by Rob Kay
Editor’s Note: This is the tenth article in our ongoing Christmas buyer’s guide. While the items we’re highlighting are not generally stocking stuffers, this one sure is. Stay tuned for more great gift ideas targeted at your favorite gunslinger.
Going to the range for many people is a ritual not unlike a pilot’s flight preparation. Before takeoff you need to consult your checklist. Guns, ammo, goggles, tools, lube, brass catcher, spotting scope … and among the other accoutrement, hearing protection. I do what I suspect most people do—insert foam earplugs and top them off with ear muffs.
This tried and true fashioned combination is quite effective but can be a bit cumbersome. This is especially the case when you’re shooting a rifle. Often the buttstock seems to unceremoniously collide with your ear muff.
I hate it when that happens. It throws off my concentration and drives me to distraction.
Then there’s another hassle.
Often the temple or arms of your goggles, when crammed between your ear muff and the side of your head, can be really irritating. Not only can it can cause a headache but, it often breaks the seal of ear muff, which of course doesn’t exactly help block the sound of gunshots.
Enter Gun Sport Pro Electronic Ear Plugs from an Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based company called Etymotic Research. Etymotic is a 30 year old company that makes an entire line of earphones, headsets, hearing aid products as well as noise protection gear.
The advantage of this device is that it not only protects you from loud noises emanating from guns but also amplifies fainter sounds such as speech, birdsong, etc. One could easily see this technology used on a hunt when you really need to pay attention to what your partners are saying, not to mention the ambient sounds of the woods, or whatever environment you are in.
I had the opportunity to test this technology the other day. I shot a variety of items ranging from a .41 magnum revolver to an AR 15 and was impressed with this little electronic gadget. It worked as advertised but the sensation of noise cancellation is different from what traditional ear muffs do. Traditional hearing protection offers a sort of “cone of silence”—a wall between you and the loud noise. Noise cancellation, through the wonders of modern technology, annuls out the sound thus rendering it less debilitating, rather than closing you off from it.
The upshot was that GunSport Pro did a good job, more or less equivalent to the old standby combination of foam ear plugs and ear muffs.
To get the device working you need to install the tiny #312 style hearing aid batteries which are provided in the kit. The battery (one to a unit) slips into the ear plug on a tiny hinged, receptacle which slides into the ear plug. Inserting the battery into the device turns on the power. There’s no on an off switch.
Once activated, the batteries drain consistently over their lives. There’s no stopping them. Whether you take them out of the device, leave them in, leave the device “on” or turn it off, the batteries will last 2-3 weeks. They then need to be replaced. Leaving them in the devices with the battery doors closed is probably the best course of action, because that way they won’t get lost.
The other feature on the GunSport Pro to be aware of is a tiny “Low-High” toggle switch that offers you two levels of hearing acuity—a “normal” and a high setting. The high setting, according to the company’s website, is 5x the low setting and it’s noticeable. For most people the normal setting is fine. If you’ve got it turned on high, it’s certain you’re not going to miss any of the ambient sounds around you (such as the rangemaster yelling).
So now a few comments. The first time out I found it a bit irritating—that is the pressure inside the ear canal. However, after a second outing I managed to finesse the ear tips so that my ear ergonomics were just fine. Note that they give you four different options for ear tips to make certain you get one that’s going to fit.
Some more comments: What one should be aware of is the short shelf life of the batteries. As stated there’s no on/off switch on the system. Thus this is inherent with the design. The other thing that takes getting used to is the ear plug itself which must be placed deep in your ear canal to work. You have to move it around a bit to make sure it’s comfortable.
The other issue, although it’s pretty minor, is the tendency for the fishing line-like tether that keeps the two ear pieces together to tangle. It’s sort of like a band on a pair of eyeglasses that you drape over your neck. It does the job but I’d make it from another less “tangly” material.
The device does need occasional maintenance.
The kit comes with two extra filters, a filter tool and cleaning tool to keep earwax buildup from stifling the sound. I also found that the tiny, Lilliputian-sized owner’s manual that instructs you how to use the product needs some tweaking. The manual is the size of a matchbook but is available in pdf form.
OK, so these are generally minor complaints.
As alluded to above, this is cool technology. I was a bit dubious at first to shoot anything that went bang without earmuffs but the noise cancelling system was quite efficient. It’s priced at $279 on the Etymotic website which is $50 less expensive than on Amazon. Yeah, a little expensive but I believe this device would be a particular asset to a rifle shooter who needs the extra real estate that an ear muff removes.
Update: About a month after I wrote this piece I participated in an all day shoot at an event called “Media Day at the Range” at the SHOT Show January 13, 2014. The GunSport Pro Electronic Ear Plugs were both comfortable and performed admirably under a variety of conditions. My only criticism is that the battery life of the hearing style storage technology is minimal. Essentially you have to replace them just about every time you use them. It’s the state of this particular battery technology. If you can accept that, you’ll be happy with the ear plug’s performance.
Photos courtesy of On Target staff and Etymotic Research.
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