People figured out a long time ago that they can go deaf over time if they operate firearms without hearing protection. So they used earplugs, which were easy to come by – one could stuff cotton in the ears and call it earplugs. Then they came up with earmuffs that cover the whole ears. Earmuffs are generally more comfortable since you don’t have to stuff things in your ears, but they are not necessarily more effective. Either way, they make people become hard of hearing when worn.
This is why electronic earmuffs were invented. By inserting a microphone, an amplifier and one or more speakers in each ear cup, you can hear people and things around you when you’re wearing this noise-reduction device. There is also electronic control that shuts off the amplifier when a firearm is fired. This is usually accomplished by way of electronic control or sound compression technology that compresses loud noises to limit the dynamic range of the speakers in the earmuffs.
As with all things electronics, there is a range of quality. The price-no-object electronic earmuffs employ multiple speakers in each cup so you’ll able to decipher the direction and distance of the sounds as if you’re not wearing earmuffs at all. These are military-grade devices that can cost over $500. For this discussion, we will limit our selections to electronic earmuffs that make more sense to the general public.
Besides price and value, the other things to consider are Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), comfort, clarity, durability, and convenience features. Comfort includes actual physical comfort plus unobtrusiveness to your natural or learned shooting techniques.
Here are our best electronic earmuffs.
Walker’s Game Ear
Walker’s Game Ear is a brand of GSM Outdoors, which makes a variety of popular, high-quality outdoor gear and equipment. Therefore it is not surprising that the Walker’s Game Ear Razor is a pair of electronic earmuffs more tilted toward outdoor use.
As with everything called “razor”, the Walker’s Game Ear Razor is thin, or as thin as you can expect a pair of earmuffs for firearms hearing protection to be. Although earplugs are the hearing protection of choice for hunters, you would not look too ridiculous going into the woods with a pair of these. They are really quite thin and the head band of the padded wire frame is slim and comfortable. These earmuffs also fold down completely for compact storage.
The razor uses two AAA batteries that can last nearly 500 hours. The amplification emphasizes the midrange so voices are very clear. The sound compression circuitry compresses loud noises 89dB and above to limit the speakers’ dynamic range. We find the speakers in the earmuffs to have good clarity and convey acceptable spatial cues.
The NRR rating is 23dB, which is at the lower end. They might not offer enough protection in indoor shooting ranges, especially when large calibers are being fired (and you don’t even have to be the one firing them). Three of the five available finishes are suitable for hunting: Black, Dark Flat Earth, and Kryptek Camo. The other two finishes are Teal and Pink.
Howard Leight is a brand owned by Honeywell, an ex-Dow Jones component. Howard Leight makes the most popular consumer-grade hearing protections for shooting.
The Impact Pro is a pair of electronic earmuffs designed for maximum noise reduction. The NRR rating is 30, which is as good as it gets without going overboard. The cups have to be thick to achieve this level of noise reduction. They will interfere with the cheek-weld position of aiming a rifle but the company made the cups thinner at the bottom so you can make adjustments to make them work.
Other than that the Impact Pro is extremely comfortable. The large ear cups don’t get overly hot after extended use. The electronic control shuts off the amplifier when loud noises 82dB and above is detected. The response time is a miniscule 0.015s. We can hear voices very well with the Impact Pro on. The speakers are almost audiophile quality.
The Impact Pro runs on two AAA batteries rated to last about 350 hours. There is only one available finish, which is a fairly stylish Black & Grey pattern.
If you find the Howard Leight Impact Pro too thick to be practical, the answer is the much more compact Impact Sport. It also happens to be quite a bit more affordable.
The Impact Sport is Amazon’s #1 seller in hearing protection for shooting. There are 6 available finishes, half of them suitable for hunting: Green, Black, and Camo. The other 3 finishes are Pink, Purple, and Teal.
The Impact Sport is the slimmest electronic earmuffs in the market. The cups are slimmer than the Walker’s Game Ear Razor. For that reason, the NRR is also lower at 22dB. For shooting in an indoor range, you can wear cheap disposable earplugs under the Impact Sport for additional hearing protection.
We find these earmuffs to be extremely comfortable. The clarity of the speakers is as good as the Impact Pros. The other specifications are the same as well. The batteries last 350 hours with auto shut-off after 4 hours. Amplification is disabled when loud noises 82dB and above are detected.
These electronic earmuffs fold down all the way for easy carry and storage. We love the location of the AUX input (3.5mm jack). We can’t find any real fault with the Howard Leight Impact Sport but there are plenty of things that we like. Our highest recommendation!
The best electronic earmuffs in our book are the Howard Leight Impact Sport. They are the slimmest and the most unobtrusive, in both looks and firearm stock clearance. The sound quality is clear with enough spatial cues for you to make sense of where the sounds are coming from. The price is more than reasonable for what you’re getting.
The Impact Sport does err on the side of safety by cutting off at 82dB. On the other hand, the Walker’s Game Ear Razor cuts off at 89dB. The comparably priced Razor is a fair alternative to our top choice and the batteries last longer too.
For those who shoot indoor most of the time, it makes sense to upgrade to the Howard Leight Impact Pro. The 30dB NRR is significantly higher than the slim ear cups of the Impact Sport and Walker’s Razor are capable of.