By Nathan Shonts

When I first started shooting I knew just enough to know I needed to protect my ears. Somehow. So I went down to my neighborhood Wally World and picked up a $15 pair of muffs that I reckoned would do the job. Then I learned my lesson. While I was at the range, the left muff fell off and I was left with the bells of St. Mary’s ringing in my head for the rest of the day. Seriously, though, if you’re serious about shooting you need to be serious about your gear, but being serious doesn’t mean your gear has to be seriously expensive. Just seriously good . . .

And seriously good is what Howard Leight Impact Sports electronic earmuffs are. They’re equipped with two directional microphones — one on each ear — that let you hear ambient noise (think human speech) you while they block out any sound louder than 82 decibels (think gunshots). That means instead of screaming to your buddy that he just made a helluva shot, you can carry on a normal conversation and still protect your ear drums.

They have a standard RCA input jack so you can connect your iPod and listen to tunes while you shoot. If you want to do that. For some reason. And they come in any color you want as long as you want olive drab.

While they’re about the best performance/value option out there for pistol shooters, there is a downside — like most over-the-ear hearing protection, they can interfere when you try to get a solid cheek weld on your long gun. The lower halves of the muffs are slightly tapered (the call them cut-outs) to minimize this, but your mileage, mounting position and noggin may vary.

And while they’re comfy and create a good sound seal to keep those decibels out, they’re naturally warmer to wear in hot weather than inside-the-ear options.

Bottom line: they work, they’re comfy and they’re awfully affordable for a quality electronic hearing pro option. With a street price around $45, they’re darned hard to beat.

Specifications:

Sound Amplification:        up to 3x
Battery life:                            350 hours
Automatic shutoff:             after 4 hours
Batteries:                                 2 AAA
Noise reduction rating:    22db
Weight:                                     10.5oz (with batteries)
MSRP:                                       $55

Ratings: * * * * *

Durability: * * * * *
I probably have close to 30 hours of use and have not had a single hiccup to date.

Simplicity: * * * * *
One knob to rule them all. Controls on, off and volume.

Functionality: * * * (* *)
I held back two stars because it really depends on what you will use them for. If you are a pistol shooter, look no further — these are perfect. If you’ll be shooting long guns, you’ll want to make sure they don’t interfere with your cheek weld.

Overall: * * * *
You won’t go wrong with these, even if you just buy them for handgun shooting. Great ear protection at a great price.

35 Responses to Gear Review: Howard Leight Impact Sport Ear Muffs

  1. I love these muffs. I love getting done with a mag and turning around for my friend to step up and commenting on the conversation he just had while I was shooting. A funny bi product at my indoor range is that when I have the volume knob cranked up, the air conditioning vent sounds like a waterfall in the background. Some may find it relaxing. Buy them online, I got them for $50 on amazon, whereas my local gun store has them for $100…

    One reccomendation I would make is to place a piece of paper between the cushions when collapsed and stored. After letting them sit in my range bag the rubber surfaced cushions stick to each other, and made me afraid of ripping when separating them. I now just put in a piece of paper to keep them from touching when putting them away.

  2. I have always preferred ear muffs, “mickey mouse ears”, to in the ear plugs. But when I’m at the indoor range I wear both.

  3. Dan, have you used these at busy ranges? I know two people locally that have had (different pairs of) these muffs get confused and pass through amplified shots when there was a lot of shooting going on. I don’t know if it’s a pattern or an exception. The more people I hear of who haven’t experienced this on a busy range, the more I assume these two experiences were anomalies.

    • I’ve had these for a few years and often shoot at an indoor range with 10-15 active shooting lanes. I’ve never experienced that. But, I have found that for me, when indoors, ear plugs do a much better job for me than ear muffs. My cheap Howard Leight “Max Lite” foam ear plugs that I bought in bulk many years ago are rated for 30db NRR, while the Impact Sports muffs are only rated for 22db NRR.

      For me, pros/cons break down like this:
      Foam plug pros:
      – Better noise reduction rating
      – More comfortable for me (muffs push on my glasses’ earpiece and hurt the side of my head after a while)
      – Cheap, light, and take up nearly zero room in the range bag
      – Don’t ever break their seal while turning my head or during active shooting exercises, which sometimes involve unorthodox positions (laying on the ground, etc)
      – Don’t get in the way of rifle shooting.
      Cons:
      – Can’t remove/install them easily between shooters at our indoor IDPA matches for easy conversations
      – Make conversations somewhat more difficult.

      Muff Pros:
      – The sound amplification works great for conversations
      – Easy to remove/put back on between shooters during “1 stage at a time” matches
      Cons:
      – Hot. I have a bald head, and the band and ear muffs get sweaty
      – Uncomfortable for me (see above)
      – Don’t block as much sound as the plugs
      – The batteries need to be replaced periodically, and I seem to leave them on accidentally occasionally draining the batteries.
      – Can break their seal to my head when turning my head, or when bumped by a part of my body, leaving my ears exposed to noise.

      • “Cons:
        – Can’t remove/install them easily between shooters at our indoor IDPA matches for easy conversations”

        RightYouAreKen,

        I use ear plugs that are attached to each other with a cord. That way, when I need to pull them out, I can just hang the cord around around the back of my neck, with the ear plugs resting on the front of my shoulders. The ear plugs are then easily available when I need to put them back in again.

  4. These muffs are made by a factory in China and sold under several brand names. I bought the same muffs from Dick’s Sporting Goods under the Field and Stream brand and hunting buddy has the same ones that he picked up from Academy Sports under a different brandname.

    I’m making this assumption because the plastic outer shells are the same, with the sloping black plastic cover on one side and on the other side they have the teardrop shaped speaker with the volume control. Pulling both of ours apart, the had the same internal components literally down to the wire.

