Electronic hearing protection is the solution to hearing range commands, conversation, and ambient sounds while simultaneously protecting from loud noises. Founded in 1983, Etymotic Research has been designing hearing aids and earphones almost as long as I’ve been alive, and is one of the few U.S.-based hearing aid manufacturers. They know ears, hearing, and hearing protection, and it shows in the GunSport PROs . . .
The GSP•15 GunSport•PROs are small, lightweight, in-ear hearing protection. They weigh just a few grams and provide a legit 25 dB NRR with the included foam tips.
If memory foam plugs aren’t your thing, though, the GunSport PROs ship with a bunch of other options in the box. Multiple rubber and silicone 3-flange eartips are included, plus foamies in two sizes. There’s a cleaning tool, a filter tool, filters, a 10-pack of batteries, a carrying case, and a neck cord, too.
I like the little case. It has that soft-touch, rubberized feel on the outside and foam on the inside. It’s a clamshell design with an easy, push-detent latch on the front.
The case has traveled with me everywhere since the beginning of September, fitting easily into a small front pocket on my backpack and looking like this. The pair of GunSport earplugs, a spare pair of earphone tips, and the neck cord.
I also keep a pack of #10 hearing aid batteries handy, as they’re air-activated batteries and self-discharge in about a month. Inserted into the GunSports with the swing-out door closed (which turns the earplugs on), they’re good for about 10 to 12 days of continuous use.
Purchased in bulk (such as this pack of 64), these #10 batteries cost about 23 cents each. You can also find them at any drug store, grocery store, etc.
There’s only one switch or setting on the GunSport PROs. With that little flipper up, they’re on LO mode. With the flipper down, they’re on HI mode.
LO provides natural hearing up to 60 dB of ambient volume, then starts scaling to 15 dB of attenuation to provide protection from continuous loud noise up to about 118 dB of volume. Above that point, they provide their maximum 25 dB attenuation.
HI amplifies ambient volume by 15 dB, increasing distance detection by up to five times. This is great for hunters, eavesdropping on conversations, hearing a vehicle coming far sooner than you could have otherwise, etc.
At about 60 dB of ambient volume, amplification begins to scale down until it’s back to natural hearing at 92-ish dB through 118 dB. Then it switches immediately to full attenuation.
My biggest complaint about the GunSport PROs is a weird one. Their “natural hearing” is so freaking good with their foam or silicone tips that I can’t tell if they’re working; whether I’ve inserted them correctly and whether or not they’re providing me with hearing protection.
Since the battery compartment has to be closed prior to inserting the earplugs into your head, they’re already on. I put them in, the memory foam expands, and literally nothing changes. My hearing is exactly as it was before. Stereo hearing, 40 Hz to 16 kHz frequency range, natural volume. It’s a bit disconcerting.
Another gripe is that I didn’t like Etymotic’s foam tips. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. They work and they’re extremely comfortable, but they fell apart quickly. The glue attaching foam to internal tube came apart after a handful of uses, and it looks like this is a common issue.
I’ve switched to Comply tips, which is the choice of some high-end hearing protection communications unit manufacturers and various shooting professionals. Another good, and slightly more affordable option is Westone True-Fit tips.
As 25 NRR is also on the low end of what I try to use for shooting, I was happy to find that the Comply tips increase noise protection. How much I can’t say, but the difference is apparent and the “natural hearing” level is a bit quieter than “natural” with the Complys on. This makes some sense, as they’re a denser foam than the Etymotic tips.
While the Comply ones are twice the cost, they don’t break or wear down. Keep your ears clean and they’ll last a long time. Plus, again, they’re quieter.
I’m really impressed with the performance of the GunSport PROs. I had never previously experienced such natural hearing while wearing ear protection. They’re tiny and lightweight and travel so much better than earmuffs. I really do feel like a pro when I use them — they say, “I’m serious about this sh*t.” Not that I don’t still wear electronic muffs (these ones rock) or disposable foamies (these ones) sometimes.
Muffs are handy for those times when I need ’em for a brief moment and then I’m done with ear pro. I don’t like wearing them for extended periods (unless it’s freezing cold outside) and hate wearing them while shooting long guns.
Foamies are good for maximum NRR (the ones I use are 33 NRR). I try to wear them when I’m on an indoor range, sometimes doubling up with electronic muffs cranked all the way up to help hear conversation. With the Comply tips, the GunSport PROs are acceptable to me for indoor range use but still not as quiet as good foamies.
For the amazingly, shockingly natural hearing and seamless electronic noise attenuation, the Etymotics are well worth the $299 cost of entry. If you hunt or shoot regularly — especially if you travel with ear pro — they’re just fantastic.
Your hearing doesn’t grow back, so protecting it with convenient, lightweight, unobtrusive earplugs that provide both natural and amplified hearing with full situational awareness is a no-brainer. They’re all-day comfortable and won’t mess with your cheek weld. They ain’t cheap, and you’ll have a recurring few bucks in batteries and tip expenses, but over the last four-and-a-half months I’ve found it entirely worth it.
Specifications: Etymotic GSP•15 GunSport•PRO Electronic Earplugs
NRR: 25 dB (peak reduction of 40 dB at some frequencies)
Adaptive Attenuation: 15 dB
Amplification: up to 15 dB (5X)
Frequency Range: 40 Hz to 16 kHz for High Definition natural hearing
Battery Life: about 10 to 12 days of constant operation
Low Battery Warning: Yes. “LOBAT” tone when battery is close to end of life.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Sound Quality * * * * *
“Natural hearing” is no joke. With Etymotic’s tips I literally can’t hear a difference whether the GunSport PROs are inserted or not. Except on HI mode, where hearing is very obviously (but always comfortably) amplified up to five times. Yet they’re always there providing 25 NRR protection from blast/impulse sounds. The “high-definition transducers, balanced-armature drivers, and high-sensitivity microphones” definitely seem to do the trick.
Volume Attenuation * * * *
The electronics are excellent. Attenuation of loud noises is absolutely seamless. This is worlds away from cheap electronic ear pro where they cut out at a loud noise and you’re “in the dark” until they come back on. Seamless. Minus a star because, while NRR is better than average, it’s still short of where I want to be for shooting indoors or for shooting loud rifles under a roof, etc. I still tend to go back to my 33 NRR foamies for that stuff.
Form Factor * * * * *
Extremely compact, lightweight, and unobtrusive.
Battery Life * *
I wish the GunSports used a little alkaline or lithium button cell battery instead of an air-activated hearing aid battery. If I could swing the door open to stop their discharge, a single battery would last months. While 10+ days of constant-on use is great battery life, it stinks that these hearing aid batteries self-discharge (whether they’re in use or not) in about four weeks once the backing is peeled off. Thankfully they’re cheap — 50 cents a month isn’t going to break the budget — but I have to be sure to carry spares.
Overall * * * *
With decades of hearing aid engineering, R&D, and manufacturing experience, Etymotic knows what they’re doing. And it shows in the GunSport PRO Electronic Earplugs. They’re my go-to, first choice for hearing protection thanks to their freakishly natural sound, good NRR, and great form factor.