You know that ringing in your ear that never quite goes away? You know, the ringing that started the first time you started blazing away with your new boomstick at paper threats. Too bad you didn’t take the safety briefing more seriously. Shooting ear protection may seem like a hassle in the moment, but when the guy next to you starts pounding away with his AR-15 and its brand-new muzzle brake (especially indoors), your lack of proper hearing protection will result in a significant blow to your hearing and quality of life. Sure, you can muscle through it, but next time you hit the range, make sure you take care of yourself. Investing in ear protection for shooting sports is akin to investing in the stock market. You may not feel cool now, but later, you’ll be the envy of those who lacked foresight.
Whether you shoot daily or once in a blue moon, be sure to keep a pair of muffs or a box of ear plugs crammed into your range bag. Someday, you’ll thank yourself.
Finding a pair of affordable electronic ear muffs that provide good protection can be a challenge. Enter Walker’s Razor Slim. This set of AAA battery-powered muffs provide a good 23 NRR rating with a slim profile that is perfect for any shooting activity and folds away into a compact package, perfect for slipping into any size range bag. The dual omni-directional microphones provide you with the ability to discern directional sound, and the full dynamic range HD speakers keep you abreast of the latest developments with clarity and speed. These muffs feature sound-activated compression with a 0.02-second response time to protect your hearing. The recessed power/volume control knob features tall ribbing to allow for easy, precise control with or without gloves. The padded headband provides comfortable wear experience, and the 3.5 millimeter audio jack is perfect for use with mobile devices and handheld radios. Want a pair that will match your style? You’re in luck! The affordable Razor Slims are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
If sound quality and comfort are top on your list, then go with the MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X, assuming your budget can handle it. These AAA-powered Swedish muffs possess an NRR rating of around 22 decibel (25 decibels on the EU’s SNR scale), yet they are specifically engineered to defeat medium- and high-frequency sounds, like discharging firearms, with an even higher NRR rating equivalent for such impulses. As such, they are designed to improve communication and situational awareness and protect your hearing all before adding electronic magic into the equation. These low-profile muffs come with four levels of sound reduction and crystal clear audio. The IP67-rated electronics can withstand virtually any weather conditions, and the dual microphones are set up perfectly for directional sound detection. The replaceable gel cushions on the ear cups provide long-term comfort and a strong seal when wearing eye protection, and the 3.5-millimeter port pipes in sound from radios, smartphones, and other devices. Other than the price tag, what’s not to love about these muffs?
Shooting is an expensive hobby, and low-cost ear muffs, like the Pro For Sho Passive Hearing Protection Earmuffs, are the perfect inexpensive solution for new shooters looking to keep costs down. These passive muffs come in a wide variety of colors and pack an impressive noise-reducing punch with their 34-decibel NRR rating. These foldable, low-profile muffs are lightweight and compact. The padded headband makes them comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Their rugged design makes them a perfect backup pair of muffs for your bag should you misplace your main muffs or have the opportunity to introduce someone new to the joys of shooting.
At the range, loose wires running from your ear muffs to your pocket could easily get in your way, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Enter the Peltor Sport Tactical 500. These electronic ear muffs use Bluetooth technology which allow you to simultaneously receive pre-recorded coaching from your favorite instructor while preventing damage to your hearing or creating a tangled mess of wires as you move around a dynamic range. These muffs provide dynamic suppression of gunshots, reducing echo and earning a 26 NRR rating in the process. The large buttons provide an easy interface for volume adjustment with gloves or without, and the voice tracking system actively filters external noise while clarifying speech around you. The Tactical 500 muffs use an auto shut-off feature to preserve the life of the dual AA batteries, and the vented headband and cushioned earpieces promote all-day comfort. They may be a bit pricey, but users find the cost to be worth the results.
Easily the most invisible shooting ear protection on today’s market (other than a properly-seated foam ear plug) is the SureFire line of Sonic Defenders. While there are multiple versions, our favorites are the SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders Ultra. Available in either black or clear, this ear protection combines the best of foam ear plugs with SureFire’s patented EarLock retention rings. These earpieces consist of soft, medical-grade polymer and employ seven contact points for a truly secure fit. The American-made EP7s are hypoallergenic and built to last. The soft, memory foam Comply Canal Tips are easily replaceable and accommodate the proprietary sound filters. While closed, the sound filters provide a protection rating of 28 NRR yet can be opened to make conversation easier while still filtering out most harmful sounds over 85 decibels. In addition to the removable cord, the EP7 Sonic Defenders Ultra can double as a sound-filtered earpiece for compatible radio comms systems. While a bit expensive as far as ear plugs go, the EP7s are still plenty affordable.
