A Guide to Choosing the Best Electronic Hearing Protection

Category: article

 Apr 22nd, 2022 by Keith Worrall 

Modified Apr 22nd, 2022 at 11:24 AM

Shooting Sports and Hunting: A Guide to Choosing the Best Electronic Hearing Protection

Today’s marketplace offers more choices than ever. What’s best for you?

CANTON, MA – April XX, 2022 – It’s a golden age for consumers. Whatever product people shop for today, they’ll find more choices and options than ever before. Given its recent growth and increasing diversity of participants, this certainly holds true in the shooting sports and hunting markets. Even in a seemingly simple category like electronic hearing protection, the choices can seem overwhelming.

Understanding Electronic Hearing Protection

There are two basic types of electronic hearing protection designed for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts; the earmuff type worn over the ears, and the in-ear or earbud type that fits inside the ear canal. Both use external microphones, internal speakers, electronic circuitry and a gain adjustment to collect and amplify ambient, low-intensity sounds like conversation, range commands and the noises made by wildlife. This is the primary benefit of electronic hearing protection that makes it such a popular choice; it actually allows wearers to hear better, which is a real advantage in any hunting or shooting situation. At the same time, these devices help limit loud, potentially harmful sounds like those produced by gunfire. This is accomplished by the device’s internal circuitry essentially turning off amplification when it senses a noise over a certain level. At that point, the device provides protection just like “passive” hearing-protection products, such as simple foam ear plugs or standard earmuffs, that help block potentially harmful sound levels from entering the ear canal and damaging the delicate structures inside.

The decision to select electronic earmuffs or electronic earbuds largely depend on personal preference, but any decision should begin with an understanding of the amount of protection that is needed or desired.

Understanding Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)

Hearing protector attenuation ratings differ from region to region, and product packaging may display more than one attenuation rating. All attenuation rating numbers are given in decibels (dB) and are based on laboratory tests designed to estimate the passive noise reduction of the hearing protector. They are not designed to predict the exact amount of protection an individual user will achieve. Physical fit matters; how well a particular device fits or does not fit the specific anatomy of any given wearer will impact the actual amount of protection delivered to that individual.

NRR is the standard attenuation rating used in the United States and is also accepted for use in other parts of the Americas and some Asian countries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated NRR and its labeling requirement in 1979. The EPA also specifies the standard to be used during the testing, which determines the NRR. The important thing for consumers to understand about NRR is that higher NRR numbers denote greater effectiveness. In other words, a product with a higher NRR number attenuates more noise under laboratory conditions than a product with a lower NRR number.

Depending on design and construction, electronic hearing protection devices – earmuffs and earbuds – typically have labeled NRR’s between 21dB and 30dB. NRR can be applied directly to both continuous and impulse noises, so an unsuppressed rifle report that peaks at 156dB can be brought down to a 135dB peak by using properly fitted hearing protection with a 21dB NRR. The same rifle report, however, can be reduced to a peak of 126 dB using properly fitted hearing protection with a 30dB NRR. But since acoustic energy doubles every 3dB, there’s still a big difference between the two; 135dB is three times the sonic intensity of 126dB. That’s why shooters should pay close attention to the NRR number on the packaging of any hearing-protection device they consider purchasing.

What and Where Are You Shooting?

It’s always wise to select a hearing protection product with the highest available NRR, but some additional variables are worthy of consideration. Certain firearms are louder than others, and shooters should contemplate this fact when selecting electronic hearing protection. A firearm’s specific caliber, cartridge, barrel length and other variables will impact the amount of impulse noise it generates when fired – typically anywhere from 130dB to 160dB. The distance from the muzzle to the shooter’s ears also has an impact. Keep in mind that louder, more powerful guns require more protection.

The shooting environment matters too. Indoor shooting produces a lot of reverberation and covered outdoor shooting can be just as bad. Sound has nowhere to go in these environments, and the impact is increased sonic intensity.

Shooters need to think about the specific firearm they are using, the environment they are using it in and make hearing-protection decisions accordingly. The safest option is to always use the highest NRR product you can find. Doubling up – wearing foam earplugs beneath passive or electronic earmuffs – provides additional protection and is actually recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). It is also worth mentioning that silencers and suppressors – currently legal to own in 42 states – are effective in the reduction of impulse noise created by firearms and, therefore, represent another available tool for the prevention of hearing damage. No suppressor, however, should be considered a substitute for well-fitted hearing protection.

Shop Established Brands

Trying various models at your local shooting range or pro shop is one of the best ways to shop for electronic hearing protection. Limiting your search to well-respected brands is another.
Founded by Howard Leight in the early 1970’s, the Howard Leight brand is owned and backed by the significant resources of Honeywell. Additionally, Howard Leight owns and operates its own acoustical research laboratory, one of just a few such accredited facilities in the U.S. If buying online, take the time to read consumer reviews and return any purchased device that fails to fit or perform properly or lacks NRR on its packaging.

Electronic Earmuffs Advantages and Options

Electronic earmuffs have been on the market for over a decade, and a wide variety of examples are available on the market today. They may look similar at first glance, but usually offer subtle differences in design, construction and ergonomics.

Howard Leight offers a complete range of electronic earmuff models, sizes and styles with NRR’s ranging from 21 (Impact Sport Bluetooth®) to 30 (Impact Pro). After NRR, fit is a primary consideration; the muff must seal around the ears and stay in place to help provide the intended and advertised level of protection. Heads and ears differ in size, and ear location varies as well, so adjustability is an important consideration. Look for a muff that offers vertical adjustability of the earcups, which should be large enough in size to contain the entire ear.

