When the amplifying circuitry detects sound at a level that would damage your hearing, it either kills or regulates the amplification. The exact method used to nullify these high sound levels differs by maker, as does the “attack time,” or interval required to perform this function. There’s a lot of hyperbole from different manufacturers touting their specific system, but attack time generally ranges from a low of 1.5 milliseconds to as high as 20 milliseconds.
These differences, combined with your normal shooting environment—indoor or outdoor, and the presence or absence of sound reflecting surfaces—will determine which unit will serve you best. All are good, but when possible, it’s wise to try out a unit before purchasing. This is not always feasible, so let me share with you some observations on two particularly good units.
PRO-EARS, by Ridgeline Inc., is one of the standard-setters in active hearing protection. The unit I’ve been testing lately is the Pro-Tac Dimension 2. This is available in several variations; mine is the model DLC, featuring a “chop side” for long-gun use and an N.R.R. of 20 dB. Other models feature N.R.R. ratings as high as 26 dB.
The Pro-Tac uses dual volume controls, obviating the need for an external connecting wire. It’s powered by four N-size batteries, which are accessed behind a foam cover in the ear cups. Battery life is approximately 200 hours, and the unit comes with an impressive five-year warranty. Attack time is rated at less than 2 milliseconds. Weight is 11.9 ounces. A small point, but one I really like, is the felt-like material covering the lower portion of the strong-side ear cup. It prevents the “bell effect” you normally hear when your muff makes contact with a rifle stock.
Dimension 2 muffs use PRO-EARS’ “Dynamic Level Compression” technology that greatly improves amplified sound quality. In plain English, what this does is continually amplify low-level sounds (like those sweet nothings the R.O. is whispering in your ear about watching the @#*&! front sight), while moderating high-pressure sound down to safe levels. The result is more natural sound without the annoying gaps some systems produce.
On an indoor range—-usually the worst environment for active ear muffs-—the Pro-Tacs worked as advertised. Conversations between adjacent shooters could be heard and understood, even in the midst of strings of fire. The Pro-Tacs are light (11.9 ounces) and comfortable. The ear cup seals are replaceable (a good feature), and the padded headband is appreciated after a few hours. Both ear cups feature jacks to interface with your radio system.
Peltor’s Comtac active muffs feature “chop side” configurations for long-gun shooters, and their minimum bulk fits well under tactical helmets.
I’ve been using these for a while now with complete satisfaction. The N.R.R. is 19 dB, but other, slightly bulkier units offer protection as high as 25 dB. “Chop side” configuration ensures comfortable use with long guns. Unlike the PRO-EARS unit, a single on/off and volume control is located on the right-hand ear cup.
Rather than the usual rotary switch, the Comtac uses two small, rubber-sealed push buttons. Depress both to turn the unit on or off. Press the forward button to increase volume, the aft button to decrease. These controls are neatly recessed into the ear cup, as are the foam-covered microphones. Everything about the Comtac suggests rugged durability.
The leather-covered headband is wide and quite comfortable. Its minimum bulk will work well under a Kevlar helmet. Weight of the Comtac is 12.5 ounces. An available “hygiene kit” replaces the ear seals and foam liners when required.
Power is supplied by two AA batteries, easily accessible via an external battery door with permanently attached cover. Operating life is rated at 250 hours, and an automatic shutdown circuit preserves the batteries should the unit be put away with the power on. The Comtac features a radio interface. Other models in the Peltor line offer boom mikes and PTT switching for two-way communication.
Attack time of the Peltor Comtac is 2 milliseconds. When used on a noisy indoor range, conversation can be clearly heard, even in the midst of strings of rifle fire. I think I can detect a slightly choppy sound quality as the electronics attenuate the sound of gunfire, but if so, it’s certainly no distraction.
In the end, it’s your choice alone. You can ignore the threat to your hearing and suffer the inevitable consequences, or you can decide right now you don’t want to be a grayhair whose most-used word is “huh?” We have better equipment for hearing protection than ever before. But the determination to take advantage of it can only come from you.
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Jim Gardner is the editor of GUNS magazine, and an internationally recognized firearms expert.