Walker’s new Ultimate Digital Quad Connect ear protection device offers Bluetooth wireless, adjustable frequency tuning, up to nine times hearing enhancement, and sound-activated compression. Through the use of sound-dampening composite material, Walker’s new Ultimate series muffs reach a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB. With its Bluetooth sync capabilities, the unit allows users to connect mobile devices without sacrificing hearing protection while in the field or at the range. The integrated communication microphone provides clear voice transmission to mobile devices while the four Hi Gain Omni Directional mics pick up distant sounds of animal movements or range activity. The Ultimate Digital Quad Connect is low noise/frequency tuned for natural sound clarity with independent volume control and adjustable frequency tuning. Its compact folding design allows for easy transportation and storage. Other features include a soft padded headband, a metal wire frame and low-profile ear cups. The muffs are powered by two AAA batteries. The MSRP is $300. (<a target=blank href=http://www.gsmoutdoors.com/assets/147/walkers-ultimate-muff-series/>http://www.gsmoutdoors.com</a>; 877-269-8490)
The 3M Peltor Tactical 6S has an NRR of 19 and amplifies low sounds up to 19 dB. Its compression threshold is 79 dB with an attack time of 5 milliseconds. The Peltor Tactical 6S also has an amplifier, receiver, volume control and microphone in each cup for stereophonic sound and improved directionality. Run time is 200 hours on four AAA batteries. The MSRP is $100. (<a target=blank href=http://peltortactical.org>http://www.peltortactical.org</a>)
This Caldwell Mossy Oak earmuff-style hearing protector has an NRR of 23. Its low-profile design and Mossy Oak Break Up finish make it especially useful for hunters shooting long guns who need a firm cheekweld. The noise compression threshold is 84 dB. Its dual microphones provide stereophonic hearing and it also amplifies low-volume sounds made by approaching game animals. The unit is powered by two AAA batteries. The MSRP is $50. (<a target=blank href=http://www.btibrands.com/product/e-max-low-profile-electronic-hearing-protection-mossy-oak-bu/>http://www.caldwellshooting.com</a>; 877-509-9160)
Champion Electronic Earmuffs offer an NRR of 25 and also have the ability to amplify low-level sounds. Champion’s hearing protector is also collapsible for easy storage. The company’s electronic earmuffs are powered by four easy-to-find AAA batteries. MSRP is $41. (<a target=blank href=http://www.championtarget.com/shooting_accessories/ears/muffs_electronic.aspx>http://www.championtarget.com</a>; 800-379-1732)
The Electronic Shooters Protection Stealth Digital unit fits in the ear canal and has two channels of audio, each of which has 12 bands, allowing it to be custom tuned to the user’s hearing. It also has advanced feedback reduction circuitry. The noise compression attack threshold is 90 dB and it magnifies low-volume sounds up to 20 dB. The unit features an NRR rating of 25. Power is supplied via one zinc-air battery. MSRP is $2,100. (<a target=blank href=http://espamerica.com/product/esp-stealth-electronic-hearing-protection-shooting-earplugs/>http://www.espamerica.com</a>; 303-659-8844)
Howard Leight’s dual-microphone Impact Sport has an NRR of 22. Its loud noise compression threshold is 82 dB, and it also amplifies low-volume sounds. The unit is powered by two AAA batteries. MSRP is $73. (<a target=blank href=http://www.howardleight.com/ear-muffs/impact-sport>http://www.howardleight.com</a>; 800-430-5490)
This earmuff-style protector has an NRR of 21 dB. Noises above 85 dB are compressed with a very fast attack time. Low-volume sounds are amplified by up to 20 dB, which allows for excellent situational awareness. Each ear cup has its own circuit that runs on two “N” batteries and also has its own microphone and volume control. In addition, the MHP81 can also be plugged into Motorola Talkabout two-way radios and other electronic devices. I tested the MHP81 for several weeks and it worked very well in the field. The MSRP is $120. (<a target=blank href=http://www.motorolasolutions.com/en_us/products/two-way-radios-consumer-accessories/mhp81.html>http://www.motorolasolutions.com</a>; 847-576-5000)
