With advances in technology over the years, we have developed a lot of improved safety equipment and practices. I doubt anyone 100 years ago would have considered using hearing protection for everyday shooting (heck seatbelts weren’t even standard till 1968). From lead-free ammunition, more durable eye protection, advances in backstop decontamination, and state-of-the-art air filtration equipment, shooting has become a much less health-hazardous endeavor. Keeping your ears protected is still one of the most important safety practices in my book which is why I’m a huge fan of widespread suppressor use and the proper application of hearing protection based on the situation. AXIL, a leader in state-of-the-art hearing protection sent me a pair of their “Ghost Stryke” GS Digital 1 Earplugs for review and today we’ll see how they perform under a variety of shooting situations.
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TFB Review: The Lightweight and Low-Profile AXIL GS Digital 1 Earplugs
Growing up, most of the hearing protection I used consisted of either foam or rubber earplugs and most of the shooting I did was at outside ranges. I don’t think I even set foot at an inside range until I was nearly 18 years old and at that point, I was exposed to an entirely different world of noise pollution. OSHA has a threshold for what is considered “hearing safe” of 140dB. Even the humble .22LR puts out a consistent report of around 145 dB so hearing protection is still needed to keep yourself from experiencing permanent hearing loss.
The AXIL GS Digital 1 Earplugs are advertised as being capable of reducing ambient noise by as much as 29 dB. Many centerfire rifle cartridges are capable of delivering unsuppressed noise of up to nearly 170 decibels, well beyond the “safe” 145 decibels laid out in OSHA guidelines.
AXIL GS Digital 1 Earplugs Specifications:
- 29 dB Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)
- Digital Sound Compression (DSC) Hearing Protection™
- Effective in Wind
- Shuts Out Sounds at 85 dB or Louder
- Background Noise Filtering
- Whistle/Feedback Cancellation
- 22 dB NRR with Silicone Tips
- 29 dB NRR with Foam Tips
- Standard #10a Hearing Battery
- Manual Volume Control
- Easy to Put In and Remove
- ABS, Medical Grade, Non-Allergenic Acrylic Shells
- Weight (with batteries): 0.10 oz.
- MSRP: $499.00
The AXIL GS Digital 1 earplugs come in a nice box complete with the earplugs, 4 different pairs of ear tips (two sizes of silicone, two sizes of foam, and two sizes of Securefit Concha Extenders), and two sets of size 10a batteries. In addition, the kit also includes an instruction and operation manual, a small pocket-sized carrying case, some rubberized neck retention, and a cleaning brush. So far, presentation and out-of-the-box usability is looking great.
After a quick read through the instruction manual, I went ahead and installed the two size 10a batteries. These batteries are pretty common for hearing aid users and they can be found in any grocery store for around 30 cents per battery. The stated battery life in the manual is 140 hours per battery. The battery installation was simple as was the installation of my selected plugs.
Range Time and Testing
Since range time has been harder to get in during these times, I chose to begin my testing with some stuff around the house. AXIL already recommends that you test your earplugs by first using them with something hearing safe like a TV or radio – just to get the sense of if these are working for you or not. After popping in the batteries there is no visual indicator of whether or not the earplugs are on – this might be a good way to drain your batteries if you’re not judicious about turning them all the way down or off when you go to store them.
AXIL says you can take each earbud off and cup your hands around it and listen for a feedback noise to tell whether or not they are on. I think the lack of an external “on/off” indicator is a double-edged sword. While it might save the earplugs from using unnecessary power, it also necessitates that you’re more conscious about turning the earplugs off and on. To turn on the earplugs, you turn the tiny dial on each earplug forward to increase volume and rearward (towards your back) to turn them down/off. The dial could stand to be a bit larger as I found them pretty hard to use while wearing gloves. Each earplug is clearly marked on the inside of the piece so you don’t mix up the two (this is critical for the controls to work in the advertised fashion).
Interior noises like TVs, radios, household appliances, and the sort the earplugs work quite well, almost completely negating any annoying or painful noises that might come from a blender or loud vacuum cleaner. Outside, I was able to test the earplugs with some power tools and found there was actually a pretty noticeable difference between the silicone and foam earpieces. The foam ones just worked that much better and completely sealed inside of my ear.
While at the range, I was pleased to find that for pistol and rifle shooting outdoors was also comfortable enough, even with some overhead cover. I would recommend doubling up on hearing protection if you plan on shooting larger centerfire rifle calibers or go to an indoor range. The 85 dB noise cutoff worked very well with pistol and rifle shooting making the most painful part of each shot more bearable. As for everything else, as long as you’re outside, I think the GS Digital 1 Earpro does quite well. As far as sound quality goes, it’s not the best but it’s more than good enough to understand different sounds and carry on a conversation. AXIL offers a more expensive Ghost Stryke Digital 2 that has a much better sound quality for $799.00 – not cheap
The biggest point of contention for most people with the GS Digital 1 earplugs is going to be the battery life, and by extension, the type of batteries used. 140 hours isn’t a lot of on-time if you are a frequent shooter, it’s even worse if you forget to turn off the earbuds. It would be great if AXIL offered a rechargeable version of the Ghost Stryke earbuds. I personally suspect that they might come out with a rechargeable version soon given that this technology is now extremely common for modern non-hearing safe music earbuds.
The GS Digital 1 buds do have a low battery warning feature built into them. When your batteries start reaching the end of their lives there will be a long single tone beep followed by several short beeps. I found that after the low battery indicator sound went off, there was a slight background “buzzing” coming from each earpiece until I replaced the batteries. The batteries seemed to drain at about the same rate as when wearing them around the house to test battery life, both low battery indicator tones went off within a minute of one another. Even if you turn the buds off and then back on again, you will very quickly hear the low battery tone in case you forgot the last time you turned them off. It is very convenient that the pocket-sized carrying case has plenty of room for spare batteries.
Are these the right earplugs for you? Maybe not. While I do really like the concept of a completely wireless, noise-canceling ear protection. For competition days, wearing over-the-ear hearing protection might be safer but they are often hotter, and I personally find them annoying as they press my required eye protection into the sides of my head making them extremely uncomfortable to wear after the first hour or so.
These earbuds stayed in my ears so well I was able to sprint, jump, and move about without needing to worry that they would suddenly fall out – I can’t say the same for some of my more expensive pairs of name-brand music earbuds. I think the best case use scenario for these earbuds is for someone who doesn’t like over-the-ear hearing protection and needs a lightweight, low profile, and hearing-safe earbud. I think the Ghost Stryke earbuds shine best on hot days when you’re trying to avoid wearing anything that will make you sweat more. Overall, I think the price and features of the Ghost Stryke earbuds make them more of a luxury item than a practical one, but like anything in life, we don’t always buy for practical, sometimes we just want to treat ourselves.
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