Best Electronic Hearing Protection Reviews: Ear Plugs and Muffs

Best Electronic Hearing Protection Reviews: Ear Plugs and Muffs 2017

In Hunting Accessories by Consumer FilesLast Updated: March 28th, 2017

Did you know that hearing damage is largely irreversible? It's true. If you like to shoot guns or find yourself surrounded by loud machinery, you're especially at risk of losing some or all of your hearing. But fear not. In this article, we present the best electronic hearing protection currently available with recommendations based on your specific needs and activities.

Aside from our reviews of the best electronic ear muffs and ear plugs, we're going to give you a crash course in electronic hearing protection. There's a lot to cover so let's get started.

Best Electronic Hearing Protection (Overall, Best of the Best)


3M Peltor TacticalPro Communications

In terms of overall build quality, comfort, and effective noise reduction, the 3M Peltor TacticalPro ear muffs are hands down the best electronic ear defenders on the market.

With a remarkable 1000 hours of battery life from 2 AA batteries, the TacticalPro's have the longest battery life of any device on our list, and possibly the entire marketplace. It'll be many days at the range before you have to shell out the few dollars it takes to buy new batteries. What's even better is you can change the batteries without removing the ear muffs from your head, so your ears stay protected.

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It'll be many days at the range before you have to shell out the few dollars it takes to buy new batteries. What's even better is you can change the batteries without removing the ear muffs from your head, so your ears stay protected.

The Peltor electronic hearing protection is well-known in the industry for producing some of the best internal electronics for sound protection, and the TacticalPro is no exception.

Microphones on each of the ear cups give you 360-degree hearing with crystal clear sound and all the amplification you could ever need. Add extremely fast attack times, and you've got a set of electronic ear muffs that are simply a joy to use.

Adjustments to low-level ambient noise amplification are performed with tactile push button controls. These buttons are easy to operate while wearing gloves and are recessed into the ear cup so that they won't get bumped on accident.

The only downside to the controls is that a single set of buttons controls the audio of both ear speakers instead of having dual controls like other models on our list.

Gel ear cup cushions come standard on the 3M Peltor TacticalPros, offering a secure and comfortable fit. The earcups themselves have a deep cut design. It allows for plenty of room for your ears so they aren't cramped.

With a relatively high NRR of 26, the Peltor TacticalPro Communications are perfect for any sort of outdoor shooting with handguns or long guns. Depending on your shooting position, however, the ear cups may be too large to shoulder rifles and shotguns properly.

They can be used for indoor shooting, but it's highly recommended that you double up your protection with a set of passive earplugs underneath the ear muffs.

The "Communications" part of the TacticalPro's name comes from the built-in audio input jack that can be used with radios, scanners, or MP3 players. This is a common feature found on most electronic ear muffs, but based on the name, the TacticalPro's is especially well-suited for radio use.


3M Peltor TacticalPro Communications

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Pro Ears Pro Mag Gold

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Westone DefendEar

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Pro Ears Pro Tac Plus Gold

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PROS

  • Long battery life
  • High NRR
  • Gel earcups for tight, comfortable seal
  • Batteries are easy to change
  • Audio input
  • Highest NRR of all electronic muffs
  • Gold connectors for high-quality sound
  • Wind reduction technology
  • 1.5 millisecond attack time
  • Dual circuit boards
  • Made in USA
  • High NRR
  • Field-removable electronic for easy maintenance
  • Ideal for shotgun and rifle shooters
  • Wind noise reduction technology
  • Light weight
  • Gold connectors for high-quality sound
  • Dual circuit boards
  • Contoured cup design for use with long guns
  • Separate volume controls

CONS

  • No audio cable included
  • Single audio control
  • Very large, not ideal for long guns
  • Headband could be better
  • Short battery life
  • Expensive
  • Headband could be better

OUR VERDICT

The best overall electronic ear protection in terms of price, quality, and protection.

The ear muffs with the highest NRR rating on the market, ideal for magnum firearms and indoor shooting.

The best electronic ear plugs for all types of shooting, especially shotgun and rifle shooters.

A high-quality pair of electronic ear muffs for normal caliber firearms and general shooting.

STYLE

Ear muffs

Ear muffs

Ear plugs

Ear muffs

NRR

26

30

30

26

WEIGHT

13.6 oz

13.5 oz

N/A

9.3 oz

BATTERY TYPE

2 AA

4 N-size

#10 hearing aid battery

2 Lithium 123a

BATTERY LIFE

1000 hours

250 hours

10 hours

250 hours

COMPRESSION OR CLIPPING?

Compression

Compression

Compression

Compression


Peltor Sport Tactical 100

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Etymotic Research GunSport

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Howard Leight Impact Sport

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Howard Leight Impact Pro

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PROS

  • Variable suppression time for enhanced echo reduction
  • Tethered battery door
  • Low-profile earcups for use with long guns
  • Dual mode operation
  • 15 dB adaptive attenuation
  • 35 dB blast protection
  • High-fidelity sound quality
  • Includes wide assortment of eartips to find perfect fit
  • Slim low-profile earcup design for use with long guns
  • Easy battery access, can be changed while wearing
  • Audio input
  • Great value for the money
  • #1 best selling electronic ear protection on Amazon
  • High NRR
  • Audio input with cord included
  • Ideal for indoor handgun use

CONS

  • Uses clipping technology
  • Low amplification level
  • Ear plugs must fit perfectly to offer full hearing protection
  • Not the best sound quality
  • Large ear cups, not ideal for long guns

OUR VERDICT

Well-made electronic ear muffs, great for shooters on a budget.

