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Posted:  11/23/2012 11:37 AM #35270
CTD Blogger

Joined: 7/14/2009
Posts: 10828
Last Post: 8/20/2014
Subject: Keep it Quiet!
From Gun Noob:  My hearing is important to me. I SAID MY HEAR...actually, I’m not going to do that joke. It’s been used too many times throughout history and you, dear reader, deserve better than that. Suffice to say, the original statement still stands. I do a lot of things that require the ability to hear. Many people have shown that, with hard work and perseverance, you can do those things without hearing and those people should be put on a pedestal because their accomplishments are nothing less than inspiring. Personally, I’d rather avoid putting myself into a bad situation that requires said hard work and perseverance in the first place. 

That’s why I’m VERY obsessed with hearing protection (and eye protection but that’s another article). It doesn’t take much to keep your hearing intact. Aside from severe trauma to the ears that can cause instant loss, most ear damage doesn’t really become noticeable right away. That’s really the worst part. You could do something bad to your ears when you’re young and the extent doesn’t become obvious to you until years later. Only then do you regret putting your head next to the speaker at that heavy metal concert. Not to mention that constant dull ringing sound that results from damage is annoying as hell (and shows up faster than the hearing loss). 

The best part? Hearing protection doesn’t cost much. It’s not like rifle optics where there is a huge difference between a $20 scope and a $2000 one. For the most part, a $0.50 set of foam ear plugs is adequate in about 98% of situations. So should you just use those plugs and call it a day? Let’s look at the options, shall we? 

Wait! I almost forgot! There’s just one concept we need to take a look at first. When you look at the packaging for various items, you’ll notice an “NRR” number. This is the Noise Reduction Rating. The term was coined by the EPA and it specifies how much of the sound, in decibels, is reduced. Keep in mind, hearing loss starts at around 85 dB, but that requires prolonged exposure (around 8 hours). At 100 dB, damage kicks in after 15 minutes of exposure. For instant damage, we’re looking at the 140+ dB range. So, say you had a 9mm pistol that, on average, produces about 160 dB when fired. If your earplugs have a NRR of 32 dB, that means that the sound that finally reaches those delicate ear drums is going to be about 128 db (160-32) which is certainly below that instant damage area (although I wouldn’t want prolonged exposure to that level for any long period of time). What if you combined some ear plugs with earmuffs? Well, according to the EPA, that only results in a 5-10 dB increase in NRR rating. Not much but if you’re really concerned, every little bit helps. 

For a good list of cartridge calibers and the sound they produce, check out

You know what I’m talking about here, right? Those little foam cylinders that you can get at just about any drug store (or the entrance to just about any construction site). You roll them between your fingers, put them in your ear then let them expand. I usually keep a couple packs of these in the center console of my car just in case I stumble upon an outdoor gun range that I want to check out or if I have to do a story on shooting and don’t have time to run home and grab my range bag.


  • They’re inexpensive 
  • They usually come in bulk packs 
  • Great sound reduction 
  • Can be worn under earmuffs 


  • Not very reusable (even though they claim to be) 
  • Doesn’t allow good airflow

Go into any gun range and chances are the loaner protection they have is a cheap pair of earmuffs. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. They’re easy to put on and take off. They’re re-usable. They’re easy to clean. They’re also a bit on the bulky side and cost a bit more than the foam plugs. Comfort is key and having a set that fits well, blocks a good amount of noise and doesn’t squeeze your head so hard that your eyes pop out is important. One thing to keep in mind: you’re going to be wearing these over your eye protection. There is a small chance that some extra noise can get in around the area where the earmuff meats the temples or temple hooks of your glasses. If that’s the case, I’d recommend wearing the foam plugs in combination (or look into a new pair of shooting glasses that rest closer to the head). 


  • Easy to take on and off 
  • More comfortable to wear for longer periods 
  • Easy to clean 


  • Bulky 
  • Costs more than foam plugs 
  • Chance of noise leak

Pretty much everything else out there is some variation of the above two. Plastic or rubber ear plugs fix that “reusable” thing that the foam plugs lack however I personally find them rather uncomfortable and...icky. These things are going deep into your ear and they can sometimes dig up...stuff. I’ll leave it at that. 


Custom fit ear plugs have the advantages of the foam ones. They’re also a bit more comfortable and they give a better seal against noise. They’re reusable and easily washed. They’re also, with some exceptions, not cheap. Sometimes you’ll see people making them at gun shows for a great price. If you find someone doing that, go for it. 

Electronic ear plugs are another option and a neat one at that. I’m personally looking into getting a set. These work a lot like hearing aids. They seal off your ear from noise. There’s a microphone on the outside that will transmit to a tiny speaker on the inside portion. It normally lets sound through but when it detects sound that’s greater than a certain dB level, it won’t let that sound through. Think of it like a bouncer for a club that’s inside your ear drum. Only those snazzy, hip and safe sounds get through while those scumbag loud noises are turned away. They allow you to have a conversation with someone without having to remove them or yell.    

The main problem is that the electronic ear plugs are expensive. We’re not talking “time to put a second mortgage on the house” expensive but you’re probably not going to want a pair of these if you only go to the range a couple times a year. Competitors and avid hunters would do great with a set, however. Hunters should especially be interested in them because you can make them amplify sounds. Now you can hear that rustling of leaves that you might not have heard normally. You also don’t have to fumble to put in your plugs before the shot. 

Regardless of what kind of hearing protection you ultimately wind up using, the most important thing is to use it. The most expensive electronic hearing protection in the world won't make a lick of difference if they're sitting on your kitchen counter while you're at the range.

You only have 2 ears. Keep them safe.

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