Turn a deaf ear to shooting noise
Sensible shooters know repeated unprotected exposure to the noise of firearms discharging can permanently damage hearing and when shooting on ranges it’s usually mandatory to use some form of hearing protection. People firing larger calibres quickly learn how painful such exposure can be – the levels of sound generated are related to how much propellant is being burned, since most of the noise comes from the sudden pulse in air pressure from high velocity gas escaping to the atmosphere just as the projectile exits the muzzle.
The potential for harm also depends on the environment in which the shooting is occurring. In enclosed ranges, noise levels will be higher than outside and even the discharge of a standard velocity .22 rimfire can cumulatively harm your hearing over time. The shorter barrels of handguns are doubly likely to be harmful as gases are not only released at higher pressures but the muzzle is also closer to the shooter’s ears.
For years I’ve used a variety of hearing protection devices and in recent times it has become increasingly popular to use electronic ones which allow ordinary spoken commands to be heard, while noises which rise rapidly to potentially harmful levels are ‘chopped off’ immediately by the internal electronics. During shooting matches it can be distracting to hear background noises such as bystanders talking, birds chirping, even empty cases landing on the floor, but it’s easy to turn the amplification down or even off. Yet when working as a Range Officer or firearms instructor it’s essential to be able to hear conversations while being protected from loud shooting noises.
Another important consideration with hearing protection is personal comfort. Earmuffs or plugs which are uncomfortable due to being too tight, the wrong shape or which fail to adequately block out sound are of no use. Those which lead to excessive perspiration should also be avoided and the ideal ones should be unobtrusive to the shooter.
The subject of this review – the Epicshot Explorer Pro – is a set of earmuffs using smart electronics to instantly reduce noise levels at the shooter’s ears. Before looking at the special details though, the muffs themselves offer good hearing protection even when switched off. They appear well designed and made and have several appealing features. Firstly they feel comfortable when being worn and have a reasonably low profile so are not in the way, which is important for longarm shooters. The substantial padded headband clamps the cups firmly yet comfortably on the ears at exactly the right angle.
Adjustment is comprehensive yet simple, providing a good array of sizes to cater to everyone from smaller children through to adults and, when shooting’s over, they fold up neatly into a compact package which doesn’t use much room in your shooting bag. The ear cups are made of matte-finished black plastic and the vinyl pads are soft and spongy, enabling good conformity to the wearer’s head to exclude external sounds. Inside the ear cups is a layer of foam separating the speakers from the ears, there are microphones in each ear cup and the volume control is on the left side.
The battery compartment is on the right at the outer top of the cup and is opened by sliding it upwards and off. The muffs are powered by two AAA batteries (not supplied) and the ear cups connected by a small cable which loops over the top of the padded headband. This unit takes earmuff technology to the next level by including a Bluetooth capacity, permitting it to pair wirelessly to a smart phone or other Bluetooth-enabled device.
While this is possibly of limited use to recreational shooters at the range or when hunting, it would have a few advantages for professional users who need to keep tabs on devices which can be connected via this wireless link such as mobile phones or radio communication equipment. It also comes with a 600mm-long cable with 3.5mm audio plugs to connect to phones or MP3 players. Pairing the earmuffs to a smartphone is simple. The phone is opened in ‘settings’ and the earmuffs switched on. Pressing the BT button on the outer top of the left ear cup for one second initiates pairing and, with the blue LED flashing, selecting ‘EM030BT’ in the phone’s Bluetooth settings links the devices.
Volume control for the Bluetooth connected audio is the narrow dial alongside the main volume knob. To answer an incoming call the BT button is pressed briefly (a longer press of this button will hang up the phone). There’s also a facility to put callers on hold, reject incoming calls and carry out a last-number redial for those who insist on having their phone with them at all times. But remember, on many ranges it’s a ‘disqualifiable sin’ to answer calls during a match.
Primarily, so far as shooters are concerned, these muffs are claimed to provide a noise reduction rating of 22 decibels (dB). This level of attenuation would apply even with the electronics turned off but, when activated, external noise is electronically switched off immediately on the ambient sound level exceeding 82dB. Some simple tests with a sound meter show a single loud handclap can produce approximately 100dB about 200mm from the microphone and this shuts off the earmuff’s output completely.
Having used these earmuffs at a variety of matches I can confirm they adequately reduce the levels of sound from handguns up to .44 Magnum calibre most effectively. The review sample Explorer Pro earmuffs were loaned by the Xhunter online store (xhunter.com.au) at a special RRP of $73 plus postage.