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Whether you shoot for fun or competition — or even for your profession — safety matters. That includes ear protection. Even the smallest guns create significant noise, and repetitive exposure can damage your hearing.
Shooting earmuffs protect your hearing by reducing the decibels that reach the sensitive parts of your inner ear.
To choose the best shooting earmuffs, it’s vital that you understand how they’re rated and the features that differ between models.
At BestReviews, we provide fair, unbiased reviews of the best products available. We don’t accept free samples from manufacturers. We consult experts, evaluate products, and gather owner feedback to present a thorough analysis of each item on our shortlist.
If you’re already familiar with shooting earmuffs, you can find our top recommendations in the the above product matrix.
If you’d like to learn more about earmuff types and features, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Passive earmuffs are made from foam and plastic. They reduce all noise.
When wearing passive earmuffs, it’s difficult to talk with the people around you, as a person’s voice will be reduced by the same amount as a loud gunshot.
Electronic earmuffs reduce noise in the same manner as passive earmuffs. However, electronic muffs include small microphones and speakers. They can distinguish between loud noise (like a gunshot) and quiet noise (like a voice).
Electronic earmuffs amplify quiet noise to emulate “normal” hearing while protecting you from louder sounds.
Thanks to their simple construction, the price of passive earmuffs is lower than electronic ones.
You can use a product’s NRR, or Noise Reduction Rating, to judge the effectiveness of shooting earmuffs. Subtract seven from the NRR, then divide by two to find out how many decibels the earmuffs cancel out. For example, an NRR of 37 will cancel 15 decibels.
Check product details carefully to distinguish between Noise Reduction Rating and a claim of overall decibel reduction. For example, if the package claims that the earmuffs reduce noise by 30 decibels, the NRR must be 67.
Conversational voices are typically 60 decibels. A food processor produces about 95 decibels. Any sound above 120 decibels is considered harmful to the ear, especially during prolonged or repeated exposure. Gun shots range from 145 to 190 decibels.
Passive earmuffs reduce the decibel level of all noises at the same rate. Electronic ear muffs distinguish between soft and loud noises, allowing the wearer to hear other people speaking nearby. A higher NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) indicates more effective hearing protection.
Shooting ear muffs must fit properly to be effective. Weight, adjustment, and flexibility each influence the fit of your earmuffs.
Weight is particularly important. Lighter earmuffs are preferable, since heavy earmuffs grow uncomfortable after prolonged use. When earmuffs are uncomfortable, the wearer tends to adjust them, and adjustments can reduce the effectiveness of the seal around the ears. Walker's Game Ear and Pro For Sho are two shooting earmuff manufacturers that make notably lightweight models.
The ear cups on shooting earmuffs are attached by an adjustable plastic strap. A strap with a greater range of motion and flexible material is easier to fit properly and is likely to feel more comfortable when it is worn.
Standard earmuffs can be adjusted three inches on each side, providing six inches of variability for fitting. Specialty models are available for people who require larger sizes.
How much should you expect to pay for a decent pair of shooting earmuffs?
Throughout the course of our research, we found lots of great models that cost far less than $100. In fact, many of our favorites cost less than $20.
If you’re looking to buy from a line of top earmuffs like Honeywell’s Howard Leight selection, expect to find a range of choices that extend up to more than $50. These earmuffs are marketed for both commercial and consumer applications.
Lower-quality ear muffs may not expose the NRR on the packaging. Check the manufacturer’s website for the NRR, or consider a different brand.
Another notable manufacturer, Walker’s Game Ear, offers a Razor series with prices hovering around the $70 mark. These are great muffs, but you can also find an excellent pair of Walker’s earmuffs that cost closer to $15.
In short, it pays to shop around. As mentioned above, passive earmuffs may cost less than their electronic counterparts.
However, we don’t believe you’re likely to break the bank with any of the earmuffs we recommend here, whether passive or electronic.
Unless otherwise specified, shooting earmuffs are intended for people aged 14 and older. Children’s models are typically ⅔ the size of standard models.
Electronic shooting earmuffs require a battery to power the microphone and speakers.
Some electronic ear muffs contain a dedicated battery, which is charged using a standard USB cord.
Some electronic shooting ear muffs are powered with replaceable AAA batteries. Others contain a rechargeable battery.
At 145 to 190 decibels, gunfire is louder than many other harmful sounds. If your shooting earmuffs fit comfortably, you can get more value from them by using them during other activities, such as mowing the lawn or working with power tools.
A few electronic models on today’s market provide a 3.5mm headphone jack. You can plug in your smartphone or mp3 player and listen to music while you shoot.
Q. Do shooting ear muffs completely cancel noise?
A. Shooting earmuffs aren’t designed to completely block out sound. Check the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) to determine how much noise reduction each model offers.
Q. How do electronic shooting earmuffs enable me to hear quieter sounds?
A. First, electronic shooting ear muffs reduce all sound in the same manner as passive ear muffs: layers of padding physically block out harmful decibel levels. However, electronic shooting earmuffs capture all sounds via a set of microphones. A microchip determines the decibel level of the incoming noise; if it’s below the “quiet” threshold, the noise is passed to amplifying speakers inside the ear cups.
Q. How do I know when it’s time to change the battery?
A. Electronic shooting ear muffs include an indicator LED that lights up when the battery needs to be replaced or recharged.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.