A comprehensive guide on how to choose effective hearing protection devices, plus our favorites for both general and specific needs.
|Product||NRR||Form Factor||Battery Life||Price|
|3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector Best Over-all||24dB||Over-ear||30 hours||BUY|
|Howard Leight by Honeywell Sync Best for Lawn Mowing||25dB||Over-ear||up to 140 hours||BUY|
|Alpine MusicSafe Pro Best for Musicians||Choose between 16, 19 and 22 dB||In-ear||N/A||BUY|
|Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Best for Shooting||26dB||Over-ear||depends on battery brand||BUY|
How to Choose the Best Hearing Protection Device
Excessive noise exposure is a serious concern and is considered an occupational hazard. It causes physical and mental stress in many individuals. Aside from that, there’s also a higher risk of poor concentration and increased work-related accidents.
But the most common consequence of excessive noise exposure is Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
A report filed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggested that as many as 40 million adults suffer from NIHL in the United States alone. That’s 1 in every 4 working adults. Globally, NIHL makes up a third of the total hearing loss cases.
Needless to say, it’s vital to protect our hearing. So what can someone who has no choice but get exposed to unsafe levels of noise do?
First, is to understand how hearing loss occurs. We’re born with thousands of hair cells in our ears that are responsible for picking up sound. Over time, these hairs can become irreparably damaged from noise exposure. The damage occurs slowly over time, so we usually don’t notice it right away until it’s too late.
The second step involves taking preventative measures such as using appropriate hearing protection. Hearing protection devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs and earplugs, help safeguard our ears by reducing the sound of loud background noises.
For example, we recommend using earplugs when flying to protect your ears from loud noise and air pressure changes which might cause pain.
However, not all HPDs are the same. Your choice will depend on factors surrounding your workplace conditions and activities. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing an HPD:
NRR (Noise Reduction Rating)
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The NRR is a number that indicates how much noise reduction a device provides. This rating is expressed in decibels and ranges from 0 to 35. Fundamentally, the higher the NRR, the better noise protection you’ll get.
The NRR is usually measured in controlled testing facilities. As such, they’re not entirely accurate when applied to real-world situations. To remedy this and get a more precise reading, the NRR goes through the process of derating.
Work environment & use
Workplace conditions (or any setting where you intend to use a hearing protection device) and the nature of your activities will help you determine what kind of device to go for.
For example, if the activity entails a lot of moving around, you may want to opt for a wireless HPD. This gives you more freedom of movement. And if your hands tend to get dirty, you should steer clear from earplugs to avoid getting bacteria in your ears.
Some HPDs are also designed for specialized purposes. Those who engage in shooting sports can opt for electronic earmuffs. These types block the sound of gunshots while allowing you to retain the ability to communicate with those around you.
On the other hand, musicians and those who work in sound production can go for HPDs with acoustic filters. These isolate loud unwanted sounds and protect your hearing while still letting you listen to your music with less volume.
Being comfortable is essential when wearing your HPD for long hours. If you’re constantly adjusting or removing it because they’re uncomfortable, then it defeats the purpose of having an HPD in the first place.
Before buying an HPD, consider the following:
- Temperature: Hot weather or poorly-ventilated spaces can make wearing protective earmuffs feel stifling, so you may want to opt for less intrusive earplugs instead.
- Clamping force: Some HPDs have very strong clamping force, especially right out of the box. This force ensures your ears get a good seal for optimum noise protection, but it can also make an HPD uncomfortable after a few minutes of wearing.
Clamping force also depends on head proportions, and some headbands may fit tighter on you than others. As such, it’s recommended to try on an HPD before buying it. However, if you’re buying online and there’s no opportunity to physically try on an HPD, be sure to check user reviews to get an idea of how they fit.
Ease of fit
Improperly worn or ill-fitting HPDs can affect its ability to block noise effectively, so it’s important to always check the manufacturer’s instructions on the product packaging for guidance on this.
The two main types of hearing protection, earplugs and earmuffs, differ a lot in how they are worn. For example, earmuffs should cover the ears fully with clothing, hair, or any other accessories out of the way. For earplugs, on the other hand, should be inserted by pulling the ear upwards and outwards to straighten the ear canal. This ensures you’re getting a good seal for optimum noise protection.
Compatibility with other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
If your workplace requires you to wear other protective gear, such as goggles, a helmet, or a facemask, then you’ll need to choose a hearing protection device that won’t get in the way of those accessories, and vice-versa. For example, goggles can interrupt the tight seal of your HPD and cause unwanted sounds to leak in.
To avoid this, you may want to use earplugs instead. You can also go for earmuffs with pre-designed cut-outs that accommodate other protective headwear.
4 Best Hearing Protection Devices in 2023
3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector
- NRR: 24dB (8.5dB derated)
- Battery: Built-in rechargeable (30 hours on a full charge)
- Connectivity: Bluetooth
- Volume Limit: 82dB
- Mic/Speaker: Yes/Yes
- Extra features: HI-FI speakers, Single-button interface, Audio Assist Technology
The 3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector comes with Bluetooth connectivity and good built-in battery life that’ll last you all day. It also has a sleek wireless, antenna-free design that doesn’t hinder movement, making this our top pick for the best wireless hearing protection.
