Ear Pro Part 1 of 4: Surefire EP3

In this four part series, I’ll be providing my thoughts on four pairs of ear protection. We’ll go from the affordable to the high-end. In this first part, we’ll be talking about the Surefire Sonic Defender EP3 ear plugs.

Surefire’s Sonic Defender EP3

I have been using the Surefire EP3s for about 2 years. At $13.99, they are a great deal, and I used these for most of my time on Top Shot Season 4. Pictured here is an older model, but the new one comes in different colors (clear, black, or orange) and has a lanyard which is nice so you don’t lose them as easily. You can get them in Small, Medium, or Large, and they come with a small, convenient plastic case.

The EP3s are very comfortable, and I really like using them when shooting rifle or shotgun since I can get a solid cheek weld, as cans can often get in the way. The EP3s have these stopper plugs which can increase/decrease the amount of noise, but honestly, it’s been hard for me to tell the difference. The EP3 has an NRR of 24.

I can have these plugs in for a good two to three hours at a time and be totally comfortable. The only downside is that sometimes it can be hard to hear people talking to me, particularly if there is a lot of shooting going on nearby.

In part two, we’ll talk about a pair of affordable electronic ear pro which can cancel loud sounds like gunshots, while allowing spoken words to be heard more clearly. www.SureFire.com.

Chris Cheng is History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 champion. A self-taught amateur turned pro through his Top Shot win, Cheng very much still considers himself an amateur who parachuted into this new career. He shares his thoughts and experiences from the perspective of a newbie to the shooting community. www.TopShotChris.com.

Chris Cheng

Chris Cheng is History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 champion and author of “Shoot to Win,” a book for beginning shooters. A self-taught amateur turned pro through his Top Shot win, Cheng very much still considers himself an amateur who parachuted into this new career.

He is a professional marksman for Bass Pro Shops who shares his thoughts and experiences from the perspective of a newbie to the shooting community. He resides in San Francisco, CA and works in Silicon Valley.



  • Brandon

    I make custom molded hearing protection. Before I began making them, I used these for all my shooting. They work well, and the price is reasonable. The main disadvantage is comfort. Wearing these for any period of time would always irritate my canal. Looking forward to seeing what other options you review.

    • Thanks Brandon! The second post is already up, and I think the last two will go up Thursday and Friday.

  • Spade

    I wore these for a two day pistol course (about 800 rounds). I ran them with the plugs out.

    While muffled a bit, I didn’t have any trouble hearing instructions from the instructors, and didn’t have any problems with the shooting. All pistol though, rifle may have been different. Plugs in did make it harder to hear spoken commands, but not that much.

    I also only took them out for lunch and at the end of the day with no issues. They’re my favorites now. d(‘.’o)

  • KC

    I feel like I’m the only person that felt like these didn’t protect my hearing. At all. My ears would ring after shooting 9mm

    • JD

      After a large outing a group of 9 of us were split 6 and 3. 6 people felt they didn’t do very well, 3 thought they were great. Two of the people who thought they worked great were older with admitted hearing damage. The other person said they have no hearing damage, but I’ve also known him to shoot his 10/22 with out ear pro.

      I would definitely agree the EP3’s are not rifle safe. For anything louder than a shotgun, stay safe and spend the extra couple bucks for the EP4’s. I’ve been called a “pussy” for complaining about my ears ringing, but the simple truth is the less effect loud noises have on your ears, the more damage you’ve already inflicted. That truthfully can come down to just a couple extra decibels too.

    • Bryan S.

      recently got a pair as a gift, and found that they made light sounds harder to hear, but loud ones like gunfire and a simple thing like the wind in a helmet (while riding my motorcycle) just as loud as before.

      Ears rang after those shots that I heard with them in. That wasnt with the port closed, although I figure they will be like my other pair of silicone plugs when closed.

  • KC

    I am very interested to hear about electronic ear plugs though

  • Hasan

    How long would they last? considering I only get to shoot half a dozen times a year(1 day hunts). Do they degrade when stored for a few months?

    • Not Your Mother

      They say they’ll last only 6 months, but with infrequent, well-stored use, you’ll get longer than that. I have a pair sitting in a “go” bag right now.

    • Desmond

      My EP4 was issued by the Singapore army and they have lasted for 2 years (and counting) of very intense usage. I use them for all type of training ranging from a 7 days jungle field camp (but I only wore them during the occasional fire fight), live firing of MATADOR anti-tanks missile, hand grenade, GPMG, claymore mines and even urban live firing exercise and they work just fine.

      Furthermore, I didn’t have any trouble hearing when I took out the small plugs, but it was a bit of a hassle to put it on.

      I would defiantly recommend the EP4 =)

  • george

    I always use plugs and muffs. My hearing is priceless.

  • Eric

    I have used the EP4s and now am using the EP7s. These are by far the best ear pro that I’ve ever used. They are comfortable, I can wear them for hours, and from my experiences I prefer them far more than electronic muffs.

