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Hunter Electronic, “the leading provider of electronic products for hunters and shooters in the Nordic countries,” is working on expanding its presence in the US. At SHOT Show’s Range Day, they were showing off some new ear muffs, including the flagship SMART model seen here. I gotta say, they’re pretty dang slick . . .

The SMARTs are about as advanced as active electronic muffs get. They allow normal or amplified hearing of sounds under a certain dB threshold, and suppress louder noises. Hearing is stereo and directional, with separate volume control for each ear, so the wearer can actually detect where sounds are coming from. But this isn’t the advanced part.

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The SMARTs can connect to a radio and/or mobile device via 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth 4.0. The retractable boom microphone actively cancels out background noise. Three AAA batteries will stream music for at least 50 hours or run active noise cancelling alone for at least 180 hours. Rechargeable batteries can be used as well, and a mini-USB port allows for charging them while still installed in the headset.

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If you’re also using a 2-way radio for communication with other people, it gets priority over the Bluetooth connection. In fact, even if the batteries in the headset are dead, the 3.5mm jack will power the speakers and microphone off of the radio.

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For all this, MSRP is $239 on Hunter’s website. Price at retail should be less. I intend to pick up a pair for review.

On the more budget-friendly, slim, and lightweight side of the electronic hearing protection spectrum, is Hunter’s A2.

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For an MSRP of just $80, they provide stereo active hearing protection with individual volume control as well as a 3.5mm jack for external input. Both the A2s and SMARTs have battery compartments that are easily-accessed and don’t break (i.e. they don’t have little tabs that snap off the first time you try to open them).

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64 Responses to New From Hunter: SMART Active Headset

  1. these electronic ear defenders are puzzling. they have been too expensive for me (the $30 remington muffs with NRR31 are my top limit), but always intrigued by the possibility that the electronics completely deaden sounds above 82db. do these electronic gizmos really stop all sounds above 82db? or is that where the NRR function kicks in? if it is the last, it seems that a gunshot at the range will still damage the hearing.

    • Nope. With the ones I have, I can talk and listen to regular level conversations,, but gun shots are completely muffled. The gunshots are at the same level non-electronic ear protection provides.

      • so the sound is there, like with non-electronic? have you ever seen anything that makes gunshot noise just seem like “dead air” ?

        • Honestly no. I have the good old 40$ electronic ones off amazon that everyone uses. Basically imagine your normal muffs, but once you turn them on you can hear whispers across the range. Occasionally if someone is talking and a guy next to me mag dumps or something they will cut in and out, but typically even with gunshots going I get no dead air. Now occasionally I have one small issue. There is a tiny little range in a Bass Pro by my house, the shooting boxes are all really cramped and made of diamond plate steel. You get hit with muzzle blast really bad in there, and even my 9mms will get me pretty good. Once in a while these ears sort of amplify the reverberation and I get a bit more noise after the shot than I would like, but still nowhere near dangerous to my ears.

        • guess i am looking for the impossible. something that makes all sound disappear above a certain db. at the range, the long gun guys, especially those next to the wall, just make the day horrible.

        • I use the Howard Leight electronic muffs which are popular and reasonably priced. Gunshots do sound different with them vs. unamplified muffs or ear plugs, because they will pickup the echo from the berm or nearby buildings and amplify it. But it’s certainly not a problem.

          I also don’t use them when shooting long guns because they tend to rub against the stock. But for pistol shooting they are the bee’s knees.

        • i’ve seen some people with the behind the head frame ear protection. heard they are from leight. still not sure the electronic protectors are quite where i want. have no problem on the range hearing people with me talking, so amplification may not be important, yet. thanks for the info.

        • “have you ever seen anything that makes gunshot noise just seem like “dead air” ?”

          There is something like that, but not in the gun hearing-muff realm, as far as I am aware.

          What you want is known as a type of ‘Active Noise Reduction’ (ANR). The microphone picks up the gunshot, electronically inverts it, and feeds it back into the little speaker, effectively canceling it out before your eardrum . The Bose ANR headphones does that, but they are rather tricky to engineer correctly. It’s super-slick technology when it works right.

          Bose uses them in their aviation headsets, and in light aircraft with very loud engines, they can be extremely effective. Not perfect, but it can really lowers stress levels in the cockpit. Once you try one flying, you’ll likely want a set.