High-tech electronic ear plugs for shooting with an emphasis on audiophile sound quality.

Highly rated budget friendly electronic ear muffs that are great for the outdoor gun range.

Durable, no-frills electronic ear muffs with a high NRR rating, perfect for indoor gun ranges.

STYLE

Ear muffs

Ear plugs

Ear muffs

Ear muffs

NRR

22

25

22

30

WEIGHT

9.3 oz

N/A

12.8 oz 

15.8 oz *

BATTERY TYPE

2 AAA

#10 hearing aid battery

2 AAA

2 AAA

BATTERY LIFE

N/A

10 days

350 hours

350 hours

COMPRESSION OR CLIPPING?

Clipping

Compression

Clipping

Clipping


Pro Ears Predator Gold

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Walker’s Game Ear Razor Slim

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Walker Razor XV

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MSA Sordin Pro X LED

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PROS

  • Lowest profile cup design of any Pro Ears model
  • Ideal for shotgun and rifle shooters
  • Light weight
  • Gold connectors for high sound quality
  • Dual military grade circuit boards
  • Individual volume controls
  • Full range dynamic HD speakers
  • Independant volume controls
  • Recessed volume control knobs, won’t get bumped as easy
  • Ultra-thin earcups, ideal for use with long guns
  • Uses compression technology at a low price point
  • Unique neck worn design
  • Retractable ear buds
  • High NRR
  • High gain omnidirectional microphones
  • Bluetooth technology, can be paired with smartphone
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Conforms to MIL-specifications
  • Fully waterproof
  • Slim design ear cups for use with long guns
  • Gel ear seals
  • LED light for low-light conditions
  • Uses special ASIC to compress all loud sounds to 82dB
  • Available in a behind-the-neck model for use under helmets

CONS

  • Greater battery life would be nice
  • Difficult to discern direction of external noises
  • Ear buds must fit perfectly for full sound protection
  • Difficult battery installation

OUR VERDICT

The very best electronic ear muffs for hunting, low profile ear cups stay allow for proper gun mounting.

An affordable pair of hunting ear muffs that surprisingly use compression sound attenuation.

A unique neck-worn set of electronic ear plugs with retractable ear buds and a high NRR rating. Great for hunting.

Military-spec electronic ear muffs that are fully waterproof and ready for combat.

STYLE

Ear muffs

Ear muffs

Ear plugs

Ear muffs

NRR

26

23

31

18

WEIGHT

9.3 oz

15.2 oz

4.8 oz 

1.2 lbs*

BATTERY TYPE

4 N size

2 AAA

Rechargeable

2 AAA

BATTERY LIFE

250 hours

350 hours

10 hours

600 hours

COMPRESSION OR CLIPPING?

Compression

Compression

Compression

Compression


Best Electronic Ear Muffs (Best Overall)


Pro Ears Pro Mag Gold Ear Muffs

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If you want to go all out and get the highest NRR electronic ear muffs on the market, the Pro Mag Gold ear muffs made by Pro Ears are what you need. 

Since the Pro Mag Gold electronic noise canceling ear muffs are rather large, they aren't ideal for use with rifles and handguns. Their bulkiness will get in the way of proper cheek weld.

But if you like to shoot high-powered magnum handguns indoors, the Pro Mag Golds are one of the NRR 30 electronic ear muffs. Its NRR is higher than any other ear muffs on our list. Still, you may want to double up your protection for long sessions.

Inside the Pro Mag Gold muffs, you'll find real gold connectors throughout for the highest sound quality available. Dual military-spec circuit boards (one in each ear cup) with high-quality amplifiers offer unsurpassed sound boosting of safe-level sounds. Each ear cup has its own circuit board, amplifier, and controls. Therefore, if one side is damaged and stops working, the other side will continue to perform.

Finally, the Pro Mag Gold ear muffs feature some of the best sound compression technology in the industry, turning the blast from a gun into a soft "pop" while safe ambient sounds continue uninterrupted. You get high-level hearing protection while maintaining full situational awareness.

Best Electronic Ear Plugs (Best Overall)


Westone DefendEar Digital Shooter Ear Plugs

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If you're a serious bird hunter or a shotgun sports competitor, the Westone DefendEar are the highest NRR ear plugs available and won't get in the way when you shoulder your gun. Westone is known in the industry as the "In-Ear Experts," producing hearing protection devices across a wide range of uses and applications.

With an NRR of 30, wind noise reduction technology, and water resistant construction, it's clear that the DefendEar Digital Shooter electronic ear plugs were designed with hunters and shooters in mind.

Using state of the art digital technology, the DefendEar Digital Shooters compress loud sounds down to safe levels and also amplify ambient sounds up to 86dB to help you hear the game in the field.

And with field use in mind, the Westone designed the electronics of the DefendEar to be "field-removable." This allows for any cleaning or maintenance to be performed without any special tools.

As with most in-ear electronic hearing protection devices, the DefendEars have a short battery life of 10 hours using size 10 hearing aid batteries. Fortunately, the batteries are very easy to change on the fly for uninterrupted hunting. As an added touch of convenience, the ear plugs are color coded (blue and red), so you know which one goes in which ear.

Best Electronic Hearing Protection for Shooting (Overall)


Pro Ears Pro Tac Plus Gold Ear Muffs 

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It's no surprise that another Pro Ears Gold models made the list. With some of the best internal electronics in the industry including gold connectors, dual circuit boards, and DLSC compression technology, Pro Ears knows what it takes to make the best electronic ear defenders for shooting.

