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3 Reasons Using Electronic Ear Protection for Shooting is Best

Shooting guns comes with inherent dangers. One of these is damage to our ears. Hearing loss is cumulative, and does not heal on its own. So wearing hearing protection is extremely important.

There are several types of hearing protection, but I think in almost every application, electronic hearing protection is the best choice. Let me explain why.

electronic hearing protection

Passive vs. Active Hearing Protection, What's the Difference?

Before getting into the benefits of electronic hearing protection, I want to explain briefly the difference between passive hearing protection and non-passive hearing protection.

Passive hearing protection is probably what most people are familiar with. These ear pro products simply stop all sound (depending on their rating) from getting through the ear to the eardrum.

Active hearing protection typically uses electronic components to amplify or suppress sounds in the immediate environment. This allows non-harmful sounds to be heard while blocking out harmful sounds.

Types of Passive Hearing Protection—

Foam earplugs, pros —

  • Cheap

Foam earplugs do a good job of blocking out the sound of gunshots. They are also cheap and disposable. I have a bag of foam earplugs in my range bag for emergencies or in case I need to double up on hearing protection, but they aren't my primary method of ear pro. Earplug also don't interfere with establishing a stock weld.

Foam earplugs, cons —

  • Block all sound

A problem with foam earplugs is that they make it hard to hear range commands or other people talking to you. You can continually remove and insert the earplugs when you talk, but that gets uncomfortable and frustrating.

  • Dirty

Plus, the plugs get gross from constantly handling them with dirty hands. If repeatedly inserting a grime-coated foam plug in your ear doesn't sound fun, I don't blame you.

So you spend your time at the range screaming to talk to anyone, or continually ask the instructor to repeat the range commands. Let's just say earplugs are good in a pinch, but if you're heading to the range more than once a year (which you should,) just ditch the plugs as your go-to ear pro.

foam earplug

Earmuff hearing protection, pros —

Earmuff style hearing protection is popular, affordable, and has advantages (and some disadvantages).

  • Hygenic

First, earmuffs are more hygienic compared to foamies. I've shared my muff ear pro with others, can't say that I would do that foam plugs, sorry. Would you use someone else's ear plugs?

Imagine that you are handling ammunition, propellant residue, grease, solvents, dirt, and who knows what else. You transfer all that to that foam earplug, then stick it deep into your ear.

It probably won't cause you to grow another head, but there are better options.  If you have reusable plugs, think about cleaning them.

Muffs are more convenient to remove when you want to hear something, or when on a break. I also find that muffs are more comfortable than foam ear plugs. That might be because I don't enjoy inserting things into my ears.

  • Comfortable

Many students will bring plugs with them to my classes. When possible, I always offer them electronic earmuff style hearing protection. The majority of people prefer muffs over plugs.

While I agree with the majority of people, that earmuffs are more comfortable, they can be uncomfortable in certain instances.

Earmuff hearing protection, Cons —

  • Block all sound

Just like passive earplugs, passive muffs block all the sounds, so you can't hear range commands or what others are saying.

  • Comfort

I think muffs are more comfortable than plugs, but if you wearing them for a long time can cause hot spots around your ears and even cause headaches. How uncomfortable muff ear pro is depends on the brand. I'll share a low-cost fix to make your muff style ear pro so much more comfortable.

  • Stock weld

Sometimes muffs cause challenges in getting a stock weld when shooting long guns. However, many low-profile products exist, and with the proper adjustments, ease this issue for most users.

earclip for hearing protection

Muff-style, electronic hearing protection is my go-to choice.

Active or Electronic Hearing Protection —

The major benefit and probably the most significant reason you should get electronic ear pro is that you can hear everything except the gunshots. As mentioned above, electronic hearing protection blocks out noises that would cause damage to the ear, while allowing safe dB sounds to pass through. This means you can have a conversation, hear the instructor's commands and the surrounding environment, and exclude the gunshots.

Range bag ear protection

 

Not only will you find it to be much more enjoyable to hear what is happening, but it is much safer than hearing protection that blocks all sounds from your hearing.

I have sometimes had to grab a student on the firing line because they simply cannot hear the ceasefire command. Electronic hearing pro lets you hear the instructor's words, which you're paying to hear.

There are two styles of electronic ear pro:

  • Inside the ear (plugs)

I've used a couple of different products. One from Howard Leight, and the other from AXIL. I am currently working on a thorough review of the Axil product and will include a link here when I complete the evaluation. In general, I find these products work well.

This style of electronic ear pro doesn't cover the ears, so you don't risk headaches and hot spots. They also eliminate any concern for stock weld issues.

  • Earmuff style

The other style is the standard muff, but with electronics built in.

Brands like Walker, Peltor, ReadyUpGear, and Howard Leight are all very similar and popular.

Electronic ear pro is definitely more expensive than earplugs, and a little more than standard passive earmuff style ear pro. However, prices for hearing protection have come down to very affordable levels.

For example, the Roger 22 electronic ear pro cost forty dollars! When I first started buying electronic hearing protection, the best price on a good set was easily over $100 dollars. I still have that set and it's working 10 years later. I use the Roger 22s and think they are the best bang for your buck!

matthew wearing roger 22 electronic hearing protection on the range

I mentioned above that one complaint with muff style hearing protection is that they become uncomfortable after wearing them for an extended time. I told you I would share my fix with you. Here it is:

SoftSeals —

I have recently begun using a product called SoftSeal from ReadyUpGear. These are fantastic and undoubtedly make my earmuffs electronic ear pro more comfortable. It seriously feels like a new set of high-end, electronic ear pro. Here is a review I did of the SoftSeals.

electronic hearing protection more comfortable

The product replaces the existing ear pads, with soft, gel-filled ear pads. They reduce the pressure and feel fantastic. Even more, they create a better seal. I have sometimes had issues with shooting glasses creating a slight gap in the seal between the muffs and my head. The soft gel of the SoftSeal solved this.

