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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.

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  1. Good article. I’m a cheapo and just use Surefire plugs when I’m hunting with my 460 Smith Revolver, which is the loudest gun I own.

    Also, Marissa was even sweatier than I expected. Nice.

    • If (or when) you start having hearing problems due to years of high pressure exposure, you won’t think twice about dropping twice that money on the best hearing protection you can get. Want to know why? Because the price of hearing aids that work in a gun environment makes those prices above look like chump change, and you’ll be looking to preserve the hearing you’ve got left. That’s where I am.

      If you spent a reasonable amount of money on excellent hearing protection when you were young, you then can have the luxury of complaining about the price of nice guns, instead of being shocked at the price of hearing aids, when you get older.

  2. You have to remember that the reduction rating is based on the the perfect seal. Most of the time you will not get a perfect seal.

    The average gun shot is over 120+db. Given that hearing loss starts at 85dB @ 8 hours with a 3 db interchange. When you are getting into 120dB you are only talking a few seconds of noise before you have hearing loss.

    The higher the SRR rating, ideally you will be better off. Double plugging will even give you better protection than a single plug.

    • The 85 dBA refers only to steady state noise. The standard for impulse noise is different, but all guns larger than a .22 exceed it.

  3. “Noise Reduction Rating: 15 dB”

    Well, there’s yer problem. Shoot, my “squishy plugs” have a 32 noise reduction rating.

    I think, if foam plugs are insufficient, it’s either because they’re too small for the wearer or they aren’t being worn properly. I have been using them for decades, working as a full-time carpenter and shooting, and I have no tinnitus.

    • The actual NRR for the GSP-15 is 25 dB. The ’15’ refers to the 15 dB adaptive attenuation that the earplugs provide in steady state noise environments under 120 dB.

      As the previous comments state, prolonged exposure to noise above 85 dB can lead to permanent hearing damage, which is why we included the 15 dB adaptive attenuation feature. The safety threshold for an impulse noise, as defined by OSHA, is 140 dB. At this input level, the GSP-15s kick into their full blast protection.

  4. I’ve always wondered how they come up with these ratings. Those 25-30db cheap foam plugs never work for me, they do less than the foam in my Shure earbuds, but my 18db Howard Leights work fine. I suppose I do need some of those custom foam ones, because my RFB puts out 170db (and is typically shot indoors), supposedly hearing loss starts at 140db for impulse noise.

  5. Thanks to some pretty bad tinnitus, I usually use a pair of squishies plus 30 db rated cans at the indoor range.

    • Ditto, and people should remember that even with earplugs (even very good earplugs) in your ears, there is coupling into your hearing via your mastoid process, which is the bony “bump” behind your ear. If you leave that exposed while you’re exposed to very loud noises, you can experience ringing in the ears even with earplugs.

      The worst guns are the ones with compensators and ported barrels fired on indoor ranges and outdoor ranges under cover. Any more, when someone lights up a rifle with a muzzle brake near me on a covered outdoor range, I leave. I’ve had enough of this ear-destroying BS of muzzle brakes and comps.

  6. Yeah… you know as nice as those are you can do almost as good with a set of Surefire Sonic Defenders earplugs. They let you hear just fine but gives about 25 decibels of noise reduction with next to no distortion of your hearing. Save that they will mess with your directional hearing. All for sub $15.

  7. eh,. i like the fact the my earplugs on a string tell the range folk,.. “Hey,… I’m shooting, I’m not int he mood to talk.” ‘Cuz you know every range has that guy you can’t get away from,.. won’t let you shoot because he keeps yappin’…

    • Yeah, he’s the guy who loves to tell me my grip is “all wrong”. Last time he said that, I told him to take it up with Robbie Leatham.

