April 1998

Peltor Tactical 7 Our Choice In Electronic Earmuffs

The Peltor wasn’t inexpensive, but it was better than the Bilsom and Silencio earmuffs in sound reduction, amplification and comfort.

Youth and hearing have something in common: once they are gone, they don’t come back. Youth and hearing also have something not in common: you can preserve your hearing.

According to information in the public service brochure entitled Noise, Ears, and Hearing Protection, published by the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 1 in 10 Americans has a hearing loss that affects his ability to understand normal speech. Excessive noise exposure is the most common cause of hearing loss.

If you think you have become accustomed to loud noises, you have probably damaged your ears. There is no treatment, no medicine, no surgery, or hearing aid that will truly correct your hearing once it is damaged by noise.

Many experts feel that continuous exposure to more than 85 decibels (dB) may be dangerous. To put this into perspective, the sound level at a firearm muzzle is approximately 140 dB. Every gunshot produces enough noise to damage your ears. Anyone who uses firearms, or is a spectator at a range, risks hearing loss if they are not using some form of ear protection.

In addition, noise can affect more than your hearing. Some people react to loud noise with anxiety and irritability, an increase in pulse rate, and an increase in stomach acid. Very loud noise can reduce efficiency in performing difficult tasks by diverting a person’s attention. This could explain why some of us feel better and shoot better when we first get to the range than we do at the end of a long shooting day.

The good news is that protection is relatively uncomplicated. Noise-induced hearing loss, and probably those side effects mentioned above, can be reduced or prevented altogether. To accomplish this, noise reaching the eardrums must be decreased to a safe level.

If you happen to have already lost your hearing to a level that requires you to wear a hearing aid (or aids), don’t think that merely switching off your hearing aid will protect you. It will not. You do not want to lose what remains of your hearing. Hearing-impaired individuals should protect themselves against further hearing loss by using hearing protection devices. Discuss this with your doctor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Hearing protection devices decrease the level of sound that reaches the eardrums. Protection comes in two forms: earplugs and earmuffs. (When your mother said never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear, she was not referring to well-designed commercial earplugs.)

The better plugs and muffs are approximately equal in sound reduction, although plugs are better for low frequency noise and muffs are better for higher frequency noise. Use of both plugs and muffs usually add 10 dB to 15 dB more protection than either used alone. Combined use should be considered when noise exceeds 105 dB. Modern hearing protectors do not require users to sacrifice their ability to hear what is going on around them. Now, protection is available that doesn’t much change the ambient sound the user hears until the sound level becomes harmful. This protection is offered by muff-type hearing protectors that are known as noise-actuated, or electronic, earmuffs.

The nice part about electronic earmuffs is that their use involves very little change in the way you normally go about your business. That is, if someone is talking to you at the range, you don’t have to strain to hear, or to take off your protection.

It seems that as soon as you take off your hearing protectors at the range, someone is sure to squeeze off a round. You probably have learned to leave them on as long as the firing line is hot. However, fellow shooters can get tired of yelling when they are trying to carry on a conversation with you. Therefore, socializing is usually not possible while others are shooting.

Electronic earmuffs eliminate that problem. Not only can we socialize while electronic earmuffs are worn, but we can hear range commands and other important information without endangering our hearing.

No matter what type of earmuffs you wear, the ear cushions should fully enclose the ears. Adjust the headband so that it sits comfortably on the head and the cushions feel as though they are exerting pressure evenly around the ears.

Wearing eyeglasses in combination with earmuffs may be uncomfortable for some wearers, since earmuff cushions press the eyeglass temples against the skull. This pressure can be relieved by placing thin foam pads on the eyeglass temples, but the increase in comfort may be at the expense of noise leakage.

Foam pads do nothing to reduce noise leaks caused by long eyeglass temples. Eyeglass temples that are too long will break the cushion-to-skull seal behind the ear. Therefore, eyeglass temples should be of the correct length, should fit close to the side of the head, and be as thin as practical to reduce their effect on the seal of cushions around the ears.

The electronic earmuffs tested for this article were the Bilsom 707 Impact, the Peltor Tactical 7 Model MT1H7A-01, the Silencio Low Pro-Electronic Model ELP-96, and the Silencio RSX-85 Rangesafe Electronic.