If you're looking for a serious pair of shooting electronic hearing protection, look no further than the Pro Ears Pro Tac Plus Gold.

You can think of the Pro Tac Plus Gold ear muffs as a more compact, slightly lower NRR version of the Pro Mag Gold. Using all of the same internal components and technology, the Pro Tac Gold ear muffs are an incredible set of top rated ear protection for shooting. However, these are intended more for all-purpose shooting rather than high-powered handguns.

Perfect for outdoor ranges, the Pro Tac Gold ear muffs have an NRR of 26 which gives you adequate hearing protection for regular caliber handguns and long guns. It can also be used indoors as long as you wear an extra set of passive ear plugs underneath.

While not as out-of-the-way as a set of ear plugs, the Pro Tac Gold ear muffs have an ear cup design that features a tapered bottom. This makes it easier to achieve proper cheek weld on rifles and shotguns. At 9.3 ounces, the Pro Tac Gold ear muffs are among the lightest on the list, offering more comfort for longer use. Adding to the comfort of the set, the Pro Tac Golds use visco-elastic foam cups covered in Pro Form leather. This material is specifically designed to create a very tight, sound-blocking seal without squeezing your head too hard and causing a headache.

As the best electronic hearing protection for shooters, the Pro Ears Pro Tac Gold ear muffs are perfect for those who like to shoot a wide variety of firearms and stay comfortable at the range all day long.

Best Electronic Ear Muffs for Shooting


Peltor Sport Tactical 100

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If you're on a budget but still want a pair of the best electronic shooting earmuffs, the Peltor Sport Tactical 100 offers high-quality sound protection for under $100. 

With an NRR of 22, the Sport Tactical 100 electronic shooting muffs don't have the highest NRR rating on the list.

But for general shooting applications, especially outdoors with low- to mid-caliber firearms, they offer ample protection. Also, with the bonus of amplified low-level ambient noises.

Using clipping attenuation technology, the Peltor electronic ear muffs don't provide as much fluidity in terms of incoming audio, but they are equipped with a few features that make the most of the technology.

Adaptive Frequency Response technology actively reduces background noise, making the sound clearer and more defined.

Variable suppression technology is a unique feature that reduces echoes from gunshots, which can be troublesome when shooting indoors or under cover.

The Peltor Sport Tactical 100 electronic headphones for shooting feature a low profile ear cup design which eliminates interference with rifle and shotgun stocks. An improved headband design makes finding the right fit easy without squeezing the head too tight.

For the price, you really can't beat the Peltor Sport Tactical electronic shooting muffs. They give you the added safety and convenience of the best electronic shooting ear muffs for only a slightly higher price than comparable passive ear muffs.

Best Electronic Ear Plugs for Shooting


Etymotic Research GunSport Pro Ear Plugs

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Standing out among premium electronic earplugs for shooting, the Etymotic Research GunSport Pro Ear Plugs are one of the most advanced options on the market.

The GunSport Pro electronic shooting ear plugs are loaded with high-tech sound protection components. A wide-range dynamic compression system offers NRR 25 active noise protection and highly sensitive microphones with hi-def drivers.

It provides an impressive audio range of 40 Hz to 16 kHz for high-fidelity audio. Ambient sounds can be boosted up to five times their normal level, giving you a huge advantage when hunting notoriously tricky game like whitetail deer.

Unlike most electronic ear plugs, the GunSport Pros have a dual-mode operation. In one mode, you essentially have the natural level hearing of ambient sounds.

In the other mode, your hearing is amplified. You get blast protection in both modes, but having the two amplification options allows you to adapt to your surroundings with the flip of a switch.

One of the features that sets the GunSport Pro ear plugs apart from competing models is adaptive sound attenuation. Specialized circuitry in the ear plugs adapts the level of active sound attenuation to the unique sound levels of your surroundings.

That means that as the sounds of your environment increase, so does the level of sound attenuation. The difference between this and other systems is that a constant audible volume is maintained.

As external sounds reach 120dB, the GunSport Pros automatically switch to blast protection mode, offering maximum protection.

While the Etymotic GunSport Pros use the same size 10 hearing aid batteries as other electronic ear plugs, the company claims that the batteries last for 10 days, which is quite impressive.

Best Electronic Ear Protection for Shooting Range


Howard Leight Impact Sport

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If you think of your local shooting range as a second home, the Howard Leight Impact Sport just might be the electronic ear muffs you need.

They also happen to be the number one best selling electronic ear protection device on Amazon. So why are these noise cancelling headphones for shooting range so incredibly popular?

To start, the price is right. Coming in under $50, the Howard Leight Impact sport ear muffs deliver hearing protection on par with models costing two or three times as much.

With an NRR of 22, they are ideal for the low-caliber handguns and rifles practically every gun enthusiast owns.

While NRR 22 isn't quite enough protection for magnums and high-powered firearms, the addition of passive earplugs under the Impact Sports brings high-decibel gun blasts within a safe range.

They're also incredibly versatile. With ultra-slim ear cups, the Impact Sport ear muffs fit close to the head, staying out of the way of rifle and shotgun stocks. And of course, if they work with a rifle, they definitely work with a handgun.

For electronics, the Howard Leight Impact Sport ear muffs feature directional microphones that pick up ambient sound which can be amplified up to four times.

As expected, the low-price point of the Impact Sport ear muffs means that it uses the clipping attenuation technology.

You will experience some choppy audio, especially in the busy shooting ranges. However, you'll still be able to hear your fellow shooters as well as any commands issued by the range officer.

