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Passive vs. Active Hearing Protection: Learn the Comparison

When speaking of protecting one’s hearing, there are two terms that are sometimes used, which are passive and active hearing protection. Below is a detailed comparison between the two and how they differ.

Active Hearing Protection

This type of auditory protection involves devices or products that use digital or electronic parts which are utilized to actively amplify or suppress sound from one’s surrounding environment. The earmuff, earpiece or earplug by itself won’t contribute much to noise amplification or suppression, since this task will be handled mostly by the electronics which are housed inside the device.

Some earpieces are designed with silicone, which by themselves will provide minimal protection. However, digital and removable modules which have been inserted within such earpieces use digital chips which are specially tuned for every model to suppress dangerous noises, while also amplifying certain environmental sounds like conversations with someone standing close by. After these digital modules have been removed they will transform into passive-based hearing protective devices.

Passive Hearing Protection

Passive devices are the products most people think of when speaking of hearing protection. These are devices that function as barriers between the ears of the user and potentially hazardous noises in their surroundings. They usually consist of things such as foam-based earplugs, non-electronic earmuffs and customized fit earpieces. 

The key thing to remember about passive devices is that they use no digital and electrical components, and are thus the oldest form of hearing protection on the market. They are also more affordable than their active protective counterparts. Most passive products come in the form of earpieces that utilize removable filters which can attenuate noise.

Which is Best, Active or Passive?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. While active devices clearly have greater capabilities than passive devices, this doesn’t automatically mean they’re better. For instance, some experts feel that passive earpieces can be superior in certain circumstances, while active devices are preferable in others.

Before making a purchasing decision, the first thing you’ll need to determine is your current hearing level. Do you suffer from mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss? There are at-home, online tests you can use to quickly ascertain your hearing level. The next thing you’ll need to consider is your occupation. If you work on a construction site where people are using power tools for most of the day, passive hearing devices are a great choice, since your primary goal is to reduce incoming noise so your ears aren’t damaged. Passive earmuffs are also a great option for toddlers and infants who are being taken to fairs, concerts, or sporting events where the loud noises might upset them and damage their hearing.

But if you’re employed in a profession such as hunting or military work, it is not enough to merely suppress incoming noise. You also need hearing equipment that can differentiate between unimportant background sounds and communication from nearby colleagues, while also being protected from sounds such as gunshots or explosions. In these scenarios, active hearing devices are the best option available.
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