Best Shooting Hearing Protection [2021]

by Ryan Cleckner

January 4, 2021

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Hearing protection for shooting is important.  As you’ll see, most firearms produce a decibel (dB) level that will cause permanent hearing damage.  However, there are many different types of shooting hearing protection, as well as different levels of protection to choose from.  So, what is the best shooting ear protection?

That’s what we’ll cover including the best shooting ear protection for each of the three categories: electronic hearing protection, ear plugs, and earmuffs.

And, if you’re looking to learn more about choosing the right hearing protection for you, we’ll explore after we’ve ranked the best hearing protection.

Types of Hearing Protection

There are three general types of shooting ear protection that you should know about:

Ear Plugs: These fit in your ear, are typically made of foam, and are the least expensive option. The cheapest ear plugs are disposable and although they don’t cost much, they aren’t intended to be used again.

Earmuffs: They fit over your ear to block out the sound and are a little more expensive, but they can be used over and over again.  They can be combined with ear plugs to increase hearing protection – calculating the effect of this is covered later in the article.

Electronic Hearing Protection: Using electronics, these allow safe levels of sound through (and sometimes help amplify those sounds) but they automatically block sounds over a certain level.  This is exceptionally beneficial for shooting because it will allow the wearer to hear conversations, but still protect them from gunshot noises. These are the more expensive of the three, but much more affordable than you think when you consider the lifetime value.

Required Hearing Protection Rating

Exposure to intensive noise greater than 140 dB can permanently cause hearing damage.  This is extremely important to shooters since most firearms fire at 140+ db.

Therefore, in order to bring down the sound of gunshots to a safe level, you need adequate hearing protection. To do this, you need hearing protection that has a NRR rating of 22 or greater.

If you’d like to learn more about what the NRR is, and how to calculate what NRR rating reduces dB levels by how much, be sure to click those links, and it will jump to that part of the article.  With that said, just make sure the NRR level of your protection is at least 22.

Editors Choice of Best Hearing Protection for Shooting:

If you’re a shooter that just wants to see what we think is the best hearing protection in each category (and some extras like ‘best for kids’ and ‘premium’), we’ve listed our editors choice of each here to make things fast and easy.

However, if you’re interested in more details and want to see our hearing protection reviews and comparisons, you can scroll down (or click the category of hearing protection below) and see how the ear pro ranked with more detail.

The Best Shooting Hearing Protection for the different types:

Hearing Protection Editor’s Choice

Hearing ProtectionDetailsCheck It Out
Electronic
Howard Leight: Impact Sport Bolt


  • Editor's Choice & Best ROI
  • Affordable Electronic Option
  • NRR: 22
Check Price 
Ear Plugs
Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs
  • Best In-Ear option
  • Custom molded - super easy and comfortable
  • NRR: 31
Check Price
Ear Muffs
3M Pro Shotgunner Low Profile
  • Best Ear Muffs
  • Inexpensive
  • NRR: 24
Check Price
Best for Kids
Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction Ear Muffs - Best for Kids
  • Best for Kids
  • Inexpensive
  • NRR: 27
Check Price
Premium
Peltor Sports Tactical 500
  • Best electronics
  • Bluetooth capability
  • NRR: 26
Check Price

Specs Comparison of the Best Shooting Hearing Protection

NameTypeNRRReduced dB
Decibullz Custom Molded EarplugsCustom-Fit Plugs31-12 dB0.6 oz
Radian ResistorEar Plug32-12.50.8 oz
Peltor Sport Tri-FlangeTri-Flange Ear Plug26-9.5 dB0.64
3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low ProfileEar Muffs24, 27, 30-8.5, -10, -11.5 dB8.8, 10.1, 12.3 oz
Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction Ear MuffsEar Muffs27-10 dB8 oz
Howard Leight Impact Sport BOLTElectronic Headset22-7.5 dB1 lb
Peltor Sports Tactical 500Electronic Headset26-9.5 dB1.4 oz
Walker's Razor Slim Shooter Electronic MuffsElectronic Headset23-8 dB15.4 oz
Peltor Sport Range GuardElectronic Headset21-7 dB11.2 oz

Reviews of the Best Electronic Hearing Protection

Electronic earmuffs are our favorite style of hearing protection for most types of shooting. Ear plugs are handy and low profile for lots of situations, but if we could only have one type of hearing protection, it would be electronic earmuffs.