          These muffs here quickly switch off the amplifier when it detects a sound over a certain threshold, turning them into standard ear muffs as long as the sound is loud. Another upside is you can turn the volume up, turning them into a kind of ‘Super Hearing’. Some folks use these in their home defense, when investigating sounds at home at night. Hunters like to hear critters moving about clearer.

          Give one of them a try, I think you will like what they do. It’s damn nice being able to hold a standard conversation without having to yell into someone’s earplugs while at the firing line…

        • well, BOSE is latin for BIG BUCKS, so i reckon those are out (but the airplane part is interesting to know). from all these posts it ‘peers i need to at least start thinkin’ ’bout spending more than $30.

        • I have a nice set of active noise cancelling headphones that I use for flying and such. Amazing. BUT… the amount of noise they’re capable of cancelling is limited by the max dB that the little speakers can put out (they must play an acoustically opposite tone), and the frequency range of sounds they’re capable of cancelling is limited by the frequency range of the speakers. I don’t think either max volume or frequency range would be sufficient to offset the noise of a gunshot, and they probably wouldn’t be capable of reacting quickly enough to save you from the peak dB impulse of the gunshot anyway. They work best to cancel out constant noise like the droning of an engine or wind noise, etc.

        • ok, that is important stuff to know. also, just read that a good deal of perceived noise is actually because of bone conduction of sound waves hitting the head. wondered about a custom helmet that would reduce bone conduction while also improving on available ear defenders. now that would really be big bucks (bose, ya’ listenin’ ?)

        • “well, BOSE is latin for BIG BUCKS, so i reckon those are out ”

          Yeah, the aviation ones are about $1,000, and the QuietComfort ones Jeremy mentioned run about $300…

          If you fly airliners often, The QuietComforts make the trip much more bearable…

      • You can use the old standby of earplugs and muffs with electronic earpro as well. Right now my go-to combination is a set of Surefire EP3 or EP4 plugs with the flaps open under some Sordin low profile electronic muffs set to amplify external noise <81db. With that combination, I didn't notice the guy in the next booth was using a 16" 5.56 AR instead of a pistol at an indoor range but could still have a normal conversation and hear brass hit the floor.

        IIRC, you get a better spread of dampened noise frequencies using both types of earpro as well. The NRR ratings aren't simply added together, but you do get more effective protection than either one alone.

        • This is what I have to do, using Howard Leights and foamies, together. Using the muffs alone the rifles or big bore handgun noise gets through and makes my ears ring.

          Take the foamies out and turn up the volume while hunting. Can be disorienting while walking as your footsteps, sounds of brush against legs, etc are amplified, so best while sitting still, really helps with sounds of animals moving nearby.

        • interesting. i use 33NRR muffs amd 23NRR plugs simultaneously (read that the plugs only effectively add 5NRR, at best), and the heavy cartridge shooters at the range are still oppressively loud. all said, i think i am looking for something that will reduce external noise to room conversation level. concerned that even with double ear protection, the sound level at the range can still damage hearing.

        • Another thing to consider is that you can have both plugs and muffs on, but the concussion from the gunshot travels through the bone in your skull into your inner ear.

          The real large-heavy calibers are going to get through, no matter what ear pro you use.

    • I was a skeptic and now I’m a believer.

      I switched to elec ear pro a few yrs ago and never looked back.

      I have some hearing loss already –thanks Uncle Sam –and most elec ear pro enhance sound/ under a certain db, which help, while completely blocking sounds over a certain db.

      What’s not to love? And they are getting more and more affordable as their popularity increases.

    • I think most people misunderstand how electronic hearing protection actually works. Take the batteries out (or leave the muffs turned off) and they are exactly the same as normal ear muffs. They block all sound to whatever their NRR is. Turn them on, and the electronics relay sounds under a certain threshold (usually around 80 dB) from the microphone to the speaker inside the muff at whatever amplification amount you dial in via the volume control. There is no question whatsoever of whether or not the electronics react quickly enough to dampen sounds over 80 dB. They don’t work like auto-darkening welding lenses. The default is to muffle all sounds. The electronics just relay quiet sounds. Actually, they relay all sounds as long as the ambient volume level is lower than 80 dB or whatever the threshold is and they typically shut off the speakers completely if the ambient volume level goes above the threshold.

