Last year I wrote a piece on hearing protection (Ear Pro) and as a long-time shooter of very noisy firearms and as an instructor, I value hearing protection just next to eye protection any time I am around guns. I still have pretty good hearing (despite what my Adventure Wife may say) due to my getting some early professional advice about hearing conservation while in government service and committing to some type of protection be it the best or the worst if I am going to be around live fire while hunting, competition shooting or practicing indoors or outdoors.

I wanted to pass along some thoughts on the newish Ear Pro which is worn inside the ears instead of over the top like traditional shooting muffs. They are all the rage, starting with corded varieties and the newest being ear bud types which have the electronic noise cut outs as well as allowing near normal conversations on the range between gun shots and being Bluetooth compatible and you can receive and make phone calls on them.

The in-ear variety have minimum to no bulk and do eliminate any problems bending your head over to get a good cheek weld on a rifle or shotgun- one of the main complaints of the hard-shell muffs. You can get electronic hard-shell muffs with Bluetooth, but they are still clunky and oft times not all that comfortable if you have to wear them for hours at a time. (My best tip for hard shell muffs- get the kind with gel pads or go on the internet and look up how to install gel pads on your muffs. I got some aviator grade headphone gel pads on Amazon for about $15 and some space age stick-em and put them on my favorite pair of Peltors. They are all day comfortable.)

I started wearing in-ear corded electronic Walkers a few years back while Pheasant and Turkey hunting. I finally figured out (takes me a while, and usually not the easy way) I should be doing something for ear protection even with the limited amount of shooting involved with hunting with a shotgun, and the shotgun blast seemed relatively less painful than rifle shots.

I had one guy trigger off a 12 ga near my left ear and the next season a guy shot at my head-a non-pheasant to be sure, and it hurt so bad I grabbed my ear. Pretty sure he was expecting return fire…

The Walkers cost about $50 and worked OK for couple of years hunting and during competition shooting. The electronic circuit cut out the loud noises using NASA grade Algorithms or something and they were fairly comfortable to wear. On the downside, they captured and amplified wind noise across the microphones in a rather annoying manner. If you like the sound of wind blowing in your ear they may have a calming effect on you….me, not so much. The cord can get snagged walking under bushes and branches and yank them out of your ears, and I wondered about a wireless pair but was too cheap to buy some. They also did not have Bluetooth or make phone calls on them- just simple electronic hearing protection.

The Walkers worked great around active ranges when I was waiting to shoot or was resetting targets, and I did not have my muffs over the top- you could still carry on conversations and know you were getting protection from expected and unexpected high decibel blasts. They were a better alternative to my wearing roll up ear puffs or plugs all day.

Commercial promises were made in the meantime by vendors intimating if I just spent more money on their newer and more complex in-ear models they could do so much more, and we could be oh so happy together.

This led me to purchase a Sig Sauer branded Axil corded in-ear protection. Axil makes ’em and Sig just puts their logo on it- and you know Sig, they love their brand name so much it ups the price on everything even if they did not make it. So, I paid about $225 for a pair of the Sig Axils. Three to four times the price of the Walkers I used for couple pf years. The new Axils did have Bluetooth capabilities and you could make and receive phone calls on them (not that I really wanted music or phone calls on my range or hunting time).

They also added “Tactical” to the name- which probably also increased the price. Tactical? No, they did not have Velcro on them. Yes, they were “tactical black” color. But you could raise the volume on the hearing part and hear several times louder than your natural hearing ability. This could be very handy listening for game animals- or wearing them around your house in the middle of the night looking for burglar or commie home invader liberals.

I remember a million years ago Massad Ayoob writing a review on some of the first electronic muffs called Wolf Ears, and he said he could hear more and better with his old high range damaged ears wearing the things and he would put them on to search around in his house. This of course seemed laughable 30 or so years ago. Now I don’t hear so good and it seems to make some more sense. I know the high-speed low drag military operators have this ability to crank up the listening volume so it can quite fairly be called a “tactical” feature.

