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Most any hearing protection muffs you can buy these days will do at least a passable job of protecting your ears. Hearing loss and tinnitus are nothing to mess with. And the advent of cheaper electronics making muffs that let you hear what’s going on around you between gunshots and carry on a conversation has been a blessing.

I’ve tried eight or ten different kinds of electronic muffs, everything from $25 no-name Harbor Freight specials to medium and higher end brands like Howard Leights and Sordins.

But after more than six months of testing, toting, traveling, abuse and lots and lots of shooting, 3M’s Peltor Sport Tactical 500 muffs get my award for all-around best hearing protection.

Here’s Jeremy’s 2017 SHOT Show video when they were first introduced.

Marketing speak: the Tactical 500s employ what Peltor calls Dynamic Suppression Time technology to adjust noise attenuation for each gunshot depending on intensity and duration. It also uses something they call Clear Voice Tracking to let voice-range sounds come through while filtering out more of the rest.

That may be marketing speak, but the Tactical 500s really do all of that and do it exceedingly well.

In practical terms, the feature-packed Tac 500 muffs do the best job of keeping out the noise of any external ear protection I’ve ever used. Whether the electronics are turned on or not, no other pair suppresses gunshots as well.

My go-to exterior hearing protection has long been Howard Leights. They’re relatively inexpensive and slim. But they’re not without compromises. They’re less comfortable and don’t form as effective a seal as the Peltors do. As a result, noticeable more noise makes it through to your ears. Their sound quality isn’t on par with the Peltors either.

The Tactical 500 muffs not only do a significantly better job of noise reduction, and they’re noticeably more comfortable.

No, they’re not as slim as some other models, but I didn’t find that to be a problem when shooting either rifles or shotguns.

The Peltor Tactical 500s are powered by a pair of double-A batteries. The battery compartment door is captured by a flexible plastic tether so you won’t lose it. And they have an auto shut-off feature in case you forget to turn them off.

Under the other ear is a rubberized cover that protects an audio input and a USB port.

The USB port is used to charge the optional lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack (about $26). You can use the audio port to pipe in music. But if you have a smart phone, there’s no need for that.

That’s because the Tactical 500 is also equipped with Bluetooth. All it takes is a press of a button on the right ear to link it with your phone. You can then listen to music if you want or — and this is impressive — take and receive phone calls (the Tactical 500s have a built-in microphone).

All those extras are nice, but the most important function here — and what the Tactical 500 muffs do the best — is keeping the noise out while letting you hear what’s going on around you. And they do it while being remarkably comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

The Tactical 500s use foam ear pads rather than gel pads like some other models. I prefer foam, but your mileage may vary. There are no optional gel pads available that I’ve found if that’s they way you roll. The point is, these are easily the most comfortable muffs I’ve ever used. I’ve worn them for hours on end with no discomfort or irritation at all.

And while it may seem like a stupid little thing, the vented headband is one of my favorite features. My other muffs have solid headbands. That means they either press the button down on top of your hat — which gets uncomfortable quickly — or you have to adjust the position of your hat/muffs to work around it.

The Tactical 500s also come with a handy black bag if you want to baby them in your range bag. I didn’t bother and they’ve held up quite well.

Specifications: Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Electronic Hearing Protection Muffs

Noise Reduction Rating: 26 dB
Power Source: 2 AA batteries (optional Li-Ion rechargeable)
Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm mini jack
Weight: 14.9 oz with batteries
MSRP: about $110 retail

Ratings (out of five stars):

Noise Reduction * * * * *
The best I’ve found — power on or power off — in a pair of external muffs. Bar none.

Audio Quality * * * * *
Truly excellent sound quality, both voice and through Bluetooth. They do a great job of filtering out extraneous ambient noise, too. Noticeably better than cheaper competitive models. Phone calls at the range can be a challenge talking over the ambient gunfire, but it’s at least possible.

Comfort * * * * 1/2
I can wear them all day long and hardly notice. They don’t chafe like some other models. The most comfortable muffs I’ve worn. I’ve read some complaints that the vented headband is uncomfortable if you’re not wearing a hat (I didn’t find that to be a problem). Most shooters I know and see at the range wear a hat and if yours has a button on top, that opening is definitely a very useful feature, not a bug.

Overall * * * * *
Again, the Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Hearing Protector are the most comfortable, most noise-blocking muffs I’ve ever worn. The whiz-bang features like Bluetooth connectivity and a voice that announces “power on” and “power off” are nice added features. Yes, they cost a little more than some other electronic options out there, but they’re worth every penny.

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  1. i would like to upgrade to these.

    i would also like a set tuned to allow all sounds ~except~ (a certain someone’s) speech to come through.

    • “…tuned to allow all sounds ~except~ (a certain someone’s) speech to come through.”

      If you can invent that, you will be a *wealthy* man.

      And shortly thereafter, *homeless*, and asking Former Water Walker to crash on his couch…

      *snicker* 😉

  2. I think they do have gel pads that fit their various models for those that like them.

    3M Peltor Camelback Gel Sealing Rings HY80, Black

    Also looks like there are Tactical 100 and 300 models, cheaper but with less features: no Bluetooth, not as much protection, 100 seems slimmer more like the Howard Leight sports.

    Nice to have options I guess, maybe I will try them out, still using the Howard Leights myself.

    • The Camelbacks don’t offically fit, but they work fine. There are Youtube videos telling you to peel the pads off the support ring, or pry the ring off with a knife. I just put my finger through the ear hole between the speaker foam and support ring and pulled outward. Putting the gel rings in takes a bit of force. I think the gels isolate sound better, especially around glasses arms. My only complaint is not being able to turn down/off the mics and just listen to Bluetooth in a noisy environment.

