Our hearing is incredibly fragile and protecting it is incredibly important for our long term well being as we age.
When looking at the best hearing protectors, we are generally concerned about one factor above all others, Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR.
NRR is a measure of how much the hearing protection lowers the sound reaching our ears, as measured in decibels, or db. So if you are at a sporting event that has an average noise level of 95db and you are wearing hearing protection that has an NRR of 20db, then the effective sound level reaching your ears is 75db.
It’s important to have a concept of these numbers since sustained exposure to sounds over 85db can start to cause hearing damage. So when we talk about the best hearing protection ratings we are really talking about one number, NRR.
Different Types of Hearing Protection
There are two major categories of hearing protection we’ll be talking about, inner and outer ear. Inner ear is more generally known as earplugs and sits inside the ear canal. Outer ear hearing protection devices are known as earmuffs, and sit over the ears. We’ll also be discussing the subcategory of electronic or shooting hearing protection, which crosses both categories. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Earplugs typically sit within the inner ear canal, however some are designed to conform to the outside of the ear canal using a moldable wax or putty.
Earplugs have a higher average NRR rating than earmuffs. Typical NRR ratings tend to be in the upper 20’s, but many are in the 32 to 33db range, which is the maximum for earplugs. Earplugs can be disposable, designed for one time use, or reusable.
Disposable earplugs are generally made from expandable foam that is compressed for insertion into the ear canal and then expands to create a seal. Reusable earplugs are typically designed from soft silicone and have a cone shaped flange design for easy insertion and to create a tight seal.
Earplugs are the protection of choice for industrial sites, where the company is providing the protection to workers due to their relatively low cost and high protection rating.
Earmuffs sit over the ears and are held on using a headband designed to go over the top of the head or behind the head at the top of the neckline.
Earmuffs come in a wide variety of NRR ratings. The top models for best ear protection typically receive an NRR of 34db. However, the more common ratings tend to be in the mid-to high 20db range. Earmuffs are generally considered to be more comfortable than inner ear hearing protection.
Earplugs put constant pressure on the ear canal and after a period of extended wear this pressure becomes uncomfortable, or even painful. Being situated on the outside of the ear, earmuffs avoid much of this discomfort.
The tradeoff however is that you now have two bulky cups on either side of your head, in addition to a headband that may interfere with other cranial protection you are wearing.
Earmuffs on user
Electronic (Shooting) Hearing Protection
Electronic hearing protection is a relatively new category that is seen primarily in outer ear (earmuff) hearing protection, but is also now beginning to propagate into inner ear hearing protection.
Electronic hearing protection was initially developed for and is still primarily used by shooters. However, as the technology has become more advanced commercial users in industries such as aviation or agriculture are now picking it up.
Electronic hearing protection works by using external microphones to pick up safe ambient noises and then replicating them within the hearing protection. When there is a loud, unsafe noise, such as a gunshot, they either shut off the amplification or lower the level of the harmful noise.
The result is that you receive hearing protection when you need it, but without loosing the ability to hear non-harmful ambient noises such as voices. This gives you greater safety, situational awareness and increased ability to coordinate with those around you.
If you are looking at hearing protection there are a few brands that you need to be aware of. These are the top brands in both industrial/commercial and recreational hearing protection.
3M is one of the top brands in workplace safety overall and Peltor is the sub-brand under which they distribute of their earmuff and electronic products. Peltor in particular is very well known in the electronic hearing protection space. They were one of the first electronic hearing protection systems on the market and are still known for having the best electronics quality. 3M is extremely well known in the inner ear and disposable earplugs market for industrial commercial use. Their bright yellow foam earplugs are iconic on workplaces nationwide and are widely acknowledged for their combination of form and function. Both Peltor and 3M are known for building hearing protection solutions for some of the most challenging environments, and have earned a reputation to match.
Howard Leight is the hearing protection brand associated with Honeywell, one of the top brands in workplace safety. Howard Leight is well known for making quality products across the gambit of hearing protection types, from earplugs, earmuffs to electronic hearing protection. They are probably best known for their industrial disposable earplugs, which are commonly found at worksites, as well as their Impact line of electronic hearing protection, which are the best selling electronic earmuffs on the market. Howard Leight has been producing hearing protection solutions for over 30 years and this experience shines through in a range of popular, and well-reviewed earplug and earmuffs solutions. No matter what type of hearing protection solution you are looking for, there is a good chance that a Howard Leight product will be on your short list of candidates.
Top 10 Products
Top 5 Best Hearing Protection
We compiled our top products by looking at the top rated and top selling products on Amazon and then selecting those that gave the best value for protection and user satisfaction. We think that you’ll agree that these are the best options out there after you read our top 5 hearing protection reviews below.
Not only are 3M Tekk disposable earplugs the highest rated earplugs on Amazon with an astonishing 4.8 star average customer satisfaction rating. They are the top-selling earplugs in the world. The Tekk earplugs are specifically designed for light industrial or home/recreational use. They come is bulk packaging that is perfect for having available at the worksite or keeping on hand in the garage. These have an NRR of 29db. This is considered perfect for industrial uses such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture. Recreational uses include lawncare/mowing, woodworking, or indoor and outdoor shooting. Slow expansion foam was used in the design meaning you have plenty of time to get them properly situated and comfortable. The foam is also moisture resistant, meaning these earplugs will perform the same no matter what environment you have them in. They are flame resistant, which is an advantage for work sites with the potential for high heat or arc flash. These earplugs are a perfect example of why 3M has attained such an outstanding reputation in the hearing protection market.
