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Etymotic GunSport Pro electronic earplugs (hands-on)

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We took the Etymotic GunSport Pro electronic earplugs to a shooting range in Las Vegas to see how well they worked. They let soft sounds through while muffling muzzle blasts, but created some static under continuous loud sounds like machine gun fire.

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Etymotic GunSport Pro
Etymotic GunSport Pro

The Etymotic GunSport Pro GSP-1s are earplugs designed to let quiet sounds like human speech pass through, while suppressing loud sounds — specifically gunshots. They also have a switch that turns on "enhanced hearing," where the quietest sounds are given a slight boost. Although we called them active noise-cancelling earplugs in the video, that isn't entirely accurate; it might be more suitable to call them active-passthrough earplugs because the noise suppression is passive. They've been around for a while now, but we were finally able to try them out during CES in Las Vegas, a city that (naturally) has an indoor machine gun shooting range minutes from the convention center. Valiantly, we answered the call of duty.

The GunSports power on and off by closing and opening the battery bay door, but the tiny power pellet tends to fall out when the door is open, so turning them off is more of a long term storage solution than a way to conserve energy while in use. Inserting these Ety's with the default triple flange tips was fairly painless — if you have trouble, a variety of tips are included to help you find a comfortable fit. When the plugs are well-sealed, loud noises are noticeably attenuated while all other sounds pass through exactly as they would without earplugs, if not slightly amplified. Enhanced hearing was easily the coolest feature; it allowed us to eavesdrop on conversations at the other side of a room, but quickly became irritating in noisy environments.

Although the firing range required that we use full-size earmuffs, we were able to sneak in some comparisons wearing just the GSPs, just the earmuffs, and both together. We noticed that the .50-caliber rifle was painfully loud wearing the earmuffs alone (possibly because our safety glasses broke the seal around our ears), but the Etymotics working solo did a great job of keeping the blasts at a tolerable level. The combination worked even better, except that the earmuffs caused some discomfort by pressing the outer part of the plugs against our ears. Although sound quality was normally crystal clear, we noticed some static and crackling under continuous machine gun fire. While that's not likely to be problem when you're fighting off a horde of clown zombies, it could be irritating at a concert. (Note: never bring guns to a concert.) The Etymotic GunSport Pros are available now for $449 — that's expensive, but when compared to the similar $649 E.A.R. Inc Inserts, the price looks pretty good.