    • I hate that guy. At one range I visit, it’s the range officer. It’s a private range that does a public day once a month from 8-12:30, and they have a 1-2-300 yard rifle range. Nobody else in town has those ranges, so I’m all over that. Anyway, it’s not so bad when he talks to me all the way through one hot/cold range cycle early in the day. I don’t mind chatting. However, it’s really irritating when they announce, at about 12:15, that “this will be the last hot range of the day” and then he talks through part or all of that. It’s literally my last opportunity for a month to put any rounds that far down range, I really want you to shut up now.

    • Yeah, every range has one of those guys. As advanced as our earplugs are, unfortunately we were not able to include a filter for chatty RSOs and range patrons. It’s something we’re working on for our next model.

  8. Right now, I use a combo of squishies from a Lowe’s bulk pack and the Howard Leight electronics while I’m at the indoor range. Lots of hearing protection, and I can talk with friends and hear range commands. Since the electronics can make sounds even louder than they would be ordinarily, I can hear them through the squishies just fine. Nice combination.

  9. Great review! Often times people feel that the more expensive ear pro must be better. Glad to see an impartial review prove just the opposite. A pair of $0.10 foam plugs are pretty hard to beat.

  10. Now that you’ve told us that $500 electronic ear plugs are only good for outdoor exposure, how about testing options that are available in the $100-$150 range for a set of electronic ear plugs that will do an adequate job of both protecting us from the occasional outdoor shot (hunting) and let’s us hear what is going on around us especially if we can switch on amplification when we want. We know how much you hate to have to shoot, but would you do it for us?

    • For indoor use, we recommend using the black foam tips on the GSP-15, which are included in the package. They offer about 5 dB of additional protection, which is quite a bit considering you effectively double the sound level every 3 dB. This makes all the difference in indoor environments, especially when you are around shooters with muzzle brakes.

  11. My dad wears hearing aides in both ears as did his dad. And I’ll soon be there myself. I’ve had permanent ringing (tinitus) in both ears for decades, from rock concerts, loud machinery, shooting, power tools, etc. For the last 20 years or so, I wear plugs AND muffs for maximum protection. I wear them on the job, and in my own workshop, just like my safety glasses. I’ve lost a lot of my hearing, and am very protective of what I have left. I won’t spend $500 on something that only offers 15 db of protection.

    • We wouldn’t pay $499 for something that offers only 15 dB of protection either. Our NRR is actually 25 dB. We offer interchangeable tips, including a foam tip that adds about 5 dB of protection, which is quite a bit considering you effectively double the sound level every 3 dB.

      • So, a total NRR of 30 dB? That’s not too shabby. Can I still hear normal conversations with that foam tip in place?

        • Absolutely. They do not affect your ability to communicate whatsoever. Regardless of the tip, the audio output from the GSP-15 into the ear remains the same. The foam tip simply provides the most effective seal for maximum noise attenuation.

  12. There is more to the ear tip selection than you may think. I use a pair of GSP-15’s and do not shoot without them. I shoot competitive long range bench rest.
    I found the black foam tips to seal the best. The seal of the ear tip is key!

    The silicon ribbed tips can not only be uncomfortable if the size isn’t exactly right, but they can be difficult to seal. And, if they don’t seal, you will not get proper noise protection. The NRR attenuation mandated by OSHA is the maximum attenuation minus the statistical worse case error in poor fitting. The fitting is up to the user! With proper fitting, the attenuation will be limited by the attenuation through your mastoid bone, not through the GSP-15!

    I am a long time user of Etymotic products, I have a pair of old ER-6 insert earphones (since replaced by the HF series) and they originally came with soft 2 ridge silicon tips. If they weren’t fitted correctly, you had absolutely no bass response as they were leaking! I wore them on my sport-touring motorcycle to listen to music from an mp3 player as well as blocking out other outside environmental noises. On the bike, if I heard wind noise, I knew I had a poor seal. Without the wind noise indicator, I just lost Bass.
    With the GSP-15, without a seal, you lose protection.

    Just insert them carefully! And, pick the correct for you tip!

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