Sure, silence is golden. But shooters would do well to spend a little gold now to keep from suffering in silence down the road. Do you give much thought to your ears? To anyone’s? Hell, most shooters don’t. They shove some squishy plugs in there and call it good. I was that way, too, until we finally got tired of shouting at my dad and made him get some hearing aids. That’s when I decided I really didn’t want to go that way. So if you think about it and look around, you quickly find you’ve got options ranging in cost from a couple of bucks for a set of foam stopples up to many hundreds of dollars for sophisticated electronic gizmos that muffle the gun blast and let you carry on a normal conversation. Assuming you’re shooting with someone worth talking to that is . . .
Setting aside niceties like design, comfort and hearability when you’re not shooting, the ultimate measure of whatever you use to muffle your gun blasts is how many decibels of noise they block. Did someone say many hundreds of dollars? Yep. And that’s where Etymotic comes in.
Etymotic (that’s a long ‘O’) makes a variety of hearing pro items for everything from musicians to industrial uses. And they’ve added a couple of high end options for shooters, the top-of-the-line being the GunSport PRO GSP-15s. Fair warning: if you’re plagued by a nagging spouse, these are not the earplugs you’ve been looking for. First, he or she won’t miss the drop in your bank balance when you pick up a pair. These babies will run you about five bills.
Etymotic calls them high definition plugs and if spousal, um, feedback isn’t on your list of favorite things, you’ll really hate GunSport PROs ’cause the damned things will let you hear every last word. With alarming clarity. In fact, GSP-15s don’t just let you hear conversational sounds, they also have a switchable 5X amplification mode so you’ll be able to pick up what they’re saying about you down the hall if you’re brave enough.
Yeah, GunSport PROs aren’t your average rental counter foam plugs. They’d better not be, not at that price. Etymotic’s put a little more thought into these. Kinda like Apple’s engineers put a little thought into the new iPhone.
Etymotic says these little jewels are designed specifically for shooters and hunters, and they’re not exactly a one size fits all affair. The GSP-15s come with an array of plug sizes and styles to fit any ear hole. You won’t have trouble finding one that’s comfortable in your auditory canals. They even thoughtfully include a pack of Energizer batteries so your plugs will keep working and working….
When it comes to function these aren’t a simple binary affair as far as noise reduction goes, either. Most electronic hearing protection work on an all-or-nothing basis. They either let all the ambient noise through or shut down totally as soon as they sense the loud sudden pop of a gunshot. As their site details,
GSP•15 electronic earplugs allow natural hearing when no background noise is present and gradually protect from loud continuous noise from vehicles, machinery or gunfire from nearby shooters. At the flip of a switch sound is amplified, improving distance detection up to five times for enhanced awareness.
So the hearing protection gradually increases as ambient noise gets louder. And the 5X amplification – which seems tailor made for either hunters in the field or anyone trying to listen in on the couple in a neighboring hotel room – works extremely well.
So to test these babies, I first took them to the trap range. My usual ear pro kit for shooting orange birds is a pair of custom-molded silicon plugs (as above) that I had made at the Grand American a few years back. They do a great job of muffling gunshots, but not so much at letting me carry on a conversation. And they can leave your ears as hot and sweaty as Marissa Miller after a long hard shoot a the beach.
Two rounds of trap showed just what the GunSport PROs can do. They’re light, comfy and cool. And unlike some very good over-the-ear hearing protection, they don’t affect the cheek weld on your rifle or shotty.
As for noise attentuation, the GSP-15s worked well. I shot my round (a mediocre 21, thank you) and didn’t think about them. Which is another way of saying they comfortably brought the blasts from my scattergun down to a very manageable level. But….
Yeah, there’s a but involved. I shot a second round using my usual pair of pink silicon thingies — and noticed a definite difference in the sound that was getting through. While blasting away with the GunSport PROs was plenty comfortable noise-wise, my molded plugs did a decidedly better job of minimizing the blasts reaching my ear drums.
Next up was what I planned as the acid test — an indoor pistol session. If the GSP-15s worked outside, I figured the best place to stretch them would be at an indoor range. And it was. And they flunked. Badly.
I popped them in and strolled to my lane at Top Gun and only managed to stay there about 90 seconds before quickly retreating to the quiet of the showroom and my little silicone buddies. The range was only half full with other shooters, but I literally couldn’t stand the noise that the GunSport PROs were letting through.
To be fair, I normally wear my silicon plugs in addition to external muffs while shooting at an indoor range. But if I want, I can get away with just the silicones. There’s no way to do that with the GunSport PROs, though. Not without leaving with a headache and some traumatized auditory nerves.
And that illustrates what these expensive little devices are really made for — hunting and outdoor shooting. They handle the occasional shots of a day in the field or even a round of skeet or sporting clays just fine when you’re outside. But indoors, where the sound of other shooters bounces off of cinder block walls and ceiling panels at close range, they just can’t keep up. And they really weren’t designed to.
The GSP-15’s specs tell the tale. A typical pair of foam earplugs you’d pay two bits for have a noise reduction rating of about 31 dB. The GunSport PROs are rated at 25 dB with the right ear insert. So if you’re Tyler Kee and heading out into Texas hill country in search of a loin of venison, a pair of GunSport PROs are just what the doctor ordered. Pop ’em in and you’ll be able to hear just fine while you’re on the lookout. You’ll even be able to flip the 5X switch to better hear that deer moving through the underbrush in the distance.
When it’s time to line up your shot and drop that 12-pointer, the GunSport PROs will handle the report and protect your hearing. Just don’t toss them in your range bag expecting to wear them indoors to give that new handgun a workout unless you plan on reading your grandchildren’s lips when they wish you a happy 70th birthday.
Protection: electronic variable response
Noise Reduction Rating: 25 dB with the right inserts
Levels: standard and 5X amplificaton
Cost: about $500 street
Ratings (out of five stars):
Design * * * * *
They’re really well made, nicely designed and include enough additional plug options to fit just about any ear hole.
Comfort * * * * *
They GSP-15s are light weight, cool and comfortable. You’ll forget you have them on and can easily carry on a normal conversation with them in.
Noise Reduction * * *
Depends. Outside, they’re great. You’ll shoot comfortably and, for the hunter, there’s probably nothing better. If you buy them for that alone, they’re five star plugs. Inside, NFW. Thus the blended rating.
Overall * * *
The GunSport PROs lose one star for their cost and another for indoor performance. They’re a top notch, beautifully made product that does what they’re designed to do really well. Just keep in mind what that is. If you’re a hunter or outdoor shooter, you’ll love ’em — assuming you can afford them. If you shoot indoors, these aren’t your hearing protection solution.