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The Best Hearing Protection Depends On What You’re Blocking

June 4, 2014 General Safety
ear muff, Ear Plug, earmuff, earplug, hearing loss, hearing protection, hearing safety, noise reduction rating, NRR, sound protection

Hearing protection is a necessity for many of our customers, and for a variety of reasons. Some of the folks shopping at PK Safety are looking to drown out the sound of a snoring spouse, others need protection from industrial manufacturing equipment or other heavy machinery; still others are hunters looking for protection from gunshot noise. The common thread among all of them is they want protection that is also comfortable.

Earmuffs or earplugs?

Each piece of hearing protection must be tested and approved by the American National Standards (ANSI) in accordance with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). When the tests are complete, each model is given a noise reduction rating (NRR) of up to 33 for earplugs and 31 for ear muffs. While earplugs can provide greater protection, for lots of users they are either less comfortable or too difficult to use compared with ear muffs that are easily put on or taken off.

As a guy who has never loved putting earplugs in (it makes me feel like I’m shoving a piece of foam into my brain), there are some pretty great options if you’re willing to put up with that feeling of the rolled up foam expanding in your ear canal. Actually, the more you do it, the better it feels as all the noise is slowly shut out.

Moldex has some great options when it comes to hearing protection. For standard hearing protection, even folks who don’t like earplugs like the Pura-Fit 6800. These simple, bullet-shaped, surprisingly comfortable earplugs are individually wrapped per pair and have the highest rating available (NRR 33).

The most innovative earplug to come along this year also comes from Moldex. The Moldex BattlePlugs are ideal for hunters and workers subjected to intermittent sharp sounds. While their maximum NRR is 24, they have an interesting feature where a small plug hinged on the outside of the earpiece can be removed, bringing the NRR down to 9. While this isn’t ideal for loud sounds, it does allow the wearer to hear fellow workers or other normal communication in between the loud noises without completely removing the device.

Lots of folks still prefer ear muffs, and I can’t say I blame them. They’re still the quickest way to get hearing protection on and off. But while earplugs might be uncomfortable getting in and out, for some of our customers, it’s more painful dealing with uncomfortable ear muffs pressing on the outside of the ear over time. Clearly some ear muffs are better than others, and the Peltor H7A which is manufactured in Sweden and assembled in the US claims to be the best-selling ear muff in the world. The reason may be their comfortable ear seal.

One of our most popular ear muffs is also a favorite among shooters and hunters. The Howard Leight R-01526 Electronic Impact Shooting Sport Earmuff has passive hearing protection that reacts to loud noises. The low profile of this model also makes it easier to have something (you know, like your gun) up against your shoulder.

While the NRR of 22 isn’t going to block all sound, these are still one of our most popular and highest rated earmuffs, so clearly NRR isn’t everything to everyone. Comfort and function also complete the hearing protection equation.