Even if you don't get headaches or discomfort with your existing electronic ear pro, you're gonna appreciate how the SoftSeals feel.

Conclusion:

One bonus to electronic ear pro that has nothing to do with shooting is that almost all of them allow you to play music through them. Some products have Blootooth built in which is nice. But even without Blootooth, you can plug your phone into the muffs. This is a pretty cool option if your our riding a mower or using equipment that is very loud. I never wore hearing protection when riding my mower. However now I do, and I don't have that humming in my ears after a long day of mowing.

Before you buy passive hearing protection, think about spending a bit more to get active hearing protection. I think you will find it to be money well spent.

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8 Responses to 3 Reasons Using Electronic Ear Protection for Shooting is Best

  1. Jim Mitchell May 3, 2021 at 10:11 am #

    I am familiar with noise cancelling headphones, and like the technology I’m a leisure setting, but wonder if it is good in a scenario where Noise Reduction is important. My current earmuff is rated at 34db NRR. Most electronic earmuffs seem to be rated at 22db NRR. Does this mean I give up the maximum noise reduction to have muffs that will allow voice range sounds? I already have a slight hearing loss, so I need to be careful. It would be nice since I shoot with my wife and would make that easier!

    Thanks for your input!

    • Harry Frank May 23, 2022 at 11:11 am #

      I was about to make the same point. Electronic earmuffs are pricey and NR better than 26 are up in the $200+ range. Big box stores sell non-electronic muffs in the NR 34 range for under $20.

  2. Clark Kent May 22, 2022 at 8:51 pm #

    I don’t think some of your issues with foam ear plugs are valid. If I have to remove a pair of them at the range I just grab another new pair. With all the COVID related antiseptic liquid hand sanitizer around, there is no reason to have unclean hands at the range. I prefer to wear regular earmuffs along with foam ear plugs while shooting. The BIG problem I have with electronic hearing protection is Murphy’s Law. Yup, the batteries ALWAYS go flat at the WORST POSSIBLE moment. Plus, spare batteries are just another thing to remember to pack along in a range bag. Finally, I don’t shoot at ranges where others are barking orders at me. Range commands should be loud enough that folks with or without hearing protection can hear them.

  3. ROBERT May 23, 2022 at 8:12 am #

    I question using muffs that pipe in music. It creates a distraction, and ANY distraction on a live shooting range is plain stupid.
    I prefer active muffs, because, as an instructor, it permits me to hear activity around me. I was a shooting sports director at various youth camps, and often found the need to monitor goings-on at more than one range at a time where my staff were also running ranges beside mine. – Active muffs allowed me to crank up the volume while at the same time removing the loud bangs near me.
    On indoor ranges I often combine passive foam plugs with my muffs for obvious reasons.
    After over 50 years of competitive shooting, teaching shooting, and running ranges, I can conclusively say “There is no One solution for every occasion.”

  4. ROBERT May 23, 2022 at 8:25 am #

    An addition to my last thoughts.
    Muffs, no matter how well designed, often can interfere with learning — ESPECIALLY with youth. They can create a major DISTRACTION when teaching youth to shoot long guns. When a child [under 21] tries to properly mount a rifle or shotgun, the muffs can often get in the way and prevent the proper cheek-stock weld.
    In cases like this, good quality ear plugs are essential. They may well be foam, but many people can’t seem to learn how to properly insert them. Some times a large jug of industrial “rubber” ones might be a better choice, and the cost is not excessive either.

  5. Stefan May 24, 2022 at 9:43 am #

    Interesting article although somewhat lacking on accurate information or facts.
    The primary issue I see with Mr. Maruster’s article is there is not direct engineering or science based information presented for apples to apples compairison. Not to start an argument in this post, there are certain things that are missing to make an informed decision as to foam plugs, headphones, or electronic muffs such as NR rating, comfort and ease of use, but more importantly (for the electronic side of the discussion) rate of noise cancellation and protection against acoustic over pressure.
    I agree that one should use the best protection available, however price is not the driving factor-form fit function needs to be.
    While I will not drone on about my background as it will come off incorrectly in this short comment, I work around explosives all the time along with weapon systems, and hearing lose is not something you want to experience.
    Therefore, do the research yourself, find what works, and lastly, double up (eg plugs and electronic muffs) or better yet use a firearm suppressor 🙂

  6. Skipper May 24, 2022 at 11:56 am #

    I was on the range 5 to 7 days a week, 10 to 14 hours a day for more than 2 years training 9,692 Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq during the surges. The training was in combat pistol, combat rifle and machinegun gunnery. based on that experience, I have some information to contribute.

    I had to send back to their units a couple of good instructors after a year due to hearing loss. Our team was hurt by their going. Not wanting to have the problem happen again, I called and had a long chat with the Army doctor in charge fo the Army’s hearing program.

    He noted that hearing loss comes from 2 causes – the loundess of the sound [one loud shot can do it] and the duration of the sound. Days on the range next to people shooting will do it, even if you are wearing electronic muffs.

    Where is this going? Double hearing protection is the best protection. The best of that is custom fit silicone ear plugs AND electronic muffs.

    • Clark Kent May 25, 2022 at 5:29 pm #

      Sorry, I have very little faith in any government employed doctor. And I don’t spend 5 to 7 days a week at the range (I doubt many civilians do). For my needs, foam ear plugs along with regular muffs has kept my hearing AOK after many years of shooting on both outdoor and indoor ranges.

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