Not all hearing protection is equal. Their are many different varieties and each one has its pros and cons. We will take a look at some of the most commonly available types of hearing protection that you will find out on the range.
We will take a look at the following:
- 3M foam ear plugs
- SureFire ear plugs
- Etymotic Research electronic plugs
- Custom molded plugs
- Walker’s Electronic muffs
- SilencerCo silencer
An Oldie But A Goodie: Foam Ear Plugs
I am sure many of our readers have used foam ear plugs at some point in their years of shooting. They are inexpensive and easy to use. Some are better than others like these 3M EARsoft Yellow Neon Blasts. They come molded with a neck cord. The material is soft and supple. 3M advertises a 33 db NRR (noise reduction rating).
To use them you simply roll the ear plugs to make them smaller and insert them into your ear. After a few seconds the foam will expand filling your ear canal. They do a great job blocking out sound. However in there lies an issue. It blocks out everything. Range commands and other noises that you might want to hear. If you were out hunting you need to hear. Another issue is weather. Cold weather affects the material in some foam ear plugs. They become more rigid and harder to use. One problem I have with foam ear plugs is when I use them for extended periods of time. After a few hours the pressure of the ear plugs starts to make my ears ache. Dependind on the material Foam ear plugs do not last that long. Even on 3M’s website is says that they are not reusable. They are designed to be disposable and at just around $0.12 a pair they are defintely affordable.
SureFire Sonic Defenders
A few years ago SureFire came out with their own set of hearing protection. These are a little better in terms of comfort than your average foam ear plugs. The Sonic Defenders do not block out as much noise with a NRR of just 25db however they do something that the foam ear plugs do not, they can let in some sounds like talking. At the ends of the Sonic Defenders are caps that you plug up to block out noise. This is when you achieve the full 25db reduction in noise. One added benefit to the Sonic Defenders is that they are compatible with radio communications. So you can use them for as your radio head sets. The newest versions come in a small plastic hard case with a small chain attached so you can store them on the outside of your range bag or backpack. There is an included lanyard that is removable. The shape of the Sonic Defenders is their patented EarLock® retention rings that utilize seven contact points to lock earpieces in place and fit the same way every time. While the Sonic Defenders are better built than the foam ear plugs they do have a lifespan of about 6 months of regular use. They work great as back ups and they are comfortable for the first hour or use but after that my ear begin to ache. They are not terribly expensive at around $10-$13.
Etymotic Research Gun Sport Pro
Etymotic Research has been making some of the best ear plugs for audiophiles. I used to have a pair of their earbuds for my iPod and the sound quality was amazing. They recently started making hearing protection for shooters. These also have a NRR of 25db. While the SureFire’s do let in some noise, these electronically produce the sounds like head phones. They even have a switch to amplify noise by 5x.You can see the small switch at the bottom of the ear plugs.
Since these are electronic, they do require batteries. They use tiny hearing aid batteries and unfortunately because they are tiny they do not last long. After about 1.5-2 weeks sitting in my car, the batteries died. And that was with me removing the batteries when not in use. Gun Sport Pros do not have an on or off switch so the instructions says to open the battery tray when not in use.
Etymotic Research includes a variety of ear plug tips. Triple flange rubber tips and foam tips. There are also small filters that block ear wax from entering the ear plugs. These electronic ear plugs are tiny and come win a nice hard case. There is a braided string to use as a lanyard. Aside from the short battery life these are not cheap. They retail for $299. I had a set of Sport Ear Ghost Stryke electronic ear plugs that I had won at a 3Gun match and I prefer the Etymotic Research Gun Sport Pros over those. The Sport Ears cost around $400-$500 depending where you look. They did not have the simple boost switch and were a little bit bigger than the Gun Sport Pros.
Custom Molded Ear Plugs
These by far are my favorite for hearing protection. Custom molded ear plugs are made to fit your ears. They are the most comfortable things you can have in or around your ears. These cost around $100+ depending on who makes them. While I also won these at a match they are worth every penny and I would not hesitate to buy them to replace them. If you notice, the plugs have holes in them.
The holes go all the way thru and this is so you can insert a small filter. The filter allows some sounds like talking to go through the ear plugs but blocks out louder noises like gun fire. I have worn these all day and never had to take them out. These are simple and comrfortable since they fit my ears perfectly. They are very hard to beat. I don’t even find the need to double up on very loud guns like my friend’s compensated SV Infinity chambered in .38 super. That is the loudest gun I have been around. It is very close to my SCAR 17S and a compensated .50bmg in terms of teeth chatteringly loud.
Walker’s Razor Electronic Muff
So far we have only talked about inner ear hearing protection. Some of us like to use ear muffs. These are Walker’s Razor slim electronic muffs. They run on two AAA batteries. There is an rotary on switch which also adjusts the volume. Below the on switch is a plug for audio input jack. You can plug in audio sources like a radio or even your cellphone. While there is no microphone you can listen to music or other sources of audio.
The muffs work well protecting my entire ear. They are great in cold weather but not so great in the heat. I have had mixed results using muffs with eye protection and these Walker’s in particular seem to not block out as much sound as I would like. The ear piece of my ear pro often casues a small gap to be created and that results in letting in sound. I often find that I need to double up with some ear plugs and that defeats the purpose. Other issues arise when using them with a shoulder stock like on a rifle or shotgun. Often the stock will nudge the ear cups and create a gap that allows noise to come in. Price wise the Walker’s around $70. There are other electronic ear muffs like the Howard Leights or Peltors that can be cheaper in price.
Silencers As Hearing Protection
Another option for hearing protection is a silencer. This is not a common form of hearing protection but it does work. Depending on the guns you are using you could get one silencer that can work on multiple guns. When shooting super sonic loads the suppressor helps to take the edge off the noise. Gun, ammo, and silencer choice make a difference. For example shooting a 5.56 AR under a roof with a suppressor is still rather loud. Ive tried a number of suppressors on my Tavor X95 and found that the SureFire Socom RC2 to be the most pleasant on that gun. One problem with silencers is that they are regulated and the only way to try them out is if you have a friend that has them or know an FFL who deals in them and is willing to demo them for you. Also because they are regulated by the ATF under NFA laws there is an additional expense of $200 either making one or transferring one. On top of that there is the wait time for approval from ATF wich can take anywhere from several months to a year.
Another minor issue with shooting with suppressors is the fact that other people around you might not be shooting suppressed. It is annoying when the guy next to you isnt suppressed. So now you need hearing protection from his gun. Other issues arise with build up of back pressure in guns and in some instances “suppressor bukkake” or suppressor blow back. This is where gasses and powder come flying backwards and hitting you in the face. AR15s suffer from gasses seeping out through the rear like the charging handle and it stings the eyes.
Pick Which One Suits You
Hearing protection comes down to a personal choice. We all have different priorities. Some of us only use them briefly while others may need to use them for extended periods of time. So figure out what you need out of your hearing protection. Do you need to hear ambient sounds or range commands? Maybe electronic ear pro is for you. Out of the different forms of hearing protection the custom molded ear plugs and silencers are my favorites. They are the most comfortable to use. Barring the issues with shooting suppressed, it is hard to beat how nice it is to shoot without needing to wear hearing protection.