By Michael A. Black
Research has shown that noise-induced hearing loss is both cumulative and irreversible. Protecting what you’ve got, and not losing any more of it, is essential for every firearms owner.
The GunSport·PRO electronic earplugs by Etymotic offer a unique blend of state of the art ear protection coupled with the ability to hear normal sounds, like conversation and ambient noises. Etymotic has been involved in hearing protection for over 30 years. The unique design of these earplugs replicates the natural design of the ear canal so that sound has the same quality as the original. First developed for musicians, these devices enabled them to hear their own instruments as well as the ones playing around them. Applying the same principles and designs to other areas, such as shooting sports, allows shooters to hear normal conversational tones, but be safeguarded against sudden, injurious sounds, such as gunfire.
The GunSport·PRO circuitry automatically changes its output levels as the sound input level changes. Thus, hearing is audible and normal sounding until such time as the sound exceeds a safe level. As the sound level increases, the earplugs provide a 15 decibel sound reduction. If an impulsive or sudden sound occurs, such as a firecracker or a gunshot, the harmful decibel level will be reduced by 35-40 dB.
Standard decibel levels are rated along a continuum with rustling leaves rated at approximately 10 decibels. A whisper is rated at around 28, and a quiet office at 40. Normal conversation comes in at around 60 decibels, and a vacuum cleaner at 70.
Loud traffic, at around 80 decibels, begins a slow assent into the hazardous zone. It’s important to note that for every 3 decibels at or above 85, safe exposure time is reduced by half. Thus, while spending 8 hours in an 85 decibel range, the safe exposure time is reduced to four hours if the decibels increase to 88. With a lawnmower coming in at 90, and an ambulance siren or rock concert at 120, it’s only a short jump to the more extreme hazardous zone of jet engines (138), rifle blasts (140), and shotgun blasts (160).
Having spent over 30 years in law enforcement, the times when I had to discharge a firearm in the line of duty, without ear protection, were luckily few and far between. However, the auditory exclusion I experienced still lingers in my memory, especially SWAT operations and drug raids where gunfire erupted without warning. Whether you’re a cop on the street, a soldier or marine on patrol, or a hunter in the woods, sometimes you have to shoot quickly and without prior notification. There is no time to stop and don a pair of ear protectors. This is the beauty of the GunSport·PRO. It allows the shooter to engage in normal hearing activities, but be protected in those sudden and unexpected instances where a shot must be fired. They can be comfortably worn while walking in the woods on a hunting trip, or under a helmet during a SWAT operation.
Each box contains one pair of electronic earplugs, an assortment of CCU-Fit eartips, a flexible neck cord, a filter tool and four additional ACCU-Filters, a cleaning tool, a supply of #10 batteries, and a durable protective case for storage of the electronic earplugs. These electronic earplugs, known as the GSP15 earplugs, are battery operated. They each require one #10 size battery, and are turned on and off by merely closing or opening the battery storage door. When the earplug is out of service, the battery life can be extended by turning off the device, i.e., pulling this storage door open. When you’re ready to insert the earplugs, merely close the door. Cupping your hand around the earplug will cause a bit of acoustic feedback (a squealing sound), which will verify that the battery is functional and working. The earplugs have two settings, low and high. The low position is set by pushing a small switch toward the device. This allows natural hearing until noise exceeds a safe level. There is an automatic high-fidelity 15 decibel sound reduction for continuous loud noise. The high position, which requires this switch to be pulled up and away from the device, amplifies soft sounds and conversational speech while still allowing maximum protection from loud blasts of noise. The applications for usage are wide and varied. I immediately saw the advantage of wearing the GunSport·PRO devices on a special ops mission, where team members could communicate with each other, yet still be afforded protection from sudden auditory exclusion.
The non-custom eartips come in several styles and sizes, including 3-flange and foam eartips. The average ear canal opening measures approximately 6 to 13 millimeters, and the 3-flange eartips range in size from 7 to 13 millimeters. The smaller, beige foam-tip earplugs range from 6 to 9 millimeters, while the larger, black foam-tip earplugs measure between 8 and 13. The Glider ear-tip is 8 to 11 millimeters. With this variety, you should be able to find the right size to fit your ears comfortably.
Insertion is made easier if the eartips are moistened prior to placement. Pulling the ear up and out as the earplug is inserted also allows for a smooth entry, when accompanied by a gentle twisting and pushing motion. For the foam-tip earpieces, you merely have to compress the foam, insert it into the ear canal, and then wait as the foam expands to complete the seal. The Glider ear-tips simply are pushed into the ear canal. Make sure that the earplug has a good seal.
I found the removal process to be a bit tricky at first. The left earplug came out with no problem, but the right one proved more difficult. It was not until I reread the instructions, which advise the wearer to open his mouth to equalize the pressure before removal, that I was able to take the second plug out. Obviously, doing a comprehensive reading of the instructions, which are on the Etymonic website, and operator’s manual before trying out the product is highly recommended.
The earpiece comes with a special filter that smooths the frequency response and prevents earwax from entering the earphone. The filter, which is located at the end of the earplug, is visible when the eartip is removed. If loudness decreases or the sound quality declines, the filter should be changed. Remove the old filter first. This can be accomplished by use of the special extraction tool provided in the kit. These small filters are not reusable. To insert a new one, simply place it into the earpiece, press it gently against a hard surface, and then reattach the eartip.
After inserting the GunSport·PRO earplugs, I did a variety of various activities, ranging from normal conversation to listening for the wind blowing through the trees. I made a phone call and had no problem hearing normal conversational tones, and also started a lawnmower to test the noise reduction level. I found that when wearing the earplugs, my natural hearing was enhanced. The sound of my footsteps ascending a set of stairs, for instance, was very distinct. The final test came when I went to the police range and wore the earplugs completing a shooting course. I’m happy to say that the GunSport·PRO performed exactly as advertised. I could clearly hear the commands of the range instructor, but the high decibel level noise of my Glock 21 pistol were totally blocked.
I whole-heartedly recommend the GunSport·PRO. Protect your hearing before it’s too late.
Etymotic is graciously offering the readers of Women&Guns 10% discount off the purchase of GunSport·PRO’s by using code EHP10TP on their website: etymotic.com. The MSRP is $299.