      On that note, even if the electronics went haywire and decided to relay every sound no matter how loud, the volume level you’d hear would just be the max of whatever those little speakers inside the muffs are capable of. The gunshot would still be muffled by the earmuffs to the full extent of their NRR, then the speakers would play that sound for you like headphones would and it would be nowhere anywhere remotely near as loud as an actual gunshot.

  2. I have a pair of electronic ear protection that has directional sound that can increase my hearing sensitivity and an audio jack I can plug in my phone for music or listening to Netflix on my computer.

    I keep it near my bed along with my fire arms so if I need to get into a home defense situation, I’ll have hearing protection against going deaf because of using firearms inside the house.

    Ultimately, I’m going to get some suppressors for my weapons, but that’s for the future.

    • So with such a setup, I could clear my house in the middle of the night with a SUPER INTENSE SOUNDTRACK? Sold.

  3. Awesome!

    Love electronic ear pro, and welcome more products to the market.

    I love my Peltors. They stay ready for bear right next to my HD shotgun.

    Why damage your hearing because some BG decided your house was an easy target… I want to hang on to the hearing I still have, if at all possible.

    • Amen! I have been at least 60% hearing impaired all my life, and do everything I can to protect what hearing I have. A decent set of electronic ear muffs ride in my gun bag all the time, and an older set, just as effective but harder to use, rests on the rack with my guns next to the bed. I only pray I have time to put them on in case of an intruder.

      Just remember to check the batteries on the bedside muffs… one of the reason I quit using the older ones was due to it eating batteries because it was hard to know when it was turned off, and easily turned on running around in the range bag. The new one has an “auto off” after four hours, so even if I leave it on, it turns itself off. That’s a feature I didn’t see in these super expensive ones.

      • Mitch H the comedian used to jest – a broken escalator just becomes stairs.

        Same goes of elec ear pro, they just become regular muffs when the batteries die.

        • Yes indeed… but then I can’t hear ANYTHING. 🙂 I have to be able to talk to and hear my students, and it is imperative that I hear what is going on when I’m serving as range safety officer. We also do low light drills and other things were knowing what others are doing and saying is especially vital. It’s a lot better to check your batteries often. 🙂 The new muffs don’t need that anywhere near as much, but checking the batteries is on my scheduled range safety briefing, every time.

        • Nice that the SMARTs can use rechargeables and can recharge with the batteries installed. Unplug the muffs from a standard cell phone charger before leaving and you know they’re at 100%. I keep a set of backup batteries in my range bag for my cheapo electronic muffs, and probably still would for these, but the need to do so would definitely be diminished if they were plugged into a charger basically all of the time and just came off on my way to go shooting.

      • Which brand do you use? Having gone to the range more than once with dead batteries, that auto-off feature sounds nice…

        • You can always take the batteries out when done shooting… 🙂

          BTW, there are 10 year-life Lithium AA batteries available, not cheap, but they are available…

        • I’ve used a lot of lithium batteries, and far as I can tell that “ten year life” only applies to the things when they remain sealed in their packages. That’s shelf life, not working life. 🙂

        • The new ones are Howard Leight Impact Sport. They have a jack port, but I don’t use it. The old muffs are Peltor, about nine years old now, and still work VERY well if the batteries are not dead. 🙂 Changing the batteries is a big job, since the cushion and foam insert of each muff has to be disassembled. The Leight muffs have a single compartment on the outside, and battery changes are simple and fast.

  4. The electronic headphones gives you a listening edge in home defense situation. If you think you heard something, cranck the volumes to catch movement/doors/footsteps downstairs or outside bedroom.

    • isn’t worrying over ear protection during a home invasion a distraction at a time you want to focus on getting a flashlight and bring your drawer gun into play?

      • I used to keep a pair of electronic muffs in the gun drawer also. If there isn’t time, there isn’t time, but there might be time and I’m keen on not going deaf. Firing a gun indoors without ear pro is not high on my list. Disability claims for hearing loss are the #1 disability cost for most military and LE. My grandparents were born deaf and my sister was born close. I have well above average hearing and intend to keep it that way.

        That said, my HD gun wears a Liberty Mystic suppressor. Took 10 months to get done after moving back to WA from CA, but the silencer replaced the muffs as soon as it was in my hands.

