalker Gold Muffs

290 at Cabela's
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  • ProHear IV:  About as low-profile as a behind-the-ear rig gets, the ProHear combines sound amplification and suppression while aiding hearing.  It’s especially helpful if you’ve already suffered some hearing loss but want to keep shooting and be able to hear while you do it . The tech will cost you about $450 an ear.

Pro Ears ProHear IV

216 at Amazon
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  • Pro Fit:  The Pro Fit is a custom-molded in-ear “hearing amplification/compression Ear Plug good enough to be called Pro Ears.”  It does everything—period. As these are the saltiest of the bunch, you’re looking at around $800 an ear.
Pro Ears Pro Fit Custom Ear Plugs
Pro Ears Pro Fit Custom Ear Plugs

I know, the price point on some of these hurts, but quality hearing aids run in the thousands each.  What’s really important is that you preserve every little inner-ear hair that you’ve got, so have hearing protection that you’ll use with you when you need it.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the guns were just quieter?

Silencers and The Hearing Protection Act

The idea of quieter guns has been gaining traction in recent years.

The Hearing Protection Act would remove suppressors from the list of NFA-regulated firearms.  Under this simple bill, suppressors would be treated as nothing more exotic than long guns.  What would that do?

For one, as long as you’re a law-abiding citizen in a state that allows them, you’d be able to walk into any firearms dealer, show your ID, fill out a little paperwork, pass the NICS background check and walk away with a suppressor.

variety of silencers
A Variety of Suppressors

And you could skip the $200 transfer tax and 9-month paperwork waiting period. 

Now, while suppressors will not silence anything, they will take the edge off a gunshot.  And they’ll average a reduction of about 30dB—equating to pretty much the best hearing protection on the market.

Got a magnum? Imagine taking 30 dB right off the top.  A little quality ear protection would take it down another 30, maybe more.  Suddenly, you’re looking at a sound profile of under 100dB—for a magnum!

Shooting with silencer and earmuffs
Shooting with Hearing Protection and a Supressor

As for suppressors, there’s plenty already—for shotguns, rifles, and pistols from brands like Salvo, Omega, Harvester, Saker, Hybrid, Osprey, Octane, Sparrow, Warlock, Spectre.

Just imagine:

  • going to the outdoor range and being able to hear commands or conversations,
  • going to the indoor range and being able to stand it,
  • hunting and being able to hear the gobble of a turkey or the snort-wheeze of a deer in rut,
  • spending all day without a hearing protection-induced skull ache,
  • target shooting on your 100 acres without everyone wondering what—or who—you’re killing, or
  • having the batteries go dead in your muffs and it not being the end of the world.

Dare to dream of a kinder, gentler world, where all hearing is protected, and the only suppression in sight is right on the tip of your very own barrel. 

various guns with silencers
Or Barrels

Until then, don’t forget to protect those ears.

The post Best Shooting Hearing Protection [2018]: Passive to Electronic appeared first on Pew Pew Tactical.

This post first appeared on Pew Pew Tactical - Level Up Your Gun Knowledge, please read the originial post: here

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Best Shooting Hearing Protection [2018]: Passive to Electronic


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