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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Here we go ... First, as full disclosure, I am NOT a qualified audiologist nor a licensed hearing aid provider. I gained my knowledge solely as a hearing protection dealer for 15+ years. Keep that in mind.
Q: What kind of hearing protection is available?
A: There are two major types of hearing protection, passive and active. Passive types include plugs and muffs of all kinds. All passive types are rated by their Noise Reduction Ratio (NRR), obtained by testing a given device on a number of test subjects. The number is weighted by frequency and other factors, so it should be considered as only a rough estimate of reduction. A rating of NRR-10, for example will reduce the apparent amount of sound by about 10 decibels (dB).

In general, muffs provide less protection (lower NRR rating) than properly worn plugs. That is because muffs have hard transmissive shells, less insulating material inside, a poorer fit, and suffer from “seashell” effect.

Plugs can offer better sealing, better sound-deadening materials, no hard shell, and better comfort – but ONLY if properly inserted and worn. To be effective, plugs must be fully inserted in the canal. If there is enough to grip, the NRR is approximately half the plug’s rating. Foam plugs are better than rubber plugs with ridges, but either can be effective in most sound environments.

Plugs with muffs over are effective, but the NRR is not additive. That is, a Plug with an NRR-20 under muffs with an NRR-15 do NOT provide an NRR of 35. Such a combo would likely give an actual protection level of about NRR-25, which is excellent. The highest possible NRR value is about 33, due to the fact that some sound is always transmitted by the bone structure of your skull. The mastoid area behind your ear transmits no more sound than your jaw or top of your skull, by the way.

Q: What about plugs with valves?
A: All "mechanical valve" type hearing protectors are worse than worthless. No mechanical valve is faster than the speed of sound, so the first and most damaging pressure wave ALWAYS gets past the valve as if you were wearing no plug at all. It might block later waves and give the illusion of working, but the damage is done by the time the valve closes (IF it closes).

The only effective vented plug is the Hocks’ Filter, which does not have any moving parts. It uses the principle of wave cancellation to reflect incoming sound waves back against themselves to self-cancel (think back to high school physics). The Hocks’ Filter works. Valves do NOT.

(Plugs with Hocks’ Filters are fabulous for industrial use, flying as well as movies and concerts, BTW.)
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Q: What about electronic protection?
A: Electronics can provide active protection coupled with amplification. That is particularly beneficial to someone who already has a hearing loss and finds that passive protection dampens too much sound for safety reasons.

Electronic protection comes in both analog and digital versions. Analog is rapidly going extinct and cannot be recommended. Digital offers sound quality ranging from “FM” to “CD” level, can be tuned to offset hearing loss at various frequencies, and offers many other technical advantages such as much lower battery drain.

Electronic protection comes in the form of muffs, self-fit plugs, custom-fitted plugs and behind-the-ear styles. Fully custom-fitted are the most expensive, but can offer the most comfort, best directional sense, and best protection from wind and rain. Because they actively amplify, no electronic device can have an NRR rating.

Q: Why do some electronic devices turn “off” at loud sounds?
A: Electronic devices can use a clipping circuit or a compression circuit. Clipping is the simplest, cheapest and least natural-sounding. It is almost always found in analog circuits.Clipping circuits sense incoming volume and turn themselves completely off at a pre-set level. They come back on shortly after the volume drops again, giving a choppy, disorienting effect. The least expensive approach, analog clipping is common in most muffs and some very crude other devices.

Compression circuits do not turn off, but limit the volume of the sound that passes through the circuit. The sound that reaches the ear varies normally below a set volume, and is level above it. Loud sounds are heard, but they are no louder than background sounds. There is no “drop out”. Digital circuits use compression exclusively.

Q: Besides electronic muffs, what else is available?
A: As mentioned above, you can get in-the-ear self-fitted plugs (with different-sized replaceable tips), fully custom-fitted plugs in several sizes, or behind-the-ear units. All can accommodate either unvented or vented fit. Unvented is needed for shooting. Vented styles can be used as informal hearing aids for constant wear in social situations.