Electronic earmuffs help amplify conversations and hearing safe noises while also protecting you from the unsafe levels of sound from gunshots.

We’ve used all of these on the range to review them for you and, as you can see in some of the pictures below, we used a special sound booth to get the best comparisons for you possible.

Best Electronic Earmuffs for Shooting:

#1 Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt ($79) : Editor’s Choice

Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt ($79)

Good hearing protection, upgraded electronics over the standard version, low profile, and a great value! What’s not to love?

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  • Protection A-
  • Comfort A
  • Usability A+
  • Value A+

Our Grade

A

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt Specs

  • NRR Rating 22
  • Reduced dB -7.5 dB
  • Microphones 2 Directional Microphones
  • Attack Time .5 ms
  • Weight 1 lb

Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt Review

Here’s our hands-down favorite ear protection for a trip to the shooting range.

They are the loudest (in a good way), most comfortable, and their auto-shut off feature saves me on batteries (I often forget to turn off other sets and end up with dead batteries the next time I try to use them).

You’ll able to hear your surroundings better with these than you will without any ear protection (that’s the good way in which they’re louder)!

I used the professional-grade Peltor earmuffs in the military and I’ve gone through a few sets of the previous Peltor commercial grade electronic earmuffs as a sniper instructor.

The reason I’ve gone through a few of those other sets is that they didn’t hold up for me. Do you know what set has lasted me for many years? Howard Leight Impact Sports.

Seriously – I own more than one set of these because they are not only the best set of electronic ears I’ve ever used, they’re also the best value. It’s really nice to have an extra set for when someone else is with me at the range and they haven’t read this review and picked up their own set yet.

Other reasons these are our favorites: they are low enough profile that I can use them while shooting a rifle or shotgun and they are light enough and comfortable to wear for many hours.

If you’d like to make these even better, check out our ear protection upgrades section and look into the Noisefighter ear pads and a carrying case.

A couple downsides to these are that I’ve experienced some electronic interference when my cell phone is too close and although I am comfortable using these on most range trips, they are the low end of sound protection required.

Get a set of these and you won’t be sorry.

Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt Pros and Cons

  • Loud ambient volume
  • Auto-Shutoff
  • Low Profile
  • Lightweight (relatively)
  • Inexpensive
  • Low-end of sound protection
  • Electronic noise interference possible

#2 Peltor Sport Tactical 500 ($120) : Premium Option

Peltor Sport Tactical 500 ($120)

Everything about these earmuffs is premium. Compared to other models, these things are noticeably quieter. However, they’re heavier, larger, and more expensive.

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  • Protection A+
  • Comfort A-
  • Usability A
  • Value A-

Our Grade

A

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Specs

  • NRR Rating 26
  • Reduced dB -9.5 dB
  • Microphones 2 Recessed Microphones
  • Attack Time N/A
  • Weight 11.4 oz

Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Review

When it comes to noise protection, arguably the most important feature of hearing protection for shooting, the Peltor Sport Tactical 500 earmuffs are amazing.

There’s a noticeable “wow” on people’s faces when they hear how quiet these are – it feels like going into a sound-proof room.

When combined with the electronics and bluetooth capability, these are clearly the most premium electronic earmuffs we tested.

However, there’s a few reasons why these didn’t get picked as our #1 choice.

First, although the bluetooth is super handy when you want to listen to a podcast or music from your smartphone, the sound level for ambient noise can not be turned up as loud as our #1 pick above.

Second, the volume adjustment is not as intuitive as the Howard Leight’s above. Instead of a volume adjustment wheel, they have up and down buttons and you must repeatedly click the up button until you hear an audible beep letting you know the you reached the max setting.

Third, they are big and heavy – you can notice the weight as you move your head and their size impedes my ability to shoot a rifle or shotgun without interference.

Fourth, they are almost three times the cost as our #1 pick.

Now, despite the list of possible negatives for many shooters, these are still phenomenal earmuffs and might be a great choice for many shooters.

