Hearing Protection Tips with Shooting Sports Pro Travis Gibson

Get the most out of your electronic earmuffs by understanding and using the amplification feature correctly

WESTWOOD, Mass. (March 23, 2020) – Electronic earmuffs are a popular form of hearing protection for shooting sports enthusiasts. All models of Howard LeightTM electronic earmuffs have an amplification feature that allows wearers to easily conduct conversation and hear range commands. There’s a single control dial on the side that turns the external microphones and internal speakers on. After they turn on, the further the dial is advanced, the greater the amplification. Depending on the specific Howard Leight model, ambient sound can be amplified up to 4x or 5x at the maximum setting.

Most people refer to this as the “volume adjustment”, but electronics and audio enthusiasts may be interested to know that while ambient sound does increase in volume as the dial is advanced, the dial adjustment is actually controlling gain. In other words, as the dial is turned up, it is not increasing the output of the speakers inside the ear cups, it is actually increasing sound input through the external microphones, allowing the wearer to better hear sounds that are farther away.

So, if these things actually amplify sound, how do they protect your ears from dangerous gunfire?

That’s a common question, and the answer begins with the understanding that electronic earmuffs protect hearing through passive attenuation. That means they provide the same amount of protection whether they are turned off or turned on. The electronic circuitry is the second part to the answer. Regardless of what the amplification is set to, anytime the electronics detect a sound louder than 82 decibels coming into the external microphones, they quickly turn the amplification to the speakers inside the ear cups down. During this brief period, the sound amplification is much lower. When the external noise level drops below 82dB again, the amplification circuit resumes the set volume level.

So, since amplification has no impact on the muff’s hearing protection, the amplification or gain setting is strictly a matter of personal preference. The setting should be dictated by the wearer’s environment and how much they want or need to hear what’s happening around them.

Competitive shooting sports athlete and Howard Leight Shooting Sports Pro Ambassador, Travis Gibson, explains.

“In most competition situations, I get all the information I need from my vision and direct feedback or feel from the firearm I’m using,” says Gibson. “I usually don’t need amplification at all, so it doesn’t really matter to me if my muffs are turned on or off. I get the same protection… a noise reduction rating of 22 decibels from the muffs themselves. The minute I step off the course, I do want to hear what’s going on around me, so that’s when I’ll make sure they’re turned on.”

Gibson says many electronic hearing protection wearers make the mistake of turning the amplification or gain up higher than it needs to be. 

“In most situations, the lowest gain setting… 1X amplification… is ideal,” he says. “Imagine being at the range and talking face-to-face with someone. Do you really need to hear them 2, 3, 4 or even 5 times louder than normal? Usually not. Exceptions to this would be if you really want to hear what’s going on farther away from your location, if you have some level of hearing loss, or if you wear foam earplugs under your muffs for additional protection. Another exception would be in a hunting situation when the hunter wants to be able to hear approaching game. Higher amplification provides real benefits in those situations,” Gibson adds. “In a lot of cases though, higher amplification just means more distractions from wind noise and other unimportant background noise – especially for folks wearing electronic muffs in a normal shooting range situation.”

Understanding how the amplification feature works — and setting it appropriately — will definitely improve your experience when wearing electronic hearing protection.

Learn more about Howard Leight’s complete line of hearing protection products for shooting sports enthusiasts at howardleightshootingsports.com or join the conversation on social media at @howardleightshootingsports.

Follow Travis Gibson on Facebook @travisgibson6774 and Instagram @travtracgibson

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