There was a time when earmuffs were only meant for people working in high noise environments such as construction sites, airports, and factories but nowadays even ordinary office goers are looking for ways to protect their hearing from getting damaged.
Even students who could not find a quiet place to sit and study are turning to hearing protection devices to avoid distractive sounds and concentrate on what they want to learn.
You can also sleep with earmuffs to block out unwanted noise. Read this article here about the best ear muffs for sleeping. These earmuffs are flatter than regular earmuffs to help you feel more comfortable during the night.
In this article, we’ll discuss what are the things to be considered before investing in an earmuff. We will start with the basics of how earmuffs do what they do and also get acquainted with some technical stuff which will be helpful to become an alert buyer.
Frequently Asked Questions
So how do we hear sound?
Sound can be described in simple terms as disturbances in air. Suppose you and your friend meet in a library and you want to say something to them.
When you begin to speak, the diaphragm inside your throat begins to vibrate and creates a pattern of disturbances in the air.
These disturbances travel from the air near your mouth to the air near the hearer’s ear just like a ripple travels in water.
These disturbances which were caused by you now vibrates the eardrum of your friend. Now, your friend’s brain converts these eardrum vibrations into a sensation of sound and thus your friend understands what you said.
What is noise?
Now you won’t call a friend’s voice as ‘noise’ will you?
But when you buddy is hearing some music on their earphones and mumbling the song loudly, now you call their voice as ‘noise’.
So any sound that reaches your ears but you don’t want to hear is called ‘Noise’.
So someone working with a loud machine may want to reduce the sound from the machine but at the same time want to hear his supervisors voice clearly.
What is an earmuff?
A typical earmuff is mostly consisting of 4 main parts: headband, cups, foam, and cushions
The headband is usually made of metal, plastic or a combination of both. The main purpose of the headband is to press both the cups against your head and therefore creating a good fit.
You want the headband to be stiff enough to provide a nice fit but at the same time not too tight that it hurts the ears after some time.
The cup is used to cover the ear and thereby deflect sound waves that come toward the ear. It is usually made up of plastic.
Inside the cup will be a foam which is typically made of a substance called Polyurethane.
It is a crucial part of the earmuff since it serves to dampen the energy of the sound waves before they hit our eardrums.
In case of an active noise canceling earmuffs, there will also be a speaker and a tiny microphone inside the cup.
And finally, there is the cushion or pad which is actually the main contact point between our ear and the earmuff.
The cushion forms an airtight seal around the ear so that no sound waves are able to enter from outside.
Another important function of the cushion is to dampen the vibration of the cup itself.
How does an earmuff work?
When sound waves hit the outer surface of the cups, two things happen: some of the waves get deflected away; some of the waves transfer their energy to the cup and cause the cup to vibrate.
When the cup vibrates, the air inside the cup is also made to vibrate. This is where the foam comes into action. The main foam acts like a suspension of a car and dampens the sound energy of the air inside the cups.
Then comes the cushion. The importance of this piece of the earmuff is often underestimated.
The cushions not only give a comfortable fit to the wearer but also do two things – First, They seal the edges of the cups so that no gaps are there for outside noise to leak in. Second, they act as a barrier to dampen the vibrations at the edge of the cup which would otherwise be transferred directly onto our skin.
Thus each of the parts of the earmuff combinedly help to reduce the energy of the sound waves that try to reach the ear.
What are active noise cancelling earmuffs?
There are some earmuffs that use some electronics to aid the reduction of sound intensity since these need some electric power to operate, these are termed ‘Active’ and the regular ones are termed ‘Passive’.
Active Earmuffs add a small setup containing a microphone, a circuit board and a speaker into the cups.
The mic hears the outside noise and the circuit board in real-time creates a ‘reversed’ version of that noise and this ‘reversed’ noise signal is played through the speakers.
This, in turn, neutralizes the disturbance caused by the original noise and thus virtually cancels it out before reaching the ears.
This technique is very effective in reducing noise levels but the downside is that earmuffs featuring active noise cancellation are pretty expensive.
What to look for when buying an earmuff?
- Sound Attenuation
- Frequency Filtering
1) Sound Attenuation
Earmuffs have a Noise Reduction Ratio (NRR) which tells you the amount of sound intensity that can be reduced by it. This rating is determined by conducting tests based on the American Standard “ANSI S3.19-1974”.
The NRR is given in Decibels (dBA) and since the dBA scale is a Logarithmic Scale it is kind of tricky to know how much decibels of sound level does the concerned earmuff reduce.
For example, suppose you work in an Airport that has an average noise level of 100dB. To bring the noise down to your desired safe noise level of, let’s say, 85dB you may think that you need an earmuff with an NRR of 15dB.
But this won’t work since the dB scale is a logarithmic scale which is unlike measuring length or weight.
Noise Reduction Ratio Calculation
So in order to calculate to NRR rating required on your earmuffs, use this formula:
NRR Required = ((Actual Noise Level – Desired Noise Level) /2) + 7
Subtract the desired noise level (the level you want to have after wearing the muffs) from the actual noise level and divide this value by 2. Now add 7 to the resulting value and now have the minimum NRR that an earmuff must have to satisfy your requirement.
Also be aware of some earmuffs which have their ratings given in ‘SNR’ Sound Noise Ratio.
This rating is used mainly in Europe and it is based on a different standards – “EN352-1/EN 352-4/EN352-6”. The SNR value may be slightly higher than the NRR value so make sure that you get the NRR from the Ear muff manufacturer.
So higher NRR is better?
Technically, yes, higher the NRR more the sound will be reduced. But that is not always the case, the NRR is an average of how the device performs at all frequency ranges.
