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Every one of your five senses contributes to your situational awareness and long-term safety, so it's wise to actively protect them. It goes without saying that you shouldn't run an angle grinder in the workshop without glasses, or grab a red-hot piece of metal without gloves. These mistakes could immediately and permanently damage your senses of sight and touch. But damage to your hearing is often much more gradual — continual exposure to pounding drums at a rock concert, roaring engines at a race track, or loud gunshots at the firing range will slowly damage your hearing if you don't wear adequate protection.
Unfortunately, wearing ear protection can feel like a hassle. As a byproduct of blocking dangerously loud noises, it often interferes with your ability to hear quieter sounds. One means of solving this problem is active ear protection, such as the electronic headsets which actively block loud noises while transmitting quieter sounds to the wearer via a microphone and speakers. Although we're fans of this technology and wear active ear-pro frequently at the range, the drawback to these systems is their reliance on batteries and complex electronics.
On the other hand, passive ear protection uses a physical barrier to block loud sounds. This barrier suppresses loud sounds (such as gunshots or explosions) to a safe level, while allowing quieter sounds (such as conversations or background noise) to be heard clearly. Since there's no electronic circuitry involved, there's no need for batteries or bulky headsets.
Decibullz is a relatively new player in the ear protection market. The company was founded in 2012 by Kyle Kirkpatrick, an olympic-level gymnastics coach who wanted a set of comfortable earbuds that fit his ears perfectly. After finding that the custom-molded options from existing companies cost between $300 and $2,000, he set out to create a more affordable custom-molded earphone. This eventually led to the development of earplugs that used the same custom-molded fittings.
The latest ear protection product from Decibullz is its Percussive Shooting Filter set. As with other Decibullz products, this set is custom-molded by the user to fit his or her ears. However, as opposed to the company's fully-sealed earplugs, this product uses filter inserts which feature the passive ear protection tech we mentioned earlier. The filters exclude loud sounds and allow quieter ones to be heard clearly.
Decibullz says its filters are certified for noises up to 166 dB by ANSI IPIL (Impulse Peak Insertion Loss) standards. Most rifles, shotguns, and pistols don't exceed that decibel threshold. Decibullz also says its filters “retain sound directionality and spatiality, [which] is crucial in hunting and combat situations”.
The Decibullz Percussive Shooting Filter set retails for $75, and includes the following:
Before testing our sample of the new Decibullz ear pro, we needed to custom-mold the earpieces. Anyone who has used a custom-fit sports mouthguard will be familiar with this process:
We found this process to be slightly trickier than it sounds. The heated-up earpiece material is sticky to the touch, and while it can be re-heated and re-shaped if you make a small mistake, bigger mistakes such as stretching or flattening the material too much aren't reversible. We suspect this is why two sets of earpieces come with the kit.
When pressing in the percussive filter as instructed in step 5, care must be taken not to touch the soft earpiece material. Also, as you begin molding the earpiece into your ear, it's important to avoid displacing the earpiece material so it overlaps the edges of the filter — we learned the hard way that this can make it impossible to remove the filter once the earpieces have hardened.
The kit is advertised as including six pairs of tips: S/M/L foam and S/M/L flanged. Our kit did include twelve tips, but not the twelve we expected. All of the orange flanged tips (pictured above) were present and accounted for, but the black foam tips were another story. We received three small, two medium, and only one large — a clear quality control mistake by whoever assembled the kit.
Since we needed size large, we chucked the foam tips and installed the flanged style instead.
We took our new Decibullz ear pro on a recent trip to the range in order to test its effectiveness. Right off the bat, we found the custom-molded earpieces to be very comfortable, more so than ordinary “foamies”.
The percussive filters muffled the loud crack of a .223 to a comfortable level, but also allowed the wearer to clearly hear quieter ambient noises. It was easy to hold a conversation wearing these filters. Background sounds were also audible, providing awareness of our surroundings that wouldn't be present with solid earplugs.
While Decibullz mentions a decibel safety rating under ANSI IPIL standards, it does not clearly list the more common Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) on the product page of its website. This makes it difficult to directly compare performance against more affordable filtered earplugs, such as the SureFire EP7 Sonic Defenders ($20, 28 dB NRR) or SportEar X-Pro ($24, 30 dB NRR). However, after searching through a press release we received during the announcement of this product, we found the following chart of certification data:
Based on this data from Decibullz, these ear plugs offer an estimated 9 dB NRR — though that hasn't been directly tested as far as we know. However, the ANSI IPIL rating indicates the filters are effective against sudden impulse sounds (i.e. a gunshot or explosion). The comparison between NRR and IPIL is far too technical to address in this review — if you're interested, you can read this study from the National Library of Medicine which compares the two systems.
After some side-by-side testing, we felt that the Decibullz don't seem to provide as much protection or speech clarity as an active over-the-ear headset like the PELTOR Sport Tactical 500 we previously reviewed. However, these also cost substantially less, are much smaller, and don't require batteries — each type of ear pro has clear advantages and disadvantages, so you'll need to choose the one that better fits your needs.
This Decibullz molded ear pro offers a compact and comfortable solution to ear protection at the range. We'll summarize our impressions with some pros and cons below:
For more information on this filtered ear pro, or other custom-molded earplugs and earbuds, go to Decibullz.com.