Review: Electronic Hearing Protection for Any Budget

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    Certified Regular Guy
    Rating - 100%
    20   0   0
    Jan 16, 2008

    There has been lots of chatter on INGO regarding electronic hearing protection and the many benefits these high-tech muffs offer. Having access to 4 different models from 4 different manufacturers in 4 different price ranges, I thought INGOers would enjoy a comparison of some popular units.

    Why electronic?

    Electronic earpro has been around for many years in one form or another. I acquired my first pair back in 2008 in preparation for an upcoming pistol class. It was one of those "you don't know what you don't know" moments. If you've never tried electronic muffs you don't know what you're missing. Yes, they are more expensive than those disposable squishy earplugs, but they offer advantages in comfort, protection, and safety.


    The right pair of electronic muffs will sit comfortably on your head and around your ears. Forget your inner ear aching like it does with disposable earplugs.


    Not only do electronic muffs block out harmful levels of noise, but they block it starting with the bones around your ear. Earplugs can't do that.


    Did that RO just yell "Cease Fire!"? Is someone moving up behind me? What did you say? Electronic muffs allow vital information to still be exchanged while you are shooting. Gone are the days of lifting up one side to listen to your shooting buddy, just as the guy in the lane next to you starts blazing away. Hear everything around you as you would normally.

    How do they work?

    All electronic earpro starts out as passive. By passive I mean that they block out noise just by being worn, without even being turned on. At this point they are just like regular ol' muffs.

    The magic happens when they become active. Once turned ON, electronic muffs pick up the sounds around you and transmit them to speakers inside, allowing the wearer to hear their surroundings just as they would without wearing the muffs. Until, that is, it senses a sound that rises above a dB level that could damage your ears (like a gunshot). The electronics inside then race to block the damaging noise. How that blocking is accomplished is one way that more expensive units are differentiated from the less expensive units.

    Clipping vs. Compression

    Less expensive electronic earpro uses a method called "peak clipping". With this method, the electronics operate as simple binary-- ON/OFF. When they sense a gunshot, they respond by cutting off the electronics completely, thereby protecting the wearers ears. Once the sound has passed the electronics will then come back on. This on/off cycle is referred to as "clipping" and it can become quite annoying while shooting with others or on a public range. It could also be problematic when working in a perpetually loud environment. For the lone shooter it would be less of an issue.

    Compression technology is much more advanced and involved, and therefore carries a higher pricetag. With compression, all sounds above a determined dB level are compressed down to a volume that is hearing safe. The wearer still hears the sound, but they hear it safely. This is great when trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment such as a shooting range. You still hear the gunshots and you hear the conversation without interruption-- all at a level that is safe and comfortable.

    Here is a great video explanation and demonstration of the two technologies: Hunting Dogs - Dog Training Collars, Tracking Collars, Tri-tronics, SportDOG, Dogtra - Gun Dogs Online

    From there, the various models separate themselves through noise reduction rating (NRR), battery life, switchology, aesthetics, ruggedness, value, extra features, and fit. For this review, I'll be comparing the following makes and models in those categories.

    • Howard Leight Impact Sport
    • Radians Pro-Amp
    • Peltor Tactical Sport
    • TCI DEHP Pro-X (MSA-Sordin Supreme Pro-X)




    Active technology: Peak clipping
    NRR: 22 dB

    I found the clipping on this unit to be quite annoying, making normal conversation almost impossible under sustained fire. When the sound amplification does come back, it does so slowly and gradually which is very noticeable as it cycles in and out.

    Battery type: 2 x AAA
    Battery life: 350 hours with 4-hour auto shutoff
    Battery port: External / Tool-less


    Switchology: Single rolling switch - clicks ON, then roll for volume adjustment.


    With its OD green color, the Impact Sports stand out among the pack. Their overall profile is very slim. They have the largest earcups of the bunch.


    I haven't had the time to fully evaluate this aspect of the Impact Sports, but I believe they would last the casual shooter a few years. I worry about moisture buildup in the battery compartment.


    The Impact Sports are the least expensive of the group, with an average street price of just $50. Due to their lack of compression technology, I would only recommend them if you couldn't afford the Radians Pro-Amps at an extra $20.

    Extra features: AUX input port, folds for compact storage


    For me, the Impact Sports were the worst-fitting of the group. Adjusted down to its smallest setting the headband was too large, and would stick off the top of my head, making them unstable. If I moved the earcups further down to accommodate, they would break their seal below and under my ears, along my jawline. I would only recommend these to those with larger heads.


    One issue that comes up every time someone is looking for earmuffs is that of how it interfaces with a rifle stock. Due to this, I tried each unit with pistol, carbine, shotgun (skeet), and rifle (prone). While this may be an issue with bulkier passive units, you will see that these electronic muffs are all very low-profile and cause no impediment to cheekweld.










    Active technology: Compression
    NRR: 23 dB

    This is the bottom end of compression technology. It might not be as crisp as some of the other more expensive units, but its FAR superior to the peak clipping of the Impact Sports.