        • interesting about the silencer. thought they still allowed sound above 80-85db. but now that i know how ear defenders work (subtract the NRR rating from expected db evels, and the result is what assaults the ears), maybe a silencer is something to look into. not sure i will be comfortable asking the feds, “come and get me”. but your reply does need thinking over.

          thanks

        • Subsonic 9mm through a good suppressor is about 125 dB. Without suppressor about 158 dB, so that’s a 33 dB reduction or basically identical to what you’d get from the highest rated ear plugs or muffs.

          No rule against wearing ear pro when shooting suppressed, either. With most rifles measuring in the mid to high 130 dB range when suppressed, I definitely prefer to wear ear pro.

      • Not at all. Why would you “worry” about it if it was part of your practiced routine? I don’t worry about it… I just do it – each time I practice my response to a home invasion. You do practice that, don’t you? 🙂

        • yeah, i practice obtaining the gun and light and then getting into position to cover the funnel, while dialing 911. that last part is a problem, because i do not always remember to bring the phone to bed (not depending on a wired line to be available during a break-in). thought about getting a “burner” phone for the drawer, but you gotta re-load the minutes each month.

        • Don’t need an active plan or minutes to call 911, just a working phone with juice in the battery that can connect to the cell network.

        • I hope you are not counting on that call for much.

          In the few SECONDS between the alarm and the intrusion, the phone call won’t likely even connect before the whole thing is over. I’ve lived in places where the average – and notice, that’s AVERAGE – response time to a 911 call is a matter of hours. Here it is probably no more than ten or fifteen minutes, but you’d better have taken care of business long before that.

          But regardless, even if the response was instantaneous, the only person on the planet who has primary responsibility for your safety is YOU.

        • the situation was the homeowner (me) in a defensive position in the bedroom, covering the funnel, prepared if someone actually enter the bedroom. the situation described did not include sitting in the TV room when the invasion happens; different, way different. the discussion also question advisability of taking time to put on ear protection. the cell phone was considered as useful in alerting authorities as quickly as possible from the defensive position. in my case, i would not go into the rest of the house to confront anyone. simply wait until either the firefight or the cops arrive.

        • Each person will have their own preparations, situations and responses… very much agreed.

          I was actually picturing trying to use the cell phone with the ear protection ON. LOL Couldn’t be done with mine, so this new one would be ideal if you kept it and the phone with you.

          Personally, I’m going to take care of business first. I don’t anticipate any house clearing… the cabin is too small for that. 🙂 I would call the sheriff’s office when I had the opportunity.

    • They aren’t radios themselves, they just allow use with a 2-way radio connected via the 3.5mm jack (Hunter does make a bunch of radios though as well). So range would depend on what radio you’re using. I’m not sure if the control button on the side can be used as the “push-to-talk” button for the walkie, or if you’d have to squeeze that on the radio itself. But the speakers and mic definitely work for both radio and bluetooth simultaneously, even muting whatever’s going on with the bluetooth connection when something comes over the radio.

    • Well it’s bluetooth’d to the muffs so you don’t have to fiddle with the phone. Listen to music, play/pause, answer and hang up calls, etc, all with the button on the muffs. Just don’t press the button with the muzzle of your gun 😉

      BTW I plug my phone via 3.5mm cord into a cheapo pair of electronic muffs so I can listen to music while mowing the lawn and using other power equipment. Lots of reasons to wear ear pro aside from shooting.

        • Not sure about mice, but as a human you’d have the ability to choose whether or not to accept a call and whether or not to pause your shooting if you do 😛 (and with a newer phone you can typically select what to send over the bluetooth connection. I know on mine I can choose to send media but not other phone audio, so the music would come through but calls wouldn’t)

          If they’re as comfortable as Hunter claims, they’d be great for hunters. Obviously hunters rarely wear ear pro since they 1) want to be able to hear game and such and 2) muffs get really uncomfortable after a little while. Electronic muffs solve and even enhance #1, but #2 is still a problem. Hunter says these are extremely comfortable, so if I do pick up a set I’ll definitely plan on wearing it all day long to find out haha

          The rep who I talked to at SHOT also said he takes calls on them while on his tractor and doing yard work and such, and the mic is so good that the person on the other line can’t even tell he’s on the tractor. So I’ll give you a call, AnyMouse, while mowing my lawn and we can see how that shakes out 🙂

        • Thank you. Some good information. Guess I was thinking how many people cannot resist answering their phone, no matter what they are doing. Guess I need to lose some old notions and look at electronic ear protection seriously.

