With so much potentially dangerous noise surrounding us in an ever-increasingly noisy world, there has never been a greater need for proper hearing protection than there is today. This growing need for hearing protection has inevitably led to an increase in the various types of hearing protection devices made available to consumers, as there seems to be a never-ending supply of newly-developed hearing protection products to choose from within today’s market. From a plethora of disposable earplug options, to an abundance of custom-fit earpieces and numerous earmuffs, the current selection of products coming out of the hearing protection industry can sometimes be over-whelming for the average consumer, so what separates one device from another? Despite the fact that there are thousands of different hearing protection options for sale all over the globe, all these devices are commonly separated into just two distinct groups or types of hearing protection: Active and Passive.
Active hearing protection is any type of device that features electrical or digital components that are used to actively suppress or amplify noise from users’ surrounding environments. In active hearing protection devices, the actual earplug, earpiece or earmuff itself doesn’t do much to suppress or amplify any noise, as all these actions are carried out by electronics housed within each device. An example of active hearing protection offered by Westone® would be our entire DX line of custom-fit earpieces. These earpieces - made from Westone’s premium Otoblast™ silicone material – offer little protection to users’ hearing on their own, however the removable, digital “modules” inserted within each earpiece utilize a specially-tuned digital chip for each DX model that is designed to suppress any dangerous gunfire noise, while simultaneously amplifying other sounds from users’ surroundings such as crackling leaves that get stepped on or conversations with any individual standing nearby. Once the digital modules are removed from DX earpieces however, they quickly become a passive hearing protection device.
A passive device is what likely comes to mind when most people today hear the term “hearing protection”, as any product that simply acts as a barrier between users' ear canals and potentially dangerous noise is passive hearing protection. Foam earplugs, solid custom-fit earpieces and plain, non-electrical earmuffs are all examples of passive hearing protection devices, as all these products have no electrical or digital components in them that actively work to help suppress or amplify any sounds from users’ surroundings. The majority of our hearing protection offering at Westone consists of passive earpieces, as even our filtered ES49/DefendEar® Concert and TRU® Custom earpieces are passive. Despite having removable filters that help to attenuate noise, the filters are just an extra layer of the earpieces that act as a barrier between users’ ear canals and any potentially dangerous noise from users’ surroundings.
While active hearing protection devices usually have more capabilities than those that are passive, that doesn’t necessarily make them better. For example the earpieces that offer the most protection in Westone’s entire earpiece lineup are our DefendEar Solids/Style 40 earpieces, which are passive, however this doesn’t necessarily make them superior to our active DX earpieces. Finding the right hearing protection device that best suits users’ own unique needs is all about personal preferences. If it is critical that users be able to hear normally while wearing their hearing protection, active devices will likely be the best option for them, but if someone simply needs the maximum amount of protection available, then passive devices may be a better - as well as cheaper - option.
In the end regardless of whether you’re utilizing passive or active hearing protection, what’s always most important is that no matter how you're doing it, you're keeping your ears, and thus your hearing, properly protected!