Two high-tech solutions to an old problem.
I used to think that hearing protection was overrated in the shooting sports. (I used to think a lot of silly things when I was younger, but that’s a story for another time.) About a year ago, though, an experience at the range changed my mind: I forgot to put my earmuffs back on before firing my Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan, chambered for .454 Casull. The mammoth explosion, the very short barrel and the cinderblock shooting lane all combined for a truly memorable experience. (I’ve since measured this gun’s SPL at 131.9 dB.) My ears were ringing loudly; all other sounds were faint, and I felt a squishing sensation in my inner ear area whenever I swallowed.
Amazingly, by the next day, I felt almost back to normal. Considering that I easily could have suffered significant hearing loss, I’d say I got off easy. I encourage everyone not to take the subject lightly. Here are some products that will protect your hearing
MSA Supreme Pro
Mine Safety Appliances Company, now known as MSA, of Pittsburgh, PA, has been protecting people’s health and safety for nearly a century. As the company’s original name suggests, early products were intended for mining applications, but MSA today makes a broad range of sophisticated safety products for dozens of industries, and recently has gotten into specialty applications, like the shooting sports. And their Supreme Pro electronic muffs are an excellent example of their high-technology approach to solving a problem that has been with us since, well, since guns were invented.
The first thing you notice about the Supreme Pro muffs is the very low profile, especially when compared to passive earmuffs. Besides making you look less silly, the slim design also makes it possible to shoulder a rifle without the stock interfering with your muffs.
While the Supreme Pro muffs are compact, they are anything but delicate. Here’s where MSA’s industrial heritage becomes evident: these muffs are ruggedly built and designed to withstand a variety of unfortunate treatment. The materials all appear first-rate and beefy, the battery housing is waterproof, and even the electronic circuit boards are lacquer-coated to keep moisture out. I think it’s safe to assume that these will last me quite a while.
The controls for the Supreme Pro muffs are simple: an on/off switch, and volume adjusters. It’s important to note that the volume controls are only for the softer sounds; the potentially-damaging noises are always attenuated as fully as possible. There are six volume settings, and on my unit, the muffs buzzed just a bit on the two loudest settings, but it wasn’t enough to be annoying.
The muffs also feature an input audio jack, which can be used to attach a radio (for when you’re working a club shooting event) or an iPod (for when you’re just having fun). MSA even includes the necessary cable for connections, though if you want stereo, you’ll have to buy your own cable.
The muffs are also quite comfortable for all but the most sustained sessions, which means you’re less likely to take them off and forget to put them back on (though what kind of a moron would do something like THAT?). My only complaint is that they’re a bit tight-fitting for me. I know that my head is at the large end of the spectrum (something my friends often remind me of), so I doubt this will be a problem for many people.
The MSA Supreme Pro muffs are effective, low profile and well-built. If this isn’t the ultimate in shooter hearing protection, it’s got to be pretty close.
3M Peltor Tactical Sport
The company 3M, probably best known to most people for their Scotch tape, has recently introduced a new electronic headset, the Tactical Sport, a more affordable alternative to the more expensive offerings in the industry.
I first saw the Tactical Sport at this year’s SHOT Show. They’re handsome and comfortable, but their real selling feature is in how well they perform. The noise clipping is simply excellent.
Like the MSA muffs, the Tactical Sport features a power switch and two volume buttons. The dark area to the right of the cup is one of the microphones.
Size is adjusted by pulling the metal wires from the topstrap, and thankfully, 3M had the foresight to allow for plenty of adjustment.
This headset comes with two pairs of outer cups: black and safety orange. (I currently wear one of each in celebration of my World Champion SF Giants.)
I got a chance to review these during my recent turn as rangemaster at my gun club, and came away very favorably impressed. The noise clipping was remarkable (possibly even better than the more expensive MSA product) — at no time during the five hours I used them did I ever experience even the slightest hearing discomfort. At the same time, I was able to hear other people (and other lower-volume sounds) easily and naturally. Overall, the 3M engineers really did their homework on this one.
Many earmuffs/headsets are too bulky for rifle shooters, especially those with smaller faces (where their ears are a bit closer to their cheeks). I’m happy to report that the Tactical Sport never once interfered with any rifle I was inspecting or aiming. I’d expect that most people would have a similar experience.
The only thing I’d like to have seen in the Tactical Sport headset is the use of a standard 3mm input jack. Instead, the product has a proprietary audio input jack, and while you can get an adapter cable for 3mm input, it’s monaural, meaning that I can’t plug in an iPod and listen to stereo music. This is, of course, a very minor issue, but it would have been nice to have.
Despite the lack of stereo input, the 3M Peltor Tactical Sport headset seems destined to be a hit. It has everything you could want in a headset: effective noise clipping, a low profile for rifle shooters, easy controls, and a high degree of comfort. All this at a price that may make their competitors a little uncomfortable. I’d say 3M has another winner with this one.