When it comes to choosing the best hearing protection for your ears, there is a lot to understand and consider the products that are available on the market today.
Quality and consistency vary, as with any product, but knowing what to watch out for will help you make a decision about the best hearing protection for you.
In this review, we’ll walk you through why you need hearing protection; explain what noise reduction is and how it is helpful; what the different types of noise reducers are; what the different types of hearing protections are and how they are different from one another; what electronic hearing protection is and how it is used in the field; and finally, we’ll provide a review of the best products for hearing protection that are available today.
If you’re looking for the quick and dirty, we picked Howard Leight Impact Sport Earmuff’s line of ear protectors as the top choice for both quality and price.
Leight has been military grade equipment for years and only recently launched a new line of hearing protection which right now is priced at 1/2 of the competition for the same quality.
HOW WE MADE OUR PICKS
We don’t live in grandpa’s world any more when it comes to hearing protection for shooters. Back in the old days you could choose, well, there wasn’t much choice. Davy Crockett was liable to insert a broken off stick into his ears for a hard day of bear shooting or just go without.
But then a little thing called technology happened that changed everything. The hearing protection industry is now jam-packed with dozens of product models sporting lists of specifications as long as your arm. What do you do? You’re not an audiologist! You just want to shoot your firearms without going deaf.
You wouldn’t be the first to throw up your hands and look to the ground for the nearest stick the approximate diameter of your ear canal. Wait! Please don’t do that. Any ear doctor will tell you that’s a bad idea.
Instead, check out our recommendation for the best earmuff protection on the market. Why listen to us? Good question.
We have a staff of shooting enthusiasts who were all happy to participate in this project of finding the best blend of price and quality on the market today.
After polling the online community for suggestions, we ordered and tested a double handful of the most popular products with the best reputations.
The final pick for best shooting protection evolved after several long discussions at the office and maybe one at the pub. The general consensus pointed to a clear winner, which we will reveal in due time. If you can’t wait, scroll.
Conventional wisdom tells us that hearing protection is important for hunters, sport shooters, or anyone else exposed to loud noises, but in the paragraphs below we’ll dig into the scary side of how such exposure can ruin your precious hearing. We’ll also explain what you need to know about noise reduction, the pros and cons of various noise reducers, and the strange and wonderful world of electronic hearing protection.
Over the next few minutes, you’re going to learn how to choose a high-quality shooting earmuff that perfectly fits your lifestyle.
REVIEWS OF BEST HEARING PROTECTION FOR SHOOTERS
Are you ready for the big reveal of our #1 recommended shooting hearing protection?
Of course you are, but we need to say something first. You’re probably aware there are two types of hearing protection devices – earplugs and earmuffs. While we included a few earplug choices on our list, because some protection is better than none, we aren’t going to pretend like they are as effective at cancelling noise or preserving hearing as earmuffs – because they’re not. What we will say is that, if you’re not wearing anything at all and hate earmuffs, at least give earplugs a try.
In coming up with our favorite earmuff choice, we evaluated the contenders on style (‘cause you gotta look right on the range), noise-cancelling capability, attack time recovery, noise reduction rating, ease of use, accessory options, and, of course, that undefinable WOW factor that sets one product apart from the rest.
Ultimately, when considering overall quality, price, and usability, as well as suitability for sport and recreational use beyond shooting, we made our top pick below.
This set of electronic earmuffs comes in a pack of 2 so you and your fellow shooter, or child, can protect their hearing in comfort.
Both pairs of sport earmuffs offer built-in multi-directional microphones which provide amplification of surrounding noise within range, as well as other noises in the area at about 82 dB — which is a safe range for people to withstand without experiencing hearing damage or loss.
This model of electronic hearing protection device offers a noise reduction rating of 22. The earmuffs allow you to maintain contact with the outside world but hearing ambient noise around you, including commands on the range or tips from your buddy in the woods.
