What is NRR and What Kind of Hearing Protection Do I Need?

It’s National Shooting Sports Month and we are talking about range necessities. Firearm safety is of the utmost importance, and part of being a responsible firearm owner and shooting sport participant is proper hearing protection.

When choosing hearing protection, it can be tricky to know what to look for. Is it comfortable? Will it interfere with my buttstock? Will these make my ears all sweaty? Most importantly, will these give me enough protection?

Here’s a look into the science behind NRR and what it means for you and choosing the right hearing protection.

What is NRR?

NRR is an abbreviation for Noise Reduction Rating. The NRR is a number measured in decibels (dB). Its intended use is to help consumers compare the amount of noise being reduced by hearing protection devices.

How do I use NRR to compare hearing protection devices?

In general, the higher the NRR, the more noise is being prevented from entering the ear. So a device with an NRR of 30 will provide more protection against damaging noise than a device with an NRR of 26.

What NRR should I purchase?

You will find hearing protection devices with NRR values ranging from the low teens up to, and possibly slightly exceeding, 30 dB. What level of protection to purchase really depends on your individual situation. On one extreme, if you are shooting at an indoor range with a lot of echo and you have some hearing loss already and want to protect what you have, you will want to find the highest NRR rating device that you like. Something with an NRR 29, 30 or 31 would be safest. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are traveling on a plane and want to better concentrate on the book you are reading, a device with an NRR 15 would be more than adequate.

Does a protector with an NRR 30 reduce noise by 30 decibels?

This is a very rough and generic way to measure how much sound you will hear. For example, the energy from a gunshot blast registering 140 decibels would reach the inner ear reduced to 110 decibels wearing an NRR rated 30 dB device. This is a very basic way of looking at it.

Is the NRR required on hearing protection packaging?

Yes, the EPA is the agency that sets the labeling requirements for hearing protection products. The EPA issues a standard template for the NRR label, so all hearing protection devices will have similar labeling. The NRR value will show clearly on this label, along with other useful information. All legitimate hearing protection devices sold will have an NRR label on their packaging.

So if I buy a hearing protector with an NRR of 29, am I getting 29 dB of protection?

Not necessarily. In the beginning of the article, we stated the intended purpose of the NRR was to help compare hearing protection devices. But the amount of protection you get will depend on several factors:

1. Following instructions for use: As an example, most ear plugs instruct you to pull down on your earlobe, opening up your ear canal, so that you can insert the ear plug deep into your ear canal. If you do not follow those instructions, you will likely not get the level of protection as indicated by the NRR for that plug

2. Compromising the hearing protector: As an example, ear muffs are tested for NRR on subjects wearing no other gear. If you use your hearing protection with safety glasses, the frames from the glasses will compromise the seal the cuff has against your head, allowing more sound energy to enter your ear. You will not be getting the level of protection as indicated by the NRR for that muff.

3. Your anatomy: No two ear canals are alike in size and shape. In fact, your left ear canal is different from your right one. So you could follow all the directions for using your hearing protection precisely, but your level of protection may be different from your neighbor, just based on how that device interacts with your ear. For example, a person with a small or medium size head with small ear canal openings may get more protection from a 26 NRR rated earmuff, than from a 28 NRR rated ear plug.

Doesn’t that make the NRR rating kind of useless?

Again, the NRR rating is just a rough guide to help consumers determine how much protection they will be getting. It’s really best to think in terms of ranges. A hearing protector with an NRR below 20 will in general protect less than a device with an NRR in the 20’s. A device with an NRR in the high 20’s or low 30’s will generally offer the most protection you can buy.

Ultimately then, just go with the NRR on the package to decide?

Just as important as NRR, is the comfort of the device you choose. A device that is comfortable for you will likely mean that you wear it properly per the instructions and you will tend to wear it anytime you are near loud noise, which is the goal.

If you like ear plugs, try FLUGZ™. FLUGZ™ are a completely new and unique type of formable hearing protection. FLUGZ™ come housed and sealed in their own clear container, which is actually its very own steamer. Break the seal and you're ready to follow the instructions for molding your own ear protection. Formed, fit, and finished in less than 2 minutes.

21 dB NRR rating

Custom formable plugs can be reformed as needed

Includes reusable storage case

Includes lanyard

Unlike muffs, EarShield's™ compact design won't get in the way of achieving the proper cheek weld, keep you from hearing range commands or be compromised by your eye protection. If you choose the EarShield™, the NRR 31 model is best for large caliber and indoor shooting. The EarShield™ 26 model is fine for most outdoor shooting situations.

Why do we love EarShield™ so much?

Available in 31dB and 26dB levels of protection

Improves communication

Eliminates stock interference

Cool and comfortable

No batteries required

Lightweight and collapsible

Adjustable to fit any shooter