  5. Jeremy –

    If you hate wearing muffs for long periods, Etymotic (they make some *serious* nice very hi-fi in-ear earphones) has a model for people of the gun:

    “GSP•15 Electronic Earplugs are for gun sport enthusiasts who need protection from firearm blasts, but also need protection from loud continuous noise from vehicles, machinery or repeated gunfire from nearby shooters. Improves distance detection up to 5X.”

    http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/hearing-protection/gsp15.html

    They don’t provide a *lot* of attenuation, about 15 DB, and they aren’t cheap, about $300, but you might want to consider giving them a holler for a loaner pair to review… 🙂

    • There are muffs that work. I just have big ears (still growing, too. You should see my grandpa haha) and apparently oddly stiff ear cartilage according to all of the barbers who bent them over while cutting my hair and said, “wow, you have stiff ears.” To which I always just say, “thank you.”

      What were we talking about again?

      …15 dB isn’t gonna cut it. There are some other options for in-ear, electronic hearing protection but a lot of them are more expensive or a lot more expensive (like $350 to $2,500). I definitely do tend to prefer in-ear though for the ear thing mentioned above haha and also because muffs usually make it hard to get an ideal cheek weld on a long gun…

  6. I use Howard Leight noise cancelling earmuffs for pistol and earplugs for rifle because the Leights tend to gap when pressed against the stock. The other day I was shooting pistol at an indoor range and the guy next to me was sighting in a 300 Winchester Magnum rifle. He kindly informed me before he started and I added earplugs under the muffs and turned up the amplifier. He was against the wall and I was right next to him. Worked great!
    The electric noise cancelling muffs are worth the extra cost and I wish I had them decades ago!
    The ones you reviewed sound really nice and have a great list of features. Thanks for the review.

  7. These look like nice kit at a nice price-point. Great review – please keep bringing us these reviews on shooting accessories.

    My setup combines the MSA Sordin DIGITAL SUPREME PRO X electronic muffs with a set of Surefire Defenders plugs. Combined NRR for the combo is probably about 30 – 31 dB. If you are going to spend $250 to buy a set of these muffs make sure to add a pair of gel ear cups. These are the most comfortable ear cups that I’ve ever worn. They also seal around your shooting glasses better than anything else that I’ve tried.

    As others have said, boosting the volume of the muffs while wearing the plugs allows you to safely hear voices from a good distance. You really can hear your brass hitting the ground while you or others around you are shooting. Neither individual electronic muffs nor passive plugs can provide you with this degree of attenuation while simultaneously allowing you to maintain situational awareness and voice communications. Battery life out of 2 AAA batteries is rated at 600 hours! They even have an audible low battery warning system that activates when the batteries are low. They are also one of very few electronic muffs that will survive the rain as they carry an IP67 rating. This is extremely handy when I wear them in the pool while practicing my underwater shooting skills. Heck they even sell a model with a bright LED light for illuminating the area in front of you.

    I also have a set of the Etymotic GSP-15s in-ear electronic plugs. They work great as long as you can maintain a good seal. Unfortuantely I find that occasionally the seal will break. Making certain movements (like if you open your mouth wide or move your head quickly) while shooting can break the seal and result in significant pain and permanent hearing loss especially on an indoor range. I could only feel confident using them when I wore passive muffs over them. Unfortunately the battery situation is a SERIOUS hassle with these. Be prepared to feed them new batteries every several weeks. I don’t recommend them for that reason alone.

  8. I wish someone would make some earplugs/buds that acted as e-muffs but also had bluetooth; very good quality noise-isolating bluetooth ear buds as a start, and simply add mics that pass through external noises (if that part is turned on) that are below a certain dB. Then you could, potentially, listen to music AND your buddies while at the range, potentially even take a call.

    • Looks like there are some nice custom-moldable in-ear headphone tips out there that you could put on a set of noise-isolating bluetooth in-ear headphones to get some pretty decent earpro from. Combine that with a mobile “hearing aid” app on your phone… it might give the effect I was asking for. I may try it out; worst case I get some really nice noise isolating headphones for work, travel, and/or yard work that just are not up to the task of going shooting with.

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