    FWIW, I agree they’re nice earmuffs.

    Dan- send me an email and I’ll reply back to you with a couple photos.

  5. I also own these…bought off of Amazon. I have only used for pistol shooting. They work great! …although sometimes when many around me are firing, I would like more noise reduction….I may supplement with in ear foam.

  6. These are probably the best value out there for cutoff-type electronic ears. I’ve used them extensively for about two years, and my only criticism is that the ear cushion seals are starting to get stiff. I hope I can eventually replace them without having to replace he whole unit.

    Remember not to close fhem us clamshell-style if you’ve gotten hot or sweaty; they can develop an unwholesome odor which only Febreeze will cure.

  7. I use foam ear plugs rated to @33 decibels and over the ear muffs always when shooting at an indoor range. Are the muffs reviewed here today the ones that don’t just allow speaking level decibel noise to pass through but actually magnify voices? I believe there are electronic muffs that claim to magnify whispered voices and also claim to enable users to hear quiet footsteps. I have wondered if those might theoretically be good in a dark home defense situation.

    PS Good foam ear plugs are also good to use inside a motorcycle helmet to save your hearing from the ‘white death’.

    • Yes, they magnify normal sounds well too. They do impact your ability to tell what direction the noise is coming from, but are accurate to within 45 degrees or maybe a little less. That’s a completely unscientific guess based on me sitting in the woods hunting and hearing squirrels and birds rustle around in the leaves.

        • I have a pair of peltor electronic muffs that amplify well enough for me to hear a 22lr hitting a cardboard target @ 200 yrds. I don’t know I’d these amplify that much but a friend of mine has them and loves them. We got tired of yelling at each other at the range

  8. Not to pick nits, but that looks like a 3.5mm jack (aka 1/8″) for audio input. RCA is the bigger one that usually comes in a pair, red & white.

  9. Based on my classes in physiology [the science may have changed in the intervening thirty-plus years] I suspect another advantage to these muffs. When the ear is exposed to a sudden high sound level, the response/damage depends on the pre-sound status. If the environment is already noisy, the damage is less, whereas when there is near-silence followed by a sudden loud sound, the damage is worse. This is based on the body accommodating the background noise by adjusting the musculature of the hearing apparatus.

    By allowing 80db background noise, the muffs allow for this accommodation, reducing if not eliminating damage. Which is why I own a pair and strongly recommend them.

    Again, this may be obsolete science. If anyone is knowledgeable regarding this, please enlighten me.

  10. Love these things. That said, some comments:

    1) The jack is great for plugging my iPhone into… …because it’s also my shot timer. Hearing the signal to shoot above all the other noise is wonderful.

    2) Sometimes you pick up interference from cell phones. If you ever heard the unshielded clicking and buzzing of a desperate phone trying to talk to a far away tower, it’s like that, but amplified. Not too bad, though.

    3) There is one particular range where the fans are so loud or are oscillating at the just-wrong frequency or something where these things go absolutely nuts. But I’ve only ever experienced it at one range, and even then only at one particular area of that range. Solution: Turn off the amp and use them like normal muffs.

  11. I have a pair and love them for outdoor use. For indoor use with a rifle, I find that they don’t suppress the noise level effectively and have to use ear plugs as well (disabling the electronics built into them). It’s not like the noise is painful…I just find it hard to believe that bring noise levels down to what’s considered “hearing safe”.

    • They don’t. The NRR on these is very low.

      Even with peltors (significantly better NRR) you still need to double up indoors.

      HL’s are not my favorite ear muffs by a long shot.

  12. Question: On these muff, is the band that goes over your head (encapsulated in vinyl) steel or plastic. I ask since I’ve broken the plastic ones by merely fitting the muffs to my head.

  13. I like mine, but I find opening the battery compartment somewhat non-intuitive. I am very sensitive to noise. Even with muffs and plugs combined I get a headache from an hour of shooting at an indoor range, regardless of muffs used. Glad I have 14 acres.

  14. I love these things and recommend them to all my friend. They are worth every penny. You can find some great deals on them on Amazon for about $50. I’ve had mine for a little over a year and last week while out at the range the batteries died. There was strange muffled drum beat when turned on. Once I changed out the batteries we were good to go again. Unlike most muffs these are pretty slim and don’t get in the way as much. It’s great to be able to carry on a conversation withing constantly taking off your ear protection and putting it back on. Increases safty in that regards as you’re more aware of your surrounding. Love um.

  15. We have several sets of these we use as loaners. If you leave them lying in the sun in 95 degree weather, with the muffs closed and the ear cups touching each other, the plastic will melt and the ear cups will get stuck together, then when you open the muffs up, the ear cups will pull out of the plastic housing.

    They work good for outdoor use with pistols and for hunting; I recommend wearing plugs underneath them for long guns and indoor use.

  16. My concern is these things only have a 22 DB suppression. I already have hearing loss and I want the highest suppression I can get and I don’t think 22 DB is going to cut the mustard for me. I would love something like this with more like 28 to 30 DB suppression.

    Thanks
    Robert

  17. Mine have a tone that should not be there rather annoying. These are brand new I guess I got a 59.99 piece of bad manufacturing

  18. Fine system even has provision for replacement ear pads, of course, the down side is that the removable ear pieces can come off somewhere between the vehicle and the shooting booth! Spent significant amount of time trying to locate a source for the replacement ear piece – surely I can’t be the only one to have had this happen! Somebody, have the magic sight?

  19. Dan, I have purchased howard ear muffs few month ago. Really no doubt it is very high quality ear muffs. People, who are looking good ear muffs no doubt buy Dan recommendation howard ear muffs.

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