  3. Will these double as ‘Super Ears’ when not attenuating gunblasts? Is the microphone in mono or stereo? (IE, can it hear in stereo when amplifying ambient sounds?)

      • How well do the ear microphones work with a phone? They may be microphones, but they don’t seem like they’d be near enough my mouth to double as a speaking microphone.

        • Wasn’t clear there, DZ; I meant that the original quibble was that electronic muffs by definition have microphones in each earpiece, and I assumed that you saying these had a microphone meant a separate microphone for the mouth.

          (Sort of like sound powered phones in the navy 🙂

          Now I am confused. Do these muffs include a separate, third, microphone meant just for talking on phones?

    • It has been some time since you’ve posted this, but I have that set. I don’t have the most experience with ear muffs, but I have a pair of Caldwell electronics that I usually pair with earplugs. I don’t think they reject sound as well as those 3Ms with no plugs underneath. For me, they are the standard I’ve judged ear muffs, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m just not going to come across anything that works as well.

  4. Sounds like something I need to get. I have a friend who’s sadly even older than me and going deaf. He really needs to wear these when I take him shooting…

  5. Hi Dan,
    My company makes gel ear pads specifically for this headset plus basically all of the other earmuffs on the market. They’re also the first with relief cuts for glasses / eye pro to pass through, so headaches are reduced or eliminated and the sound seal is kept shut. The difference in comfort is really obvious after 30 minutes or more of constant use, when standard foam pads tend to produce a throbbing pressure effect around the temples by crushing the glasses arms. Noisefighters just launched earlier this year after a successful Kickstarter. Would be happy to send you a pair to evaluate. They’re made in the USA by a combat veteran owned company.

  6. thats a little high but they do make good ones. i dont see any reason to get rid of my mid level peltors.

  7. I have the Tactical 100 and my biggest complaint is the attenuation period lasts too long after the shot (maybe a second or two). This may not sound like much but I use them at pistol matches and it’s difficult to carry on a conversation while another person is shooting because they are constantly blocking the ambient noise. My previous Peltors were much better and only attenuated during the actual shot. Has anyone noticed this issue with the 500’s?

  8. I bought 3 different kinds (electronic), because there’s no place to try them on. Peltor and Walker are great…very similar. The Howard Leigt impact sport is fine if you have a big head or wear a hat. I couldn’t shorten-up the band enough to cover my ears. Electronic muffs are a great invention for us, that can’t hear well. Only negative is: they’re awfully hot in the summer.

  9. 26NR is mid pack.
    Personally I like to use the most that’s technologically feasible 33NR.
    Do your research that’s a significant difference.
    Without the noise reduction speech amplification $30. 3M earpro do 30NR.

  10. All the Peltor muffs I’ve had break so easily. It’s always the thin metal going from the band to the cups or even worse the plastic on plastic rotating hinge that connects the metal rods to the cups. Are these all plastic there as well? Thy also seem to get a lot of water in the battery compartment so I either gorilla tape them or spray them with liquid electrical tape after using dielectric grease on the contacts. I have to do that every time I shoot in the rain or hit the mud. I feel for over $100 they should at least have some sort of half ass seal. Maybe I need to stop being poor.

  11. No joke, for the last 30 years I’ve removed the button from the top of all my ball caps so they would work with either aviation or shooting headphones. This is brilliant.

  12. How about an ear pro run down like was done with triggers and muzzle devices? An article with NR numbers, features, maybe measured db readings against a rubber head with subjective opinions by the writer?

  13. i bought some peltors maybe ten years ago, not sure what model, but when they finally stop working i’m defiantly getting another. i’ve been nothing but happy with them

  14. I’ve tried Pro Ears Pro Mag Gold Series as well as 3M Peltor Tactical 100, 300, and 500. The Tactical 500s are easily my favorite. The Pro Ears are rated higher at 30 NRR but are huge, take up way too much bag space, make you look like Mickey Mouse, and the volume controls that appear to be from a ’70s era CB radio keep turning on by themselves. The Tactical 100s do not have the same Voice Tracking and Dynamic Suppression Time as the 300s and 500s and it makes a noticeable difference in my ability to carry on a conversation. I got the Tactical 500s after the 300s mostly because they are rated higher NRR (26 vs 24 – What’s up with that, 3M? It’s the same design!) but ended up liking the Bluetooth feature for using shot timer phone apps.

    Frankly I’d like to see some comparos of ear protection rather than individual “I like and use these” reviews. Specifically the Peltor Tactical series vs Howard Leight Impact Sport and Impact Pro.

    I added the Noisefighters gel pads and also recommend them no matter what ear muffs you use. The better seal does make a noticeable difference in noise reduction.

    Not affiliated with 3M or Noisefighters

    • Do the Peltor 500s reduce noise better than the Pro Ears? Sometimes specs are misleading so I wanted your personal take. Can you give me a comparison of each in their stock form? Regards!

  15. Please check the online reviews of this product at the 3M website. They seem to break quite often at the same place. There may be a design flaw in the connection to the ear cup.

    • I also saw those reviews. It doesn’t look like 3M has addressed the problem, so I wrapped several turns of duct tape around the headband ends on both sides between the signal wire and the ear cup hanger. Hopefully that will reinforce it enough to prevent a failure. Of course you could use black duct tape, but I used good old gray. I’m not concerned with being tacticool.

  16. How do you turn the sound up from you Bluetooth iPhone. Even with the iPhone vol on max I can barely hear it through the muffs.

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