U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Howard Leight Impact Sport (hereafter, Leights or Sports) have been among the most popular electronically assisted ear-protection headsets used by shooters for more than a decade now. Any range trip I've been on where there are more than 2 or 3 shooters invariably includes one who pulls a set of Leights out of his shooting bag. Despite having a large and varied collection of ear-pro headsets, my guest shooting partners always race to pluck the Leights out of the pile. They're familiar, easy to use and effective. There's also a few new SKU's available on the Howard Leight website, so what's new?
The crew at Traditions Media (Howard Leight's PR agency) was kind enough to send out not one, but two of the new headsets for me to check out. These headsets were the Impact Sport's in Multicam and Multicam Black. The difference between the two, and the original Impact Sport for that matter, is purely cosmetic. Here are the tech specs:
- Built-in directional microphones amplify range commands and other ambient sounds to a safe 82dB, providing more natural listening and enhanced communication.
- Actively listens and automatically stops amplification when the ambient sound exceeds 82dB.
- Features low profile earcups for firearm stock clearance; adjustable headband for secure fit; compact folding design for convenient storage.
- Includes AUX input and 3.5mm cord to connect with your music device or radio scanner or another audio source.
- Includes 2 AAA batteries; automatic feature after 4 hours increases battery life; approximately 350 hours of battery life.
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): 22dB.
So if you were hoping for a new (internal) model of Impact Sports, this isn't it. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing! Honeywell (parent company to Howard Leight) put out a digital (versus analog) version called the Impact Sport Bolt. Despite boasting faster “attack time” (gap between sensing a noise greater than 82 dB and dampening the audio signal to the speakers), the Bolt model didn't impress me. Battery life was reduced, the noise quality sounded overly digitized, and the microphones seemed on the verge of causing feedback no matter the volume level. I went back to my 10-year-old set of analog Leights instead of sticking with the Bolt.
So now I'm looking at a couple of brand-new sets of the venerable Leights, with a cosmetic makeover. The internals looks similar to the gen 1 model, and with exception to the circuitry, the Bolt model.
The Impact Sport line has always been solid, which continues here. 22dB reduction isn't leading the pack, but the price is lower than just about any other set of electronic ear-pro as well. The single spin-knob on the left side of the set is more intuitive and more easily adjusted than any set I've tested. The knob is easy to feel and engage accurately even with thick gloves on, a big plus over push-button volume adjustments.
Let's not forget the 3.5 mm input jack. Plugging in your phone to cue up some Pantera while you're sending lead downrange is mighty nice. I have a couple Peltor ear-pro sets with Bluetooth, but that has proven to be both finicky and a big battery drain. I've also used the headphone jack in conjunction with civilian-band comms before while scouting out hunting spots before the season. While the Impact Sport isn't primarily a comms unit, it can be made to work.
By and large the most common use for Leights is as ear-protection while shooting. The Impact Sport does very well in this regard, with exceptions being few and small. The 22dB protection is sufficient in most cases, but every now and then I'm in the lane next to someone with an obnoxiously loud muzzle brake and I can start to feel the Leight's limitations. The electronics are excellent, with the two microphones providing good directional sound awareness. The circuitry shuts off quickly when an overload is detected, and eases back up to the set volume. The biggest consideration for a set of ear-pro used for shooting is whether or not the set prevents you from getting a good cheek weld. The Howard Leight Impact Sport has never given me any troubles in that regard, letting me snug up tight to the buttstock without breaking the ear seal and disrupting my hearing safety.
If I got to sit down with the engineers at Honeywell to talk about a true “Gen II” version of the Impact Sport (not the digital Bolt model), I'd want to talk potential improvements in two areas. First, the ear cups. The OEM ear cups are filled with such a light, airy foam that they can't be providing any protection against noise. Further, the exterior lining is stiff enough that sometimes the bottom of the ear cup lifts off my head, breaking the noise barrier. Aftermarket gel cups exist, and are a big improvement. Impact Sport Gen II could benefit from. The second possible improvement would be eliminating the dead space that exists inside the set. As you can see from the “internals” photo a ways up the page, I have one set filled with silicone caulking. The Leights come with some foam crammed into the Impact Sport's crevices, but there's still a lot of dead space. I think filling that dead space with sound absorbent material and replacing the foam ear cups with gel cups should easily improve the 22dB NRR the Gen I Leights are rated at.
If the above paragraph makes it seem like I dislike the Howard Leight Impact Sports, banish the thought. These are easily my favorite ear-pro, even above the rest of my varied collection, with models much more expensive than these. The Impact Sport headsets are still the best bang-for-your-buck electronic hearing protection on the market. Comfortable, effective and with a fantastic 350 hour life on 2 x AAA batteries, the Howard Leight Impact Sport headset is still well worth the money. The original Impact Sport runs $54, while the Multicam and Multicam Black run $70 each.
Stay tuned for a follow-up article where I'll detail my DIY approach to improving these headsets.
About Rex Nanorum
Rex Nanorum is an Alaskan Expatriate living in Oregon with his wife and kids. Growing up on commercial fishing vessels, he found his next adventure with the 2nd Bn, 75th Ranger Regt. After 5 tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, he adventured about the west coast becoming a commercial fisheries and salvage SCUBA diver, rated helicopter pilot instructor (CFII) and personal trainer, before becoming a gear reviewer and writer.”