The instructions provided with all the units in this test indicate that the muffs are to be worn with the microphone(s) facing forward. Our references to right and left refer to the ear over which the muff would be when the unit is being worn in accordance with the instructions.

In our tests, we compared headband and ear cushion comfort, amplification, sound fidelity, and perceived noise reduction.

In testing for noise reduction, (which was the judgment of our testers as opposed to being measured by an instrument), we first used two different high quality non-electronic earmuff hearing protectors. We then compared the perceived sound levels with the electronic units in this test. The electronic units were tested with their electronics off, at normal amplification, and at full amplification.

Noise testing was conducted at an indoor range. We fired what we consider a noisy handgun: a .357 Magnum with a 2 1/8-inch barrel.

Bilsom 707 Impact
At a suggested retail price of $146.19, the Bilsom 707 Impact was a stereo muff that weighed 11.5 ounces with the one required nine-volt battery installed from the outside of the left muff. The battery was included with the unit. The volume control was located on the bottom of the right muff. Battery life is estimated at 500 operating hours. When a noise level of 82 dB is reached, this system will clip any signal through the amplifier within 10 milliseconds. The amplified sound will not exceed 82 dB. With the power switch in the “off” position, or when the battery is removed, the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is 23 dB.

To balance the volume of the left and right muffs for individual requirements, balance controls were located inside the right muff. The controls were reached by pulling aside the flap that covered them. Using a small screwdriver, gently make small adjustments following the instructions supplied.

Ear cushions on earmuffs should be cleaned periodically to remove dirt and perspiration, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. They should also be replaced about once a year, or sooner if the cushions become stiff or damaged. The Bilsom’s ear cushions were removed by grasping the cushion at the bottom of the muff and pulling it from under the lip around the muff. Warranty is one year from date of purchase.

Our Judgments
In our opinion, the Bilsom 707 Impact did not provide much amplification over the sound level we heard when not wearing any hearing protection. The headstrap cushion was not very comfortable. The volume control at the bottom of the right muff did not feel as if it was in a “natural” location. It was hard to access for right-handers. The muffs could be adjusted up and down, in relation to the headband, while the unit was being worn.

The battery compartment cover was held closed with a plastic catch on its top. The hinge was thin flexible plastic. If it tears or breaks, the one-piece hinge and cover appeared to be easily replaceable—it slid into a slot at the bottom of the muff.

The battery connection was a wired connector that snapped onto the 9-volt battery terminals. It’s our opinion that, of the units tested, this battery compartment cover and battery connector arrangement was the least desirable. We feel it would degrade due to wear.

On the range, when its electronics were “off,” the Bilsom was judged as equal in noise reduction to the non-electronic units. However, although the sound of the shot was reduced, we experienced an echo, or ringing sound, after each shot when the electronics were switched “on.”

Peltor Tactical 7
At a suggested retail price of $204.67, the Peltor Tactical 7 was a stereo muff that weighed 12.9 ounces with the one required nine-volt battery installed from the outside of the left muff. The battery was included with the unit. The volume control was located on the top of the right muff. Battery life was estimated at 200 operating hours. This system will shut down in less than 2 milliseconds when a noise level of 82 dB is reached. While shut down, the NRR is 24 dB. Resume-delay circuitry maintains shutdown for 5 milliseconds after the noise level that actuates shutdown has ended.

To balance the volume of the left and right muffs to individual requirements, balance controls were located inside the right muff. The controls were reached after removing the right ear cushion (called the sealing ring by Peltor).

To remove the right ear cushion, we placed a finger into the cup and under the hard plastic surface under the ear cushion. We then pulled the hard plastic portion of the cushion off the cup. This was a tight snap fit, and required a surprising amount of pull to remove. (The left cushion is removed in the same manner.)

With the ear cushion removed, it was now possible to remove the piece of gray foam inside the muff. The balance controls were two white variable resistors at the top of the printed circuit board. Avoid touching the board, or any components except the balance controls, with anything! Using a small screwdriver, gently make small adjustments following the instructions supplied. Warranty is one year from date of purchase.

