Noise Reduction Ratings for Shooting: How Much Do You Really Need?
If you’re an avid shooter, whether a casual hobby or a dedicated passion, it’s crucial to prioritize proper ear protection and learn about noise reduction ratings for shooting. Excessive noise poses a significant risk to hearing health, causing yearly preventable hearing loss. While audiologists can offer hearing aids for restoration, prevention is always preferable to cure. We measure noise intensity in decibels (dB), where higher numbers indicate louder sounds. Sounds exceeding 85 dB are deemed hazardous to hearing.
Decibel Levels of Various Everyday Sounds
To provide perspective, here are the decibel levels of various everyday sounds:
- Whispering: Approximately 30 dB
- Regular conversation: Around 60 dB
- Busy traffic: Ranging from 70 to 85 dB
- Motorbike: Approximately 90 dB
- Listening to music on headphones at full volume: Typically 100 to 110 dB
- Airplane taking off: Approximately 120 dB
In contrast, most firearm calibers produce sounds of 140 dB or higher. Consequently, it is crucial to use ear protection when engaged in shooting activities. To ensure a safe and comfortable noise level, it is recommended to use hearing protection with an NRR rating of 22 or higher.
Which Types of Ear Protection Are Suitable For Shooting Purposes?
When considering ear protection for shooting, there are three primary types available:
Generally, the most affordable option is made of foam and inserted into the ear. Cheaper variants are disposable, though not environmentally friendly.
These fit over the ears, effectively blocking out sound. They are usually pricier than earplugs but designed for multiple uses. Earplugs can be used alongside earmuffs for added protection if desired.
Electronic hearing protection
Although more expensive, these are ideal for dedicated shooters or professionals. They use electronics to allow safe sound levels while potentially amplifying certain sounds. However, they block sounds above a certain threshold, safeguarding the ear canal. Shooters gain the advantage of hearing conversations while remaining protected from gunshots.
What Type of Hearing Protection Is Needed?
Hearing loss is influenced by three key factors: distance, duration, and decibel level. The farther you are from the muzzle or action, the lower the sound. Gun blasts are not continuous, and some shooters fire multiple rounds rapidly. Therefore, when selecting hearing protection, focusing on the initial blast’s decibel level is crucial. As mentioned, opt for ear protection with an NRR of 22 or higher.
The noise reduction rating (NRR) measures the effectiveness of hearing safety devices in reducing sound intensity in a specific setting. A higher NRR indicates more significant noise reduction. Aim for ear protection with a noise reduction rating of at least 22.
For louder and larger firearms, aiming for a noise reduction of 30 is recommended. To ensure safety, consider the following NRR levels as a guideline based on your firearm type:
- Lower caliber handguns: Minimum NRR 22
- Larger bore handguns and long guns: Minimum NRR 25
- Large caliber handguns, larger long guns, and shotguns: Minimum NRR 27
Using NRR 22 headphones for shooting a large long gun is not necessarily harmful, but it is advisable to consider a higher-rated option for maximum safety.
To obtain an NRR, protective devices must undergo review and certification by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
Which Is The Best Noise Reduction For Shooting?
If you require substantial noise reduction and find limited options with high NRR ratings, you may wonder how to maximize the available choices. It is not always easy to find a hearing protection device with a sufficiently high NRR on the market, and financial constraints may limit the ability to purchase a new, higher-quality HPD.
Dual Noise Reduction
Utilizing dual noise reduction involves wearing both earplugs and earmuffs simultaneously, amplifying the maximum level of protection beyond what either option provides alone. The perceived loudness of a sound doubles for every ten dB increase on the scale, with a noticeable volume reduction of five dB.
Investing in a top-of-the-line option is recommended if you’re considering a new hearing protection device. Here are examples of excellent hearing protection for shooting:
- Best passive earplugs: Surefire EP10 Sonic Defenders, with an NRR of 30 dB.
- Best passive earmuffs: ProCase Ear Defenders, with an NRR of 28 dB.
- Best active earplugs: OTTO Engineering NoizeBarrier Micro, with an NRR of 40 dB.
- Best active earmuffs: Peltor Sport Tactical 500s, with an NRR of 26 dB.
Other factors influencing noise reduction
The NRR score represents the maximum potential noise reduction under ideal conditions. However, three additional factors impact the actual noise reduction achieved with an HPD:
Proper fit is crucial for maximizing the effectiveness of an HPD. Ill-fitting devices leave gaps around the ears, allowing sound to enter and reducing noise blockage.
It must be comfortable since you’ll likely wear hearing protection for extended periods. Discomfort can lead to pain and the temptation to remove the device at inappropriate times, exposing you to potentially dangerous sound levels.
Compatibility with other equipment
Your HPD should be compatible with other safety gear to ensure optimal protection. If your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as safety glasses, compromises the seal of your hearing protection, it may reduce its effectiveness.
With knowledge about the necessary noise reduction ratings for shooting and the factors to consider when selecting hearing protection, you can now confidently engage in shooting activities, knowing your hearing is adequately safeguarded.
Have you determined the sound level produced by your firearm and the required NRR? Did you conduct any decibel tests personally? Feel free to share your experiences and insights in the comments below to assist other readers with their calculations!