Hearing Protection: We Check Out Four Electronic Muffs and Buds

Tested side by side at the range are the ISOtunes Sport Caliber Earbuds, $200; the Axil GS Extreme 2.0 Earbuds, $130; Axil Trackr Earmuffs, $65; and the Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Earmuffs, $60.


Gun Tests Reader John suggested a while back that we take a look at ear protection because he had an awful experience with a well-known electronic earmuff brand. Firearms produce sounds, sometimes very loud sounds that can permanently damage your hearing. How many times have you had to endure a buffeting muzzle device on the rifle in the next lane? Having the right shooting accessories can make a day at the range more enjoyable as well as protect your hearing.

For electronic ear protection, we looked at both earmuff- and earbud-style devices. At the high end is the ISOtunes Sport Caliber Earbuds, $200; and the Axil GS Extreme 2.0 Earbuds, $130. At half the price of the Axil earbuds come the Axil Trackr Earmuffs, $65. An even more affordable choice in electronic ear protection includes the Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Earmuffs, $60. All of these electronic ear-protection devices can easily be purchased online, and prices may vary somewhat. 

How We Tested 

Some of the characteristics looked for in these products was how comfortable the protection was to wear for extended periods, how easily they are adjusted for fit, how the ear protection worked with eye protection, and, obviously, how well the ear protection performed while shooting handguns, rifles, and shotguns. The earbud models offer a small package that is easy to store in a range bag; earmuffs are bulkier to wear and store.

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is a measure of the effectiveness of a hearing-protection device to reduce noise levels. The higher the number, the greater the noise reduction. Noise, as you know, is rated in decibels (dB). As easy-to-understand benchmarks, a chainsaw produces 110 dB of sound; a vacuum cleaner is 70 dB; and conversational speech is 60 dB. Gunshots dB levels vary depending on the caliber. A 12-gauge shotgun, depending on the load, is 161 dB, a 5.56 caliber rifle produces 155 dB, a 9mm pistol produces about 160 dB, a 22 LR creates about 140 dB, and a BB gun produces about 97 dB. Any noise over 140 dB creates pain and causes hearing damage. We also tested all of the ear protection while using a lawn mower and power tools like a leaf blower and line trimmer. With all the hearing protection devices, make sure you follow the manufacturers’ instructions to ensure best fit and operation.

Some hearing protection with microphones overamplified sounds, so it felt like a cacophony of everyday sounds inside the muffs, while another felt like our head was in vise. Here are the details.

Axil GS Extreme 2.0 Earbuds


Multiple foam tips come with the Axil to achieve a custom fit.

The GS Extreme 2.0 earbuds from Axil (goaxil.com) are tethered via an adjustable lanyard. It comes in a soft zipper case, two sizes of silicone tips (M and L), three short foam tips (S, M, L), three long foam tips (S, M, L), charger cable, and wind-filter discs. The silicone tips are rated at 19 dB, while the foam tips are rated at 29 dB. The silicone tips are not suited for shooting, rather for better hearing and only offer mild hearing protection. The foam tips are crushed when inserted into your ear as you rotate the ear hooks over your ear so the lanyard is behind you head. There is a knack for getting them on with a good seal, and once we did it a few times, we were golden. They were comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. The only issue was the lanyard snagged on the back of our neck and tugged at one of the earbuds as we turned our head. It comes with a clip that allows you attach the lanyard to your hat or shirt. A cinch on the lanyard also allows you adjust the lanyard.

The Axil GS Extreme 2.0 uses a behind-the-neck lanyard to keep the earbuds and controls together. The lanyard can snag on your neck. The control sticks (arrows) were easy to operate when wearing the earbuds.

On the cord between the two earbuds are two control sticks. One stick pairs the device via Bluetooth, has Bluetooth volume controls, and a charging port. The device runs on a rechargeable lithium battery and has a 25-hour run time when in use. The battery is charged via a USB cord so they can be charged at home or in a vehicle. The GS Extreme 2.0 buds are also Bluetooth compatible so they can be used to listen to music and phone calls. The other control stick houses the on/off button and the volume control for hearing protection. The control buttons were easy to use, and pairing the Axil with another device was simple. Go to your other device and look for the Axil, tap it, and it pairs. Again, we think the Bluetooth capability is a nice-to-have feature.

The Axil did a good job of allowing us to hear conversations and block out gunshot sounds. It works well with both handguns and long guns. But the temple of the shooting glasses can get hung up on the over-the-ear loop, depending on the style of the shooting glasses.

Our Team Said: The Axil GS Extreme 2.0 earbuds are a nice, small package that offers good hearing protection and clear conversation. The lanyard can get hung up on the temples of some shooting glasses.



ISOtunes Sport Caliber BT Earbuds


The ISOtunes earbuds are comfortable to wear and offered excellent noise management.

