Lloyd Pattison takes you on a journey through the world of hearing protection, from humble foam plugs to the latest technology.
Making a loud noise is fun, the louder the better – just ask any kid (and indeed most adults). Unfortunately, like most fun things, a degree of moderation is required when it comes to big bangs. Really loud noises like gunfire are harmful to the user. Happily, a wide range of products to suit every pocket are available to protect your hearing, and in some cases even enhance it…
Acu-Life Shooters Aid – £10.99
Cheap and cheerful, these ubiquitous Shooters Aid passive plugs offer the same level of protection as most of the other products in the line up, and are washable, reusable, and have a passive valve that closes when there is a pulse of sound louder than 85db. The downside for me personally is that I find them quite uncomfortable, as their little flanges are quite sharply angled and irritate my ear canal.
EAR foam plugs – free from most grounds
There are plenty of shooters that never progress past these simple, so-cheap-they-give-them-away foam plugs, and I’ll warrant there are few people reading who haven’t used some in the past. These simple and effective (when used correctly) plugs do what they say on the tin, and are available in bulk from industrial PPE suppliers like RS. The downside to these is they can be a little fiddly. They are also quite isolating as they block all sound, rather than just the harmful pulsed sounds that can damage your hearing.
SportEAR XP3 – £16.99
The SportEAR plugs are another passive valve plug; however the earpiece design is more comfortable for longer term use. The handed plastic guides fit inside the lobe of the ear, keeping the plugs in position and reducing the likelihood that they will loosen or fall out. As with any design advertised as ‘one size fits all’, some people may find these uncomfortable – in this case those with smaller ears. However, I know many shooters who use these and love them.
Peltor SportTac – £120
I still own the Peltor SportTac that was my first electronic muff. It offers excellent hearing protection, comfort and really nice sound quality from the amplification system, making it a great choice. The foldable design is relatively compact and the batteries seem to last forever – I think I have changed mine once in five years. However I wear them less frequently nowadays as I found I was constantly knocking the right cup with my gun stock. If you don’t find that an issue then I think these are a great muff for the price.
As well as being offered in a couple of colours, you can contact a chap by the name of Ken Newman who runs a little business called Custom Stockz that you can find at www.facebook.com/CustomStockz.
Ken does a roaring trade in custom painted covers and will do almost anything you want.
Sordin Supreme Basic – £99
Sordin make headsets that are widely used in the British Army, so they know a thing or two about hearing protection. The Supreme Basic is their entry-level muff and offers unamplified 1:1 sound reproduction (supposedly at the same level as not wearing muffs) whilst blocking out harmful sound pulses. The Supreme Basic also features a folding design to minimise bulk when stored. I see these popular muffs all over the country, so they’re obviously doing something right.
CENS ProFlex digital 1e – £299
Active custom-moulded plugs are not cheap; they are for shooters with deep pockets who want the best. The CENS range of digital defenders starts with the ProFlex digital 1e, which comes with a volume stepper switch and a general program only for active amplification. What it doesn’t have is an off-switch. This leaves the shooter to remove the batteries every time they are finished using them, which can be a bit of a fiddle. Nonetheless, as the cheapest option on the market these are a good entry point to active plugs. There is an upgrade path should you wish, as the modules are all interchangeable in the moulded plugs.
Peltor Bull’s Eye – £24.99
There are many passive muffs available on the market and the Peltor Bull’s Eye is a good choice if you’re after value for money. Slim and lightweight, they have a folding design to keep them from taking up too much room in your bag. The foam-filled over-ear muffs are comfy enough and keep your ears warm in winter. All muffs, however, suffer from more or less the same downsides: they can be sweaty on hot days; the arm of your shooting glasses can break the seal around your ear, mitigating the protection they afford; and some shooters find that muffs foul the stocks of their guns. This means they are constantly banging their stock on their gun-side muff, which can be distracting and reduce the effectiveness of the muff.
Passive Custom Moulded Ear Plugs – from £90 to £120
There are numerous companies that offer passive moulded plugs and indeed if you attend any of the shooting shows or game fairs around the UK there will usually be a stand doing ear impressions – Mercury Hearing is one example. Most of the manufacturers will also allow you to get your impressions done at a local audiologist and get your plugs in the post once complete.
In effect most of these plugs work in exactly the same way as the inexpensive passive valve plugs, but the comfort and fit offered by a custom-made set is unparalleled. The downside is that if you lose one they are a little more expensive to replace, so some shooters opt to have them made with a lanyard that can be worn around the neck.
ProFlex DX5 – £699
The new ProFlex DX5s are CENS’ top of the range module. I was sent a set of DX5s to test by the good folks from Plugzz and have been shooting with them for a couple of weeks. I can report that the sound quality is superb by comparison to the Gen1 ProFlex digitals I have had previously.
The DX5 features battery tray covers with metallic finishes, unlike the flat colours in the rest of the range, and the old, multifunction control wheel has been replaced by an on/off button and a toggle switch for volume. The big selling point of the DX5 is the range of modes it offers: Game, Clay, Range, Hunter, and finally wireless comms mode (allowing the user to communicate via an induction loop device).
Each of these offers a different processing mode, and in practice the level of ambient noise and reverb you perceive changes a lot from mode to mode. I have found that the Game mode suits me the best as it sounds really natural and sound reproduction isn’t over-accentuated. On/off is instant, and the supplied PureCell Batteries last a long while. The modules are also covered by a two-year warranty and include two free services.
Vario Revolution – from £449
Vario’s interchangeable modular system allows you to choose between a range of options fitted into custom moulded plugs, including a large range of passive filters and Vario’s new Bluetooth 5 modules. These protect you from gunshot noise while allowing you to hear speech and other sounds – such as a trap releasing a clay. The Vario Revolution is the successor to the original Vario Electronics, and is now more versatile than ever.
You can choose between 11 different programs, from ‘Whisper’ which counters ambient noise to allow you to focus fully, to ‘Gamekeeper’, which, the company says, provides superhuman hearing. The company’s proprietary programming reacts to sound with unprecedented speed. Other features include wind noise reduction, intelligent battery management, a two-year warranty and a 30-day, no-quibble money back guarantee. Vario’s universal buds allow you to try before you buy at selected retailers and events.
Best clay cartridges from budget to blow-out – more on essential kit here