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
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.