Review & pick of hearing protection & hearing enhancers (hearables)

I started having tinnitus and hearing loss in my early-mid 40s, and hearing protection and hearing better has become very important.

I’ve tried several options, both on the hearing protection side and on the hearing enhancement side.

And today, I’m going to share what has worked (and not worked) for me as I’ve tested solutions for the last few years.
Regardless of the cause, maximizing hearing protection while also maximizing awareness and the ability to hear and understand people on the range has been very important.

The ear pro that I’ve used the most for the last few years have been:
Howard Leight Impact Pros

Peltor Sport Tactical 500s

Walker’s Safety Razor X

I’ve got an assortment of squishy ear plugs, ear plugs with fins, professionally molded plugs, and DIY molded plugs from Decibullz, but I tend to not wear any of them around other shooters because they either cut off sound too much or not enough (for me).  In addition, I want a little bit of voice amplification when I’m on the range with other people, responding to a beep, or when I’m shooting steel.

When I’m shooting paper on my own, I’m a big fan of Decibullz.

Now, as far as my experience with the electronic ear pro…

Walker’s Razors work great for some people, but they have been like a torture device for me.  I would love to make them work, because the sound is awesome and they’re WAY easier to manage when you don’t need hearing protection for a few minutes.

They are well designed and very functional.

The fact that I’ve had such a bad experience with them means I won’t recommend them, but the fact that I’ve talked with several students who love them means they may be a good option for you.

I have talked with Walker’s and we’re not sure if it’s my ear canal diameter, the geometry, or something strange with my particular ears.  I’ve tried custom molded plugs with them, but the sound quality dropped off so much that it wasn’t worth it.  I have V2 and V3 may take care of the issues that I ran into.

In-ear protection is slick, streamlined, and convenient, but there is an advantage to having your temporal bone (right in front of your ear) covered by earmuffs.  Sound waves that hit the temporal bone are transferred directly to the cochlea and get processed slightly faster than the same soundwave going into and through the ear canal.  In some environments, like indoor ranges with non-sound-absorbent walls, this can make a difference in how enjoyable shooting is, how long you can do it, and how you feel afterwards.  One of the crazy things about bone conduction is that bone conduction volume gets turned UP when you plug the ear canal…which is another reason to double up and use both plugs and muffs when shooting indoors.

Impact Pros have been solid performers with a pistol, but I’ve knocked them off of my ear enough times on rifle and shotgun stages that I don’t wear them as much anymore.  If you’re just shooting pistols, I recommend them.

My clear favorite has been the Peltor Sport Tactical 500s.

They have the ability to let in outside sounds (and they automatically turn off when a gun fires) and they have Bluetooth functionality.

I use them for pistol, rifle, and shotgun, but I also wear them on flights as well as when I’m working at home and my boys are being too loud.

The way that they turn off and turn back on when a firearm is shot is incredibly pleasant.  It’s fast enough that the sound comes back on in time to hear the report on 50 yard steel.  They also do a great job of amplifying voices without over-amplifying wind, air handlers, and other unwanted noises.

On indoor ranges, I’ll oftentimes double up and wear Decibullz underneath.  They do a better job than most of letting voice frequencies through  more than other frequencies.

As excited as I am about the Peltors, I’m really excited to tell you about my favorite hearable.

Hearables are a class of hearing devices for people who refuse to admit that they might need hearing aids…or for people with mild to moderate hearing loss and for some people with auditory processing challenges.

I have tried several hearing aids and hearing assist devices and my favorite one, by far, is the Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX.


I’ve tried both the Walker’s Razor and Raptor in this role, as well as the “Olive,” and “BeHear” which I would not recommend.

With IQbuds, you put them in and take a hearing test that uses their app and that customizes the amplification moving forward.

They have several modes, including office, restaurant, home, street, airplane, and driving and you can customize them by prioritizing voices over background noise and the ability to hear 360 degrees or focus on what is in front of you.

If you have a TV or tuner with the right audio output, there is even a device from NuHeara that slows down voices just enough that they’re easier to understand without needing to turn up the volume.  As a neurology geek, I REALLY appreciate this multi-pronged approach.

When you’re at home and just need to turn off the world, there’s a noise cancelling mode called “World off” that you can activate from the app or by tapping one ear.  Simply put, it’s awesome.

I wear them in classroom environments, meetings, and other places where I’m likely to encounter voices that are a pitch/volume combination that are difficult for me to keep up with.

They are bigger than I’d like, but the fact that they actually work and are customizable on-the-fly has made them a great solution for me.

Like the Peltors, it’s bluetooth compatible and has great sound.  They have become my favorite way to listen to music.

Although they do not have a noise reduction rating and Nuheara has said that they will never submit them to OSHA for testing/rating, I have found them to be very comfortable in louder environments, like vacuuming, mowing, snow blowing, running a chainsaw, weed whacking, or other loud motors, but not for unsuppressed shooting.

**Quick aside**

Lots of people ask me if my hearing issues are from shooting.  They’re not.  I’ve always been good about wearing hearing protection, I’ve always been an audio blocker when hunting and I’ve been using suppressors for about a decade.

My hearing issues are probably not from listening to loud music as a kid either.

Yes, I listened to loud music, but never as loud as my friends…because it hurt too much.

But, I did have chronic ear infections when I was young, was on several series of antibiotics per year, had tubes in my ear, and may have even had a ruptured ear drum at one point.

In any case, as I started looking into hearing loss, I found out that the combination of chronic ear infections + LOTS of antibiotics + tubes oftentimes equals tinnitus and hearing loss in the early 40s.

Some of it is frequency specific hearing loss, but a lot of it seems to be auditory processing speed and efficiency…which has led me down some interesting neurological rabbit holes.