Q: Can hearing aids be used as protection?
A: No, for two reasons. Hearing aids are vented, and their high-volume cutoff setting is not appropriate as protection.
The vent allows as much normal sound through the plug as possible, both for natural-sounding results and also to allow air to circulate. Naturally, the vent eliminates any protection. The volume limiting circuit is there to protect the hearing aid itself, NOT your hearing. It is set way above the point where you get damage.

Q: Is there any way to get both a hearing aid and a shooting aid in one unit?
A: Few if any hearing aid providers either understand shooting needs or offer products for shooting. Their products and services are single-purpose. The best way to get a "two-fer" where a hearing aid doubles as a shooting plug is to get it from a shooting plug company. The best ones are E.A.R., Walker and ESP. For many reasons, I do NOT recommend Sport Ear.

E.A.R. and possibly ESP make devices that can be digitally tuned to your hearing loss, and thus serve as social hearing aids. Many or most users can wear them all the time. Walker does not offer that option, as far as I know. To use them in both ways, you must also have both vented and unvented earmolds. EAR offers an in-ear device with sized replaceable tips in both styles, but another way to go is with a behind the ear unit with two sets of canal molds. Just change the mold for shooting or social.

Again, none of this can be done with analog units, only digital ones. And even with digitals, you MUST have the unit lab-tuned to your hearing test printout when you order. They won't do it afterward.

Q: So what kind of cost are we talking about?
A: I always told people that only you can decide what your hearing is worth. If it's only worth twenty-five cents to you, then get foam plugs. But if it's valuable to you, be prepared to spend in kind. Clear? Okay. You can get electronic muffs for under $100 to about $200. You can get a semi-fitted pair of digital units (replaceable tips) for about $700 or so. For a pair of BTE units with two earmold sets, about $1200. Full custom-fitted digitals will run from $900 to as much as $5000. Those were the prices when I was still selling them. No promises.

Note: I’ve seen “sound enhancing miracle units” advertised for ridiculously low prices. The only miracle is if they work. It’s your hearing, but I wouldn’t touch them with a stick.

Q: Can I get a unit with Bluetooth, so I can use it with my phone or music player, also?
A: That wasn’t offered when I was in the business, but it may well be by now. Just ask.

Q: What do you use?
A: My units are analog, almost 20 years old and custom in-ear. I still use them, but their days are numbered - it's even a chore to find the right batteries these days.

When they finally die, I’ll get a new hearing test and probably opt for a digital BTE unit using open-ear technology. I’ll also get a set of unvented tips for use while shooting. The open-ear tips will be acrylic for strength, but the unvented ones will be silicone or poly-vinyl for softness and comfort.

Q: What would you recommend for a person who just isn’t sure if electronics are right for him?
A: Frankly, I’d consider a set of inexpensive analog BTE units. Both Walker and E.A.R. offer them for about $300 a pair. They usually come with foam tips, which are allegedly washable. You will get the best protection with a BTE device if it is coupled to a custom fitted earpiece rather than a generic foam plug. You can get any hearing aid outlet or ear doctor to make you an ear impression, from which such an earpiece can be made. Do get a soft earpiece, not an acrylic one. Either vinyl or silicone ones are great.

Once you find how much an electronic unit enhances the hunting or shooting experience, you can opt to upgrade to better units – and sell or give the “starter set” to someone else. (With new tips, of course!)

Q: Is that all there is to know?
A: Nope, that merely opens the book.
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Q: How do I learn more?
A: My old company is E.A.R. Inc at or 800-525-2690.

ESP America offers similar products at similar prices. or 800-767- 7791.

Walker Game Ear is at or 877-269-8490.

Do check them out, call to discuss your particular circumstances, and then DO SOMETHING. The hearing you lose today is gone forever.
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