By Guy J. Sagi
Walker’s Game Ear
With a noise-reduction rating of 24 decibels (dB), 50 dB of power to amplify range commands up to nine times their original level and compression circuitry, the Walker’s Game Ear Elite Power Muffs Digital Quads seem to have everything it takes to be the last hearing protection you’ll ever purchase. Add Adjustable Frequency Tuning with Aridion technology for water resistance, and the $299.99 MSRP seems reasonable, were it not for the fact all this rides on a polymer frame with a less-than-sterling reputation for long-term survival.
The frame didn’t surrender during testing, although some purchaser reviews of other units from the company using the same polymer system indicate it could be a concern. Shooters and hunters are tough on their gear, so the frame was the first thing we abused.
The adjustable headband is padded for roughly 7 ¼ inches and once it is fully extended it measures (from earmuff hanger to earmuff hanger) nearly 13 inches. That’s big enough that most hunters will be able to wear them atop a stocking cap. Small ridges molded into the polymer ensure the unit won’t suddenly adjust while at the range or during transport. The ridges are visible, but slightly in stature at .2 inch wide, .05 inch thick and another .05 inch tall. Oddly, the number of ridges visible at full extension varied by side, with 25 and 24, although there are enough stops to create a comfortable fit for any shooter.
At .809 inches wide and only .118 inch thick, those adjustable arms seem a likely point of weakness. However, during testing they refused to separate from the padded portion of the headband and despite their rigidity, didn’t seem to fatigue after a half hour of bending, flattening and repeating.
Where the arms join the earmuff hangers, however, might be the real source of complaint. Thick and relatively rigid polymer coming together at a moveable joint like this is always suspect. Although the test Quads survived some rugged treatment, it’s not hard to envision the units taking the kind of blow in a range bag that would cause enough stress for failure at this point.
Padding where the earmuffs contact the face is ½ inch thick, adding to the aforementioned comfort, and measure four inches tall and three inches wide at the outside. A pair of separate foam inserts cover the power source, a AAA battery in each earmuff.
It’s hard to argue against the performance of any Walker’s Game Ear product, and that fact is also true of the Elite Power Muffs Digital Quads. In this case, it begins with all of the circuitry receiving a water-resistant treatment developed by P2i called Aridion Technology. The company terms the process “plasma enhanced vapor deposition,” but it’s not as confusing as it sounds.
The circuits are placed in a vacuum chamber, pressure is slightly reduced inside, a vapor is introduced and when it is ionized a coating of polymer is deposited everywhere, including the smallest nooks and crannies, bonding tightly enough that it effectively repels moisture. Once applied, the Nano-Tech coating thickness is 1/1,000th of a human hair’s width and the same process protects many of today’s smartphones and tablets.
A rainstorm provided the opportunity to test the Elite Power Muffs Digital Quads’ water-resistant claims. With two of the microphones pointed skyward during the three-hour storm, it had plenty of time to get soaked. A rubber band held both muffs tightly together during the experiment, since a hunter would probably protect them similarly by keeping them on. At least ½ inch of precipitation fell during one of those hours, and it was a pleasant surprise when the units turned on right away and functioned perfectly. Things probably would have been different had the muffs been exposed to the water, since AAA batteries do not receive that same water-resistant treatment.
The Quads employ noise-compression circuitry, not noise-clipping, which literally shuts itself off temporarily when it senses a potentially damaging sound wave at the microphone. With compression, however, the circuit senses the gunshot, reduces it to acceptable levels, transmits it to the speaker and because it doesn’t shut down, range commands and other sounds are still audible. Reaction time in this unit is 32 milliseconds.
During range testing, the units worked well. Volume-adjustment knobs are found on each earpiece and are large enough for use with gloved hands. The manual recommends the old “reddy, righty, lefty bluey” approach, placing the volume knob with the red line on your right ear. It doesn’t seem to make a difference, unless of course you’re one of those folks who is going to memorize which way each knob turns rather than trial and error. A short series of notes is heard when the units are first turned on.
Circuitry exclusive to Walker’s, Adjustable Frequency Tuning (AFT), allows shooters to tune the unit to the frequency that best enhances his or her hearing. The Quads also provide four channels of digital audio from four microphones, ensuring 360 degrees of coverage for the shooter. A metal shield protects the microphones and the foam underneath all but eliminated wind noise.
To adjust frequency response, rheostats behind the volume knobs are turned. Even without gloves, every twist on them inadvertently changed the volume. Maybe the secret is to adjust the frequency knob until you’re hearing the right tone, then turn the volume, but you need enough output to hear, and with fat fingers it was every bit as frustrating as being beaten by a two year old in Whac-A-Mole.
Making matters worse is the fact that there is no way to index, or return the knobs to the same spot every time. They’re black, the earmuffs are unmarked around them and they turn easily enough that one twist of the volume knob with a glove on will undoubtedly make you lose that sweet spot. In testing, improvement seemed negligible when tuning the frequency, with one end of the audible spectrum seeming pretty quiet, and enough white noise at the other end to drive a hunter nuts after eight hours in a treestand. Apparently, though, it’s very effective for some shooters. Borrow a pair and take them for a test drive before you buy. If you find a frequency that enhances your hearing significantly, take the units off immediately and mark that sweet spot.
Flattened sections on the earpieces improve your ability to get a good check weld when sighting down a rifle. In testing, though, the plastic still made contact with the stock. It was easier to get directly behind the scope, but not as effortless as with foam plugs.
A pair of AAA batteries supply power and MSRP is $299.95. The amplification and compression circuitry was impressive at the range, verged on annoying when walking on gravel, but turkeys were audible at a distance of ½ mile. That’s a more-than-fair tradeoff. A 90-day warranty repairs or replaces a unit, if necessary, and defective parts will be replaced for up to two years after the date of purchase (although the owner will pay $99.95 to cover labor, shipping and insurance).
Walker’s Game Ear Elite Power Muffs Digital Quads deliver the kind of performance today’s shooters demand in their hearing protection, and even add some innovative features. If you pamper your gear, they will be a solid, long-term $300 investment.