Hearing Protection: Ear Plugs vs. Muffs

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Duration:   3  mins

Protect your hearing during live-fire range training and practice. Rob Pincus shows a variety of hearing protection and compares ear plugs and ear muffs. He explains what the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) on these products means and what “doubling up” with both ear plugs and muffs results in. Rob also discusses why he believes ear plugs are superior for hearing protection.

Reply to indianasteve
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19 Responses to “Hearing Protection: Ear Plugs vs. Muffs”

  1. Kevin

    I never thought there was a difference, I was using a pair of plugs like the US military uses but when I got electronic muffs. I thhought the electronic muffs were better hearing protection.

  2. Steve McFarland

    Muffs work better for me because I don’t get a good seal with ear plugs, regardless of their rating.

  3. Dom

    To me the best hearing protection is custom molded electronic hearing protection.
    The 2nd best is custom molded hearing protection.
    While it is true that ear plugs are generally better than ear muffs, the important point to get the rated NRR is that they are inserted properly. I have seen far too many cases of people who do not put them in correctly.
    Custom molded hearing protection will always be inserted correctly because they are molded to your ears.
    I have been an active shooter since I was 14 years old and a hearing protection provider for products from E.A.R. inc. for about 20 years, so I have seen it all!


  4. Stone Jones

    Now I feel like a novice again. I have been shooting for 35+ years and generally switch to contact lenses when I shoot with a pair of safety glasses, this was mostly to protect my prescription glasses. I was born deaf and have had three surgeries to get decent hearing. I often wear ear plugs under ear muffs. I have considered getting a set of electronic muffs and dropping the plugs. I never thought about the safety glasses effecting the seal of the muffs. Thanks.

  5. Craig

    After wearing electronic hearing protection for about 20 years ( average year about 200,000 rounds fired in close proximity I found my hearing tests were better than when I started in my position. To say one is better than the other is personal choice. I never would say which is better but the electronics performed exceptional in my case. I did find that slim line electronics did not work as great in an indoor range setting. Doubling up unfortunately hurt more so I discontinued that and went back to full size protectors. The biggest thing is wear hearing protection. You are no good if you can’t hear at a critical incident

  6. indianasteve

    I don’t need to wear hearing protection. I can’t hear the gunshot over the ringing in my ears anyway.

    Seriously though, I do wear both plugs and muffs. I’ve had both muffs and plugs shift, thus not providing adequate protection by themselves. Doubling up just lessons that chance. I keep saying that I am going to ;look in to the molded plugs. I think about it when I shoot, or mow the lawn, but it quickly slips my mind. It seems that my memory and my hearing seems to have slipped away from me as I get older.

  7. Dom

    While I agree that Ear Plugs when inserted properly offer superior protection to ear muffs. But the key is “when inserted properly”. I have seen way too many people who do not put ear plugs in properly and are actually getting little or no protection.

    That is why I have always been a fan and recommend custom molded hearing protection (passive or active). The ones I use have a 33db NRR and they go in the same every time. You can also get active electronic custom molded hearing protection with the same NRR.

    We use and recommend products from E.A.R. Inc

  8. Stuart

    Rob, you’re still young. At 64, in a rock band in my youth and now with tinnitus, I wish I had known then what I know now. I am also a former Occupational Health and Safety Consultant and hearing loss is a major issue for our profession.

    Unless you’re shooting in a situation where you must hear every word, I highly recommend shooters to wear both methods together. Get a very good seal on your plugs by proper insertion and then cover up with quality muffs. You’ll never regret it.

    • Frank

      Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s listening to music mom and dad said would make me deaf, shooting 12v gauge pumps and .357’s without protection. Trust me, you don’t want to spend all night every night with that high pitched whine keeping you up. And you can’t enjoy the quietness of the woods either. Ever present ringing. Guess mom and dad were right. Go figure… protect your hearing the best you can.

  9. Robert C.

    One very important thing to remember is how to properly insert ear plugs. Reach over your head with the opposite hand and gently lift the top of the ear that your are inserting the plug into. Repeat on the other side. Don’t believe this greatly improves the effectiveness of the plug? Place one in like this and the other by just rolling the plug and inserting it without lifting the top of the ear. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

  10. michael

    Ear muffs offer protection not afforded by plugs. By surrounding your ears, muffs cover and protect the sensitive bones that would conduct noise into your skull. Also, I’d like to know where Rob Pincus is getting this information about NRR being exponential “like the Richter scale”. 37 NRR offers about 50% greater protection than 27 NRR, which is better than may be expected, but cannot be compared to the exponential Richter scale. Plugs and muffins are different animals and protect you in different ways. If possible, use both.

  11. Ron Benjamin

    Great Vidieo, being 60+ and 95% of my life didn’t use either, bad choice. I did prefer the plugs ( mainly by cost ) and they have helped. Hope this helps younger shooters to have better hearing.. After many .44 and .357 rounds without… It is a must !!!!!! Thanks again. Peace and Bright Blessings.

    • PDN Team

      Hi, Talia. Yes. While many people like to double up in indoor ranges, I do not. Especially in a training environment when people need to hear commands/instructions. As long as that practice doesn’t interfere with cheek weld when practicing with long guns, it has no drawbacks when shooting alone.

  12. Ludwig

    You ought to try SensGard ZEM hearing protectors. I can hear people talk on the range without having electronic muffs. Definitely not the protection of plugs, but for an instructor who wants to hear when his student mutters “uh oh”, they’re great.

  13. Jake

    My son works at a major airport and they wear ear plugs. His company says they protect better than muffs.

  14. Art

    thanks Rob,
    i have always doubled them up. being old an hard of hearing, all of you please protect your hearing. you will be glad you did when you get older. i have been using both with auto shut off on both but after listening to you i think i will go with just the plain plugs and auto shut off for the muffs. VERY IMPORTANT VIDEO!!!

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