Our Judgments
The Peltor Tactical 7 provided plenty of amplification along with high fidelity sound. It was comfortable to wear, with a soft cushion on the headband and comfortable ear cushions. The volume control was at the top of the right muff, a natural location for right-hander’s and easy to reach by left-handers. The volume control’s rotation was dampened by internal spring-loaded detents to prevent accidental adjustment changes. The muffs could be adjusted up and down, in relation to the headband, while unit was being worn. However, we felt adjustments were made more easily with the unit off the head.

The battery compartment cover was held by two tabs that fit into two notches at the bottom and by a thumbscrew on the top. This is very sturdy, and accidental opening is highly unlikely.

The 9-volt battery slid in and out, making electrical contact with two spring-loaded metal strips. This is easier to use, and subject to less damage, than is a wired connector.

On the range, we judged the Peltor at least as quiet as the non-electronic units whether it was “off,” “on” at normal volume or “on” at full volume! It acted as if it knew when we were going to fire, and shut itself down accordingly. It gave us the advantages of a non-electronic unit and the advantages of an electronic unit with no compromises.

Silencio ELP-96
At a suggested retail price of $166.84, the Silencio ELP-96 was a non-stereo unit that weighed 10.9 ounces with the two required AAA batteries installed inside the right muff. The batteries were not included with the unit. The volume control was located on the right muff. Battery life is estimated at 500 operating hours. This system will shut down within 5 milliseconds when a noise level of 85 dB is reached. While shut down, NRR is 23 dB. Resume-delay circuitry maintains shutdown for 2.5 milliseconds after the noise level that actuates shutdown has ended.

Ear cushions were removed by placing a finger inside the ear cup between the inner foam and the hard plastic base of the cushion. Pull away (hard) to unsnap the plastic cushion base. Four snaps held the base to the ear cup. Warranty is one year from date of purchase.

Our Judgments
The Silencio ELP-96 provided some amplification and reasonably good fidelity sound. Our testers varied in their opinion of the headband’s comfort. Some liked it, some didn’t. The ear cushions tapered to a smaller opening toward the inside of the muff, giving the feeling that the cushion opening was too small for the ears. The volume control, on the side of the right muff, was toward the rear near the bottom. This was not a bad location, but we managed to hit the mike next to it a few times. That caused a crackling noise, and the unit went into shutdown for a fraction of a second.

The muffs could be adjusted up and down, in relation to the headband, while unit was being worn. However, total travel was not much.

The two AAA batteries were located inside the right muff. They slid in and out, each making electrical contact with a spring and a metal strip. However, they were hard to install because there was very little room. We had to take extra care not to pinch the ear cushions between the batteries and the contacts during installation.

On the range, the sound that filtered through was comparatively loud, both with the electronics “on” and “off”, in comparison to the non-electronic units.

Silencio RSX-85 Rangesafe
At a suggested retail price of $140.21, the Silencio RSX-85 Rangesafe was a non-stereo muff that weighed 14.6 ounces with the two required AAA batteries installed inside the right muff. The batteries were not included with the unit. The volume control was located on the bottom rear of the right muff. Battery life is estimated at 500 operating hours. This system will shut down within 5 milliseconds when a noise level of 85 dB is reached. While shut down, the NRR is approximately 25 dB. Resume-delay circuitry maintains shutdown for 2.5 milliseconds after the noise level that actuates shutdown has ended.

Ear cushions were easily removed by grasping them firmly and pulling them over the lip on the muff’s ear cups. Warranty is one year from date of purchase.

Our Judgments
The Silencio Rangesafe RSX-85 provides some amplification and reasonably good fidelity sound. It had a soft cushion on the headstrap, but we did not find this a comfortable unit to wear. Although the muffs can be adjusted up and down in relation to the headband while wearing it, it’s not easily done even if the adjustment nuts were loose. Total travel was not much. The volume control was on the side of the right muff, toward the rear and near the bottom. It was fairly accessible for right-handers, but too far to the rear for easy access by left-handers.

The two AAA batteries were located inside the right muff. They slid in and out, each making electrical contact with a spring and a metal strip.

This was the only unit in the test that generated a feedback whistle when the muffs were placed together and the volume was adjusted high.

On the range, the sound that filtered through was comparatively loud, both with the electronics “on” and “off”, in comparison to the non-electronic units.