Do ear-level hearing protection devices or firearm muzzle suppressor devices offer greater noise reduction of firearm impulse noise?
Background: Recreational firearm use exposes users to intense impulse sound pressures. Commercially available ear-level hearing protection devices offer continuous noise reduction ratios of 0-31 dB at the ear, depending on design and proper fitting. Noise suppression devices affixed to the muzzles of firearms offer sound suppression at the noise source.
Explore this issue:January 2012
Study design: Comparison of study measures to retrospective control data.
Synopsis: Impulse sound levels were measured one meter to the left of the muzzle and at the shooter’s ear for two pistols of different caliber and two rifles of different caliber, with and without noise suppression devices attached to the muzzles. For each firearm, five measures of sound level were taken without the muzzle suppressor device and 10 measures of sound level were taken with the muzzle suppressor device in position. Results were averaged. Measurements of sound level at the shooter’s ear ranged from 157.7–162.5 dB for the pistols and 155–157.2 dB for the rifles. The muzzle suppressor devices reduced the sound levels by 26–41 dB.
Publically accessible data exist for commercially available ear-level noise suppression devices with advertised noise reduction ratios of 19–31 dB. Based on a published review of 20 studies, it is difficult to achieve the advertised noise reduction ratio.
The author concludes that commercially available muzzle suppressor devices provide a greater degree of noise suppression than commercially available ear-level noise suppression devices.
Bottom line: Firearms generate extremely high impulse sound levels. Recreational firearm users should use noise suppression devices. Using a combination of ear-level protection and muzzle suppressor devices would produce the greatest noise reduction.
Reference: Branch MP. Comparison of muzzle suppression and ear-level hearing protection in firearm use. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011;144(6):950-953.