If there’s one thing ever shooter should have, it’s effective hearing protection. Because while many shooters will go an entire lifetime without needing the protection their eyewear provides, each and every shot fired damages your hearing, and brings you one step closer to tinnitus or other ear-related maladies.
But one of the downsides of most forms of hearing protection is that they leave you utterly deaf while in use. Orange foamie plugs or non-active over-ear muffs are great at protecting your eardrums, but they suck when it comes time to ask everyone on the firing line if they want to change targets. And while active over-ear protection like Peltors or Howard Leight grant the best of both worlds, they come at a significantly higher cost that can be a bit too high for some. And so, for those people, there are the Surefire Earpro EP3 Sonic Defenders.
The EP3s are a flanged earplug that uses fits into the ear canal and is retained by both the outward pressure of the plug and a the supporting web that fits the outer portion of the ear. They boast a noise reduction rating of 24 dB, which splits the difference between over-ear protection like Peltor’s which typically hover around the 20 dB rating, and the excellent rating usually bestowed upon regular foamy plugs that are good for a rating of 30 or so decibels. And they can usually be bought for roughly $15.
Because these are meant to fit into your ear’s concha bowl, they come in three sizes, with the only difference in dimensions being the outer flange. In other words, they are all the same size ear plug, with different size supports that fit into the outside of your ear. And by the way if you’re wondering what a concha bowl is, it’s the part of your ear that you can fit your finger in, basically. Unfortunately, we can’t help much on sizing and while Surefire says that medium fits concha bowls measuring one inch (with small and large fitting concha bowls smaller and larger than one inch, obviously), measuring a concha bowl seems difficult. Medium seems to fit most folks.
Inserting the EP3s is no difficult than any other earplug. In fact, due to their size, they’re almost easier because they can be more readily adjusted. And they work. They have an inert noise filter built into their inner canal that converts the high, damaging energy of loud noises into compression and subsequently heat, not that you’ll ever feel they get warm. As a result quieter noises such as conversation pass through unabated while louder noises are reduced to a safe volume. And should you just want to shut out most noise the tiny lids can be fitted into the inner canal so shut out almost all noise.
But even with the inner canal closed, these are not as quiet as standard foam earplugs, so if you’re used to the level of noise cancellation granted by those then these may be a bit of a surprise. And while at the range, we did find they struggled to keep our eardrums comfortable with the sound of big muzzle braked rifles reverberating off the range’s 10-foot high cement walls. Then again, that’s the sort of situation in which we usually double up on the hearing protection anyway, so it’s not a totally fair way to judge their performance. But for shooting on crown land without any retaining walls to kick sound back in our faces, or shooting trap, they are more than adequate. And for the price, they’re definitely worth having around for those days when you need to protect your ears, but still need to hear people or things around you.