    Battery type: 6 x AAA
    Battery life: 250 hours
    Battery port: External (4 on each independent earcup) / Requires small flat-head screwdriver


    Switchology: Rolling switch on each earcup - clicks ON, then roll for independent volume adjustment.


    Muted gray/green color is different than black. Earcups are small and low-profile.


    I've run Pro-Amps for the last 4 years and they've held up OK. The thin material covering the headband was the first thing to start tearing at the ends. I wore them during a 2-day shooting event that was a constant downpour and never had an issue with rain in the battery compartment or in the electronics.


    In the sub-$100 range, I think these offer the best combination of value, ruggedness, and technology. At an average street price of $70, pick these over the Impact Sports if you can.

    Extra features: CoolMax headband, folds for compact storage


    The Pro-Amps fit my noggin just fine, and I can adjust the headband as needed. They do provide a somewhat tight fit to the head, making wear over 4 hours a bit uncomfortable. I wear Oakley sunglasses on the range, and after 4 hours I find the stems begin to dig into the sides of my head. This is relieved by removing the Pro-Amps for a few minutes.










    Active technology: Compression
    NRR: 20 dB

    With the Tactical Sports we see a jump in compression clarity. Sounds are more natural sounding, and casual conversations on the range are effortless.

    Battery type: 2 x AAA
    Battery life: 500 hours with a 2 hour auto shutoff
    Battery port: External / Tool-less


    Switchology: push buttons -- push and hold power button for ON or OFF, push "+" or "-" for volume adjustment.


    The Tactical Sports come with two sets of cup covers-- basic black and safety orange. The rubberized headband is sleek and won't soak up rain.


    With its rubberized headband, metal hardware, and thick wire, the Tactical Sports take it up a notch in the ruggedness department. They have a substantial feel while still maintaining their light weight. I do worry, however, about the exposed wiring in the battery compartment just underneath the plastic cover, and its susceptibility to moisture.


    At the $120 mark, I give the Tactical Sports my vote for the overall value winner in this group. They are twice the price of the Impact Sports, half the price of the TCI DEHPs, and offer 80% of the performance of the top contender. With all things considered, these would be my pick for recommending to folks looking for the best "bang" for their buck.

    Extra features: second orange earcup covers, folds for compact storage, external audio jack (proprietary :noway:)


    The Tactical Sports are quite comfy, even after extended periods. They are lightweight, and the headband does a good job of providing support, such that the earcups themselves aren't as tight against my eyepro.










    Active technology: Compression
    NRR: 21 dB

    These are MSA-Sordin Supreme Pro-Xs that have been enhanced and re-branded by Tactical Command Industries. These are the cream of the crop in terms of compression technology. Sound reproduction is amazing, and even minute details (including direction) can be heard while wearing them. They are probably overkill for your average shooter, but would be vital for someone working in tactical encounters that require vital information be communicated clearly. Reproduction of the compressed sounds is also crystal clear-- I can hear even minor nuances of gunshots, but at a level that is hearing safe. Conversation during machinegun fire is no problem at all.

    Battery type: 2 x AAA
    Battery life: 600 hours with 4 hour auto shutoff
    Battery port: External / Tool-less


    Switchology: push buttons -- push and hold power button for ON or OFF, push "+" or "-" for volume adjustment.


    I got mine in basic black, but they're also available in OD green with a woodland camo headband. There is some online controversy regarding the green ones and if they are authorized by MSA-Sordin. The earcups are quite low-profile.


    Metal-to-metal hardware, high impact plastic, a thick concealed wire, and canvas headband-- these muffs are built like a tank. My only area of concern is with the upgraded gel earseals. They are SUPER comfy, but the outer membrane seems relatively thin and the opportunity to become cut seems present. I've not yet had any issues, but I keep an eye on the earseals.


    I don't really consider these a "value" for the average shooter. For a LEO or soldier maybe, but $250 earpro is a lot for the average shooter to swallow. I believe they are worth the price, but only to someone who shoots a lot, or who may work in them all day.

    Extra features: gel earseals, aux audio jack, upgraded battery cap (which blocks the muffs from folding :noway:)



    The DEHPs are the most comfortable muffs of the group. A big reason for this is the gel earseals. Not only do they seal around my hat and eyepro really well, they do it without too much pressure. I've worn these for 8 and 9 hours at a time without having to readjust them.









    Winners and Losers

    If you simply cannot afford more than $50 for quality earpro, try the Howard Leight Impact Sports. Otherwise, avoid them.

    Instead, try the Radians Pro-Amps at $70.

    If you're a regular shooter and want something that will last, and that is a good value for your hard-earned dollar, go with the Peltor Tactical Sports. The price does go up to $120, but you get SO much more for that extra investment.

    If you work daily in earpro, or just want the most bullet-proof muffs with the latest compression technology, give the MSA-Sordin Supreme Pro-Xs (or TCI DEHP Pro-Xs) a try. Otherwise save your money.

    I hope folks get something from this review. Feel free to ask questions, as there are aspects of each model that I didn't cover in detail.


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