If you’re instructing on the range or are a rangemaster, these are the ticket as they block the most sound. Also, these are great for non-shooting activities. Although I love my Howard Leight’s, when I gab a set of earmuffs for mowing the lawn, I grab these so I can listen to podcasts over the bluetooth while I mow.

Also, if I’m at an indoor range and want more sound protection – these are the ticket. These were noticeably the best performing earmuffs in our sound booth testing.

If you’re looking for the quietest earmuffs and are willing to pay for a larger but premium set, these are for you.

Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Pros and Cons

  • Super quiet
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Bluetooth audio
  • A bit too large and heavy
  • Expensive

#3 Peltor Sport Rangeguard

Peltor Sport Rangeguard

The Sport Rangeguards are an affordable option from Peltor that are a decent set of earmuffs but they fall short when compared to #1 and #2 above.

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  • Protection C
  • Comfort A+
  • Usabality B
  • Value B-

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

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Peltor Sport Rangeguard Specs

  • NRR Rating 21
  • Reduced dB -7 dB
  • Microphones 2 Recessed Microphones
  • Attack Time N/A
  • Weight 11.2

Peltor Sport Rangeguard Review

The Peltor Sport Rangeguards are a very popular option for many shooters and for good reason: you can get the Peltor brand-name in an affordable set of hearing protection.

These earmuffs don’t make it into the top two spots of our best haring protection for shooting list, however, because they fall short by comparison.

These are a classic example of earmuffs the you’d be completely happy with until you learn about the minimum level of hearing protection we recommend and/or you compare them to #1 or #2 above.

Make no mistake, these are a quality set of earmuffs that help amplify ambient noise while blocking out more dangerous levels of sound.

What we didn’t like: the most important issue is that these fall below our recommended minimum of 22 dB Noise Reduction Rating. If you’re near a loud rifle, you are still going to be exposed to noise that can damage your hearing.

These are much lighter and lower profile than the Peltors we listed at #2 above. Therefore, you think we’d like the lighter weight and the lower profile size. However, they are effectively the same in these areas as the #1 Howard Leights above without the better sound protection and the noticeably fast response time for about the same cost.

To me, these appear to be newer versions of the Peltor Sport Tacticals that worked well enough but they didn’t last.

So, these are clearly better than nothing and if they’re what you have, you might be happy with them. However, if you’re looking for this size, weight, and cost earmuffs we think you might be happier with our #1 recommendation, the Howard Leight Bolts above.

Peltor Sport Rangeguard Pros and Cons

  • Lightweight
  • Low Profile
  • Inexpensive
  • Not enough hearing protection
  • Moderate ambient volume

#4 Walker’s Razor Slim Shooter Electronic Muffs

Walker’s Razor Slim Shooter Electronic Muffs

A very popular electronic shooting ear protection option that doesn’t meet our standards.

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  • Protection A
  • Comfort A-
  • Usability D
  • Value D

Our Grade

C+

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Walker’s Razor Slim Electronic Muffs Specs

  • NRR Rating 23
  • Reduced dB -8 dB
  • Microphones 2 Omni Directional Microphones
  • Attack Time 20 ms
  • Weight 15.4 oz

Walker’s Razor Slim Shooter Electronic Muffs Review

When we purchased our Walker Razor Slim earmuffs, they came in nice packaging and they had an American flag patch – both things were nice touches that gave us some optimism about them.

However, when we tested them at the range, we were not impressed. In fact, based on our experience, we do not recommend these.

Their size, weight, and fit were fine. However, now that we are used to nicer electronic earmuffs, the amplified ambient noise doesn’t sound very good and the gunshot blasts, although they are blocked to a safe enough level, just sounded… bad.

With these earmuffs we could hear echo from gunshots and they didn’t offer a seamless transition from blocking noise apart from ambient sound.

For near the same cost, you can get the #1 and #3 earmuffs above – both of which are better options.

Walker’s Razor Slim Shooter Electronic Muffs Pros and Cons

  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Poor sound quality
  • Poor value compared to others

Reviews of the Best Earmuffs for Shooting

Although we love electronic earmuffs above, they aren’t always necessary.