Unlike most electronic ear muffs that come in rather drab colors, the Howard Leight Impact Sports come in 6 different colors from camo to bright pink. If you're shopping for the best gun range ear muffs for you and your family members, you can get everyone their own color along with the peace of mind of safe ears.

Best Electronic Ear Muffs for Indoor Range


Howard Leight Impact Pro

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Another solid offering from Howard Leight, we have the Impact Pro ear muffs. If you do the bulk of your shooting indoors and need a little more sound protection than the Impact Sports, the Impact Pros offer a full NRR 30 at only a slightly higher price.

Of course, the increase in sound protection comes at the cost of bulkier ear cups, but not by much. They're also heavier than many of the other models on our list. However, for having such a high level of protection for well under $100, the extra weight is excusable.

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Directional microphones are built into the Impact Pros in such a way that they don't stick out which leads to added durability.

Incoming audio can be amplified with the turn of the tactile volume knob but goes no higher than 82dB for safety's sake.

A 3.5mm audio input jack lets you plug in a radio, scanner, or MP3 device, making the Impact Pros practical for other uses beyond the range.

The ear muffs also have a 4-hour automatic shut-off feature to conserve battery power.

Overall, if you're in need of an affordable and effective set of electronic ear muffs to use at the indoor gun range, the Howard Leight Impact Pros are an excellent choice.


Best Electronic Hearing Protection for Shooting (Overall)


Pro Ears Predator Gold Ear Muffs

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Hunters have a different set of standards when it comes to electronic hearing protection, and the Pro Ears Predator Gold ear muffs meet or exceed every one.

Just like the other Pro Ears Gold ear muffs on the list, the Predator Golds are built to a superb level of quality. It uses real gold connectors throughout, dual military-grade circuit boards, and DSLC compression technology. Therefore, the Pro Ears Predators have crisp, clear sound quality, a 1.5 millisecond attack time, and some of the most efficient attenuation on the market.

Each ear cup operates independently, complete with its own circuit board, battery, and volume control knob. Thus, allowing you to dial in each ear cup to match your unique hearing profile — most people hear slightly better in one ear than they do the other (especially shooters).

So what makes the Predator Pro Gold specifically the best ear protection for hunting?

  • First, they weigh only 9.3 ounces, and when you're hiking for miles through thick cover, every ounce you can save makes the day a little easier.
  • Second, they have one of the lowest-profile ear cup designs of any ear muff offered by Pro Ears. This means that they won't intrude on your perfect cheek weld when shouldering your 12 gauge and taking aim at a bird.
  • Third, they come in camouflage. While this doesn't necessarily add to the performance of the ear muffs, it definitely helps if you're trying your best to go unseen from your quarry.

The Pro Ears Predator Gold have an NRR rating of 26, making them ideal for use with most firearms except for magnums. So if you're in search of the best duck hunting ear protection, or just the best hunting ear protection period, the Predator Gold ear muffs take the prize.

Best Electronic Ear Muffs for Hunting


Walker's Game Ear Razor Slim

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The best hunting ear muffs are comfortable, protect your ears, and enhance your hearing for game detection. Furthermore, the Razor Slim ear muffs by Walker's Game Ear checks the box on all three.

A soft padded comfort fit headband sits snug to the head without pressing too tight for long days on the hunt. Slim — Razor Slim — ear cups stay close to the head, fitting comfortably under your parka hood, and staying clear of your gun stock.

The Razor Slim ear muffs have an NRR rating of 23 thanks to its exceptional sound dampening composite ear cup housing.

High definition dynamic range speakers allow you to hear everything around you while a sound activated compression circuit lowers high-decibel sounds into safe hearing range. It's rare to find compression technology like this on electronic ear muffs under $100.

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Another unique feature of the Razor Slim ear muffs not typically found on a budget-friendly model is dual volume control. You can adjust the volume of each ear cup independently allowing you to fine tune your enhanced hearing. The volume control knobs have raised ridges for added grip and easy use while wearing gloves.

Overall, if you're searching for the best electronic ear muffs for hunting, the Walker's Game Ear Razor Slim will fit the bill nicely.

Best Electronic Hunting Ear Plugs


Walker Razor XV with Bluetooth

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The Walker Razor XV are a rare breed of hunting ear plugs. Instead of two free-floating ear plugs, the Razor XVs feature two digital ear buds with retractable cords attached to a neck-worn device. It's similar to the popular wireless headphones used with smartphones that have popped up in recent years.

And like many smartphone headphones, the Walker Razor XV's are fully Bluetooth-equipped, which means you can sync the ear plugs with your iPhone and listen to your favorite tunes on your way to the hunting grounds.

When streaming music or taking a phone call with the Razor XVs, independent volume controls for the Bluetooth channel and external audio from the microphones allow you to set your music level. Therefore, you can still hear ambient sounds around you for safety.

Beyond the novelty of the neckband and Bluetooth, the Walker Razor XV electronic hunting ear plugs are a serious set of high-performance ear protection.

With an NRR rating of 31, the Razor XVs offer enough protection for shooting any hunting rifle, and could even be worn for shooting indoors if needed.

Omni-directional microphones in the neckband provide full situational awareness with up to 9X sound amplification. A sound activated compression circuit allows you to continuously monitor your surroundings while the intensity of gun blasts is reduced to safe sound levels.

The Walker Razor XV electronic ear plugs for hunting are one of the few ear plug models that feature a rechargeable battery. They last for 10 hours on a single charge and are easily recharged using a USB cable.

Two different styles of foam ear tips are included with the Razor XVs to help you find the perfect fit more maximum comfort and sound protection. A storage case is included to keep the ear plugs nice and safe in transit.

