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.
The standard practice is to insert foam earplugs and top them off with ear muffs. I’ve used several models, and have come to realize that they are not just a commodity.
So here’s the disturbing part. As I grow older, my hearing is diminishing. Hardly news to folks of a certain demographic but it’s something to watch because the loss of hearing can develop into serious trouble down the road.
Several studies suggest that hearing loss can increase your risk of cognitive abilities, and lead to dementia. Scientists have determined that a person’s chances for mental decline seem to go up the worse their hearing problems are.
Not a particularly appetizing scenario. Thus, protecting and preserving your hearing is pretty damned important.
Swap out your ear pads
So what to do?
In this piece we’ll look at a couple options.
The first, and least expensive route is to upgrade your existing earmuffs with Ready Up Gear SoftSeal Gel Ear Pads. You do this by taking your existing Peltor, Howard Leight, Walker or the new Roger 22 earmuffs and with a simple “hack”, turn them into a more comfortable and sound-resistant ear muff.
So what’s the secret sauce?
SoftSeal Gen Ear Pads are made from acoustic memory foam and are silicone gel filled. The upshot (no pun intended) is that the seal over ears is both tighter and more effective at blocking sound. They are manufactured to fit a number of brands.
Here are some advantages:
The gel seals are “squishier”, ie more flexible than foam and more effective at closing up the gap around eye-pro temple stems.
The gel seals conform to the shape of your head. (What a concept!)
The gel seals are much more comfortable than conventional foam pads.
If you get sweaty, they are less prone to produce “hot spots” where they contact the head or ears.
The ear pads are wrapped in a super-thin polyurethane outer skin which ensures a relaxed, durable, easy-to-clean product.
Adding the SoftSeal pads are straight-forward:
You need to first pry the existing pads off the Earmuff that you plan to modify. You will need a decent knife with a sharp blade to place in the tiny gap between the pad and the cup. It seems a bit strange at first, kind of like cracking open a cell phone but you’ll need to leverage the existing pad out.
There is no question that adding them is a monumental improvement over the stock pad. I added some pads to an ancient, Peltor Optime 101, which is an entry ($17.50) level product. It was inexpensive but had pretty good ergonomics when it came to fitting over my ears. Just by adding the new pads it was converted into first rate ear protection.
This brings us to a consideration you need to make before purchase. How well does the existing earmuff comport to your ears/head? Does it exert enough lateral pressure at the correct angle to seal your ears? If the answer is yes, you have a winner with new softgels.
Roger 22 Electronic Ear Muffs
There’s a ton of product out there in the Ear Muff universe. For something halfway decent at the entry level the minimum is $40 or so and that’s where the Roger 22s come in.
What I like about them for starters is their low profile. Having a bulbous cup does allow for more filler to absorb sound and ostensibly, better passive protection. However, having a large cup can get in the way (as alluded to above) when shooting a rifle.
They Roger 22s do keep the noise down. They are designed for shooting with a NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 22dB. They offer Sound Activated Compression with 0.01s Reaction Time. That means when a gunshot goes off, the noise suppression goes on. If you want to actually hear the rangemaster, or your girlfriend, there are Omnidirectional microphones with a volume control.
There’s also an Auxiliary audio input (3.5mm jack). This means you can grab audio from a mp3 player, shot timer, or camera.
I was pleasantly surprised how well the Roger 22 functioned, especially for the price. With the microphone on I could hear everyone around me and the noise suppression seemed to work, although frankly there wasn’t too much difference with the electronics on or off as far as diminishment of the gunshot sounds.
However, this wasn’t the stock Roger 22.
I added the SoftSeals. Adding the SoftSeal Gel Ear Pads is a game changer when it comes to passive protection.
Thus I strongly suggest dropping another $30 and acquire them.
As with the Peltor model, swapping out the pads on the Roger 22 involved removing the stock ear pads and swapping them out. The difference is that the Roger 22 has tiny plastic clips so you’ll need to snap the edge of the soft seal gel pads under them. The clips are a bit fragile so take care not to break them. Full disclosure, I broke a couple, but the new pad fit just fine.
With the SoftSeal Gel Ear Pads you’ll definitely be happier with the Roger 22 and you’ll be protecting something very important.
Both the Ear Pads and the Roger 22 ear muffs are available from Ready Up Gear.
Robert F. Kay is a columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a health nut, the author of two Lonely Planet guidebooks and Fijiguide.com. He appreciates a good pair of ear muffs on the range.