I recently interviewed Will Hemeyer, senior product manager for Champion Range & Targets. I asked him specifically about hearing protection for shooters. Here’s what he had to say.
GJS—What are the major advantages of a shooter using electronic hearing protection?
WH—One of the key advantages of electronic hearing protection over passive hearing protection is surrounding sound can be amplified while harmful impact noises are not. So, when using electronic hearing protection you are able to hear what is going on around you. Most electronic hearing protection also has settings where it will amplify sounds so if you are using them in the field you can usually hear more than if you didn’t have hearing protection on at all.
GJS—Without diving too deep into the technology, how does electronic hearing protection let conversations and range commands pass through, while blocking the dangerously loud report of a firearm?
WH—The actual circuitry of the electronics is designed to keep loud noises over 85dB from processing through to the speakers while any sound under 85dB is amplified.
GJS—Is there clipping or filtering involved, and if so it the blocked noise determined by frequency or loudness?
WH—There are really two main types of technology that are being used. You have clipping that will cut off all electronic sound, which are typically found on the lower end electronic hearing protection. Then you have compression technology that will compress any sound over a certain level so the lower dB sounds still come through. Compression technology is typically found on the higher quality products.
GJS—Does that filtering begin with the microphone and is there an advantage to more than one mike?
WH—Clipping and compression is done in the circuitry. The big advantage to more than one microphone is the units are able to give you a more 360-degree sound if two or more multi-directional microphone are being used.
GJS—Should shooters be concerned about battery life?
WH—Battery life is one thing that you should always care about. It is more of a hassle if you are in a range session and your batteries die. Typically most units on the market anymore have really good battery life and they also have a program in the circuitry that turns them off after a set amount of time. This is a very useful feature, as many users forget to turn them off and throw them in their range bag. If they didn’t have the auto-shutoff the next time they went to the range they would have to replace the batteries.
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?
WH—The Vanquish line was specifically designed to maintain optimal cheek weld without the units interfering with the stock. The Vanquish line was designed from the ground up for the shooting sports knowing that we needed to find the perfect combination for shooters that provided unparalleled comfort, minimum interreference with cheek weld, top-notch sound quality and really good NRR ratings.
GJS—Is the decibel reduction about the same in all electronic hearing protection and how much of it is determined by the seal/construction of the ear muffs?
WH—This is really dependent on the shape and construction of the hearing protection. You will typically get a higher NRR in bigger bulkier hearing protection. The slimmer the hearing protection typically the lower the NRR rating.
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?
WH—For maximum protection I would double up with foamies with any over-ear hearing protection. This is especially true when shooting at in-door ranges, if I am going to be around a lot of rifles with muzzle breaks and loud pistols and this is where electronics really come into play because you can amplify the other sounds at the range.
GJS—When selecting a set of electronic hearing protection, what are the most critical ratings they should look for?
WH—There are a number of things that I look for and it really comes down to personal preference as people weight their requirements different. First and foremost to me, is if they are not comfortable, do not fit right you are not going to use them like you should. So making sure they are comfortable for an extended period of time and fit without the seal breaking in you intended position is very important. NRR is very important also. Always look for hearing protection that has the highest NRR value and meets your needs. Other important things to look for are the type of microphones and speakers. An omnidirectional microphone will pick up more sound around you versus a directional mic that pics up in the direction it is pointed. The speakers are important to give good clean natural sound so you will use them more than at just the range. I use my Vanquish Pro Elites on airplane flights because they have Active Noise Cancelation so I can connect to my phone or iPad and cancel out all surrounding noise.
GJS—Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?
WH—We noticed that there really had not been a lot advancement in electronic hearing protection over the years. A lot of the product on the market has been an industrial hearing protection that has been adapted to work with the shooting sports and marketed to shooters. With the Vanquish line we started from zero to design a line of hearing protection for shooters by shooters. We knew that there were limitations with the overall shape and design of the ear cup and many shooters have issues when shouldering with their stock hitting their hearing protection, so we made the unique Vanquish design that minimizes this contact. We used many competitive products and were not thrilled with the sound quality, so we partnered with a factory that had produced high-end consumer electronics to be able to get the best sound quality possible. We also knew comfort was very important, so we are using premium materials to maximize comfort for shooters.
I interviewed more experts on today’s hearing protection for shooters. Here’s what they told me.