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Having recently gotten back into firearms shooting again, I took an inventory of the items in my shooting box (some may call it a range bag). I found my 25+ year old shooting muffs to be woefully lacking. Let's just say they had seen better days and it was time to permanently retire them to the trash can and look for a replacement.
I stopped by the local Cabela's outdoor store and picked up an inexpensive pair of regular ol' shooting muffs. I put my $20 on the counter, got a little change back, and called it a day. The next day, I tried these out at the indoor range that I'd been frequenting while breaking in my Springfield Armory XD .45ACP. They did the job, for the most part, but left little margin for error. By that I mean that if you slightly lifted one ear piece so you could catch the comment from the person shooting in the lane next to you, it was painful when the guy three lanes over lit one off from what ever it was he was shooting. It was extremely difficult to talk over the noise (ventilation and firearms). There had to be a better solution.
I spoke with a friend who had purchased a pair of the electronic style hearing protection. He shoots quite a bit and found them to be a vast improvement over the conventional passive type protectors. Sounded like a good idea to me.....but which model to get. Prices and brands ranged from $60 to $500. Enter the Pro Ears Sport Series line of shooting protection for the gun owner.
After reading a number of reviews, price checking, checking warrantees, and the other related home work I try to do before making a purchase, I opted for the Dimension 1 Plus Pro-Slim model.
The Dimension 1 Plus (there is a Dimension 2 Plus model also) falls into the category of electronic sound compression, which is not to be confused with the method used in the lower end hearing protection, audio clipping/blanking. The Pro Ears folks call this DSLC or "Dynamic Sound Level Compression". Simply explained, the circuitry amplifies sounds that are below the 70 dB threshold and reduces those sounds (like gun fire) that are above the 70 dB point. The dynamic range over which the Dimension 1 Plus works is an impressive 80 dB and so offers the hunter/shooter a very natural sounding audio spectrum while suppressing the loud firearms fire. This allows you to hear speech while someone is shooting.
The Dimension 1 Plus provides a very quick attach time (reported to be the fastest in the industry) of just 1.7 milliseconds. This means that the gun shot is reduced to a safe level in just 1.7 thousandths of a second. The recovery time is just as impressive and allows you to resume normal hearing directly after the gun shot is finished. Some lower end electronic brands can take up a second or more to regain normal sound processing.
The unit is user "programmable" so one can change the reception sensitivity to match the situation, i.e., from high level noise protection to picking up low level sounds such as those required in hunting. This feature is independent of the twin volume controls (one for each side) that allows the user to adjust the overall listening volume and compensate for any hearing disparity between the left and right ears.
The Dimension 1 Plus is designed to be maintained for long term use. The leather ear seals are user replaceable (Pro Ears sells a maintenance kit for this) so that you may maintain optimum protection and comfort year after year.
I've not used them long enough to personally verify the battery life claim, but the company states a minimum of 200 hours of battery life from the "N" size batteries that come with the unit. Each side requires two batteries, as shown above. I would like to see a built in "auto off" feature that would automatically turn off the electronics after X hours of use, perhaps 4 or 6 hours. In the mean time, I'll grab a 4 pack of N type batteries from the local Radio Shack and toss them in with the rest of my range goodies.
The Dimension 1 Plus comes in a standard and slim line model. The NRR for the slims is 28 while the standard model boasts an impressive 33 NRR. Since I shoot rifle every now and again, I decided on the slim version since some hearing protection can be an issue when getting your cheek up next to the stock while shooting. I'm not saying the standard model is a problem in this area....I decided the 28 NRR was adequate for my needs and purchased the slims to hedge my bet, so to speak. The 28 NRR of the slims is notably better than your typical passive style ear muffs, which commonly range from 19 to 22 NRR.
Pro Ears offers a Dimension 2 Plus version also. This comes with all the specs of the Dimension 1 model and it provides the user with an input jack so one "pipe" in external audio from and MP3 player, AM/FM radio, or ever a FRS radio. While beneficial for some, I didn't seen a need for this and so saved a few $$ staying with the Dimension 1 Plus.
A couple of things I noted.....
1. There is a bit more white noise (hiss), when the unit is turned on, than I expected. It is not uncommon to get white noise at high volume levels, but I noticed some white noise at moderate levels. I did not find it distracting or troublesome....I was just surprised to hear it.
2. I am not impressed with how the batteries are concealed. That flap of foam rubber that you see in the above photo is it....the cover to the battery compartment. It would not be as noticeable if the batteries fit flush with the foam padding, but they do not. This may only be an issue with the slim model as the standard model should have more internal room. So you see the two batteries peeking out at you after they have been installed. I honestly expected a better solution given the $200+ price I paid for these. I haven't asked the folks at Pro Ears if there is something I am overlooking here but I am betting there isn't. If I can swap an automatic tranny into my Jeep TJ that came with a manual tranny without a problem, I'm thinking I can install a set of batteries for this unit.
Time will tell if I need to exercise the 5 year warrantee. It's a lot better warrantee than what was being offered with many of the lower quality models. I've not found any on line forums/reviews that indicate a trend/problem with the Pro Ears brand.
I hope you have found some helpful information in this review. Please remember that you only get one pair of ears and once damaged, they don't repair themselves. I don't care what brand of hearing protection you use when you shoot your firearms....just be sure you use hearing protection that is adequate and safely protects your ears. They are irreplaceable.
Note: As I spend some time at the range (both inside and out), I'll add some more comments here in regards to how they are performing.
I took a trip to the range yesterday to run some more rounds through my XD and see how the new hearing protectors worked.
Bad news......they were the worst performing hearing protection I've ever worn. After leaving the range and walking back into the store to pay my range fees, I removed the muffs.....my left ear had serious issues. Everything sounded tinny and like it was coming down a tunnel. In the range area, I noticed that the things were a little louder than what I was use to, but it wasn't at the kind of level that causes you to wince nor was it painful when someone shot. While I shot less than 3 boxes of cartridges, there were shooters on either side of me for most of the time and I would say they also shot about the same amount of ammunition.
I am still attempting to determine just what went wrong. I performed most of my shooting with the electronics turned off (didn't need it on as I wasn't trying to hear anyone talking) which means the basic noise reduction quality of the hearing protectors was just not there. Assuming my NRR 21 passive hearing protectors are in fact a rating of 21, there was no way these Pro Ears slims were working at a rating of 28.
As I write this, it is now some 30+ hours later....I'm still having difficulty hearing things with my left ear. I've never experienced this kind of scenario after the completion of a shooting session.
Later.....the news from the hearing specialist is that I have suffered permanent damage to my left ear. There is a noted reduction as evidenced by two hearing evaluations conducted 3 months apart.
I recently returned from a 4 day defensive handgun course at the Front Sight training facility. The course was conducted on an outdoor range. I found the Pro Ears to be satisfactory for this type of range work and will continue to use them outdoors for handgun shooting. I am disappointed with their indoor range performance. They do not, in my opinion, provide adequate protection for .45 ACP indoor use.
I contacted the Pro Ears folks and explained to them that I am not experiencing the protection I expected. The customer service person sent me a new headband to see if that might help. After installing it, I took a trip to the outdoor range and determined there was no improvement.
Another thing I have noticed is that shooting a rifle or shotgun using the Pro Ears ears does not work. While they are touted as being a slim design for just his purpose, the muff is pushed out of position (by the stock) far too easily when shooting.