Product review: Custom in-ear hearing protection

Losing your hearing should concern every first responder, but there are actions that you can take to prevent that from happening


The countdown is on for SHOT Show 2020, scheduled for January 21-24 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Every year PoliceOne reviews the newest firearmsprotective equipment and tactical technologies for law enforcement and SWAT on display at SHOT Show. For a taste of what to expect at the largest event of its kind in the world, check out this product review by PoliceOne columnist Ron LaPedis from SHOT Show 2019.

In an earlier PoliceOne article, I reviewed "universal-fit" in-ear hearing protection devices from Peltor and OTTO. Both products offer amplified hearing protection and come with a selection of foam and silicone earpieces that slip over the earpiece to achieve a seal in most ears.

Note that I said “most” because some people cannot find a proper or comfortable seal with universal fit earpieces. In this article, I review the Westone DefendEar Digital, a custom-molded in-ear hearing protection module from Westone that is the sole United States distributor for CENS Digital.

I happened to see Westone at SHOT Show 2019, but many other reputable companies around the world sell either custom-molded earpieces to use with another manufacturer’s hearing protection device or sell the entire package of a hearing protection device with a custom-molded earpiece.

Many color choices are available, and each earpiece can be different. Note the red and blue metallic electronics units, which are friction-fit into each earpiece. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
Many color choices are available, and each earpiece can be different. Note the red and blue metallic electronics units, which are friction-fit into each earpiece. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)

In addition to Westone, CENS Digital supplies its technology to companies around the world with distributors offering a handful of custom in-ear digital hearing protection modules. Not all products may be available in every country, or they may have a different name.

Testing the Westone DigitalX 3

I tested the custom-molded Westone DigitalX 3, which has three modes of operation, selected with a tap on the mode button, along with a toggle volume control. The DigitalX 3’s active digital circuitry delivers amplification for situational awareness with appropriate noise attenuation when you pull the trigger. We’ll chat about that in the range testing section.

You need to have impressions taken of your ears before the earmolds can be made, thus Westone only sells through authorized dealers that can do that for you. A list of dealers is here and any of them should be able to order DefendEar earpieces for you. There are a number of online authorized dealers, but if you buy from one you still need to have impressions taken at additional cost. Since I already wear hearing aids, I went to my audiologist for impressions.

Because the Westone “Otoblast” silicone earmolds are completely custom, there is a large selection of colors and designs including solid, transparent and swirled colors. The audio industry earphone standard is blue for left and red for right, and I usually keep with that theme as you can see by the photo. 

Unlike the rechargeable Peltor and Otto units, the DefendEar uses a standard 312 hearing aid battery and a pair comes with a pack of six zinc-air disposables. Like most hearing aid batteries, these begin to discharge as soon as you remove the activation tab. Westone says the average life is three to five days if you wear your DefendEar earpieces for eight hours a day and turn them off when removed. While rechargeable 312 batteries are available, the Amazon reviews are mixed.

There are three warranties: 90 days for the earmold to be refitted, one year for the earmold and two years for the serial-numbered modules.

All pairs of DefendEar Digitals come packaged with Oto-Clens cleaner, Oto-Ease lubricant, a waterproof case with belt loop holder and a magnetic battery changing tool. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
All pairs of DefendEar Digitals come packaged with Oto-Clens cleaner, Oto-Ease lubricant, a waterproof case with belt loop holder and a magnetic battery changing tool. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)

Range Day

I need to qualify with my sidearm every six months, and this was a perfect opportunity to try out the DefendEars. I popped them in before going into the range, held down the power button to turn them on, then tapped it again twice to set them to tactical/practical mode.

Like the other multi-mode units in the DefendEar line, the DX3 vocally advises you which mode you are using, and updates you as you change between modes, ensuring the user is always aware of their selected mode. It also will alert you when you are at minimum or maximum volume levels. You will also hear beeps as you toggle through the levels in between. Vocal feedback is also given when battery power becomes low and critical.

I went through the double doors to my station and waited for the rangemaster to call, “Threat!” Nine of us simultaneously pulled our triggers – and my ears didn’t like the result, so I switched to my over-the-head muffs to complete the session.

When I returned home, I called Marcus Vance, the Westone product manager, to ask him what was up. He told me that the DefendEar was not designed for indoor range use, so while my hearing was protected from damage, gunshots would still sound sharp. Of course, this doesn’t pose a problem for everyday use since cops are not on an indoor range every day.

Range Day 2

To try the DefendEar outdoors, I headed to the San Leandro Rifle and Pistol Range where shooters are firing fairly hefty loads at 100-yard targets. Even standing behind someone sighting in a .378 Weatherby Magnum when the range was hot, I could talk comfortably between shots.

Walking down the line, I stood behind other shooters with revolvers up to .44 magnum and my ears still felt protected. When the range was cold, I let them know that I was testing some plugs and wanted to know how quietly they could talk, and I could still understand them. I couldn't hear anyone whispering, but I had no trouble at normal speaking volume.

Which headset is best for you and where does a department buyer even start? You can download the PoliceOne guide to buying headsets. PoliceOne will be offering near real-time coverage of the latest gear being shown at SHOT Show 2020.

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