The earmuffs themselves are designed to accommodate firearms and are built with low profile ear cups and adjustable headbands to fit a range of sized heads. It is powered by 2 AAA batteries and features automatic shut off after 4 hours of non-use which helps to keep the battery lasting longer.
These earmuff style electronic protection devices are foldable for easy storage and are offered in the classic camouflage green that is popular amongst hunters and army personnel alike.
If you like, you can attach an MP3 player, or your smartphone to the earmuffs through an external audio jack so you can listen to your favorite tunes while taking in some target practice. These are a solid pair of electronic hearing protection device earmuffs, and they offer a good rate of noise reduction for the wearer without obstructing their firing technique and closing them off from outside commands or noises.
With a noise reduction rate of 30, the Howard Leight by Honeywell offers a better noise reduction rating than the sport edition reviewed above.
It also provides built-in multi-directional microphones that allow the wearer to hear commands on the range, or to gain better access to natural sounds around them, such as someone approaching them from behind. The earmuffs provide a safe 82 dB noise level for regular wear.
Because these are electronic earmuffs, they actively listen for sounds louder than 82 dB and will cancel out the noise once levels reach that high. It can also passively block out noise around 30 dB without difficulty.
The earmuffs offer rubber guards to prevent scratching on the rifle or firearm when in use, and it offers an adjustable headband to provide a secure and comfortable fit for hours of comfortable wearing.
The Howard Leight Shooting earmuff offers an external audio port for MP3 players and smartphones, similar to the sport edition, and also requires 2 AAA batteries to function.
There is also an automatic shut off when not in use for at least 4 hours, and the batteries should last up to 350 hours of being “on” for listening for louder sounds.
This model of electronic hearing protection device is a little more robust than the sport model, and the earmuffs themselves are a bit larger. It is darker in color and more professional looking than the olive or camo green of the sport model, but the overall functionality of them is similar and effective.
DO YOU REALLY NEED TO PROTECT YOUR EARS?
It’s no secret that protecting your hearing is important. When it comes to shooting rifles and other firearms on a range or in the woods, you know they can be very loud.
It doesn’t take much to cause permanent hearing loss when working with a firearm, especially with repeated use. Permanent hearing loss can happen around 140 decibels (dB), and a small caliber rifle can reach those noise levels pretty quickly. Larger rifles can produce 25% more decibels, causing even greater damage to your hearing.
What’s more, if you are shooting indoors for target practice or if you are in close proximity to walls, the sound can bounce off surrounding structures and cause even more damage to your hearing because the sound resonates for much longer than in the open air of the woods and outdoor ranges.
With continued use of loud firearms, shooters can expect to lose some function of their hearing. Even with protection, hearing loss may still occur if the hearing protection is not being worn properly and consistently; or, if the hearing protection is not appropriate for shooting firearms.
What’s more, depending on whether or not you are a right-handed or left-handed shooter, you may experience more hearing loss on one side than the other, which can be very disorienting for a lot of people.
Statistics have shown that only about half of the people who actually shoot rifles and other firearms are actually wearing the proper hearing protection devices for the activity and the rifle they are using.
It’s important to use a hearing protection product designed for shooting; other hearing reduction products may help dull the sound, but a properly fitted and consistently worn hearing protection device will preserve hearing the longest amongst shooters.
WHAT IS NOISE REDUCTION RATING FOR EAR PLUGS (NRR)?
Hearing protection devices, such as earplugs and earmuffs have a noise reduction rating (NRR) that is used to measure the effectiveness of the hearing protection. Devices such as these are required to state how much sound exposure they limit for the user in a given working environment.
Noise is measured in decibels (dB), and that describes the amount of sound or the power of sound that is present in a given environment or from a particular device. Hearing protection devices need to be tested and approved by associations such as the American National Standards to meet certain occupational and health related standards.
The way the rating system works is the higher than number associated with the NRR rating, the better the hearing protection for the individual wearing the devices.