While the Walker Razor XV aren't your average pair of electronic hunting ear plugs, their unique design and high NRR make them some of the best ear plugs for hunting.


Best Tactical Ear Protection


MSA Sordin Pro X LED

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MSA makes some of the toughest, most advanced hearing protection products in the world, trusted by military units and armed forces all over the world. Among MSA's high-tech offerings, the Sordin Pro X LED stands out as the best tactical hearing protection available.

The Sordin Pro X LED is the only hearing protection device on our list that is fully waterproof, inside and out. Not only is the unit sealed to keep water out, but it also has fully waterproof microphones, a waterproof battery compartment, and circuit boards lacquered with a special coating for additional water resistance. There are few, if any, other electronic ear muffs that can boast that level of water resistance.

You can tell that every component of the Sordin Pro X LED ear muffs are built to last under punishing conditions. All moving parts are made of steel, and the exterior features a camo-dipped finish that is extremely scratch resistant and sturdy.

But the Sordins aren't the best tactical ear protection because they're extremely durable -- they're designed and built to MIL-specification to offer high performance in the most extreme conditions.

The electronics of the Sordin Pro X LEDs are based on an Application Specific Integrated Circuit which is controlled by a microprocessor. Moreover, the entire unit operates on ultra-low current consumption for extended battery life. Fortunately, due to the advanced engineering, it doesn't sacrifice any performance.

Gel ear seals come standard on the Sordin Pro X LEDs, offering extreme comfort and a highly efficient seal for maximum sound protection. One aspect that often turns people away from the Sordin Pro X LED ear muffs is the very low reported NRR rating of 18. Considering the high-tech materials and advanced electronics, this number seems suspiciously low. And why would the military use them if they only had an NRR of 18?

As we'll be tackling in the section explaining NRR ratings, the system can be quite confusing and misleading at times. Testing for NRR is very complicated and what happens is that different ear protection devices end up with many NRR ratings for various frequencies. Some manufacturers take the highest NRR of the bunch and put that on their spec sheet. Other manufacturers, like MSA, use the lower NRR ratings in their marketing materials to better represent the actual sound protection potential.

Know that the Sordin Pro X LED ear muffs likely offer as much, or more, sound protection than any of the other electronic ear muffs and ear plugs on our list. You might be wondering what the "LED" in the name means. There's actually a LED light on one of the Sordin's ear cups. This small, bright light functions as a headlamp, which can come in handy in low light, tactical situations.

So, if you want a pair of electronic ear muffs that you could easily wear onto the battlefield, get a pair of MSA Sordin Pro X LED ear muffs. There's even a behind the neck version available that's compatible with combat helmets.


Electronic vs. Passive Hearing Protection

Back in the day, to protect your hearing at the shooting range or construction site you had to squeeze those little orange foam plugs into your ears. Or, you clamp a big set of ear muffs onto your head. Once in place, the outside world become very quiet, almost silent. Were your ears protected from gun blasts? Sure. But could you hear what anyone around you was saying or commands issued by the range master? Probably not.

Those non-electronic devices are known as passive hearing protection. While they do protect your ears effectively, they block all sounds including low-level sounds that could warn you of potential danger. Being sonically isolated from the world around you could put you in harm's way, especially around guns or other loud, hazardous equipment.

Thankfully, with the advent of electronic hearing protection, standard plugs and muffs aren't the only options for ear safety.

Electronic — or active — hearing protection also uses passive materials and technology to protect the ears. However, it has one key difference: integrated electronics that allow you to hear safe, ambient sounds while your ears remain protected against loud impulse sounds.

How Does Electronic Hearing Protection Work?

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To fully understand the inner workings of a set of electronic ear muffs, it would require a degree in electrical engineering. But in layman's terms, the principles behind the technology that powers electronic hearing protection are relatively straightforward and easy to understand.

Basically, all electronic ear protection products use various forms of passive sound blocking materials to isolate and protect the ears. With electronic ear muffs, foam and other materials in the ear cups surround the ear, forming a tight seal with the cheek. With electronic earplugs, foam tips are inserted into the ears, sealing off the ear canal to block sound.

When electronic ear muffs and plugs are turned off, they act just like passive protection — all sounds are blocked.

For safe sound levels to be heard through the layers of passive protection, electronic ear muffs and ear plugs are equipped with microphones on the exterior that feed sound to speakers on the interior. It's like having live-streaming audio of your surroundings broadcast directly into your ears.

Beyond the microphones and speakers, it's the internal technology that makes electronic hearing protection work the way it does. Specialized electrical circuits allow sounds at safe levels, those less than 85dB, to pass through while sounds at dangerous levels are blocked or reduced.

This gives you the ability to carry on a conversation with a fellow shooter at the range while the gun blasts of others are either blocked entirely or come through the speakers at safe levels.

Different Types of Sound Attenuation Technology Used in Electronic Hearing Protection

Attenuation, or the reduction in strength of a signal, is the key operation performed by the internal technology of electronic hearing protection. There are two main types of sound attenuation technology used in electronic hearing protection to reduce or block loud sound signals: clipping technology and compression technology.

Clipping Technology

Clipping technology is the more basic of the two, and is found in lower-end devices, primarily ear muffs — electronic ear plugs almost always use compression technology.

Clipping technology works like this: When the microphones on a set of electronic ear muffs detect the high decibel impulse of a gunshot, the speakers are temporarily disabled. With the speakers off, the passive protection of the ear muffs blocks the sound.

