Gear Review: SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders Plus Hearing Protection

I’ve been shooting for more than 20 years, and in all those years I’ve only shot without hearing protection three times (two of which were unexpected defense against animals). The one time I intentionally shot without hearing protection was the last time I intentionally shot without hearing protection. Even outdoors in a large open space, a 9mm handgun is loud. Most of the time I shoot with either some cheap over the ear muffs that I bought like 15 years ago, or with in the ear foam plugs.

Standard foam earplugs

It’s not that I’m a huge fan of the foam plugs, they’re just really convenient. I have a couple plastic bottles of these that I bought (I think at WalMart) maybe 10 years ago, and still haven’t run out. I’ve thought about buying active hearing protection, but I hate having more gear that requires batteries. I first came across the SureFire Sonic Defenders quite accidentally (thank you Amazon), and decided to try out a pair (hey for $13 even if they were total crap it’s still not a big loss).

The first issue I ran into is that of sizing. These are sized based on the size of the Concha Bowl of your ear (which is not something I’ve had occasion to measure in the past, but is certainly a fun phrase to use). Now, I eventually found the sizing instructions on SureFire’s website, but if you are buying these from a physical store, there is a handy sizing chart on the back of the package:

SureFire EP4 sizing chart

And apparently they are correct, the medium size does seem to be a fit for most people I’ve asked (and yes, I did walk up to some people and ask “hey, can I measure your ear?”). I also fall into the majority, so I ordered the medium ones.

The next thing I noticed is that there are actually two different types of these, the EP3 and the EP4. The difference is that the EP3 has two baffles on the part that goes inside your ear canal, where the EP4 has three. The SureFire site states that people with larger ear canals would probably prefer the EP4, but I decided to get the EP4 based on my theory of more = better (I’m pretty sure that’s actually a general constant of the universe). The Sonic Defenders are offered in either black or clear, which is more of a flesh like color (which I opted for).

This is what showed up in the mail a couple of days later:

SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders packaging

Not the smallest packaging, but at least it came in an envelope, not a ginormous cardboard box. The EP4’s are given an NRR of 24 (with the stopper plugs inserted), and the literature describing the actual testing states (accurately) that NRR is based on continuous noise, not impulse noise (like gunfire). It goes on to state that SureFire has conducted independent testing, and found the EP4’s to protect against impulse noise as well as continuous noise (I’d hope so, you’re marketing these things to shooters).

Alright, so are these just another earplug with a funky design or what? The short answer is not really. The Sonic Defenders use a Hock’s Noise Breaker filter which SureFire claims allows you to hear sounds below 85db at their normal volume, but will reduce noise above 85db to a safe level (below 85db), with up a 34db reduction (so I’m assuming that it is still possible to damage your hearing if you’re standing next to a Howitzer during firing).

Upon opening the clamshell packaging we find some (very thorough) literature, and that there is another smaller clamshell package protecting the actual product which is intended to be used as a protective case. It’s flimsy, but way better than just jamming these things into your pocket or range bag.

Surefire EP4 package contents

There are instructions for adjusting the EP4’s for depth of the ear canal or for use with a radio headset (no noise reduction when used with a radio). The EP4’s are color coded so that you can easily identify which ear they go in (red = right).

SureFire EP4 Sonic Defenders

The actual EP4 units

I was surprised at how small these are. Here is a picture of one with a quarter for size comparison:

SureFire EP4 size comparison

Just slightly bigger than a US quarter

They are also very soft and flexible, so ear fatigue should be minimal for prolonged use. Getting the EP4’s seated in my ears was much easier than I imagined it would be, if you’ve ever worn a Jabra bluetooth headset it’s much the same; you insert the flanged part into the ear canal, while gently rotating the outer flange to be oriented with the Concha Bowl of your ear (I knew I’d get to use that phrase again!). My more = better theory proved correct in the case of baffle count and the EP4 fit is very comfortable in my ear, with a nice seal in the ear canal.

One thing I’ll point out is that (especially with the “flesh” colored ones) the EP4’s are very difficult to see in someone’s ears. If you are shooting somewhere with a Range Officer that vigorously enforces that you wear hearing protection (which is a good thing), you’ll probably have to pull one out to prove that you are wearing ear protection.

SureFire EP4 inserted in ear

Nearly invisible while worn

And that’s from side on at a range of about two feet. If someone is not perpendicular to your ear, they’re probably not going to know that you have these in.

But how do they work? The short answer is brilliantly.

After inserting these there is a noticeable reduction of ambient sound, but you can still hear normal volume conversation fine. I tried these out at my desk with some music playing quietly (you couldn’t hear it from 5 feet away without ear protection in), and could still hear it (though it was notably quieter).

Much better than standard foam earplugs. With the stoppers in things are much quieter, just like wearing foam plugs.

I started at the range shooting a Ruger MkII in .22LR with the stoppers in, and the EP4’s worked fine. Eventually I worked up enough confidence to remove the stoppers, and I have to say, they work. Shots were muffled to well within manageable levels, but normal conversation was easily understandable.

I moved up to a Glock 17 in 9mm (again with the stoppers in), the EP4’s performed just like the standard foam plugs I usually use. With the stoppers out, while perceptibly louder the report was still well within comfortable levels.

Moving up to a Saiga rifle in 7.62x39mm (again with stoppers in), the EP4’s again performed on par with the standard foam plugs. Removing the stoppers produced results comparable to those while shooting the Glock; the report was notably louder, but still not uncomfortably so.

I didn’t have anything else with me (and the range was deserted), so that was the extent of my testing.

SureFire notes that these are intended to last for 3-6 months of regular use, and the units come with a 90 day factory warranty. I’ll let you know how they hold up in a few months.

Summary:

MANUFACTURER:  SureFire, LLC
MODEL:
EP4 Sonic Defenders Plus
SIZE:
Medium
COLOR:
Clear
MSRP:
$14.95
WARRANTY:
90 day manufacturer’s warranty
VERDICT:
Based on my experience with these, I’d definitely recommend these to anyone looking for something between foam plugs and active noise reduction hearing protection.