By wearing approved and certified hearing protection devices, shooters can limit the amount of noise that they are exposed to greatly. The amount of hearing reduction is not exactly decibel for decibel, however.
If you are being exposed to noise with 100 dB and you are wearing a hearing protection device with an NRR rating of 40 dB, that does not reduce your overall dB exposure to 60 dB.
There is a formula involved in determining the actual amount of noise reduction and hearing protection: if your NRR rating is 40 DB, subtract 7 from that number and divide by 2 in order to determine how much noise reduction is actually present in terms of decibels.
So with an NRR of 40 dB, the actual exposure from 100 dB of noise would be 83.5 (40-7/2=16.5). The higher the NRR rating, the better hearing protection shooters, and others exposed to loud noises, receive.
To give you an idea of just how loud typical noises are in comparison with rifles and firearms, we’ve created this guide to determine “painful,” “extremely loud,” “very loud,” “moderate,” and “faint” noises.
A painful noise would be considered any noise over 120 dB. This would be airplanes taking off, amplified music at a rock concert, air-raid sirens, and jackhammers.
An extremely loud noise would be any noise over 90 dB. For example, loud model airplanes, technical equipment or machinery, snowmobiles, chainsaw, subway, and lawnmowers. People who regularly are exposed to these levels of noise need to wear hearing protection devices all the time.
If you are mowing your lawn twice a month throughout the summer, you probably don’t need a state of the art hearing protection device, but some hearing protection is a good idea.
A very loud noise would be any noise over 60 dB including vacuum cleaners, alarm clocks, and busy streets.
Moderate noises fall between 40 and 50 dB and are typical in the day-to-day running of a household or office. This also includes rainfall and wind, in some cases.
Faint noises would be consistent with whispers in a quiet library. These are also noises you would hear around the house such as the “kick” of the refrigerator, the ticking of a clock of the furnace turning on in the winter.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NOISE REDUCTION DEVICES?
There are so many harmful noises that can rob us of our hearing so quickly that devices have been developed to stop that from happening.
In our day-to-day lives, most noises fall between moderate and loud ratings, according to the guide above. But when shooters decide to break out the firearms, the noise rating goes through the roof.
In order to protect yourself from these damaging noises, it is important to be familiar with your options for protection.There are several types of hearing protection devices including electronic and analog earplugs and earmuffs.
Passive hearing protection is the most common form of hearing protection worn for everyday activities such as mowing lawns or doing do-it-yourself work around the house.These are soft ear plugs that are made from plastic or a foam substance that are inserted into the ear canal and help reduce the amount of noise that a person’s hearing is exposed to.
However, they are called passive hearing devices because they just sit in the ear and use physical space to reduce the amount of noise getting through to the ear canal and ear drums.
They do not offer any real form of protection for extended wearing, and because they are often very inexpensive, they are not usually made of high-quality materials. They are not recommended for long term wearing or for using rifles and firearms for any length of time.
Another form of passive hearing protection that covers the ears is a simple earmuff. These can be purchased at any department store or hardware store and are generally inexpensive and do a slightly better job of reducing the noise in the environment. However, unless they have electronic sound to actively drown out the louder noises, they are not effective at reducing the decibels for rifles and firearms for shooters.
These kinds of hearing protection devices are made from foam, plastic, and rubber and fit over the ears, rather than inside the ear canal. If they are not worn properly, they are virtually useless to protect the ear from loud noise.
The best kind of hearing protection for shooters are noise-cancelling electronic earmuffs or earplugs. These products use an electronic technology that reduces the level of noise in the area, but the noise produced is not harmful to the user’s hearing.
What is great about electronic noise-cancelling hearing protection devices is that they allow the user to continue to hear what is happening around them, so they are not totally unaware of things going on, people talking, or people approaching them from behind.
Ear plugs and earmuffs can drown out the sound making it difficult to stay alerted to your surroundings while shooting. Some models offer independent volume controls, longer lasting battery packs and amplified sound of one’s surroundings while still canceling out gunshots at close range.
