As I have mentioned in the past, we are under constant attack of people marketing their products to us. Flip through any firearms magazine and you will see what I am talking about. All in all, a lot of what you see is cookie cutter images of the same thing. Every once in a while, something is so different or innovative it stands out from the rest of the pack. This is the case with the ZEM hearing protection offered from SensGard. I first noticed the ZEM hearing protection in an NRA catalog. The complete lack of a muff surrounding your ear caught my eye. As I read the product description I saw that they allowed normal lower level sounds such as conversations, but blocked harmful noise, like gun shots. Electronic ear protection has been around a while, but the ZEM hearing protection claims to accomplish the same goal, sans batteries, or muffs. I was interested & figured you guys may be as well, so I did some research and located the manufactures website. I called the listed number and left a message. What happened next let me know that SensGard is a company that is customer driven.
Later that day my phone rang. To my surprise, the caller was Robert DiNardo, a Co-Founder of SensGard. Maybe it is a small thing, but it drives me insane when I call a company, get tossed around an automated phone system only to sit on hold before I get a customer service rep who feeds me scripted answers to my questions. With SensGard, I called the number, left a message and an owner of the company returned my call promptly. He explained how the product was developed by a renowned professor at Syracuse University, Dr. Zwislocki. The technology behind the ZEM (Zwislocki Ear Muffler) is pretty interesting. They claim that the ZEM uses air tight channels to draw the sound away from the ear. Inside the channel the noise is refracted and cancelled. The end result dampens loud sounds, but allows normal conversation to be heard. After my quick education of the product, my press kit was in the mail.
A couple of days later I received my kit, including a pair of ZEM hearing protection. I pulled them out and made a quick inspection. They are very sturdy, but incredible light at 1.3 oz. The have very cushioned “cuffs” that form a seal around your ear canal. They adjust like normal ear muffs and fit well on the head with minimal movement. My pair came in an olive drab, but are available in a variety of colors. When not in use they fold up and can fit in a pocket easily.
To get a sense of the level of protection the ZEMs offer, let’s take a look at the NRR, which stands for Noise Reduction Rating. The current ZEM offers an NRR rating of 26. This is not the highest I have seen, but is comparable to most electronic ear muffs available on the market. An NRR number is a good indicator, but in my opinion you need to test any ear muff out for comfort to get the real effect.
Without delay, I planned two demo days to experience the ZEMs, one at an outdoor police range, then another at our indoor range. Prior to heading to the range, I checked out the instructions one last time. As directed, I put the ear cuffs into my ear and pivoted the head set creating a nice seal. I immediately found a couple of benefits of the ZEM, one is that they are super comfortable. They do not pinch your eye glasses between your head and the muffs. They do not get in the way of shotgun or rifle stocks. The also keep your ears cool because they are not covered. Comfort is great, but how do they perform?
I was at a nice outdoor range run by a local police department. I was getting my duty gear on and put on the slick ZEM muffs. I am not going to lie, it was an interesting experience. I was standing on the line with 4 other shooters. I could hear conversation normally and hear range commands as if I had no protection on at all. Given the fact I am required to qualify with my duty weapon, I was beginning to think I was picking the wrong time to test out this new technology. At the command to fire, I, along with four other officers, drew our service weapons and fired 10 rounds each. I remember thinking, huh, that wasn’t too bad. As the day went on I was very comfortable with the level of protection the ZEM provided. With electronic muffs, they amplify normal sound, the cut off at high levels. I find the cut off very distracting. They best way I can describe the ZEM experience is like shooting without ear protection on, only it just doesn’t hurt your ears. I plan on using the ZEM in the future if I am shooting outside.
Shooting indoors I found that the ZEM offered a little less protection then I am used to. Although they absolutely brought the noise to a safe level, the ear protection I usually use is rated at a NRR of 30. In defense of the ZEM, I do not like using my electronic ears indoors either because the gunshots are still a little sharp and as a firearms instructor, hearing damage is a significant occupational concern. I feel that an NRR of 30 is preferable at an indoor range.
Over all, I was very impressed by the ZEM. They perform as well as any electronic muff I have used and considering that the price point is around 25% of the cost of electronic muffs that have a similar NRR they are a great bargain. The ZEM is available between $20 & $25. They eliminate ear pinching, the annoying “cut off” with electronic muffs, and the need to replace batteries, especially when they get turned on in your bag and drain them. About the time you read this, SensGard will be releasing a ZEM model with a higher NRR rating of 31. The form factor remains the same and there will only be a small increase in the msrp. I can’t want to get my hands on a pair to test out indoors, where I think they will provide a more comfortable experience then the 26 NRR model.
More information on the ZEM is available at the SensGard Website