Standard shooting earmuffs are less expensive and can be a very handy option for hearing protection when shooting (especially as an extra set for someone else or for kids).

Best Earmuffs for Shooting:

#1 3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low Profile : Best Non-Electronic Muffs

3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low Profile

For non-electronic earmuffs, these are our favorites because they’re simple, sturdy, and quiet.

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  • Protection A+
  • Comfort A
  • Usability A-
  • Value A+

Our Grade

A

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Specs

  • NRR Rating 24, 27, 30
  • Reduced dB -8.5 dB, -10 dB, -11.5 dB
  • Weight 8.8 oz, 10.1 oz, 12.3 oz

3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low Profile Review

There’s not much to say about these earmuffs for shooting.

They are exactly what you need if you want a quality set of earmuff hearing protection and aren’t looking for electronic features.

They’re the right size, weight, and price and they keep things nice and quiet while still being comfortable on your head.

Need a set of earmuffs? These are the ones to get.

Even if you have a set for yourself, these are super handy as an extra set for someone else on the range or for other uses if you want your electronic set in your range bag.

3M Peltor Sport Shotgunner II Low Profile Pros and Cons

  • Quiet
  • Comfortable
  • Inexpensive
  • No electronics

#2 Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction EarMuffs : Best for Kids

Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction EarMuffs

A great set of non-electronic earmuffs for children.

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  • Protection A+
  • Comfort A
  • Usability A+
  • Usability A+

Our Grade

A+

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction Ear Muffs Specs

  • NRR Rating 27
  • Reduced dB -10 dB
  • Weight 8 oz

Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction EarMuffs Review

If you have kids, or help to instruct children at the range, then these are a great option to protect their ears when shooting.

Ideally, one of the reasons we love electronic earmuffs is because the wearer can hear range commands and instructions. This is obviously key with children.

The multiple color choices are great for kids, too.

However, in our experience, regular earmuffs (including electronic options) are too large for children and therefore end up with an uncomfortable fit (which encourages kids to remove them when they shouldn’t) or an improper fit that doesn’t help to protect their ears.

What’s great about these is that they are smaller so that they are a great fit for kids but they also have a relatively high NRR rating of 27 which is important to help maximize hearing protection.

Dr. Meter Kids Noise Reduction EarMuffs Pros and Cons

  • Excellent noise protection
  • Smaller size for better fit for kids
  • Inexpensive
  • Multiple colors
  • Not electronic

Reviews of the Best In-Ear Protection for Shooting

Ear plugs are extremely handy when it comes to protecting your hearing when shooting.

A quality set of in-ear plugs can not only provide great protection, but they are also super compact and easy to keep in a pocket to keep close for when they’re needed.

Also, ear plugs are available as disposable models which make them a super inexpensive option to keep a few extra sets stashed away for whenever you need hearing protection in a pinch or you need to hand them out to others that don’t have their own. Here’s a note: disposable ear plugs for others are always a gift – you don’t want them back after they’ve been used. ????

Best Ear Plugs for Shooting:

#1 Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs : Best In-Ear Plugs

Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs

The Decibullz custom-molded ear plugs are an incredible option for hearing protection and our go-to set of plugs for shooting.

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  • Protection A+
  • Comfort A+
  • Usability A
  • Value A+

Our Grade

A+

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Decibullz Custom Molded In-Ear Plugs Specs

  • NRR Rating 31
  • Reduced dB -12 dB
  • Weight 0.6 oz

Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs Review

I first learned about Decibullz the day before the SHOT Show (the firearms industry’s trade show) opened at the industry’s media day at the range. They molded a set of ear plugs for me within a minute or two and I was immediately in love.

I liked them so much that when I was asked by friends and acquaintances throughout the show what the “big new thing” was that they had to go see, I sent them to Decibullz.

If you think that people were surprised that I was recommending that they go check out some ear plugs instead of the latest firearm, you’re right. But, one after the next, they gave me the feedback I’ve come to expect: “these things are amazing!”

