Earplugs and earmuffs, also known as headsets, are two popular options to choose from for protecting your hearing. One style, the earmuff, covers your entire ear and over your head while earplugs, insert into your ear canal. You’ll find that earplugs typically have a better noise reduction rating (NRR) compared to earmuffs.

3M is one of many manufactures of hearing protection headsets and earplugs. Popular models include the TEP 200 electronic earplugs and the Peltor ComTac V hearing defender. We will talk more about the best options for each style later on.

We’ll start by explaining the advantages and disadvantages of earplugs and earmuffs and then give you popular options for both styles.

Advantages of Earmuffs

Advantages of the earmuff style of hearing protection impulse include easy to fit, comfortable, and advanced features.

  • Easy to Fit
    • Earmuffs are easier to fit than earplugs. They’re easier and quicker to put on and take off in certain situations. You’ll find these securely fit your head.
  • Comfortable
    • Earmuffs are noticeably comfortable than earplugs because they’re not directly in your ear canal. These can be worn for a long time. Compared to earplugs, earmuffs can be worn without causing ear fatigue.
  • More Features Compared to Earplugs
    • Earmuffs like the ComTac series allow for many features including Bluetooth, situational awareness, comms configurations, push to talk, and noise suppression.

Disadvantages of Earmuffs

Earmuffs are a popular solution but do have some disadvantages which include discomfort, size and weight, and interference with PPE.

  • Discomfort in Warmer Weather
    • Since earmuffs cover your entire ear, warmer weather can cause discomfort increasing sweat and heat around the ear cups and band.
  • Size and Weight
    • Respectively, earmuffs are visibly larger and heavier in weight than earplugs. Earplugs are smaller so they can insert right into your ear and can be stored easier because of their size.
  • Interference with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
    • Unless stated otherwise, earmuffs can sometimes interfere with personal protective equipment (PPE) like helmets and eyewear. Luckily, 3M has made different styles of their headsets include a headband, neckband, and hard hat option. The neckband and hard hat attachment style can help you use your earmuffs while wearing PPE.
  • Expensive
    • Compared to earplugs, earmuffs are more expensive. This is due to the number of materials and features required for the earmuffs. You’re paying for quality and earmuffs are known to generally last longer than earplugs.

If you find that earmuffs are best for you, we have a guide on Mission Critical Communications Review that will help you choose the best hearing protection headset.

Advantages of Earplugs

Now that we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of earmuffs, let’s talk about earplugs. There are many styles of hearing protection earplugs including regular foam tips to electronic earplugs. The advantages of earplugs are they are easy to carry, work well with PPE, a cheaper option.

  • Light and Easy to Carry
    • Earplugs are small and insert right into your ear. This makes them a light and easy to carry option if you don’t want the bulkiness and heaviness of earmuffs.
  • Works with PPE
    • As talked about earlier, earmuffs don’t work well with PPE unless stated otherwise. Earplugs sit just in the ear canal with no obstruction with helmets or glasses.
  • Less Expensive
    • You can find earplugs for under $25. Electronic earplugs like the 3M TEP 200 are a little pricier but that’s because of the many features it has including situational awareness, environmental microphones, and communication abilities. These go for around $500.

Disadvantages of Earplugs

While earplugs are a popular choice for hearing protection it does come at a disadvantage when compared to earmuffs. The disadvantages of earplugs include not always able to fit, discomfort, hygiene, no situational awareness, and trouble with putting them in properly.

  • Not always fit
    • Earplugs might not always fit into a person’s ear canal. This can cause earplugs to fall out of your ear during use. Earplugs must fit properly to get the most hearing protection allotted.
  • Discomfort can occur
    • Most people prefer earmuffs compared to earplugs because of the comfort level. Earplugs can cause discomfort in your ear canal if used for long periods.
  • Must be kept clean
    • To reduce the chance of infections in your ear, earplugs must be kept clean. You will find yourself replacing the earplug tips after repeated wear. Good hygiene should be kept while wearing earplugs.
  • No Situational Awareness
    • Situational awareness is important because it provides us with perception of the environment around us. Earmuffs are designed to help increase this situational awareness while certain earplugs limit or completely block out the noise around you leaving you without sense of your surroundings. While looking for earplugs, see if they have any features that help enhance your situational awareness.
  • Not easy to put in
    • We talked about how earmuffs are easy to put on and take off, but this is not always the case with earplugs. To ensure your getting the best hearing protection you have to take your time inserting it into your ear canal and this can take a few tries to get right.

Types of Hearing Earmuffs

The best hearing protection headset includes one with a high NRR rating against noise and comfortable enough for long-lasting wear. Most earmuffs that are manufactured today have a good NRR rating that protects against loud impulse noise. They have also made great improvements to the overall look and feel of earmuffs that benefit the user like new headbands for comfort and improved design for quick access to its features.

Some examples of good hearing protection headsets include,

  • 3M Peltor Series: LiteCom, Comtac, and WS Alert XP
  • Howard Leight Impact Electronic Earmuff
  • MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X

The ComTac series headset is notably the most comfortable hearing protection earmuff reviewed by its customers.

Types of Hearing Protection Earplugs

The best hearing protection earplugs are those that fit comfortably and securely in your ear canal and are easy to put in. If you’re around loud noise pay attention to the noise reduction rating of the earplugs to ensure your ears are protected at all times.

Below are a few earplug options that fit comfortably and have a high NRR rating.

  • 3M Peltor TEP 200
  • 3M Peltor EEP-200
  • Walkers Silencer Electronic Ear Plugs
  • Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs
  • 3M Skull Screw Earplugs

Final Thoughts: Which is Better; Earplugs or Earmuffs?

I would say that both an earplug and earmuff are good options for hearing protection, and all depends on personal preference and application. Compare the two advantages and disadvantages to see which one would work best for you and your situation. If you’re looking for hearing protection while shooting, earplugs might be the best for you. If you’re looking for hearing protection for tactical use or while working in landscaping or industrial, earmuffs might be the right one for you.

Do you prefer using earmuffs or earplugs? Let us know in the comments.

First Source Wireless is an authorized distributor of 3M Peltor hearing protection headsets and earplugs. With over 20 years of experience, we are your one-stop-shop for headsets and accessories. Looking for popular solutions to protect your hearing, contact us today at 800-991-4569 and our helpful staff are ready to help you choose the right one for you.

About the Author: Taylor Thomas is the Marketing Specialist at Waveband Communications and First Source Wireless. She concentrates her writing for public safety industries covering a wide range of topics on critical communications. Taylor has attended numerous communications conferences including the International Wireless Conference, APCO Conference, and International Police Chiefs Conference.

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