The Pro Mag Gold from Pro Ears has a very high NRR of 30 and an ultra-fast noise compression attack time of 1.5 milliseconds. This unit is especially effective for protection on covered shooting positions and indoor shooting ranges where there may be multiple shooters. Features include a 3.5mm mini jack for other devices, dual mil-spec circuit boards and an 82 dB threshold for noise compression. Pro Mag Gold units run on four “N” batteries. The MSRP is $339. (<a target=blank href=http://www.proears.com/Pro-Ears-Shooting-Hearing-Ear-Protection-Pro-Mag-Gold-Green>http://www.proears.com</a>; 800-891-3660)
The SoundGear Behind-The-Ear hearing protectors extend from behind the ear to a silicone plug that fits into the ear canal. These units have an NRR rating of 26 and a noise reduction attack threshold of 95 dB. Low sounds are magnified up to 30 dB. Each unit comes standard with a multi-memory button and two listening modes—mute and normal. Power is supplied by one size 13 zinc-air battery. MSRP is $299/pair. (<a target=blank href=http://www.soundgearhearing.com/products/soundgear-bte-platinum-level-behind-the-ear-hearing-protection>http://www.soundgearhearing.com</a>; 800-769-8605)
The SoundGear In-The-Canal units inserts directly in the ear canal by means of a silicone protective sleeve. This device has an NRR rating of 25 and a noise compression attack threshold of 93 dB. Low-volume sounds are magnified up to 15 dB. Each protector set comes with large-ear and small-ear silicone sleeves in both black and orange. MSRP is $399. (<a target=blank href=http://www.soundgearhearing.com/products/hearing-protection-for-hunters-shooters>http://www.soundgearhearing.com</a>; 800-769-8605)
The Walker’s Elite Power Muff Quad features two microphones on each cup. The volume on each muff is independently adjustable. The NRR is 24, and the unit’s loud noise compression threshold is 85 dB. The unit runs on two AAA batteries. The MSRP is $200. (<a target=blank href=http://www.gsmoutdoors.com/assets/105/walkers-elite-power-muffs/>http://www.gsmoutdoors.com</a>; 877-269-8490)
Sixty years ago, hearing protection often amounted to placing a cotton ball or a fired .38 case in each ear. Today’s shooters have much better hearing protection. Many use high-tech electronic muffs, earplugs and behind-the-ear units that do an excellent job of blocking harmful noise and amplifying speech and other low-volume sounds.
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Gunshots increase the pressure of air on eardrums and cause the bones in the middle ear to vibrate. This generates increased pressure in the liquid-filled inner ear, and if the sound level is over 85 decibels (dB), small cells in the inner ear can be damaged. Most centerfire calibers produce noise/pressure levels between 130 and 150 dB. When several guns are fired simultaneously on an indoor range, the noise level can rise far above 150 dB. The dB scale is logarithmic, so 150 dB is actually many times greater than 85 dB. Because of this, a single gunshot often produces temporary damage to unprotected ears, and repeated exposure without hearing protection can cause permanent hearing loss.
High-tech electronic hearing protection has automatic dynamic range compression that uses amplifiers to almost instantly reduce sounds when they reach a pre-set threshold level (usually 82 to 95 dB), and many also increase the volume of faint sounds by as much as 30 dB, making range commands easy to hear. They all have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of at least 19 dB, and some reduce loud noises by up to 33 dB. When high-tech electronic earmuffs are worn with foam earplugs, the total NRR often exceeds 30 dB by a significant amount without significantly reducing the ability to hear low-volume sounds.
RELATED STORY: Walker’s New Ultimate Digital Quad Connect
There’s a variety of high-tech hearing devices on the market. Prices vary according to the number of features, the sophistication of the electronics, the level of noise suppression and the length of the warranty. The following is a sample of some of the latest electronic protectors.
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