ISOtunes Sport Caliber BT earbuds (ISOtunes.com) are at the high end of hearing protection and offer amplified sound enhancement, hearing protection in noisy environments, and the ability to use the Bluetooth feature to listen to audio. The complete kit includes the two earbuds and three pairs of Short Eartips (S, M, L), three pairs of Tall Eartips (S, M, L), one pair of silicone eartips, a charging case, charging case lanyard, and USB-C charging cord. The hard-plastic case holds the earbuds in place via a magnet and double as a recharger. We liked this case and the ability to plug into a USB outlet for recharging at home or in our vehicle. The case also holds power to recharge the earbuds twice before having to plug in the cord. Run time is about 13 hours, which is plenty of juice for a day at the range or a competition shooting match. The NRR is 25 dB. It uses what ISOtunes calls SafeMax Technology, which limits volume output to 85 dB for all-day, damage-free listening. And the unit’s Tactical Sound Control Technology enhances hearing by 8x while protecting from high-impact noises in less than two milliseconds.

Multiple foam tip sizes are included with the ISOtune. The 8x amplification was annoying at times.

The eartips are soft like earplugs, allowing you crush the foam, place it in your ear, and rotate the eartips for tight fit and seal. These were very comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. When using them for noisy, non-shooting tasks, the 8x sound amplification was annoying. We could hear ourselves walking on fresh-cut grass like it was broken glass. The volume can be turned down a notch by tapping the left earbud twice. At the range, the amplification was not annoying and, in fact, the earbuds easily allowed us to clearly communicate with our shooting partner and hear the range officer commands in the loud environment of a public shooting range. Nearby construction was going on, too, but was cancelled out. The buds blocked out all caliber of gunshots, even the annoying AR-15 muzzle device a few lanes away from us.

he hard case for the ISOtunes doubles as a charger. The slots for left and right ear buds are magnetic and snap the buds into place. The case holds enough juice to recharge the earbuds twice.

Pairing the earbud with Bluetooth was simple. Go to your phone and in settings, find the ISOtunes Caliber and pair it with the earbuds. The right earbud controls phone calls, and music and volume can be adjusted via your smart phone. In our opinion, the Bluetooth capability of the ISOtunes is nice to have, but we have other devices for phone calls and listening to music.

The earbuds can be turned off manually or when they are placed in their case. There is no interference when wearing eye protection. We did note wind noise was heard on blustery days.

Our Team Said: We liked the ISOtunes earbuds for use at the range. They were comfortable for extended wear. We would like a volume control to adjust the amplified sounds. We think a stand hunter would benefit using these earbuds to hear and spot approaching game. The earbuds are very convenient to store and recharge. These are good for use with handguns and long guns.



Axil Trackr Earmuffs


The Peltor muffs folded into a small package, saving range-bag space.

Axil Trackr electronic earmuffs (goaxil.com) offer a relatively compact design with two directional microphones. The earmuffs are nicely padded, and the headband was relatively easy to adjust. The volume knob is large and easy to adjust. The earmuffs run on two AAA batteries that are easy to access without tools. It features an audio input jack.


The Peltor earmuffs are low profile (arrow) and are suitable for shooting long guns. Two AA batteries run the Peltors. The battery-compartment cover is on a lanyard so it can’t be dropped and lost.

The device offered clear, balanced sound with natural sound clarity. It muffled power tools and gunshots, but after extended wear time, it felt like our head was in a clamp. It was uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. The earmuffs are large, and at times, they interfered with shouldering the stock of a long gun. With the muff on, we tried to put on shooting glasses and were unable to. The muffs pressed too tightly to our head. Shooting glasses with temples that bowed out were uncomfortable to wear. Glasses with flatter and thinner temples were most comfortable. Wind noise was not an issue. We had to wrestle with them at times to fold them up. When folded, they didn’t take up much space in our range bag.

Our Team Said: The Trackr worked well, but the headband was too tight, making it uncomfortable for some users to wear for extended range sessions. These are best for pistol shooting because the muffs were hit by some stocks when shouldering long guns.



Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Electronic Hearing Protector


There is a microphone in each muff (arrow) covered with a wind-suppression fabric to reduce wind noise. The volume control wheel is easy to locate and operate.

Peltor Sport Tactical 100 earmuffs (3m.com) have a NRR 22 dB rating. They run on, or should we say gobble up, two AAA batteries. The battery compartment is easily accessed without tools. We used these for four hours, and the battery tone came on telling us batteries needed replacing. The muffs themselves are small yet cover the ear completely. We had no issue with these earmuffs contacting the stock of a long gun. Use these for either handgun or long gun shooting. The headband was easy to adjust, and they were very comfortable to wear for an extended period of time. We could also slide on shooting glasses while wearing the Peltor muffs.

Trackr takes two AAA batteries, and access to the battery compartment is easy.

Background noise was diminished, and we were able to clearly hear our shooting pals and range commands. Gun shots were cancelled out, and there were no distracting wind noises, even on windy days.

The volume-control knob is easy to locate when wearing and adjusting the muffs. A different tone is made when adjusting volume up and down. The muffs are easy to fold up for storage.

Our Team Said: Remember extra batteries with the Peltor Sport Tactical 100 because it seems to guzzle battery juice. The fit was comfortable to wear, and it was easy to put on and take off shooting glasses while the muffs were in place.



Written and photographed by Robert A. Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests Team members. GT


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