  • James

    I’ve been using them for two or three years, the same pair, even though the surefire reps at an ADS convention recommended only using them for 6 months. I kept the plugs open while shooting artillery and my audiology tests came out good. I think that’s a good testament to the the earpro. Just never turn your head with your ears down range in an indoor shooting range and the plugs out, it just hurts.

  • gunslinger

    my last comment got flushed, so sorry for a repost.

    i did work in factories for my first 2 two jobs. i always got the crappy freebie earplugs and never liked them. they had these rough plastic ones, and they were uncomforatable after about 2 minutes. and had to be seated in a particular way to work. not my fav. then there were the foamies that you compressed and inserted. they were better, but if you didn’t do it right, there wasn’t a good seal. that would be uncomfortable.

    i currently use cans when shooting, but would like to get rid of the bulkiness. maybe some of the molded plugs?

  • DaveR

    If we’re not talking electronic protection, then it’s foam plugs all the way for me. Super cheap with about as high a NRR as is possible. If I had the $$$ for quality electronic protection, I’d consider taking the hit of a slightly lower NRR for the added benefit of being able to carry on a conversation.

  • Leonard

    As a medical professional I know about the importance of keeping your ears safe from acustic trauma, but I also think that many companies try to rip you off if you’re afraid of hearing damage. In my opinion, it is not generally necessary to have expensive hearing protection while shooting, simple and affordable products will usually do the trick just as well. The most important thing is to actually use hearing protection all the time while on the range.

    I personally use EAR Classic II ear plugs made by 3M. These are commonly issued for shooting training in the Bundeswehr and are very simple yet fully functional cylindrical ear plugs. They are best used by squeezing them together before you insert them. They will then reflate and adapt themselves to your “Meatus acusticus externus” as we call the ear canal in medical language 🙂

    I guess the company wants you to use them only once, but they can actually used many times if you clean them after a couple of uses. The simplest trick to do so is to just put them into the pocket of trousers you are putting into the washing machine anyways, they’ll come out perfectly clean and intact.

    I don’t know about their availability outside Europe, but with 3M being a globally active company I guess they’re easy to get in the US or elsewhere. And similar products are probably widely available from other firms.

    • Alex C.

      What I usually do is wear earplugs (either my cheapo reusable ones or howard leight disposable ones, both have about the same noise protection rating) and a pair of electronic low profile ear muffs. It gives me increase hearing protection (I <3 my hearing very much) and with the volume turned all the way up I can hear people speak pretty well when there's no shooting going on nearby.

      • Leonard

        @Alex: That combination certainly ensures your hearing is safe from harm, and if it works for you just go ahead with it.
        I personally find talking or listening to others talking with foam earplugs in still possible but it is indeed more difficult than with electronic ear muffs.

        On my range we usually have periods of “safety” between shooting where everyone can collect their results etc., so talking is usually done then, without ear protection (as there is no shooting going on). After the “safety” period is over, the first command of the range officer is “Ear protection on!” and only then, after everyone confirms he is wearing protection, do we start loading again.

  • Ive been using these for 3yrs at work and shooting I get them at the local NAPA store work great and if they get dirty soak them in warm soapy water.

  • John Doe

    I always run plugs and muffs. Just plugs if I’m using a suppressor.

    • noob

      If only suppressors had become as standard as car mufflers at the dawn of the age of rifles.

      Yes, blackpowder would have been a pain to clean out of a baffle suppressor (and probably you’d have to wait until smokeless powder before you could run a wet suppressor with wire mesh wipes) but the health benefits to the shooters’ ears would be well worth it.

      then again, people have been banning safety features like ventilated handguards for a long time.

  • Paul O.

    Thumbs down for me. These plugs didn’t block enough noise for me. Rifle fire was way too loud. Not easy to get them to fit right. EAR foam plug seem better and are cheaper.

    • I don’t think they work well enough either. For rimfires, they’re fine, but anything louder, even pistols, I prefer the foam plugs. E.A.R. plugs or the 3M Tekk plugs from Midway (same thing really, slightly different packaging, green plugs instead of yellow). I find the foam plugs are all that I can stand having in my ears for more than about 15 minutes. I can leave the foam plugs in for hours, but the Surefire plugs start to get uncomfortable pretty quickly.

  • Chrontius

    I use the EP4, and have been using them for a while now. I bought them for remodeling a closet – lots of hammering in an enclosed space – after the first day when my ears were ringing by lunchtime.

    They’re adequate for circular saw work, said hammering, rock concerts (plugs in; the presence of so much raw unfiltered bass tends to cause the music to sound godawful with the plugs out) and smaller firearms. It was uncomfortable when the guy in the lane next to me opened up with a 12-gauge, though. With the plugs out and cans on, the 12-ga was tamed and I could still ask what the heck they were shooting – the attenuation of softer sounds was only about as bad as the cans all by themselves.

  • Nelson

    These are probably the worst set of ears I have ever owned. It did a terrible job with protecting my ears from both Rifle and pistol shooting.