A few months ago, local company AXIL sent me their TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs to review. With over 60 years experience in hearing enhancement and protection, I figured they were a brand I could trust. And it really makes sense – they’ve been in the hearing aid business since 1958, and hearing protection since 2000. Despite their two seemingly competing companies being rebranded into one, they really do want to protect your hearing. With that in mind, I was more than willing to give them a try.
TRACKR™ Blu Tactical Ear Muff features
This isn’t your typical set of muffs, or even typical electronic muffs. Yes, they have a 27 dB NRR (noise reduction rating). And the Autoblocker Technology kills sounds above 85 dB. They’ve even got 40 dB of gain and amplification, so you can talk normally and hear other people and sounds under 85 dB while shooting. Less exciting, but still important is the wind noise reduction, and the fact that they are sweat and water resistant. A 3.5mm aux port allows you to plug in an audio device, but they also have Bluetooth 5.0 built in. While not critical for shooting, in my opinion that makes them a game-changer for other applications too.
They run on a pair of AAA batteries, which are included. No battery life is quoted, but I used them for about 8 range trips, and an hour of mowing the lawn. Plus a fair bit of listening to music while ignoring my wife. Seriously, I hope she doesn’t read this review. When the batteries finally die, I’ll try to remember to update this review with the approximate battery life.
Protection, and enhancement
Electronic ear muffs are the way to go. You can set the volume to hear an instructor, range officer, friends, your kids, or your spouse. Whoever you shoot with. Have almost normal conversations. Yet, when there is shooting going on, the Sound Activated Compression kicks in. Its 0.02 second reaction time cuts those loud noises before they can cause hearing damage. Of course, if you already have a bit of hearing loss, the available 40 dB of gain/amplification means you won’t say “What?” nearly as much. Protect and enhance. And that enhancement works really well.
Why Bluetooth 5.0?
I don’t have any fancy radios to chat with my friends while shooting. And I certainly don’t need music to distract me. So at first glance, I wasn’t sure about the Bluetooth option. But because I like hearing, and like to protect my hearing, I wear ear pro while shooting, but also mowing the lawn, and running the weed whacker. And when using power and air tools. I wish I had these when I finished my 1,000 sq ft basement. Because for those tasks, being able to play some music is quite welcome. Yes, I used the TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs for tactical weed whacking. On a windless day, it was almost eerie. I could hear my music, and my neighbor’s lawn mower. Then I realized that it was my lawn mower.
The TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs fold up like most electronic muffs. Pull then down and out, and adjust to fit. At first, I thought they had a bit of a tight fit. Yet after shooting for a few hours, I didn’t notice any discomfort. In comparing them to the four other pairs of electronic muffs I have, I noticed something. The pads are neither the thickest, nor thinnest. But they are the most comfortable. Taking some time to get the right height and fore/aft position of the headband pays off in both comfort and noise reduction too. Unless you’re a precision rifle shooter, the low profile should be sufficient to get up close to your rifle. Note the little cutout to help you get a tighter cheek weld.
On the left-hand side (or right, if your head is on backwards) are the volume controls. A wide, coarse-textured wheel controls the amount of gain/amplification, or ambient sound. Next to it is a thinner wheel with a finer texture for Bluetooth volume. It’s very hard to choose the wrong one, with the ambient control being more prominent. Above that is a button for enabling the Bluetooth for pairing. Naturally, up is for more volume, down is for less. I mention this because I have another pair of muffs where the volume control is horizontal. Which defies logic.
Pairing is done by turning them on and holding the BT Button (Bluetooth) down for a second, until the blue LED flashes every two seconds. Then select EMO30BT when your device finds it. If you’re actually interested in taking calls with your TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs, you can. A short press of the BT Button answers calls, while a long press rejects them. That’s the correct choice when shooting. Your car warranty can wait. If you must take a call, then a long press will end it when done. Double tap the button to redial the last number. You can even use that button to hold one call while you take another, but at that point, you’re not getting any shooting done. Oh, it also works as the pause/play button when listening to music.
At the range
First time at the range with them, I got caught off guard by the sound quality. I was tucked into my corner on lane ten, with a husband and wife on lane one. They sounded like they were right next to me. Not the shooting, but the chatter. I had to turn down the volume to give them some privacy. Nothing awkward, but it felt like snooping. Actual shots were muffled as expected. Over a few more trips, I learned to keep the volume low, and tune out other people. My last indoor range trip, I brought my .500 Magnum for the ultimate test. The TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs are great, but they’re not magic. A .500 Magnum indoors still sucks. Just a little less though.
Outdoors was a much better experience, if not equally amusing. I’m used to shooting mostly 9mm and .22 LR outdoors, surrounded by guys shooting 5.56 and .308 rifles, or bigger. Suddenly, those big spenders are a lot less annoying. Turns out that good fit is just as important as sound suppression. These fit better than my other ones, and that makes a difference. My own shots didn’t bother me in the least. At the same time, I could hear the mall ninjas about 100 yards away. Timer beeps, 5.56 volleys, then captain ninja yelling out split times. I also heard a Dodge Diesel sneaking up on me, though it turns out he was a good distance away. Wind noise wasn’t great, but very well controlled too. Wind is wind, so hard to fault them there.
There are two components related to comfort with ear pro. The physical comfort based on their fit, and the comfort (or lack of discomfort) based on their protection. At some point, your head may hurt from either from wearing them, or the noise. I experienced neither with the TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs. They fit better, and work better. Unlike other muffs, I didn’t get any noise “leaks” due to my glasses. But I also stepped out of the range and into the store wearing them. And chatted with some other customers for about ten minutes before I realized I still had my ear pro on. Because they are that comfortable, and the sound quality is that good.
Music via Bluetooth
Even though it’s not my thing while shooting, I had to test the Bluetooth by playing some music. I did this while “Tactical weed-whacking” and lawn mowing. During this, I decided to try some specific songs to test the response range. I was expecting more from the drum break in Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight”. Tried again with my EQ app, and more bass. Still a bit flat. Hmm. Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir was up next. Music to mow by, right? As expected, these are not “audiophile” headphones. They don’t have the best bass response down low. But voices, and any instrument in the midrange, sound great. And by great, I mean really good considering these are designed first and foremost for hearing protection around firearms. Get them as ear pro, and the music is a plus. Buy them primarily for music, and you might be disappointed though.
Is there a downside?
As mentioned, I have four other sets of electronic muffs. They vary in price from about $40 to $80 (the most expensive ones at the store where I bought them). The TRACKR Blu Tactical Ear Muffs have an MSRP of $159. That’s a price I would have probably balked at had I seen them at the store. But after using them, I will probably get a second set for my wife. Especially since I have seen them as low as $89. That’s a bargain. Of all the ones I have owned or tried, they are easily the most comfortable, and have the best sound quality. For not much more than I paid for ones that don’t perform nearly as well.
If you choose to skimp on hearing protection, keep in mind that AXIL’s hearing aids start around $1,199 and go up to $5,499. In this case, an ounce of prevention is well worth more than a pound of the cure. Protect your hearing now, and you may not have to enhance it later. And since you read this far, I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you don’t need the Bluetooth, you can get the TRACKR Electronic Ear Muffs instead. Though their NRR is only 25dB instead of 27, they have the same fit and function. They carry an MSRP of $99, but I have seen them as low as $65. Your hearing is worth it.