Field testing the Etymotic GSP-15 electronic earplugs

They function like electronic ear muffs, but are very small and comfortable to wear


A concern for aging shooters is hearing damage. My hearing is lousy, mostly because of the high-frequency ringing of tinnitus, which hearing aids can’t help.

A few months ago, Etymotic Research sent me a set of GSP-15 electronic earplugs to evaluate. They function like electronic ear muffs, but are very small and comfortable to wear. The ear plugs have two volume settings, which I would describe as normal and enhanced. The normal volume is about what you would hear without the plugs, while the enhanced level is noticeably louder. When you experience a loud noise, the system momentarily “kills” the electronic sound enhancement, acting like normal sound blocking ear plugs.

The plugs come with multiple tips to fit different-size ear canals. I prefer the ones like the squish-down foam ear plugs, which slowly expand to give a perfect seal. The foam adapters will periodically get dirty and wear out, so you should order a supply of spares to have on hand.

The plugs come with multiple tips to fit different-size ear canals.
The plugs come with multiple tips to fit different-size ear canals. (Photo/Etymotic Research)

There are times when electronic muffs are not my favorite choice on the range, such as when the heat is oppressive and especially when wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shade my face. The Etymotic plugs are much cooler and still allow an instructor to hear things clearly on the range.

I carry the plugs on my tactical vest in case of an active shooter event. They only take a few seconds to turn on and screw in. The tactical advantage is two-fold, saving me from the numbing sound blast of an M4 carbine indoors and also allowing me to hear small sounds when the volume is switched to “high.”

The MSRP on the Etymotic plugs is $300, about double the price of good electronic muffs, but they are much more versatile.

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