Here’s why I and so many people I know have become such big fans of these custom plugs: custom molded ear plugs are long known to be the best options for comfort and hearing protection. However, you used to have to find a vendor at a gun show, sit for 15 minutes while they molded them to your ear and then come back and hour or so later to pick them up and pay $50+ dollars.  If you lost them, you had no easy way to get them replaced.

Enter Decibullz. They came up with a solution that allows you to mold (and remold) your own custom ear plugs at home for a small fraction of the cost.

By placing them in warm water, you can then press and mold them into your own ear for a custom fit. Decide you don’t like the fit? Simply put them back in hot water and try again.

Also, Decibullz have a center insert that can be easily swapped out for an acoustic filter or even radio earpieces.

Without a doubt, my Decibullz ear plugs are comfortable and very quiet. In fact, in some situations, they are too quiet.

In this best hearing protection review, you will not find another hearing protection option that protects to such a high level, that is so comfortable, and that are so inexpensive.

Here’s the best recommendation I can give you: get at least one pair of Decibullz custom molded ear plugs before you spend your money on a more expensive set of electronic earmuffs.

Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs Pros and Cons

  • Custom fit
  • Inexpensive
  • Modular
  • Extremely quiet
  • None

#2 Radian Resistor

Radian Resistor

These disposable ear plugs are an inexpensive no-nonsense solution that belong in everyone’s range bag.

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  • Protection A
  • Comfort B+
  • Usability B
  • Value A+

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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Radian Resistor Specs

  • NRR Rating 25
  • Reduced dB -12.5 dB
  • Weight 0.8 oz

Radian Resistor Reviews

These are fairly standard foam ear plugs, however, they are higher quality than most others we’ve seen and their convenient bulk packaging are a big benefit.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these over any other hearing protection option we have, however, you should still have a set in your bag.

They received some lower marks for usability and comfort because they can be uncomfortable for longer periods of time and if they aren’t inserted and used correctly, their use/functionality diminishes. 

With their sealable bags or their twist top bottle (our favorite), these are easy to keep around to use in a pinch. If you, or anyone else, forgets their ear protection, you can pull these out and give a set away (you don’t want them back).

Radian Resistor Pros and Cons

  • Bulk packaging
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be inconvenient
  • Must be inserted properly
  • One-time use

#3 Peltor Sport Tri-Flange

Peltor Sport Tri-Flange

These Tri-Flange ear plugs are a reusable ear plug option with a lanyard for easy wear when not in use around your neck.

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  • Protection A-
  • Comfort C
  • Usability A
  • Value A

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Ryan Cleckner

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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Peltor Sport Tri-Flange Specs

  • NRR Rating 26
  • Reduced dB -9.5 dB
  • Weight 0.64 oz

Peltor Sport Tri-Flange Review

Full disclosure: I really don’t like these style of ear plugs.

Yes, they’re relatively inexpensive ear plugs that can be reused.

However, the Tri-Flange design is uncomfortable for my ears. Maybe my ears are weird but as they start to slip out (they’re smooth plastic), the edge of the flanges is designed to provide friction against your skin to hold them in place. For me, they’re downright uncomfortable.

Also, ear plugs typically have higher NRR ratings (the others we recommend have ratings in the 30s) whereas these only have a 26 NRR rating.

If you like this style of ear plug, these are a quality set. However, they’re just not for me.

Peltor Sport Tri-Flange Pros and Cons

  • Resusable
  • Lanyard helps hold ear plugs
  • Relatively low NRR
  • Uncomfortable

Editor’s Choice: What I Actually Own and Use

When I head to the range or head out for a hunt, I either take my Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt earmuffs or my Decibullz custom molded ear plugs.

In my standard range bag, I keep my Howard Leights, with their Noisefighter gel pads, in a carrying case (both below), my Decibullz plugs, and a bottle of Radian Resistor foam ear plugs.

This allows me to choose between my earmuffs or my ear plugs depending on the style of shooting and it allows me to hand-out a set of foam ear plugs to anyone who forgot their ear protection.

For most pistol and rifle work I use my electronic earmuffs. However, if I am going to be on a rifle for a while, I will often use my Decibullz. If I’m shooting clay targets with a shotgun, I almost always use my Decibullz because of their low profile.