The problem with clipping technology is that all sounds are temporarily disabled, even ambient sounds at safe levels.

This produces the effect of "choppy" audio which is highly pronounced at crowded shooting ranges with lots of continuous gunfire.

If you're just getting into shooting, or if you only want the least expensive option available, electronic ear muffs with clipping sound attenuation will work just fine.

But if you want the best overall experience while on the range or in the field, a set of ear-pro that uses compression technology is highly recommended.

Compression Technology

Compression technology is typically found on higher-end electronic ear muffs and ear plugs. Most seasoned shooters would agree that the extra expense is worth it.

Compression sound attenuation technology works like this: When the microphones detect a loud sound, the electrical circuits inside the ear muffs or ear plugs "compress" the sound wave, lowering it to a safe noise level. All the while, safe, ambient sounds continue to pass through the microphones to the speakers like normal.

The main benefit of ear protection with compression technology is that the stream of incoming audio remains uninterrupted. There's no choppy audio to cause annoyance or limit your ability to hear what others are saying.

Another benefit of ear muffs and ear plugs that use compression sound attenuation is that low-level ambient sounds can be amplified or "boosted." This offers users a huge advantage in hunting or tactical situations.

For example, hear the far off footsteps of a deer long before you see it; hear bad guys approaching or getting away in dark, hazy settings. It's like having bionic ears.

NRR Ratings Explained


Regarding actual sound blocking performance, the NRR rating is the most important term you need to understand when shopping for electronic hearing protection.

So what is NRR?

NRR stands for Noise Reduction Rating. It is a measurement given in decibels (dB) that represents the level of sound protection offered by a set of ear muffs or ear plugs. In simplest terms, the higher the NRR number, the more noise protection provided.

To receive an official NRR number, hearing protection products must be tested and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) following protocol created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

When shopping for electronic hearing protection, you should choose a device with an NRR rating high enough for your particular use. Keep in mind that while NRRs are determined through strict testing and protocol, the number is meant to represent potential sound reduction. Many factors play a role in the actual level of sound reduction produced from a set of ear muffs or ear plugs. This includes overall external sound levels and most importantly, proper fit.

When shopping for electronic hearing protection, you should choose a device with an NRR rating high enough for your particular use. Keep in mind that while NRRs are determined through strict testing and protocol, the number is meant to represent potential sound reduction. Many factors play a role in the actual level of sound reduction produced from a set of ear muffs or ear plugs. This includes overall external sound levels and most importantly, proper fit.

So how high of an NRR rating do you need?

It all depends on the type of gun you shoot and where you shoot it. Here's a breakdown of recommended NRR's for guns and different shooting situations:

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  • For low caliber handguns and rifles (.22s), ear protection with at least NRR 20 is recommended.
  • For most standard caliber long guns and handguns shot outdoors, ear protection with at least NRR 25 is recommended.
  • For magnum firearms and other high-powered weapons shot outdoors, ear protection with an NRR of 28 to 33 is recommended.
  • For indoor shooting, ear protection with the highest NRR available, between NRR 30 and NRR 33 is recommended. In most indoor shooting situations, it's recommended that you "double up" your ear protection by wearing earplugs under a set of electronic ear muffs.

It's a good idea to purchase ear protection with the highest NRR ratings you can afford. That said, it's important to remember that the purpose of ear protection for shooting isn't to completely block all sounds. It's to reduce the noise levels to within a safe range, so permanent hearing damage doesn't occur.


Additional Thoughts About NRR Ratings and Sound Reduction for the Curious and Tech-Minded

If you're really curious about NRR ratings and what they mean, this section is for you. If you just want the basics to help you pick out the right pair of ear protection, use the information presented above and feel free to skip this section.

First, consider the fact that average firearms produce an impulse sound of 140dB. This is roughly the same sound level as produced by a jet engine, just for a much shorter period of time. For further comparison, jackhammers run at about 130dB, your vacuum cleaner produces around 70dB of sound, and light rainfall comes in at around 50dB.

For our purposes, 85dB is the highest level of safe sound for long-term exposure. 85dB is also the number commonly cited in the literature on electronic hearing protection as being safe.

Technically speaking, the NRR rating of a hearing protection device tells you the number of decibels by which a loud sound is reduced when wearing the ear protection. So, it would make sense that ear muffs rated at NRR 30 would reduce a gun blast at 140dB to 110dB. Right?

Unfortunately, it's not that straightforward.

The trouble is that 110dB is still far beyond the safe sound level mark of 85dB. What's even more troublesome is that NRR ratings are issued based on tests performed in a laboratory under strict conditions. Therefore, it does not necessarily represent the real sound protection level a user will experience when used in real-life applications. What's up with that?

As mentioned above, NRR ratings are intended to represent the potential noise reduction offered by an ear protection device. Basically, in a best case scenario, a set of ear muffs with an NRR of 30 will lower loud sounds by 30 decibels. But, in practical use, this number isn't exactly accurate and shouldn't be relied on.

Don't worry, even though this all may seem confusing, the best electronic hearing protection devices will, in fact, protect your ears from gun blasts. That said, before spending your hard-earned dollars on a new set of ear-pro, it's always a good idea to actually know what you're getting.

To figure out the actual level of hearing protection of a device based on its issued NRR rating, you need to do what experts call "de-rating." Here's the formula:

(NRR - 7) / 2 = Actual level of noise reduction in decibels

So, if a set of ear muffs has an NRR rating of 30, here is what the math looks like:

NRR 30dB - 7 = 23

23 / 2 = 11.5dB of actual noise reduction

Now, as mentioned above, it would seem that ear muffs at NRR 30 would reduce the level of a gun blast at 140dB to 110dB, which is above safe levels. Considering our new discovery that ear muffs at NRR 30 actually only reduce sound levels by 11.5dB, that would mean that a gun blast at 140dB would only be brought down to 128.5dB. Even worse! What gives?