Why should you trust us
Since I shouldered my first .22 at eight years old, hearing protection has been a normal part of my life. Both my range bag and EDC bags contain eye and ear protection at any given time, should the opportunity for another range session arise. Of course, eye protection is another critical bit of gear for safe shooting. I’ve covered both safety glasses and tactical sunglasses, in addition to other shooting accessories, such tourniquets and ankle holsters.
The most common types of shooting ear protection
Passive shooting ear protection may appear in the form of foam or silicone ear plugs or as basic ear muffs made of foam, plastic, or other inert materials. Due to their sealed-off nature, passive muffs provide the highest level of hearing protection with the closest hit to your wallet. Ear plugs, on the other hand, are even less expensive, yet they tend to excel more at stopping lower frequency sounds than they do higher frequencies, such as gunshots. That said, they still provide impressive NRR ratings for a great price and are great for both new, casual, and target shooters.
Electronic shooting ear protection adds modern technology to tried-and-true solutions of old. By adding microphones and processors, electronic hearing protection keeps your situational awareness high while either dampening or blocking out harmful sound impulses. Most often, electronic ear protection comes in the form of muffs due to their naturally superior ability to block out sounds, although sound-blocking earbuds also make an occasional appearance. Electronic ear protection is perfect for shooting activities that require communication or enhanced situational awareness, such as hunting, shooting classes, or operational environments. Some options include Bluetooth technology, while others integrate well with comms systems, enhancing their versatility.
What to consider when buying shooting ear protection
For every ten-decibel increase in volume, sound intensity is multiplied by ten. Most normal conversations are around 50 to 65 decibels, while even the smallest caliber firearms easily exceed the 120-decibel threshold of permanent hearing damage. The NRR rating on your ear protection signifies how many decibels your equipment will lower the sounds around you, and the calculation is based on the average decibel reduction across all sound frequencies. As such, bigger numbers are better. Quality hearing protection will provide you with at least a 23-decibel NRR, but some reach well above 30 decibels.
Uncomfortable hearing protection is rarely a simple inconvenience. Properly-fitted ear protection should provide you with a comfortable fit, indicating a complete seal. Uncomfortable ear protection and the sound of air movement close to your ear both indicate a poor seal which means your spiffy new Mickey Mouse ears will do nothing to protect the ears the next time someone next to you goes pounding away with their AR-15. This means that if you are buying muffs, try them on before you commit.
There are plenty of ear muffs on today’s market, but many of them have a tendency to be a bit big and bulky. When it comes to basic hearing protection, these muffs are perfect, but when you need to achieve a proper cheek weld, a low-profile pair of muffs are the only way to go. When it comes to ear plugs, they possess the distinct advantage of virtually non-existent bulk.
All outdoor shooters will encounter poor weather conditions from time to time, and no matter how hard you may try, no one can outrun the rain and snow everytime. As such, weather-resistant ear protection is a major advantage. While passive ear protection tends to have no significant issues contending with precipitation, electronic offerings are much more susceptible to water damage, especially in a downpour. If you live in a wet climate, make sure to find hearing protection to match.
Why do you need shooting ear protection?
The first time you pull the trigger without proper shooting ear protection, you’ll come to appreciate the value of a little hearing protection at the range. Short, loud impulses at an intensity above 120 decibels will cause immediate, irreversible damage to your hearing, and since most firearms produce sound waves 10, 100, or even 1,000 times that intensity, the relatively low cost of dedicated ear protection immediately becomes a long-term investment in your health, pocketbook, and quality of life. As such, proper shooting ear protection makes your time at the range much more enjoyable and allows for more and longer range trips. Electronic ear protection has the added benefit of improving your situational awareness and ability to communicate, whether you use them in a class or while chasing big game. Of course, it never hurts to keep some extra protection in your range bag for those times when you need to double up or to make a beginner’s trip to the range much more enjoyable for you both.
Pricing ranges for shooting ear protection
Shooting ear protection runs the gamut in terms of price due to the wide variety of available solutions. As a general rule, anything under $25 will use passive means of sound insulation, yet you can easily find both ear muffs and ear plugs with an NRR rating at or above 30 decibels, making these excellent budget solutions for most shooters. In fact, some of these options even work with communications systems, although their NRR rating will suffer somewhat. “Low-priced” electronic ear muffs usually stay under the $75 mark with most offerings starting out somewhere around $40 or $50. These include all the basics you might expect from electronic hearing protection, although their NRR ratings often come in at or below 25 decibels. For all the fancy gear with a higher NRR rating, you can expect to drop between $75 and $150. These solutions often include less common features, such as Bluetooth capability, comms compatibility, or even an earbud form factor. Of course, if you want the best of everything, you will easily spend over $150, maybe even more than $1,000.
How we chose our top picks
When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest.
Adding to our own hands-on experience with shooting ear protection, we received plenty of valuable input from the good people at EarDefender.co.uk, Gunmann.com, Pew Pew Tactical, Pistol Wizard, and The Gun Zone.
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