MSA Supreme Pro-X: Hearing Protection with Situational Awareness

By Alton P. Chiu

Hearing protection is of paramount importance, since lost hearing cannot be recovered. Typical gunfire measures 150 to 160 decibels, with 140 decibels being the commonly accepted threshold for hearing damage. Cost-effective and readily available foam earplugs provide some attenuation, but that alone may be insufficient (Ylikoski et al., 1995). In addition, environmental factors such as an overhead awning or a barricade can cause reverberations and amplify noise to unsafe levels.


The author experienced the amplification effect during a sporting event, when he fired through a tube with his 7.62x51mm rifle and head inside. Despite having tightly fitting foam earplugs, one shot dazed the author and caused temporary deafness in one ear. Other shooters with 5.56x45mm rifles also reported discomfort and disorientation, despite having their heads outside the tube.

This experience prompted the author to seek more robust hearing protection. “Doubling up” with foam plugs and a passive headset helped dramatically, but it also blocked conversations and range commands. MSA Supreme Pro-X electronic hearing protection overcame this by reproducing conversations while providing a passive noise reduction rating (NRR) of 18 decibels (Wonderling, 2015). This article examines both its passive noise protection and active ambient sound reproduction characteristics.


The MSA Supreme Pro-X is an ear cup design available with both headband and neckband options. The headband version places the band vertically over the head. Although one can wear baseball caps under the ear cups, this arrangement is incompatible with wide-brimmed hats. The neckband option places the main headband behind the skull and features an overhead net as an added measure to keep the ear cups in place. However, the cups still limit how tightly a hat can be worn, therefore chin straps may be necessary. The neckband option is also compatible with some helmets. The thin ear cups did not prevent the author from shouldering his rifles.

Ear cups come with standard foam cushions that can be upgraded to gel seals. Gel seals provide superior comfort and soundproofing, especially for bespectacled users. In addition, MSA offers a hygiene kit that replaces both the...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N5 (May 2018)
and was posted online on March 23, 2018


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