Three concepts that are often misunderstood regarding hearing protection and NRR ratings:

1. The decibel system isn't linear.

Decibels increase in a logarithmic fashion in powers of ten. That means that a sound measuring 81dB is ten times more intense than a sound measuring 80dB. In practical terms, a 10X increase in sound intensity correlates to an audible doubling in noise level. So, an 11.5dB reduction in a 140dB sound essentially means that you're reducing noise by half, 11.5 times — a drastic reduction in volume.

2. The bulk impact of a gun's sound blast travels forward, away from the muzzle.

It's true that most firearms produce a 140dB sound impulse, but the majority of that sound is projected in front of the muzzle — the sound travels forward away from the shooter. So, you aren't relying on your ear protection to reduce the full 140dB. From behind the muzzle, the intensity and volume of the sound are much less.

3. Hearing damage is accrued as a result of exposure to loud sounds over a period of time.

Hearing loss is the result of exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time. That length of time, however, shortens as the decibel level of the sound increases. Your ears can be exposed to normal sound levels of 55 to 60dB all day every day without experiencing any noticeable loss of hearing. But, you will start to experience a hearing loss if you are exposed to 90dB sounds for 8 hours per day, 91dB sounds for 6 hours per day, 100dB sounds for 2 hours per day, and so on.

So, sounds below 85dB are widely held as being in the "safe zone" but that doesn't mean briefly exposing yourself to a louder sound will give you instant hearing damage. This brings us back to the point that the purpose of hearing protection devices isn't to block all sounds but to lower dangerous sounds to safe levels.

At first examination, it would seem that ear protection with even the highest NRR ratings doesn't offer enough protection to reduce gun blasts to safe levels. However, when you consider that the bulk intensity of a gun blast is forward of the muzzle and that hearing damage is the result of sound exposure over time, it all starts to make sense.


How to Choose the Best Electronic Hearing Protection for You

As you'll see in our best electronic hearing protection reviews, there are many options to choose from across a wide range of price points. But since every shooter is different, certain styles and models of ear protection will work perfect for one person and be impractical for another.

To assist you in selecting the best electronic ear protection, here are some factors to consider before making your purchase.

Factor #1

Ear Muffs vs. Ear Plugs

One of the first decisions you'll need to make when choosing ear protection is whether you want ear muffs or ear plugs. Since both styles generally offer similar levels of hearing protection, the choice comes down to practicality, application, and price.

Electronic Ear Muffs

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Ear muffs are by far the most popular style of ear protection, and you'll find a huge selection of brands and models on the market. In function, they clamp onto your head covering your ears with foam-lined ear cups that block external sounds.

One of the many benefits of electronic ear muffs is that they are, for the most part, hassle-free. Just place them over your ears, turn them on, and your ears are protected.

While they are inherently heavier than ear plugs, this comes with the added benefit of longer battery life, more robust internal electronics, and more overall durability. The relatively low price of most electronic ear muffs also makes them an attractive option for shooters

One of the downsides to electronic ear muffs is their size and bulk. While handgun shooters use electronic ear muffs without any problems, rifle and shotgun shooters often have trouble achieving proper cheek weld with the stock of a long gun while wearing ear muffs.

In an attempt to solve this problem, many of the best manufacturers make low-profile electronic ear muffs that are more compatible with long guns, though still get in the way more than a pair of electronic ear plugs.

Electronic Ear Plugs

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While often more expensive than electronic ear muffs, electronic ear plugs offer gun enthusiasts and hunters many advantages concerning practicality on the range and the field.

Electronic ear plugs are either form fitting or have foam or rubber tips that slide into the ear, sealing off the ear canal. The best electronic ear plugs are so small and lightweight that you might forget you're wearing them. They can easily be worn under hats or jacket hoods and won't interfere at all with your cheek weld on the stock of a shotgun or rifle.

Short battery life, however, is one of the main limiting factors of electronic ear plugs. Most models use size ten hearing aid batteries which have an average lifespan of 10 hours. These specialized batteries can't be turned off, and once installed, begin to drain immediately. That said, the batteries used in electronic ear plugs are relatively inexpensive and are small enough to easily carry extras while at the range or on a hunting trip.

Factor #2

Attack Time

In both clipping and compression-based electronic ear muffs and ear plugs, the attack time is the measure of the time it takes for the sound protection to activate when a loud sound impulse is detected. Some sources refer to attack time as "time till protection."

All electronic hearing protection devices activate nearly instantaneously. That said, lower-end models typically have a slightly slower attack time of 2 milliseconds, compared to the 1.5 millisecond attack time of higher-end models.

If you have highly sensitive ears, you may notice the slight lag or increase in activation time, but for the most part, the difference is negligible.

Factor #4

Battery Type and Battery Life

When it comes to electronic hearing protection, long battery life is what often sets the great models apart from the good.

Battery life is almost entirely dependent on the type of batteries used. Most of the ear muffs we've recommended use standard double or AAA batteries, and offer anywhere from 100 to 350 hours of battery life.

One stand out model happens to provide 1000 hours of battery life, but it's the exception. Other models use specific varieties of batteries typically used in cameras — size N, and lithium 123a.

Due to their small size and lightweight design, electronic ear plugs are very limited in the battery department. Most models use size 10 hearing aid batteries which have a lifespan of approximately 10 hours.