A device may be super powerful in reducing low frequencies but may allow the mid and high frequencies to pass through.
Such a device then may have a lower NRR than an device which performs moderately at all frequencies.
You’ll find it interesting that many high end earmuff which cost a 100 times more than cheap ones can sometimes have a lower NRR than them.
This leads us to the next factor.
2) Frequency Filteration
Since sounds from machinery, gunshots, airplane, human speech etc fall under different frequency ranges, it is important to know whether your earmuffs are good at cutting the sound that you want to cut and, if required, letting you hear the sound that you want to hear.
For example, a person using an earmuff at a shooting range will want the muff to greatly reduce the sound of the gunshot while at the same time be able to hear his buddies nearby.
So it is wise to find out the frequency range of the sound that you want to block and make sure that your earmuff does it well.
This can be done by reading the earmuff performance data which the manufacturer provides.
To give you an idea, the common frequency of human speech is 85Hz to 255Hz while that of a gun shot is 2KHz to 3KHz.
So make sure that you get your desired level of protection at 2KHz to 3KHz frequencies and, if you want to hear people speaking, make sure that the level of attenuation given in the performance graph is not so much as to block human speech.
Before starting your search for an ear muff, you need to fix its purpose.
Do you want to use them at the factory?
Or do you need them for a quiet sleep?
There are a variety of earmuffs available for each usage so you can get the best combination of sound attenuation, comfort, weight etc.
If you will be using a safety helmet or any other protective equipment along with your earmuffs make sure that your muff has the provision for it.
Otherwise, you end up with a bad fit and this can severely affect the performance of the earmuffs.
Also, you can checkout earmuffs with built-in radio communication devices if you need to have clear communication with your coworkers.
Most earmuffs are made out of tough material but there are still a good number of manufacturers who care more about making money than about making their product last long.
The visual state of the part can give you cues whether it will last long.
Look for defects in the plastic like flashes and sink marks which are a sign of poor manufacturing processes.
Try your best to get information on whether the product is resistant to flame, electricity, oil or not.
Compatibility with skin is also an important factor to be considered.
If you are not comfortable wearing you earmuffs, you are very likely to avoid wearing it as much as possible.
And even if you do wear it continuously you may try to adjust the earmuffs in such a way that its sound reduction performance is reduced greatly.
If you are going to use the muff in a hot environment, you may choose the ones with leather ear pads which will keep the ears cool.
The downside is that real leather is less durable than synthetic leather, so you have to make a compromise.
But then, if you manufacturer provides replacement ear pads then this shouldn’t be an issue.
The overall weight, stiffness of the headband and the shape of the cups also affect the comfort level of the muffs.
So, whatever earmuff you choose to buy, make sure that it fits your ear and head well and that it is comfortable to wear as long as you need to wear it.
Once you are clear about what kind of experience you need from your ear muff, you can find out easily which ones satisfy your requirement with least cost.
As in any market, you’ll find that there are some earmuffs that are clearly overpriced and there are some which give the most value for money.
Beware that there are still many counterfeit products out there which will cost peanuts compared to the real ones.
So make sure that you buy your muffs from a trusted place.
Even though most earmuffs do their jobs well and still be cheap, there are some interesting features available on expensive ones that you may miss out.
Now that you know the basics that go behind choosing a good pair of earmuffs, I’ll let you know what I think are the best earmuffs out there.
This selection has been done by considering all the above mentioned points and also feedback from long time users of these products.
Find below a brief review of three earmuffs which are in my opinion the best in class.
Each of these earmuffs are selected from three prices ranges which are:
Best Safety Ear Muffs Reviews
With a cheap selling price, these muffs will put a huge grin on your face for the performance they offer. If you need nothing more than simple and reliable noise protection this pair of earmuffs will not disappoint you.
The noise reduction performance is really good and the build quality is solid.
- Good Noise Reduction
- Solid Build quality
- Value for money
- Size is bulky
Read more reviews on Amazon
When it comes to outdoor shooting it is difficult to beat the Impact Sport both in terms of performance and features. It is slim, comfortable and easily portable.
There is an audio amplification circuit built in that helps you hear to voice of people around and to have situational awareness. This system works very well and the audio I/O is stereo so that you know where the sound is coming from.
You also have the bonus of simultaneously hearing music from your mobile phone through a connector.
- Good outdoor performance
- Slim design
- Reliable electronics
- Distraction from the built-in system might be too much in Indoor settings
Read more reviews on Amazon
The sound attenuation is simply excellent and they have a wonderful electronic system which picks up sounds that you want to hear and filters out the noise you don’t want to hear.
But there are sometimes that the electronic system sometimes amplifies some ambient sounds like people having a conversation or a person reloading their gun in a way that it distractive.
These are also one of the most comfortable earmuffs on the market today. They are extremely durable, waterproof and have a great battery life of up to 600Hrs.
- Excellent Noise Attenuation
- Very comfortable
- Highly durable
- Great battery life
- No entertainment features like FM or Bluetooth audio
Read more reviews on Amazon
So there you go, these are the best earmuffs available now which give you the most bang for the buck.
Having said that, there are still some earmuffs like the 3M Peltor series ear muffs that come very close to the above chosen winners.
The series includes an earmuff that you might want to check out which is especially suitable for sleeping in noisy environments.
3M Peltor Optime 95, NRR 21 dB – they also offer interesting features like communication radio, music players etc. and you can choose from a wide variety of options in the Peltor series
All said, it’s time for you to go out, get a pair of ear muffs and give the protection that your ears need.