Howard Leight has been synonymous with hearing protection for years now, and for good reason. Their products are among the best, and most affordable, currently on the market.
When they launched their new line of Impact Sport In-Ear Hearing Protection, I just knew I had to try them out. As an avid big game hunter, target shooter, and someone who spends quite a bit of time in a woodshop, hearing protection isn’t something I take lightly. I’m already mostly deaf in one ear (thanks, Meniere’s Disease) and I’ve quite the vested interest in preserving what’s left.
I picked up a set of the Impact Sport In-Ear Bluetooth with Hear Through Technology sets in early summer. As the name suggests, this hearing protection features active noise-cancelling technology coupled with Bluetooth connectivity to provide a Noise Reduction Rating of 29dB, and an auto-compression of all sounds over 85dB. The Bluetooth enables you to make phone calls or listen to music, all while actively cancelling background noise.
Yes, you read that right. This set of Howard Leight hearing protection also features active noise cancelling. For me, that was one of the product’s biggest selling points.
At $165, this set of hearing protection is pricier than a few others, but completely worth it. For the convenience, and the features, I’m not sure you’ll find something better at this price point.
Let’s take a look at exactly why I’m so happy with these earbuds.
Most hearing protection products function just fine, but the ones that offer bells and whistles seem to have middling real-world results. After four solid months of use and abuse, these Howard Leight earbuds still work as advertised, and don’t show any signs of slowing down.
Active hearing protection works by amplifying surrounding noise to a safe decibel level, so you can still chat with your hunting partner, listen to an elk bugle, or hear a range officer give the cease-fire. That amplification stops when a sudden noise crosses that decibel level.
The Howard Leight In-Ear Sport buds have an amplification of 85 dB, meaning that when turned on, all sounds are automatically amplified to 85 dB. Common noises like hairdryers and trucks driving on a highway fall between 80 and 90 decibels, so 85 dB is a relatively safe level to work with.
These earbuds have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 29 dB, so sounds as loud as a police siren are automatically compressed to a manageable 85 dB..
A .308 Winchester fired from a Ruger American rifle with an 18-inch barrel has a dB rating of 170-173, per David Lewis, editor of Ammunition to Go. If you shot that rifle while wearing the Howard Leight In-Ear hearing protection, the noise would be reduced to around 140 dB, which is the level at which most experts – including OSHA and the CDC – agree causes permanent hearing damage.
While I don’t own a portable decibel meter myself, my field testing confirmed the claims about this hearing protection. While wearing the Howard Leight earbuds, my Weatherby Vanguard 300 Winchester Magnum was still loud, but not in a way that made me pine for hearing aids.
I also wore these while flying to and from Alaska over the summer. They did an excellent job of reducing noise in the plane, while still allowing me to hear when the flight attendants came by asking if I wanted some snacks.
While these aren’t true noise cancelling earbuds, they do allow for you to turn down the noise amplification to almost nothing. When paired with your phone via Bluetooth and listening to music or an audiobook, you can’t hear much of anything else. On long plane rides, that’s just what the doctor ordered.
These were built to act as hearing protection, not to deliver a premium sound experience. However, I found that when paired with Bluetooth, phone calls sounded just fine. Audiobooks were great, too. Music wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t terrible, either.
Conversation is crisp and clear, though, which is what matters most when you’re wearing these in any kind of shooting environment.
This is the one area where I’ll knock the folks at Howard Leight. These earbuds just aren’t comfortable for more than an hour of use at a time. A 2.5 hour plane ride from Salt Lake City to Seattle while wearing these made my ears hurt. I wouldn’t recommend wearing them all day while hunting, either. Putting them in when you start stalking an animal is better from a comfort standpoint.
So far, the Howard Leight In-Ear earbuds have held up to all sorts of abuse. I’m notoriously hard on gear, but these earbuds have made multiple long fishing and hunting trips unscathed.
At $120 or so, depending on the retailer, the Howard Leight Impact Sport In-Ear Bluetooth with Hear Through Technology is a great value in the hearing protection world. They’re small, travel well, and work exactly as intended. They’re not as comfortable as I’d like, which is the only real knock I can find against this product.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the Head Guide for the Utah Fly Fishing Company, News Editor for MidCurrent, and columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.