For obvious reasons, comfort is another important factor. When shopping for electronic earmuffs, look for padding in the headband and take note of the quality and feel of the earcup cushions. Try them on before buying if you can. Make sure they are tight enough to remain in place, but don’t squeeze your head to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. Howard Leight offers two sizes – Adult Medium/Large and Youth/Adult Small – in its popular Impact Sport Classic and Impact Sport Bluetooth lines to facilitate a proper fit on a wide range of individuals.

Physical size is also an important consideration for shooters. Like passive earmuffs, an electronic earmuff’s ability to attenuate sound is largely determined by the size – and more accurately, the volume – of its earcups. Larger, thicker earcups like those found on the Howard Leight 30 NRR Impact Pro don’t typically interfere with anything when shooting pistols and some other firearms, but they can impact cheek weld and cause other challenges for some people when shooting rifles and shotguns. Howard Leight Impact Sport Classic and Impact Sport Bluetooth are excellent choices for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts who prefer slimmer designs and low-profile earcups.

All electronic earmuffs employ internal compression circuitry to momentarily cut off sound to the internal speakers when it reaches a certain level, usually 85dB. Some use analog circuitry and some use digital. Both have benefits. Analog circuitry requires less power, so increased battery life is the primary benefit. Digital circuitry uses more power, so battery life is shorter than analog. Digital circuitry, however, has a faster attack time. This means digital electronic earmuffs can sense and respond to loud noises significantly faster that analog models, resulting in a more natural sound quality preferred by many. Howard Leight Impact Sport Classic and Impact Pro hearing protectors use analog circuitry for up to 350 hours of battery life. Howard Leight Impact Sport Bluetooth employs digital compression circuitry which supports a fast, 0.5-millisecond reaction time.

Beyond the primary considerations already mentioned, many electronic earmuffs offer other features that broaden appeal to certain users.

Shooters often pack up and leave the range while forgetting to power off their earmuffs. It’s a common occurrence that results in drained batteries and disappointment during the next shooting outing. All Howard Leight electronic earmuffs have an auto shutoff feature that powers the device off after four hours to help avoid this situation.

Some electronic earmuffs feature an AUX input and cord, or even Bluetooth connectivity to allow wearers to listen to music or other streamed content from their mobile device. Is this important to you? If so, select electronic earmuffs that facilitate your desired connectivity. Howard Leight Impact Sport Classic and Impact Pro include an AUX input and cord for this purpose, while Impact Sport Bluetooth employs Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity and convenience.

Finally, shooting enthusiasts and hunters are individuals with their own sense of style and taste. This means that aesthetics can impact buying decisions. Do you want to blend into nature or stand out in the crowd? Some electronic earmuffs are available in one or two colors only, while other manufacturers offer models in multiple colors and patterns. Howard Leight’s Impact Sport Classic and Impact Sport Bluetooth lines offer 18 distinct color and pattern choices to meet the needs and personal preferences of a wide range of shooting sports participants and applications.

Electronic Earbuds Advantages and Options

Electronic earbuds are quickly becoming a favored option among hunters and shooters who appreciate the sound amplification advantages of traditional electronic earmuffs, but want the lightweight, unencumbered advantages of earplugs. Electronic earbuds provide both. Their only real disadvantage is that some people simply don’t like the feeling of something inside their ears.

Howard Leight offers two models of in-ear electronic hearing protection. Both feature a NRR of 29dB, a rechargeable 200 mAh lithium battery, hear-through volume control, automatic attenuation of dangerous sounds over 85dB, and a highly comfortable and effective fit via three sizes of soft foam ear tips with moldable ear hooks. Howard Leight Impact Sport In-Ear Passive Hear-Through Technology comes in a stealthy OD Green color and is ideal for hunters or anyone who doesn’t need or desire Bluetooth connectivity. Howard Leight Impact Sport In-Ear Bluetooth with Hear Through Technology comes in black and offers the additional advantages of wireless Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.

As with all other forms of hearing protection, proper fit is the key to maximum performance. People’s individual ear canals are different sizes and shapes, so look for electronic earbuds that come with different sizes of soft ear tips for a tight seal. One size does not fit all.

If shopping for electronic earbuds with Bluetooth capability, look for models that use Bluetooth version 5.0 or greater, as it allows wearers to connect wirelessly to their Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers over Bluetooth Low Energy, which means longer battery life via reduced power usage.

Parting Words

Shooting sports and many forms of hunting are social events that require or are enhanced through communication, so compromising your ability to hear what’s going on around you can be a non-starter. It’s why electronic earmuffs and earbuds continue to be two of the most popular styles of hearing protection for shooters and hunters. But they aren’t all created equal. Follow the guidelines outlined herein and choose the electronic earmuffs or earbuds that work best for you.

For additional resources on hearing protection fit and complete information on Howard Leight’s full range of hearing protection products for the shooting sports, visit howardleightshootingsports.com.

Honeywell Safety Products empower individuals and families across the globe to enjoy more and worry less. Our quality hearing protection products help people more safely enjoy the events and activities they love. Our broad selection of comfortable and stylish protective eyewear delivers safety without compromise, all of which meet ANSI high-impact standards and many of which offer UVA/UVB protection. Building on over 30 years of innovation, we’re continually developing new designs, materials and technologies to enhance comfort and protection for industry trade professionals, recreational and competitive shooting sports enthusiasts, DIY homeowners, and all fans of live music and sporting events. Whatever your passion, trust Howard Leight to block out the noise so you can listen to what’s important, while staying safely focused on the big moments that matter. Learn more at howardleightshootingsports.com.

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