At home, I have a second set of Howard Leight earmuffs because they are so great for letting someone use – especially if I am teaching them so that I don’t have to yell. Of course, I also have kid-sized earmuffs for my children.

Upgrades for Your Hearing Protection

Just because you’ve gotten some hearing protection doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make it even better. Here are a couple of our must-have accessories for shooting hearing protection.

Noisefighters Gel Filled Ear Pads

If you’re planning on picking up a pair of electronic earmuffs, you seriously need to consider these gel pads. I’m not even joking when I say these are serious game changers. And yes, I’m aware they look like absolute trash bags on my set of Howard Leights. But that’s because I’m constantly using them. They’re just so comfortable and snugly accommodate your shooting glasses without smushing them up against the side of your head. CHECK PRICE

Carrying Case for Howard Leight Impacts

If you pick up a pair of Howard Leight electronic earmuffs, they’re surely going to take care of you. So return the favor, and do the same for them. This hard travel storage case protects your hearing protection while in route to your shooting destination. CHECK AMAZON PRICE

Buyer’s Guide to Shooting Ear Protection

There are quite a few different types of earmuffs and ear protection devices available on the market. Some can be incredibly cheap and portable like the tiny disposable plugs you put inside your ears. Other styles can cover your entire ear and are more comfortable when wearing. There’s even some available that have electronic components that allow you to hear range communication while blocking out harmful gun blasts simultaneously. With so many different options to choose from, it can be hard to decide on what to buy.

Furthermore, not all ear protection devices are equal. Some reduce the noise level better than others. So, what specifications do you need to help protect you when looking for the right shooting hearing protection?

Well, in this section, we’ll talk about the factors affecting hearing loss, the specs you need to pay attention to and the types of headphones on the market.

Things to Consider

What Types of Hearing Protection Should You Get?

There are three main types of hearing protection, and each has their pros and cons. Let’s take a lot at those types and see which ones best fit your needs, as well as some of the specifications you need to know in order to make the right choice for a specific product in those three:

Ear plugs

Ear plugs for noise protection come either as disposable ear plugs, or as reusable ear plugs.

Disposable ear plugs are by far the cheapest ear protection you can buy. These tiny plugs can also be very effective, with some offering 30dB and better noise reduction protection. They’re usually made out of some kind of foam or moldable polymer. In order to get the most use out of them, you squish them into a small cylinder which you then insert into your ear canal. The plugs then “re-inflate” to form a tight molded seal to your ear channel.

But there are permanent ear plugs as well. These are made out of a heavy duty polymer. Some are made to be specially molded for better comfort like the Decibullz while others like the Tri-Flanges are not.

On the downside, ear plugs might not fit all ear channels and they will muffle out all sounds. Some people are also allergic to the materials, and others find them to chafe.

  • Most effective form of hearing protection
  • Ear plugs have an exceptionally high NRR rating (normally 30+)
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Great to give out to visitors or guest shooters who don’t have their own hearing protection
  • Disposables are dirt cheap often coming in large boxes for pennies on the dollar
  • Most effective form of hearing protection Ear plugs have an exceptionally high NRR rating (normally 30+) Lightweight and portable Great to give out to visitors or guest shooters who don’t have their own hearing protection Disposables are dirt cheap often coming in large boxes for pennies on the dollar Great for using as a secondary form of protection under muffs or electronic headsets
  • Failure to properly insert can lead to them falling out
  • If dropped, you’ll more than likely need a new pair
  • Moldable plugs can become bulky to wear underneath muffs or headsets
  • Muffle all sounds including range communications
  • Failure to properly insert can lead to them falling out If dropped, you’ll more than likely need a new pair Moldable plugs can become bulky to wear underneath muffs or headsets Muffle all sounds including range communications Do not allow for effective communications with those around you

Earmuffs

Earmuffs can also offer you great ear protection. These earmuffs usually have a headband with foam pads that covers the entire ear. Most earmuffs can be worn over the top of your head or to the back of your head.

Earmuffs are relatively affordable and comfortable. They are also highly durable.

The only downside to this type of ear protection is that earmuffs can be heavy and bulky. They can also feel hot and sweaty in warm weather. Also, earmuffs often don’t provide as much ear protection as ear plugs might offer. This means you need to be careful when buying these to ensure you get sufficient protection.

