Next-gen electronic hearing protection stifles sounds you don’t want to hear, and enhances the ones you do.
Up to when the peanut farmer was president, “grin and bear it” was the hearing-protection norm. It must have been hell, and tinnitus be damned—especially back when the Springfield 1873 was the service rifle.
My, how the times have changed! Show up to a shooting range without protection nowadays, and they’ll 86 you quicker than if you stiffed a two-month-old bar tab. It makes sense, given what we know about bang-tubes and your auditory organs. One shot, in some circumstances, is enough to set your ears permanently ringing like the bells of St. Mary’s.
Yet, even the most diligent shooters sometimes play fast and loose with hearing protection. For instance, there’s as good a case for not using it, as when you’re stalking deer. However, it’s a risky game and one you needn’t play. Modern-day electronic hearing protection is a pitch-perfect balance between safety and perception. And, if used correctly, it gives you little reason to pull the trigger without covering up.
Systems With Potential and Options
You’d be forgiven for thinking the only things muffs and plugs are capable of is noise reduction. For decades now, that’s the only duty they’ve had to pull. But a few clever minds along the way figured that if hearing protection could reduce sounds, why couldn’t they also enhance them? The right ones, of course. Thus was born what we now know as “active hearing protection.”
On the surface, their operation is simple: Outfitted with microphones, the muffs and plugs amplify normal sounds—maybe a firing line conversation or a twig snapping. When a high-decibel noise is detected—say, hot gas escaping a .300 Win. Mag. muzzle—they shut off. In some cases, they even combat that ear-splitting rifle report with gentle white noise.
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A system designed to not simply muffle your rifle’s blast has a lot of potential. For instance, the ability to catch the rustling of brush or a grunt might prove the difference come deer season. At the very least, you can keep the conversation going in between flights of ducks. All the while, you don’t have to wring your hands over prematurely shooting yourself into hearing aids.
Better yet, the technology has become relatively affordable over the years. When electronic hearing protection first came out, most furrowed their brows in doubt. Then, they quickly covered their wallets once they got a gander at the price tag. It can, with some of the top-end makes and models, still be that way. But every year seems to bring more options priced to fit the average shooter’s budget.
Both muffs work similarly. The difference from one set to the other is that the Vanquish Pro has two forward-facing microphones, while the AMP BT has four (two on each ear, front and back).
Additionally, each is outfitted with Bluetooth. (The AMP BT also has an auxiliary jack for you analog techies.) I’ll wager there’s an age gap for those interested in linking their smart device to their hearing protection … although, honestly, a couple of Johnny Cash ballads while your barrel is cooling isn’t a kick in the teeth.
There’s a convenience factor to this feature too. Because you can take phone calls through these muffs, you potentially could have a “working lunch” target-shooting session. Now, that’s multitasking!
Making Noise With Electronic Hearing Protection
In both cases, the electronic hearing protection devices did what they promised—erased the sound of gunfire to a safe level. The AMP BT is listed at 26 dB of noise reduction, and the Vanquish Pro is listed at 24 dB. I would venture to say they both more than lived up to this outside and even more so while testing them at an indoor range.
The muffs were easy to link to my phone; a simple push of a button. The microphones continue operating, even when you’re using your smart device, which means I had to fiddle with the volume so it wasn’t a noise “stew” of music and ambient noise. Once I did, it was smooth sailing. Even a test call to my wife proofed out well. About the only complaint she had was that I sounded muffled—I figure that’s because the microphones are next to your ears, not your mouth.
Nice as that all was, the impressive aspect of the muffs was, of course, their noise amplification. It sounds strange discussing this aspect when it comes to hearing protection. But, no stretch; I could catch conversations nearly at the end of the 100-yard range. There’s a great possibility in that: Just think of the edge you’d have while stalking game during hunting season.
The AMP BT was a bit bulkier in size. Even so, surprisingly, given its four mics, it was also the lighter of the pair. It only took two AAA batteries, compared to four in the Champion. This lightened the load. The Vanquish Pro, however, felt more streamlined on my head and perhaps more practical in the field (although you might come to a different conclusion … after all, it’d be your head).
Is electronic hearing protection a necessity? No, their pennies-on-the-dollar foam plug cousins more than get the job done. But the high-tech muffs and plugs do certainly have the potential to make shooting and hunting more enjoyable. And because they’re viable away from the range, they’re safer in the long run.
The article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.