Depending on the type of firearm you are going to be shooting, the environment you are going to be shooting in, and the length of time you are going to be shooting, you may want to invest in an electronic version of the hearing protection devices available on the market today.
For the occasional rifleman, regular earmuffs might do the trick, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your hearing.
If you are using a higher caliber rifle, it is not a bad idea to double up on the amount of hearing protection you have: you can insert earplugs into your ear canals and use earmuffs on top of them if you do not have access to electronic noise-cancelling earmuffs.
WHAT IS ELECTRONIC HEARING PROTECTION?
Electronic hearing protection takes hearing protection devices to a whole new level. They are intuitive and provide a quality experience while shooting even the loudest firearms.
The way that electronic hearing protectors work is that they will amplify surrounding sounds to the user so they can stay alert to their surroundings and actually be able to hear better than if they weren’t wearing ear muffs at all.
But! When a shot is fired from the rifle or firearm, the electronic earmuffs recognize the sudden loud noise and immediately cancel out the sounds that are coming through the hearing protection device. When the electronic earmuffs recognize that the loud sound has passed, it will resume amplifying surrounding noises.
Some even provide low level ambient noise such as soft music or patterns of sound to help rifleman relax. This switching on and off between protection and amplification is known in the industry as attack time.
When a pair of noise-cancelling electronic hearing protectors have a fast attack time, the user is cut off from the loud noise faster and thus is protected from the dangers of higher decibel sounds much quicker.
Not all electronic hearing protection devices are created equal. It is important to do your research about what you need based on your firearm or rifle being used. If you tend to use a higher caliber rifle, you will want to invest in a high quality electronic hearing protection device with a fast attack time.
Later in this article, we will review the top hearing protection devices on the market for shooters and hunters so you can see for yourself what is important and what to look out for when making your decision about which device is right for you.
HOW IS ELECTRONIC HEARING PROTECTION DIFFERENT FROM REGULAR HEARING PROTECTION?
In simple terms, regular hearing protection does not require any power to reduce the noise that is getting into your ears. By using devices such as earplugs or earmuffs, your hearing is protected to a degree by physically blocking out all of the noises around you, including the shots from your firearm.
An electronic hearing protection device can actually make everyday sounds around you louder so you can hear better but recognizes when a shot has been fired and will drowned out the sound to fully protect your hearing.
The difference in quality results in a higher priced product, but the protection and reassurance you receive through wearing electronic hearing protection devices, especially noise-cancelling ones, is worth the extra investment.
If you don’t have access to a pair of electronic hearing protection devices, regular hearing protection is better than no hearing protection, so don’t decide not to wear anything if you don’t have electronic protection earmuffs.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS OF ELECTRONIC HEARING PROTECTION?
There are many applications for wearing electronic hearing protection devices in the industrial and construction worlds. Extremely loud machinery and tools can cause serious damage to a worker’s ears and hearing.
It is typically standard practice to wear some form of hearing protection on the job, but electronic hearing protection should be used for greater comfort and consistency of protection.
There are a number of applications in the industrial world that require hearing protection including residential and commercial construction, road work, demolition teams, garbage crews and much more.
The military is usually the first to try new technologies, and they have adopted a series of electronic and passive hearing protection devices to accommodate their various needs. This is true for militaries all over the world, not just North America.
While the military has a duty to protect soldiers during training and in combat, the products used by the military are not always the highest quality. Electronic hearing protection is necessary, however, for gunners and anyone in machinery such as tanks and helicopters.
It can be very exciting to watch live sports, but it can also be devastating to your eardrums.
If you are into race cars and motor sport in general, then you’ll want to invest in an electronic noise-cancelling hearing protection device.
These are especially important for children to wear if they are going to be near loud cars and trucks, such as those at monster truck rallies. It’s all fun and games, sure, but it is very important to protect everyone’s hearing.
The obvious benefits of protecting your hearing have been covered enough at this point. Shooting, including in the military, is one of the most common uses of electronic hearing protection devices, especially noise-cancelling models.
