The sound pressure level (SPL) of the popular Colt AR-15 rifle firing 5.56x45mm rounds has been measured at 159dB at the peak, and the hunting rifle Winchester Model 70 with magnum ammunition reached over 165dB. This is well above the jet engine noise of 140dB that’s long thought to be loud enough to cause instant hearing loss.
Now, granted that the loudest noise of a firearm occurs down the barrel and it’s likely to be many decibels softer at the operator’s ears, it’s easily still loud enough to damage hearing over time. The normal hearing loss is painless and nonreversible and accumulative over time. A person suffering from hearing loss would only turn up the stereo or TV a little bit in the beginning, so no one would know any better, until one day he has to turn up the stereo in his car so loud that everybody would complain. By then he’d be quite deaf.
This is why hearing protection is required at shooting ranges and highly recommended for firearm hunters. There are basically 3 types of hearing protection for shooting. They are earplugs, earmuffs, and the electronic version of each.
Earplugs are the cheapest and many of them are disposable. They are also not as comfortable as earmuffs. The comparison of the two is like the cheap earplugs that come with your phone versus upgraded audio headphones. However, it doesn’t mean that earplugs couldn’t be made comfortable. In fact, form-fitting electronic earmuffs designed for professional use can cost hundreds.
Electronic earplugs and earmuffs have become affordable nowadays. In essence, electronic earmuffs or earplugs have a hearing aid built in so you can still hear what’s happening around you while wearing them. If someone spoke to you at the shooting range, the electronics in your earmuffs would pick up the voice and amplify it before delivering the voice to your ears. It’s optimized for picking up sound at a certain range of frequencies and loudness and designed to turn off and not pick up the report of firearms.
Walker’s Game Ear
Razor Slim Electronic Muff
As the model name of Razor suggests, these electronic earmuffs by Walker’s Game Ear are equipped with slim cups. There’s also downward pointing 3.5mm audio input jack. It comes in 5 attractive finishes: black, flat dark earth, pink, teal, and Kryptek camo.
At the time of this writing, the price on Amazon for the black, flat dark earth and pink finishes is a ridiculously low $18.99. This price is nearly 65% cheaper than the Kryptek camo finish and way less than the advertised price at other retailers, making the high-quality Walker’s Razor the cheapest electronic earmuffs available. Quick! Get a pair before Amazon comes to its senses and raises the price.
The slim rubberized cups and padded head band of the Walker’s Razor are comfortable and stay out of the way when aiming with rifles and shotguns. The hearing aid cuts off any noise over 89dB at a fast reaction time of 0.02s. These electronic earmuffs have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 23dB, which means the report of a rifle will drop by 23dB at your ears.
23dB may not seem like much but it’s actually a lot. Decibel is a unit of measurement manipulated on the logarithmic scale, so 23dB reflects a major difference in sound pressure. In any event, it will reduce the sound of firearms to rock concert level unless you’re firing the largest calibers. Rock concert level is only problematic if you’re exposed to the noise in an extended period of time. With civilian firearms you won’t be able to fire too many rounds before reloading.
Folding Ear Muffs
If you need or demand the highest NRR, there are the ClearArmor 141001 earmuffs with an NRR of 30dB. They were the first affordable earmuffs to achieve 30dB NRR.
While the ClearArmor 141001 earmuffs fit snugly and comfortable at first, they can get hot and sweaty in time since the cups had to be huge to achieve the high noise reduction level. They are one of the most popular earmuffs due to the combination of quality and economy. The ClearArmor 141001 is marketed for many other uses besides shooting, including auto racing, yard work, construction, loud music, travel, and study.
Can you imagine what the parents would think if a child wanted a pair of these for study? Would they be thrilled for having a studious child or feel bad for not being able to provide a low noise environment?
The drawback of the ClearArmor 141001 is the thickness of the ear cups which might interfere with the cheek-weld position of shooting rifles and shotguns.
Howard Leight is a Honeywell brand and the Impact Sport is perhaps the firearm industry’s most popular ear protection. It’s a pair of slim electronic earmuffs even slimmer than the Walker’s Razor. These top-selling electronic earmuffs are available in 6 finishes and at the time of this writing there’s a great deal on the green finish at close to 50% less than other finishes.
The Impact Sport earmuffs were designed to be the slimmer and more affordable version of the Howard Leight Impact Pro. The NRR discrepancy between the two is 8dB – 22dB for the Impact Sport and 30dB for the Impact Pro.
The cups and headband on the Impact Sport are extremely comfortable. The hearing aid is clear and at just the right level. It shuts off to any noise above 82dB. The cups are designed with a cutout to clear the stock of rifles and shotgun. The advantage that the Impact Sport has over the Impact Pro is value, comfort and non-interference when holding a rifle or shotgun in the cheek-weld position.
The drawback is that the Impact Sport may not provide adequate noise reduction in an indoor shooting range when large calibers are fired. There’s an easy workaround for this. Just wear a pair of foam earplugs under the cups when you’re shooting indoor.
The ClearArmor 141001 earmuffs offer the best noise protection at an insanely good price. Since it’s also durable, the value here is normally unbeatable… except by the Walker’s Game Ear Razor electronic earmuffs at their current unusually low price of $19 at this writing for 3 of the 5 available finishes.
When all is said and done, our best ear protection for shooting are the popular Howard Leight Impact Sport electronic earmuffs. These earmuffs offer unparalleled comfort and durability and the cups are even slimmer than the Walker’s Razor. Just remember to wear a pair of earplugs under the Impact Sport in an indoor range when large calibers are being fired and you’re all set.