April 09, 2020
Shooting guns is my all-time favorite pastime and profession. It never gets old, especially with all the new and cool hardware coming out these days.
However, the older I get the more protective of my hearing I become. When I was younger, I was sloppy with my ear protection and an occasional gunshot would make my ears ring. Once the ringing stopped, I figured I was good to go and that I hadn’t sustained any lasting damage.
I was wrong.
Hearing loss is cumulative. One gunshot isn’t the end of the world, but it takes a toll.
My wife has two degrees in deaf education and is serious about encouraging me to protect my hearing. The way she explains it is that there are tiny hairs deep inside of our ears that over time and with exposure to loud noises begin to die. The hairs lay over on their side as they die, much like grass and how it wilts under the hot sun or when we walk the same path repeatedly.
Those little hairs inside our ears never get better. Noise exposure spoils our hearing and the effects never reverse. Every loud noise we experience damages those hairs, even if it’s a small degree.
The right answer to solve this problem is to take hearing protection seriously. I do now. I’ve started to spend more money on suppressors to prevent further hearing damage and to protect my kids while they’re still young. However, the most portable and timely form of hearing protection is a good set of electronic plugs that travel with me. The best answer is having multiple forms of hearing protection, such as using a suppressor and wearing ear plugs.
Most unsuppressed rifle shots produce around 160-plus decibels (db). Shotguns and pistols are a lot lower — about 150 db — and are easier to manage. These days, I use two forms of hearing protection while shooting rifles, especially if those rifles have muzzlebrakes and/or I’m shooting under overhead cover. I strongly recommend plugs and muffs in that scenario.
Once I’m out from under cover or the muzzlebrake comes off, I’m comfortable just using electronic plugs. Electronic plugs are awesome. Put them in and go about your business. There’s no need to shout at your buddies (or for them to shout at you) because you can still hear and have regular conversations. There are no muffs to interfere with a rifle or shotgun stock.
I do a lot of shooting from the prone and it’s not uncommon for the muff on my right ear to lift away from my head when I plant my cheek on the stock’s comb. This issue meant my right ear would suffer some uncomfortable noise exposure, so I now I always shoot with electronic plugs in my ears. I still supplement with muffs under certain conditions, but I always wear electronic plugs these days.
The most recent set of electronic plugs I’ve tried are made by Tetra (in the U.S.A). They are the Range AlphaShield. These electronic plugs have a number of features that I’ve come to appreciate the more I wear them.
Electronic plugs are nothing new, and I’ve used quite a few sets through the years. The most comfortable are made from a mold of the shooter’s ear canal, but those also cost more. (Tetra’s CustomShield is $1,100.)
The AlphaShields come very close to being as comfortable as other molded in-ear protection I’ve tested, but these sound better. In my mind, there are four categories to evaluate any electronic plug: noise reduction, sound quality, comfort and price.
Noise reduction across in-ear electronic plugs is going to be very similar. Packing your ear canal with a small electronic obstruction gets you about 22- to 24-db reduction. That’ll knock a braked rifle from 160-plus db down to just under 140 db. Anything below 140 db is generally considered “hearing safe.” Personally, I prefer the low 130 db range and you should, too. (This is why I use muffs and plugs when shooting really noisy guns.)
Since noise reduction is a wash, it comes down to sound quality, comfort and price to decide which electronic plugs are best for you. Based on my experience, the AlphaShield devices have the best quality sound.
I measure sound quality by how much electronic distortion I hear when using the devices, and how much unwanted noise comes through with the desired sounds. For example, when I’m talking to a buddy at the range, how much wind noise do I hear? Does it sound tinny and electronic, or does it sound like a real human voice?
This is especially important when wearing muffs over the plugs. Tetra’s AlphaShield plugs did a phenomenal job of amplifying voices under muffs so that I could hear clearly without making me feel like I was listening to an electronic voice. There was also no background whoosh that usually happens when electronic plugs are turned up for maximum sound amplification.
Tetra figured out how to work some sound magic by programming their devices to amplify the frequencies most human speech use while eliminating frequencies we don’t want or need. They focused on frequencies between 300 Hz and 3,000 KHz with the Range AlphaShield model. In doing so, Tetra has given us great amplification and rich-sounding human voices, while eliminating everything else.
For anything other than molded in-ear devices, the AlphaShield would be my top pick for comfort. Each set of electronic plugs comes with two forms, either rubber or foam, of in-ear fitting device with three sizes of each type. I liked the medium foam tips the best.
Having comfortable in-ear electronic devices like the AlphaShield greatly diminishes the likelihood of ever hearing a gunshot unprotected. I wear these devices hunting and keep them in my ears whenever there is a chance I might shoot. I never know when I might need to get off a quick shot, or they stay in for long periods of time, and the AlphaShields are comfortable enough, and sound good enough, that all-day wear is not a burden.
Whether or not the price is worth the admission is up to the individual. As far as electronic plugs go, the AlphaShields are priced competitively, especially considering they are the best sounding in-ear devices I’ve worn.
The AlphaShields make a ton of sense for anyone that needs hearing protection frequently or for long periods of time. Competitive shooters that spend the entire day at a match, guys that hunt a lot and have to snap-shoot, or anyone that spends lots of time at the range will experience a quality-of-life improvement with Tetra’s AlphaShields.
Tetra Range AlphaShield
- Feedback Reduction: Yes
- Multi-mode settings: Four levels of amplification
- MSRP: $700
- Manufacturer: Tetra, 855-255-6605, tetrahearing.com
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