You need to ask yourself how much your hearing is worth if you are debating purchasing a pair of quality earmuffs because they could mean the difference between keeping your hearing and losing it.
OVERALL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSION
The most important part of choosing the appropriate hearing protection device for your needs is to determine what you are going to use them for.
Since this is a review for the best hearing protection for shooters, we have reviewed products that are appropriate for lower caliber firearms and higher caliber firearms. While the more superior hearing protection products are the earmuff style electronic protectors, the earplug style electronic devices are just as effective for use with lower caliber firearms.
They are noteworthy because some protection is better than no protection and we’ve seen through statistics that over half of all hunters and sport shooters don’t wear any hearing protection.
So if you are avoiding hearing protection because of the size and potential discomfort of an earmuff style hearing protection device, go for the earplug style. The more you can do to save your hearing and prevent damage, the longer you will enjoy your hearing into your old age.
So when it comes to choosing an overall winner for the review of the best hearing protection devices for shooters we looked at whether or not a device was electronic, how much noise cancelling ability it had, how much noise reduction rating it had, the overall design and wearability of the product, whether or not the product offered attachments or accessories to make it useful in other situations, how comfortable the product is for long term wear and use, and the reviews we read from other consumers who have tried these products as well.
While we liked the Howard Leight R-01526 Impact Sport Electronic Earmuff Set, the R-01902 Earmuff by HL Shooting Earmuff had slightly more hearing protection.
What’s more, there is just something about buying a 2 pack of something that makes it seem like it is lesser quality. Maybe because it looks like it could be a toy, but it’s certainly not a toy. Anyway, the R-01525 had a lower noise reduction rating than the R-01902 so it didn’t win our review.
Here’s why we like the Howard Leight by Honeywell R-01902 Shooting Earmuff as the overall winner of this review:
The earmuffs are professional looking while still providing darker colors for camouflaging ability which is helpful in the woods for shooters and hunters
It offers a noise reduction rate of 30 — the highest in this roundup review
They provide built-in multi-directional microphones to capture sounds all around the wearer and allows them to hear commands and conversations within earshot
Actively listening for louder, less acceptable levels of sound and reduces them to a manageable 85 dB, which is acceptable to the human ear without causing permanent damage
Quick recovery time/ attack time so you can be exposed to multiple rounds of fire from a gun or rifle without worrying about your hearing
Adjustable headband that didn’t have complaints of cracking or warping and makes for comfortable wearing all day long
External audio port for connecting to your MP3 player or smartphone so you can listen to your favorite music or the radio while you are waiting for some wild game to cross your path
Automatic shut off after 4 hours to conserve battery life which is important for storage purposes, so you don’t get stuck in the woods without power
Powered by 2 AAA batteries which last up to 350 hours of “on” time – that’s a ton of time to use your electronic hearing protection earmuffs
The Howard Leight R-01526 Sport Electronic Earmuff set would get a close second if the Shooting earmuff wasn’t on the list. They are similar enough, but the winning earmuff set is more robust and professional looking than the previous model.
It’s important to have a good quality set of hearing protection earmuffs that can take a beating on the trail, or when you are hunkered down in a trench waiting for a buck to walk past you in the woods. The Shooting earmuffs by Howard Leight are great for longer wear because of the comfort build in and they won’t scratch your gun while you are shooting.
What’s more, when they are properly fitted and secured on your head, you should not experience any movement from them. The more secure your earmuffs are, the more hearing protection you will have.
When it comes to choosing the right hearing protection device for you, remember that the more noise reduction rating your device has, the more hearing protection you will receive.
If you aren’t currently wearing any hearing protection while firing a rifle or firearm, try incorporating the use of hearing protection devices into your routine. Even if you don’t realize it, you are probably losing some hearing capacity from your shooting experiences.
You can save what hearing you do have left by using approved hearing protection devices with a good noise reduction rating.