For the last few years, I’ve experimented with every supplement that has a published study for helping with hearing loss & tinnitus, lasers, trans-cranial electric and magnetic stimulation, notch therapy, and on and on.  I’ve definitely had improvements, and it’s been very encouraging.  Enough so, that one of my future projects is going to be figuring out how to upregulate the auditory system like I have with the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems.

It’s super common to be sensitive to loud noises and not even realize it.  Sometimes it’s pretty clear…your ears hurt or ring more.  Other times, sensitivity to noise/concussion waves occurs in the form of light nausea, headache, brain fog, slowed speech, slumped shoulders, fatigue, heavy eyes, or flare-ups of joint pains.

What can you do about it besides hearing protection?

Two things…

  1. One of my talks at the USCCA Expo this last weekend was a half-hour presentation on how to make shooting more enjoyable when you’re sensitive to loud noises.  As soon as I trim the beginning and end and amp up the volume a bit, I’ll be posting it on Upgraded Shooter.
  2. A big part of the equation is doing as much of your training as possible in a way that doesn’t tax your auditory system…the last thing you want to do is create a negative association with shooting.  The obvious answer is dry fire…but the not-so-obvious answer is HOW to do dry fire so that you maximize the value of your time AND you do training in a way that actually transfers over to real-world shooting situations.  Right now, >THIS< is the best book on the subject…and you can get it for free if you help with shipping and handling today.  Don’t delay…with big mentions in the media this week following my presentations at the USCCA Expo, they’re going FAST.



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  • Eric Molicki

    Reply Reply November 16, 2022

    Having similar hearing loss/tinnitus issues, I have started double plugging in all environments using electronic ear buds and electronic muffs.

    Question: Other than Axil products, has anyone found an electronic ear bud that does well (i.e. no screeching) when covered by an ear muff?

    I have used Axil products as they dont screech when double plugged. But they break like CRAZY (on my 4th or 5th pair of the extremes). They are the definition of not reliable in my experience. They just plain melt and i live and teach shooting in Pennsylvania! Just tired of paying super high prices for an ear bud system that will only last a few months at the range. Really looking for an electronic alternative vs. just using a foamy under a muff which gives me sound protection, but I lose my students’ voices too much with foamys.

  • Bob Hendershot

    Reply Reply November 16, 2022

    I love your newsletters and blogs. I got your book several months ago, but haven’t finished it. I’m trying to really digest it.
    Stay safe.

  • Robert Burkhalter

    Reply Reply October 16, 2021

    I like Surefire EP7 Sonic Defenders. I put them in when I get to the range and never take them off till I leave, and add Pelton muffs over them when I’m close to shooters. The valves in the Defenders seem to work like magic; the price ($17) a bargain.

    I’ve been doing research on hearing loss. Please respond to this seemingly crazy question: When, if ever, did you stop drinking tap water? And, what water do you drink regularly? My older brother, like me has been drinking distilled water for the last 30 years. We are both more than 70 years old. My twin, the only one in the family with hearing loss, has drunk tap water his entire life. I’m getting hints that the chemicals in drinking tap water, wreaks havoc on the internals of the ear.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 16, 2021

      It’s not that crazy. There are SEVERAL drugs that have been linked to hearing impairment: (and way more that have been linked to vertigo and other balance problems)

      Back to your specific point…tap water. It depends 100% on your tap water. What the original water is composed of, how it’s treated, and the makeup/age/health of the pipes that it’s flowing through on the way to you.

      Does he think that he doesn’t need to supplement with minerals because he’d drinking tap water and you do supplement because you’re drinking distilled? Anemia (low iron), magnesium deficiency, low calcium (sometimes paired with low Vitamin D) have all been linked to hearing loss.

      As far as your direct question…we live in a forest in a slot canyon and our water comes from springs. It’s a completely different situation than someone drinking municipal water, but I’ve been drinking mostly distilled, filtered through a Berkey, and/or RO with mineral supplementation for the last 30 years.

  • John Treibel

    Reply Reply October 15, 2021

    I too have several of the Pro Ears Bluetooth headphone sets, including their Ultra Gold 33. My only issues with the Ultra 33s are weight and the inability to obtain a good cheek weld. Their behind the head model (Ultra 23 Gold) works well but doesn’t have anywhere as good NRR as the Ultra 33s.
    I just purchased some Otto NoizeBarrier Micro High-Definition Rechargeable Electronic Earplugs which I’ve only briefly tried out thus far. I like them so far (using the foam plug inserts as opposed to the lesser NRR “barbed” silicone counterparts).
    I also use one of two custom made pairs of silicone ear plugs (purchased/used mainly at work…i.e., loud, very high-pitched, high-speed aluminum machining), and they work pretty well for most pistol shooting as well.
    Still, my favorite, and the ones I always wear at training classes are my vintage but still virtually new “Wolf Ears” purchased from Masaad Ayoob back in the very early 1990s. No Bluetooth but their monaural speakers are perfect for clearing due to their exacting sound direction accuracy.
    I wish I could buy another pair of those!

  • Jeff Connell

    Reply Reply October 15, 2021

    For several years I have worn Pro Ears Ultra 33. They have been, by far, the most effective for me. I have tried several of in-the-ear-canal products, but they have no where near the sound suppression of the Pro Ears product. After my experience with the non-electronic Pro Ears, I purchased a set of electronic Pro Ears, principally to use when I have to hear range commands. Although bulkier than Walkers or Peltors, the Pro Ears have worked VERY well for me, even with shouldered firearms.

  • Don Hutchins

    Reply Reply October 15, 2021

    I like Otis Earshields both in 26 & 31dB. I wear them shooting,driving my tractor or using power tools. The price is right as well. So I have multiple pairs. Like all things don’t abuse them.

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