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hearing protection

 

I mentioned before that I have found a renewed passion for the shooting sports. Admittedly, there was a fairly long hiatus due to several factors; most of which was the "Great Obama Gun Run and Ammo Shortage" of 2008-2010. Ammo was scarce and expensive. I didn't want to touch what I had and I didn't want to spend twice as much from before for what I needed. So, the firearms went into the safe with multiple packs of desiccant to keep them moisture and rust free.

Now that ammo prices are becoming manageable again and that some fool foolishly suggested that I check out the local IDPA club, the pistols are oiled, holsters are re-examined and gear is being refreshed. Everything I have is getting the once over and a lot of it is found wanting. It may be good for daily carry and casual use but for competition, not so much.

Leightning L3 from Howard LeightHearing protection is one area where I found that the gear I had wasn't all that appropriate. I have high quality stuff but it's not quite the correct tool for what I now need. I make a good portion of my living in the Audio business so protecting my hearing is paramount and I've been using passive ear muffs since day one of my shooting hobby. I've tried them all and I've found that the best passive muffs on the market are the Leightning L3 from Howard Leight.

The L3 has a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 30 which is the highest passive muff rating that I've found. In addition, the attenuation is spread evenly over the entire audio range. The less expensive muffs tend to concentrate protection in a smaller spectral audio range which could cause damage to ones hearing in the not so protected frequency areas without the shooter even realizing it.

With the L3's by themselves, I can shoot inside with Mr. Hand Cannon blasting away next to me and not have a problem. The concussion from one of those big S&W 50's might suck the wind out of my lungs but my ears are fine. Using these muffs in conjunction with high quality ear plugs such as the Howard Leight Max, and near total deafness can be simulated. This is good because when I train new shooters, I sometimes like to be beside them while they shoot. This gives me a good view of the grip & trigger finger. Unfortunately, this is also where most of the sound is directed. Now before any of you "purist" types correct me, I know that "most" of the sound is directed in front of a firearm but we won't be standing there, now will we?

But I'm actually not here to talk about the L3 because all that good attenuation means I can't hear my name called when it's my turn to shoot the course of fire. It's considered bad form if the scorekeeper has to keep shouting out one's name. It holds up the match and garners grumbling and sideways glances which is not a good thing when everyone is armed.

So, I needed to finally dive into the world of electronic muffs. Again, I went to my www.dogpile.com site, did a search and a whole slew of choices popped up. I found everything from the Peltor MT15H69FB-47 SV SwatTac II Tactical Headset for $555.00 down to the Neiko Pro-Quality Muff Style Electronic Ear Protector for $11.00. What to do, what to do????? I know that when it's me, if I'm gonna spend $555.00 for something shooting related, it better have a barrel on one end.

So I did what I usually do in this situation and stuck with a manufacturer that I trust. I ordered a set of Impact Sports from Howard Leight.

They are very affordable which fits my "Keep this IDPA hobby of mine off the wife's radar" model right down to the ground. They fold up to nothing like the picture shows. They run for up to 350 hours on a pair of AAA batteries and they even turn themselves off after 4 hours. The specs say that the amplified sound is limited to 82dB which is perfect. Each ear cup has its own microphone so the stereo image is maintained. With these muffs, the shooter can tell from which direction sounds are coming from. I like to wear them so that the mics face the rear as this makes hearing people behind me much easier.

Leightning L3 from Howard LeightThe Impact Sport has the ability to take an external feed such as an iPod but I was never able to get that feature to work very well. It limits the music to that same 82dB level so the music is not very loud plus the compression kicks in all the time making music sound unnatural. The manufacturer should have made the external port a non-compressed signal. But they didn't and I didn't get them to listen to music so that part doesn't bother me at all but it may bother others. If a purchaser is getting these and is expecting to be able to enjoy music over whatever it is they are doing otherwise, they will probably be disappointed. If I wanted to listen to music, I would simply run iPod headphone wires under the muffs and wear the buds like normal with the muffs on top. One thing I noticed in researching this stuff is that the NRR ratings for all of the electronic muffs I could afford are not very good. The Impact Sport model is no different and clocks in at a pretty pathetic NRR 22. It's perfect for shotgunning outdoors, spending a few hours on a riding mower, or even rifle hunting but for indoor pistol use is totally inadequate.

The secret of course is to back them up with earplugs. Specifically cheap ear plugs. Find the Wal-Mart kind and check the NRR spec on the package. The lower the number, the better it will work with these muffs. I found that the combination of the Impact Sport muffs turned all the way up with cheap earplugs is a perfect combination. The amplification is enough so that I can still understand what is being said and the transient response of the electronic limiting is fast enough to keep all of the gunfire out of the mix. If high quality plugs are used (like the Max model mentioned previously), the amplification is nowhere near loud enough to overcome them so at that point the shooter may as well go back to passive muffs. The fact that the shooter needs earplugs with these is not really a bad thing. One main complaint that I have with any muff is that they get hot and sweaty. With earplugs in, I can take the muffs off and towel everything off while the range is still hot because the earplugs are still doing their thing.

The one thing I don't really care for with the Impact Sport muffs is the recovery time of the compressor after a shot is fired. I would prefer if it were quicker. Once a shot is fired, it has a recovery time of what seems like a second although it's probably shorter. When someone is talking to me during gunfire, the electronics tend to cut more of the conversation than it needs to. The person's lips are moving but the voice cuts in and out like a radio station that is out of range. In recording studio compressor/limiter lingo, this is called the "Attack & Release" times. The Attack time is measured in milliseconds with the release time measured in seconds.

The release time is defined as the time it takes from when the gunshot fires (the transient peak) to when the audio is turned all the way back up to the normal level. If the release time is very short, say in the .2 second range, then all that is compressed is the actual gunfire. When the release time is longer, say in the .9 second or 1.25 second range, then it sounds like someone is slowly turning the sound back up by hand every time a shot is fired. This takes getting used to and is certainly not a deal killer but it seems like it would be a very easy thing to change in the manufacturing. It does affect how well I can understand what someone is saying to me while another shooter is going at it.

The best price I've found for these is on Amazon. They have those suckers right now for $45.00 plus shipping. Overall, I give these dudes an "A-". The only cons in the mix are the release time of the compressor and the fact that I have to use earplugs. The compressor issue I'm already used to and the earplug issue strictly speaking is really not an issue. These muffs need plugs simply because they aren't designed for indoor pistol. Be that as it may, at this price I'm more than happy to make them work and I give them a rounding endorsement. As long as the shooter works within the limitations, he cannot go wrong with these.

- Ray Fishel, (CTS Houston, Texas)

 


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