  • Comfortable to wear
  • Super easy to put on and take off
  • Affordable
  • Easily used with ear plugs in order to receive enhanced ear protection
  • Super durable even if tossed around
  • Bulky and may snag in tight spaces
  • Sweaty and sticky in warmer weather
  • Not as effective as plugs
  • Hats, toboggans, long hair, glasses, or other headwear are uncomfortable or impossible to wear
  • Can interfere with your cheek weld on long gun buttstock

Earmuffs With Sound-circuit Technology

Sound-circuit technology earmuffs are designed to screen out loud blasts of the firearm but allow you to hear the natural sounds around you. This is an incredible feature for shooters because the loud and damaging noise of gunfire is muffled, but you can still hear your instructors or friends on the gun range as they speak.

These earmuffs are usually quite comfortable, relatively compact, and can be accompanied by a huge variety of special features, such as Bluetooth.

The main downside to these types of earmuffs is that batteries are required for them. Also, while there are different levels to the electronic earmuffs, you can surprisingly get them for cheap.

  • Allows you to hear communication around you through use of installed microphones
  • Comfortable
  • Some can connect to Bluetooth allowing use of cell phone while wearing
  • Have special features
  • Usually a more expensive option
  • Not waterproof
  • Not as effective as ear plugs
  • Batteries required
  • Heavy

When choosing electronic hearing protection, you should keep the following specs in mind:

Microphone Direction and Number:

In order for electronic headsets to have the capability of letting you hear softer sounds, they need to employ the use of microphones and speakers.

Microphones on the outside of the ear cups will pick up sounds and transmit them to the speakers inside the cups. Ideally, you’d want one microphone/speaker set per ear cup with them arranged directionally. However, you’re most likely to find only one set per cup. You would only really need two sets for active combat and tactical situations. Having one set per cup works just fine for range, hunting, or practice situations.

What’s more important than how many microphones there are is the type of microphone. Some microphones are just better than others. Directional mics will let you know from where the amplified sound is coming from. High gain mics are often more sensitive thus picking up more sound. These are great, but tend to pick up more static and feedback.

Attack Time:

This is a very undervalued parameter to know about electronic headsets. This is the response time in which a headset reacts to noises above a certain threshold.

For example, if a headset is rated to reduce noises above 82 decibels, you’d want to know how fast it starts blocking those high volume noises once they happen. This time should be in milliseconds.

So, basically, the faster the attack time, the less time a loud noise has to reach your ears. Furthermore, this makes communications with those around you much better as well.

What Noise Reduction Do You Need?

There are three factors that affect your hearing loss: distance, time and decibel level. With regards to distance, the further away you are from the muzzle or action, the lesser the sound. With regards to time, gun blasts are not a continuous stream of sound. Sure, many of us will fire off multiple rounds in quick succession. Therefore, when it comes to ratings for firearm ear protection, we only need to focus on the initial blast decibel level when looking at hearing protection.

Your ears can only handle a maximum noise level of 140 dB before instant hearing damage occurs. An average Glock handgun produces 162dB, whereas a Remington 700LTR can produce 167dB. This means that without proper hearing protection, the firing of a basic sidearm can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.

In order to protect yourself from that, you need to reduce the noise level to at least 140 dB, although 120 dB or lower is better.

Therefore, the real decibel reduction level you will need from your shooting hearing protection should be lower than 140 dB.

However, when shopping for the best shooting ear protection, they don’t label themselves as Decibel level. Instead they use the Noise Reduction Ratings.

Recommended Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) for Shooting Protection

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is a unit of measurement used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection devices to decrease sound exposure within a given workspace. In order for a protective device to get a NRR, they must be tested and approved by the American National Standards (ANSI) in accordance with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The higher the NRR number, the greater the noise reduction will be.

You should look for ear protection that offers a noise reduction rate of at least 22. A noise reduction of 30 is ideal, especially if you are operating louder and larger weapons.

To be on the safe side, you can use the following NRR levels to determine the best fit for the type of gun you are using.