These Bluetooth-enabled earmuffs can easily be paired with your phone or tablet, allowing you to infuse hours of entertainment into dull work tasks. High-fidelity speakers deliver great sound quality, and an integrated mic also allows you to take and receive calls seamlessly.
The Audio Assist Technology guides you in setting up your device without needing to take it off. It also has a straightforward single-button interface that lets you operate the device, eliminating the need to fuss around with buttons and user manuals so that you can concentrate on what matters.
For more info on this hearing protection device, feel free to check out our detailed review on 3M Worktunes.
Howard Leight by Honeywell Sync
- NRR: 25dB (9dB derated)
- Battery: 2 replaceable AA batteries (up to 140 hours)
- Connectivity: 3.5mm wire and AM/FM Radio
- Volume Limit: 82dB
- Mic/Speaker: Yes/Yes
- Extra features: Patented Air Flow Control Technology, LCD display, Digital antenna
The Howard Leight by Honeywell Sync has a decent NRR that delivers good noise reduction. It also comes with a volume limit feature and AM/FM radio function, making it to the top of our best hearing protection for lawn mowing list.
Keeping these earmuffs on for those long hours it takes to get your lawn under control is a breeze. These lightweight earmuffs feature an adjustable headband and soft replaceable earpads, designed for comfortable, prolonged wearing.
The Honeywell Sync provides great noise protection with help from its Patented Air Flow Control Technology. It works by manipulating airflow in the earcups, which enhances its noise reduction capability. It also isolates sounds on a wider range of frequencies, which protects your hearing by lessening the need to amp up the volume.
A 3.5mm cable allows you to hook the earmuffs up to your phone so you can keep monotony at bay with your favorite tunes. But for those who don’t like working with wires, they can opt for the AM/FM radio function. You’ll also be assured of excellent reception and sound quality with the built-in digital antenna.
Alpine MusicSafe Pro
- NRR: 16, 19 or 22 dB (4.5dB, 6dB, or 7.5dB derated)
- Battery: N/A
- Connectivity: N/A
- Volume Limit: N/A
- Mic/Speaker: N/A
- Extra features: Interchangeable filter system, 3 filter sets, AlpineThermoShape™ material
The Alpine MusicSafe Pro are earplugs designed specifically for musicians, DJs, and other music industry professionals who are constantly exposed to extreme noise levels. It’s built with premium materials and comes with a flexible noise reduction system, easily making this our best hearing protection for Musicians choice.
The most unique feature of these earplugs is the interchangeable filter system. The system consists of three different pairs of filters – gold, silver, and white – which are inserted into the center of the earplug. They allow you to hear the sounds that matter, while filtering out unwanted background noises.
Each filter type provides a different level of noise attenuation. The white filter reduces noise by 16dB, the silver filter by 19dB, and the gold filter by as much as 22dB. The earplugs give you the flexibility to choose the amount of noise reduction you’ll get, without compromising music quality and communication.
These earplugs are made from premium AlpineThermoShape™ material that’s silicon-free and hypoallergenic. They also mold perfectly to the inside of the ear canal with the help of your body heat. This allows you to get a nice seal that ensures optimum noise reduction.
Peltor Sport Tactical 500
- NRR: 26dB (9.5dB derated)
- Battery: 2 replaceable AA batteries
- Connectivity: Bluetooth
- Volume Limit: N/A
- Mic/Speaker: Yes/Yes
- Extra features: Clear Voice Tracking Technology, Gunshot Recognition, Dynamic Suppression Technology, Voice Assist, Water-, Sweat- and Weather-Resistant
The Peltor Sport Tactical 500 are electronic earmuffs designed for indoor and outdoor shooters. It’s outfitted with intuitive technology engineered to protect your ears from the explosive sounds of gunshots. It also functions as headphones for music listening and making calls, easily making them our top hearing protection device for shooting.
These earmuffs have Gunshot Recognition, which recognizes the type of gun being used and the setting it’s being used in. With this info, it makes subtle adjustments to give you better hearing protection. The Dynamic Suppression Technology complements this further by suppressing gunshot noise, boosting lower frequencies, and reducing echo.
These, along with the 26dB NRR, allows good hearing protection against gunshot noise.
The Clear Voice Tracking Technology amplifies voices and filters out noise. This allows you to stay connected with what’s going on around you, while still being protected from loud, damaging sounds. Recessed microphones also help with sound clarity and voice pick-up by reducing wind noise.
Set-up and operation is easy with the help of a voice assist feature and a control panel on the side of the ear cup. This allows you to access certain features without having to take the earmuffs off.
Moreover, comfort is a non-issue with the Peltor Sport Tactical 500. These over-ear earmuffs are outfitted with soft earpads and an adjustable headband that adapts to your proportions. Vents designed into the headband also improve breathability, making them comfortable to wear even under hats. You don’t need to worry about using these earmuffs in bad weather or hot temperatures either because they’re sweatproof, waterproof, and weatherproof.