Protecting your hearing is just about one of the most important things in life that you can do. Constant exposure to loud noises above 85dB can cause gradual degradation in your hearing, leading to eventual permanent hearing loss. Exposure to sounds around 120dB and above can instantly damage your hearing. You'd be surprised at what kinds of sounds register above damaging levels, from the obvious examples such as gunshots and jet engines at close range to more mundane activities such as running a lawnmower or walking in city traffic.
There are different styles of hearing protection from cheap foam plugs inserted into your ear to noise-blocking muffs that cover your ears completely. Plugs are not recommended for long-term hearing protection, as damaging vibrations and waves can still enter your ear canal through areas around your ear. Muffs do a better job of preventing soundwaves from doing damage. The costlier units offer varying degrees of electronic amplification, which means that those earmuffs use built-in microphones to amplify low-level noise while still cutting out sound above 82dB which can damage your hearing.
The Howard Leight Leightning L3 is one of the best-performing earmuffs on the market today with a high NRR of 30. Though these muffs may be on the bulky side, they fit comfortably without being overly snug. Howard Leight seems to understand that not everybody has the same size head, so the headband is adjustable. These muffs are great for any activity that requires noise protection: shooting sports, home/garden work, or industrial usage. The Leightning L3 is considered a 'passive' muff, which means it only blocks sound as opposed to amplifying low-level noises. These muffs are easily available for around $30.
The Howard Leight Leightning L3 muffles noise well (NRR 30), fits comfortably, and is very affordable. Unless you need electronic noise amplification or a slimmer profile ear cup, there's little reason to go with anything else. Read Full Review
The Peltor H10A Optime 105 is a good multi-purpose hearing protection ear muff with up to 29 dB of noise reduction. These muffs are CSA-approved, and can be used for high-noise industrial settings as well as for protection from occasional impulse noises such as gunshots. The cup seals are soft vinyl, and the lightweight design of the muffs make them comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The H10A muffs are also extremely affordable at around $20 a set, making them an excellent value proposition. Read Full Review
If you've gone shooting or hunting before, you've probably seen at least a couple people wearing Howard Leight Impact Sport muffs. These earmuffs are popular because of their low-profile design which interfere less with rifle and shotgun stocks. They also include built-in microphones which allow normal conversation, as well as acute hearing capabilities when the volume knob is turned up. The aux input means you can connect music players or other devices to the muffs and use them like noise-reducing headphones. However, the Impact Sport muffs are ranked below the Leightning L3 because of the lower NRR of 22. While still adequate for most tasks that require hearing protection, you may want to double up with ear plugs when shooting indoors or firing magnum caliber pistols and rifles. Read Full Review
If you like the form factor of the Howard Leight Impact Sport muffs but prefer higher noise reduction over the electronic noise management, the smallest and lightest model from the Leightning line should be your top pick. Featuring a similar lightweight, low-profile folding design as the more expensive Impact Sport muffs, the L0F reduces interference with shouldering long guns. These muffs provide up to 23 dB of noise reduction, and the lack of complicated electronic circuitry allows the price to come down to about half that of the Impact Sport. Read Full Review
Many sport shooters find themselves in situations where both maximum hearing protection is required and important conversation needs to happen. Where other electronic muffs simply shut off noise amplification in the event of a loud noise, the Pro Ears Pro-Mag Gold muffs allow normal, uninterrupted conversation while providing up to 33 dB of noise reduction. This is done through expensive, complicated circuitry and sound processing which explains the huge price tag, though ultimately it's up to you to decide whether the extra cost is worth it. The padded leather seals are vastly more comfortable than plastic or vinyl used in cheaper units and allow the muffs to be worn all day without concern for sweat or fatigue. Read Full Review