I still wear muffs over in-ear protection when shooting rifles. There is an attraction to skip the muffs and bulk, but Multi-Everything Champion Jerry Miculek once told me he doubles up too following his audiologist advice based upon the amount of sound which gets transmitted via the bones around the ear. Good enough for Jerry, good enough for me.

The Axil in-ear devices did a much better job of not transmitting wind noise than my first cheap pair of Walkers. But after wearing them for two years on ranges, in the hunting fields and in hunting blinds I can quite honestly say they are a pain in the ear to wear! I tried all six or eight pair of the included molded earplug pieces to get a good, comfortable fit which would stay put moving around. I did figure out after a bit I was wearing the wires backwards or upside down after looking at the commercial ads, but even reversing them I still did not have a good fit and they would break the seal, and just weren’t long term comfortable.

Now to be fair, Axil does advertise via Facebook they have satisfaction guarantees, and I wrote in a few times without any response. I wrote an email to their customer service, and they wrote me back and said they stand behind their product and I should be happy. I just wasn’t, and they did not offer any other solutions, life coach level advice or returns.

This summer my pal Bill and I were talking about wearing electronic in-ear at the 3 day long shoot out in Grand Island, NE. I wear it on range like I do eye protection- when I arrive it goes on, and when I leave it can come off. You do an awful lot of waiting around and resetting for others over three days and there are always rifles, pistols and shotguns going off in the next bay, and the beauty of the in-ear protection is you can keep them in and get the benefit of 26-29 NRR without having full muffs on. We talked about my Axil product, and he was interested in getting something different and I referred him to talk with shooter phenom Nate Schmidt and his folks, who are sponsored and represent Isotunes. Well, we bumped into Christine Schmidt about 3 minutes later and she hooked us up immediately showing us the latest models and discussing all of the ins and outs.

I selected the Isotunes wired ear pro to wear under muffs when using long guns. I was not sure the small wireless ear bud type would fit under the muff cup. I have had excellent experience with the Isotunes Advance 3T so far. They block out loud noise in 2 milliseconds, can amplify your hearing up to 8X and have a 20-hour battery life and have a 26 Decibel Noise Reduction Rating-same protection as most muffs offer. Oh, and they are about half the price of the Axil in-ear model I own. I put them on with the best molded plugs in the box, and they immediately fit my ear canals better than any of the six or eight Axil plugs I tried. They are rechargeable via a USB cable and are dust and waterproof… hmm waterproof is enough to sell me right there! In the rain and snow is the way to go!

I started out wearing the Isotunes during my exercise walk/stroll/meander and listening to morning talk radio as well as making and receiving phone calls. I wore them mowing the lawn (Yes, I wear ear pro mowing the lawn. Then again, I am old…and I still have most of my hearing. Protect what you still have. When it’s gone it’s gone.)

Next up, I wore them out to the Northbrook Sports Club during the recent national sporting clays event and they worked fine there too. I was most impressed when I bumped the volume up a couple of times and noticed I was hearing birds chirping in the trees…a rarity for me.) I finished up wearing the Isotunes at my local indoor range under a set of Peltor muffs and ran some 10mms and 9mms sandwiched in a booth between some other noisy shooters. They worked fine and because they automatically Bluetooth connected to my phone- a call from a bank came through…not a welcome call…but it worked.

These are my few words on In-Ear Pro. Use it. Any is better than none, and please double up when shooting rifles or indoors. Like me, you will still want to hear your spouse complaining just on the edge of ear-shot for many years to come.

3 thoughts on “Electronic In-Ear Protection”
  1. Good advice ! We need to think about protecting our hearing and our eyes while shooting or being around shooters.

  2. Everyone is a range safety officer! Be kind- but persistent encouraging others to protect their eyes and ears.
    When I see someone without eye pro, I point two forked fingers towards their eyes- they generally get the point before I have to go full on 3 Stooges for the eye poke.

  3. Worn both in-ear and exterior protection since 1980. Others discharging .357’s on indoor range taught me that. Hurt like heck – scary – six weeks to full recovery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *