Expert Advice on Hearing Protection for Shooters: Interview with TETRA Hearing

I recently interviewed Dr. Bill Dickinson, co-founder and CEO of TETRA Hearing, and asked him to dispense some expert advice on hearing protection for shooters. Here’s what the audiologist with 29 years of experience had to say.

GJS—What are the major advantages of a shooter using electronic hearing protection?

DBD—Electronic hearing protection is mostly all about the hearing side and less about the protection side. A finger tightly sealed in the ear canal or a foam plug does an adequate job of protecting, but it also does a perfect job of creating a poor listening experience. Hence, combining an amplifier with the protection was supposed to create a better listening experience, and it did 20 years ago. The problem is that until TETRA, most of the electronic circuits on the market are using low-end amplifiers, that is literally 20-year-old technology. TETRA uses a very high-end, premium sound system and is fully committed to creating an exceptional listening experience whether on the range or in the woods, and then fully protect at trigger pull. We only use the very same sound processing chips used in high-end hearing aids, so TETRA provides the ultimate and most natural hearing experience on the market.

GJS—Without diving too deep into the technology, how does electronic hearing protection let conversations and range commands pass?

DBD—In short, amplification circuits in general are capable of separating loud sounds from softer sounds and can process those inputs differently. Basically, soft inputs get amplified the most and as the sound input increases, the amount of amplification decreases. The more channels or bands of sound processing, the better a circuit can target desirable sounds and separate them from undesirable sounds.

It is best to think of this in music. You can have a single singer with no instruments and you turn the words up or down in volume since it is just the words. Add in a guitar and now you have to balance between the guitar and the singer, or one will drown out the other. Now add in drums, and bass guitar, and backup vocals….The more input requires more balancing of each input, so that everything is balanced. If the drums are turned up too loud, it will drown out or distort all the other inputs. All of this balancing is done with multiple channels or bands to manage the different sounds.

It’s the same thing processing in an amplification circuit. Everyday life on the range or in a hunting situation has multiple different sounds at multiple different loudness input levels. If you only have one or two channels of sound processing—like almost all electronic shooting protection— then all sounds are combined in one or two channels and it all gets distorted. However, if you can separate all incoming sounds of different frequencies and different loudness levels into multiple bands, then you can control the sound processing in each of those bands to have a balanced output in the end… just like a song on the radio. TETRA has 12 or 16 channels/ bands of sound processing, which is what allows the output sound to be highly monitored and controlled.

GJS—Is there clipping or filtering involved, and if so it the blocked noise determined by frequency or loudness?

DBD—As in the above channel description, yes there is a ton of filtering going on to get the appropriate sounds in the specific frequency bands and then there is sound being limited by different ratios in each band, but in TETRA we do not just peak clip sound. Peak clipping causes significant distortion, so we do significant processing to slowly reduce sound before it is limited, thus no distortion in the final output.

GJS—Does that filtering begin with the microphone and is there an advantage to more than one mike?

DBD—From a technical standpoint, filtering occurs in a pre-amplifier, not a microphone. Most single or two channel systems do not even incorporate a pre-amplifier or if they do, it only makes gross filtering—like all bass or all treble.

Two microphones make a big difference in separating location of different sound inputs—like speech in front and noise somewhere else around us. In this case, two mics do separate noise (back/side) from speech (front) since we are almost always positioning the speech of what we want to hear in front of us. Unless, like in a car scenario with a driver/ passenger and we can dedicate a mic arrangement from getting sound on the side.

For shooting protection, two mics serve no additional benefits —other than for the manufacturer who can sell it for more money perhaps!

GJS—Should shooters be concerned about battery life?

DBD—After 29 years in the hearing industry, I see hearing aid battery life as a non-starter. Batteries are easily accessible and inexpensive and last 10 to 20 days each and easy to replace. In 29 years, I have yet to see any consumer advantage or disadvantage across various battery life scenarios.

GJS—Getting a good cheek weld with some electronic hearing protection when shouldering a rifle is a real challenge. Does your company have models that address the problem?

DBD—TETRA absolutely removes this issue for the shooter. We were dedicated to creating a fully in the ear design to overcome this very issue.

GJS—Do you recommend doubled up with foamies when using hearing protection, say for example when shooting a .50 BMG at a firing line with a metal roof? 

DBD—Short answer is yes. There are multiple variables tied to needing double protection, but yes this example above is very much spot on for when double protection is needed.

A significant benefit with TETRA in a double protection scenario is that you can amplify the soft speech from using a TETRA in the ear, as well as double protection. This has been a tremendous benefit for the shooting community.

GJS—Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

DBD—In short, protecting the ear does not and should not be associated with creating a poor listening experience—lets call it what it is, a crappy listening experience. Hearing protection doesn’t have to suck!

Extending that thought process, in terms of range safety, there should be some minimal baseline criteria for minimal hearing ability. Being able to monitor range environment via hearing is a major component to keeping a range safe, or taking instructions from a shooting instructor or range officer. Take an average mild or moderate hearing loss and put in foam plugs or non-electronic earmuffs is basically creating a deaf shooter—and most shooters have much more than a mild hearing loss. Good communication is mandatory for creating a safe range environment.

Not only does TETRA not create a significantly hearing-impaired shooter but providing exceptional amplification, we also customize true hearing ability for the TETRA user by custom programming for each ear. This is the exact same process that occurs with expensive hearing aid purchases.

Additionally, good and effective hearing is mandatory for proper instruction, which is much bigger part of gun ownership than ever before. As well as what was expressed before about proper head and cheek position.

I interviewed more experts on today’s hearing protection for shooters. Here’s what they told me.