Lower caliber handguns- minimum NRR rating: 22
Larger bore handguns and long guns- minimum NRR rating: 25
Large caliber handguns, larger long guns, and shotguns- minimum NRR rating: 27

This isn’t to say that you’re unsafe shooting a large caliber handgun with NRR 22 headphones, but if you were to and wanted to be on the safer side or perhaps you’d be doing this for a prolonged period of time, then you might want to double your hearing protection so as to increase your NRR rating – which we discuss how that improves NRR later.

How to Calculate dB Reduction from NRR Rating

Determining how much your hearing protection will actually reduce is going to require some math. But don’t worry. It’s an exceedingly simple calculation that anyone can do.

For this example, we’ll use a set of ear plugs that has an NRR rating of 31.

Take the NRR rating and subtract 7.
31-7= 24

This will be how many decibels your gunshot will be reduced by. So, if you’re firing a gun with a decibel output of 140, subtract this number from the sound of the gunshot.
140-24= 116

Your perceived output of the gun blast will be 116 dB.

*Important NoteOSHA recommends that you divide the result of NRR-7 by 2 to get the perceived reduction.  This is because that calculation is the result of laboratory testing, and real work place is never as perfect as the laboratory results.  However, we choose to keep the non-OSHA divide by 2 because of two reasons:

  1. OSHA’s is divide by 2 is so that factory policy makers can be more conservative in choosing proper hearing protection over long periods of time.
  2. Because the dB of the gun is measure right next to the muzzle of the gun, which is (hopefully) not right next to your ear.  Therefore, we don’t adopt the divide by 2 calculation when applying this to guns.

How Does Wearing Dual Hearing Protectors Change NRR?

When you combine hearing protection, you do not just add the NRR levels together in order to get a new NRR rating. Instead, as a rule of thumb, the addition of a second hearing protection device increases the the NRR of the higher protection device by 5.

Example:
Say you have the in-ear plugs with a NRR rating of 30, and a set of earmuffs with a NRR of 26.

Then the new NRR rating of combining the two would be 35 (30 +5 = 35)

If however you’d like to know how much this reduces the noise level instead of just the NRR rating, then you’ll need to use the following calculation:

  1. Take the number for the NRR of the higher rated protector
  2. Add 5 to the NRR rating for the use of a second protector (same as above)
  3. Subtract 7 from the new higher NRR number to get the value of the dB reduction
  4. Subtract the number of dB reduction (number from step 3) from the noise produced by the firearm in question

There you have it. The new reduced noise level by using the combination.

Example:

  • Gun Blast Sound: 147 dB
  • Plug NRR: 29
  • Earmuff NRR: 26

Noise to your ears with both sets of protection from that gun: 29 NRR + 5 for the second set = 34 NRR combined. 34 NRR – 7 = 27 dB reduction. Gun blast of 147 dB – 27 dB for protection results in 120 dB at your ears.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Protecting your hearing is critical and once it’s lost, it is extremely hard to get back. While there are my different types and products to helping you protect your hearing, they are not all equal in their capability and pricing.

As you’ve seen from our lists above, there are many things to think about. Hopefully from our professional advice, you’ll find something that fits your need, but we also understand that there is a level of personal preference to all of this.

So, be sure to check them out and enjoy your shooting experience without damaging your hearing.

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About Ryan Cleckner

Ryan is a former special operations sniper (1/75 Ranger) and current firearms attorney, firearms industry executive, university lecturer, and bestselling author of the Long Range Shooting Handbook.

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2 COMMENTS

    1. Great pick up Dale – if our paths cross, I owe you a beer. The “divide” by two is actually unnecessary when talking about guns…but is something you might see others use. This is because OSHA actually recommends that work places use the divide by two so as to be more conservative when choosing required hearing protection policy. But this doesn’t pertain to gun noise calculations for two reasons: 1) OSHA’s divide by two is based on the noise being that which is right by the ear. However, the gun’s noise measurement is right next to the end of the barrel…which I hope no one is shooting next to their ear and 2) OSHA’s is based on noise exposure over a long period of time and looks to account for that, where as gun noise is not. I’ve updated the article to reflect that and like I said, I owe you a beer.

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