ClearArmor Safety Earmuffs are both the highest customer rated at 4.7 stars and highest NRR earmuffs available on Amazon at an outstanding 34db. With an NRR of 34db these earmuffs are appropriate for anything you want to use them for. Whether it’s light or heavy industrial work, manufacturing, indoor or outdoor shooting. These earmuffs provide more than enough protection to handle it all. The secret to the high level of protection these provide is a NASA developed LRPu foam that dampens mid-high range frequencies. The result is an outstanding level of protection that has earned the ClearArmor Safety Earmuffs the #1 Best Seller spot in the Safety Ear Protection Accessories category on Amazon. Not only do these earmuffs provide some of the best ear protection out there, they are also extremely comfortable. They have a full ½” of foam on the headband and extra soft foam padding on the ear cups. The result is a set of earmuffs that are comfortable for extended wear.
The Howard Leight Max-1’s are the most used polyurethane foam earplugs in the world. The Max-1’s were designed with protection and comfort in mind. They offer an NRR of 33db, which is at the very top end of what earplugs are capable of. The polyurethane foam is extremely soft and they are designed with a unique bell shape. The Bell shape matches the contour of the inner ear. This creates the most comfortable fit possible; while at the same time prevents the earplugs from backing out of the ear canal, lowering protective value. The Max-1 earplugs have a high enough NRR value to be appropriate for almost all industrial settings, including high noise environments such as heavy manufacturing. They come in a bright orange color that gives visibility of the earplug inside the ear canal. This let’s you do safety checks from a distance to ensure that workers are complying with site safety regulations.
You can’t go wrong with a classic. 3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs were the first foam earplugs on the market and set the standard for the industry. Despite being the first, they are still one of the highest rated and highest selling ear protection solutions on the market. These have an NRR of 29, which makes them appropriate for light industrial, recreational, and indoor and outdoor shooting. Unless you are in an extremely loud commercial environment these should give you more than enough protection. They are made from low-pressure slow recovery foam that is easy to compress between the fingers and gives plenty of time to situate the earplug inside the ear canal. They are moisture resistant and will continue to work in humid and wet environments. They are also fire retardant and appropriate for use in work environments where arc-flash may be an issue. These are compliant with OSHA personal protective equipment standards and are bright yellow to aid in visual compliance checks.
The Howard Leight Impact Sport is the first electronic hearing protection we are looking at in this review. They are the #1 Best Seller in the Hunting and Shooting Earmuffs category on Amazon, as well as being one of the best rated pairs of electronic earmuffs. They utilize two external microphones to capture ambient noise. The microphones are recessed and foam covered to prevent wind noise problems, which have been known to plague other electronic hearing protection. These use a clipping technology that shuts off amplification within milliseconds any time there is a sound louder than 82db, such as a gunshot. Users report that the sound amplification gives them “super hearing” and are a must have when hunting. These are also very comfortable for long-term wear. They have a slimline design that sits comfortably on the head and won’t interfere while shooting. The NRR of 22db is appropriate for outdoor shooting and hunting. If you want to use them at an indoor shooting range you’ll likely have to double them up with inner ear hearing protection. If you are an avid sportsman or hunter these earmuffs are a must have.
The Rest of the List
When you are determining what is the best hearing protection for you to purchase always start with your needs first. You need to begin by determining how loud the environment you will be in is. Heavy industrial such as heavy manufacturing typically requires an NRR of 30db or greater. Light manufacturing, or indoor shooting typically needs to be 25db or greater.
If you plan on using your hearing protection for outdoor shooting, hunting, or recreation activities such as mowing the lawn or going to a loud sporting event or concert then you will likely only need 20db or greater of protection. Once you have determined your needs you can look at the products that provide you enough protection and then look at other factors that may be decision points for you. Comfort should be high on the list of any user.
Even the best ear protection can be rendered nearly useless if it isn’t comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time. Or in the case of earmuffs, if they are bulky enough to interfere with other equipment or activities, that may be a prohibitive factor to you properly using them. For earmuffs, style often is a factor for consumers, especially if they intend to wear them for recreational activities.
After all, who doesn’t want to look good while they protect their hearing? Once you have determined your needs you can really hone in on which product is perfect for you. No matter what your needs, I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great products to meet them.
Thank you for taking the time to look through our Best Hearing Protection Review. I think you’ll agree that we’ve only scratched the surface of what is available on the market to meet your needs. If you want to dive deeper we’ve got a lot of great information and reviews on specific categories and products that can help you figure out exactly what the perfect product is for you.
Whether you are interested in earplugs, earmuffs, electronic hearing protection or a mix of all of them, you will find information on this site to help you learn more and show you how to find the perfect pair of hearing protection for you. So please dive in, explore and enjoy!
Images sourced from Amazon.com