A major downside to these small batteries is that they can't be turned off. Once their strip has been removed, they start to drain. But, electronic ear plugs have many other redeeming qualities that make frequent battery changes well worth the hassle.

Occasionally, you'll find electronic ear plugs that use rechargeable batteries. These models will certainly save you money on batteries in the long run, but the tradeoff is that you have to remember always to keep them charged.

For this reason, many shooters and hunters prefer designs that use standard AAA batteries as they're readily available and easy to change out in the field.

Factor #6

Ease of Use

Ideally, you want your ear protection to feel like an extension of your own body. It should be comfortable to the point that you hardly notice it's there. All the controls should be very easy to use — you don't want to have to fumble around to find the volume knob while wearing gloves.

Things like volume knobs with ridges or other grippy surfaces make volume adjustments much easier. If the knobs have steps or clicks, that's even better as it's easier to know exactly how far the knob is being turned.

Also, look for models with battery compartments that are easy to access for quick battery changes on the go. Since it's very likely that you'll run out of batteries either when hunting or at the shooting range, it's a huge benefit if you can change the batteries without taking the ear muffs off your head. That way, you won't have to remove the ear muffs and expose your ears to potential gun blasts.

Factor #3

Durability

Since hearing protection is so important, you want a pair of ear muffs or ear plugs that you can count on — no matter how bashed up they get.

With electronic hearing protection, you do have to be more careful than you would with passive protection. However, many of the best electronic ear muffs and plugs are built to withstand the rigors of the being tossed into a range bag, bumped against the wall of a duck blind, or caught in the occasional bout of rain.

Moreover, with electronic ear muffs, overall durability comes down to the quality of the materials used and the general design of the unit. Look for models with robust plastic housings and stainless steel headband wires. In terms of design, the best ear muffs have recessed microphones that don't stick out where they'd be prone to damage.

Electronic ear plugs, on the other hand, aren't as exposed to potential breakage as ear muffs. They stay tucked away in your ear, and unless they fall out, won't make contact with any other surfaces besides your skin.

The only thing you really need to worry about with electronic ear plugs is exposure to water and sweat. Luckily, the best electronic ear plugs are made to be water and sweat resistant.

Factor #5

Fit and Comfort

In the section on NRR, we briefly mentioned that achieving the full potential of the NRR rating is partially dependent on the hearing protection fitting properly. That's right - a proper fit isn't just about comfort.

With electronic ear muffs, the ear cups must fit tight against the head, forming a secure seal to block sound effectively.

But at the same time, you don't want them to be too tight, or you'll end up with a headache after a few hours of use.

There are several types of materials used to make ear cups, but in terms of comfort and best overall sound protection, most would agree that gel ear cups are the winner.

With electronic ear plugs, proper fit is even more crucial. For this reason, the best electronic ear plugs come with a variety of foam tip sizes that can be swapped out to achieve the best fitting ear seal.

Factor #7

Price

Price plays a significant factor in your electronic ear protection decision. It's best to think of your purchase as in investment in the longevity of your hearing and ear health. In that regard, it makes sense to spend as much money as you can on ear protection.

But also take into account that higher-end ear muffs and ear plugs last longer and are generally more enjoyable to use.

Don't worry if you're working with a small budget. As you see in our recommendations for the best electronic hearing protection, there are several excellent models to choose from that fall under $100.

These models offer adequate hearing protection but often don't have as high of sound quality or amplification.

However, these may be limited to clipping attenuation technology. Still, they get the job done and are better than fully passive ear protection.

Factor #8

What Do You Shoot?

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Ultimately, the electronic ear protection you choose should be determined by the types of firearms you enjoy shooting. Each style and model of ear protection offers something unique. Therefore, gun enthusiasts who shoot many different types of guns often end up purchasing two or more sets of ear protection.

Take into consideration the suggested NRR ratings for the various types of firearms we mentioned above. Start your ear protection search by only looking at models with a high enough NRR rating to meet your needs. Then, look at specific features that you find appealing.

If you primarily shoot handguns, a quality set of high NRR electronic ear muffs is what you want. Furthermore, if you do all your shooting indoors, plan on using a pair of passive earplugs under the ear muffs for extra protection. The nice thing about a quality set of compression-based electronic ear muffs is that you can amplify the ambient sounds loud enough so you can still hear them while wearing ear plugs underneath.

If you only shoot long guns — rifles and shotguns — look for a pair of either low-profile electronic ear muffs or a pair of electronic ear plugs. Also, if you like to shoot large caliber magnum rifles, consider doubling up your protection with a set of passive ear plugs under your ear muffs.

If you're a hunter, look for a pair of low-profile ear muffs with a moderately high NRR rating, but make sure they have adequate low-level sound amplification as well. Models that use compression technology often have much better amplification and sound quality. These will help you hear game approaching as well as the whispers of your hunting partner in a blind.

Final Thoughts on the Best Electronic Hearing Protection Reviews

As you can see, it's easy to go down the rabbit hole when it comes to the best electronic hearing protection. The bottom line is that your ears are one of your greatest assets and you must take certain precautions to protect your hearing. This is particularly the case for anyone who likes to shoot guns for leisure, competition, or hunting. Thankfully, with so many excellent hearing protection devices and the best electronic ear muffs on the market, there's a right one for every different shooter no matter what gun you shoot or where you shoot it.

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Sources and Official Brand Websites


Best Electronic Hearing Protection Reviews: Ear Plugs and Muffs 2017 was last modified: March 28th, 2017 by Consumer Files