Learn the name Otto Engineering—and don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them before. They’ve been quietly designing and manufacturing control switches for military jets and other really expensive and important equipment for nearly 60 years. For the past quarter century, they’ve also been making audio accessories for demanding applications – think NASA, the military, and those little earbuds that Secret Service agents and spies wear in the movies—but real life.
Now, for the civilian market, they make what I can easily call the best and most comfortable electronic in-ear hearing protection I’ve ever used.
The brainchild of the late engineer Jack Roeser, Otto has over 450 employees in Carpentersville, Illinois and has been awarded hundreds of government defense contracts. The company is divided into two division, OTTO Controls, which makes the switches, and OTTO Communications.
With sales previously limited to the government and alphabet organizations, Otto is now marketing its products directly to civilian consumers in the shooting and hunting world.
Their signature product in that arena is the only product currently in the Personal Protection Equipment line, the NoizeBarrier Micro, which is what I’ve been testing for the past couple months.
I’ve used some expensive ear pro in the past few years. Over-the-ear or earmuff style ear pro often offer the most protection and the electronic versions have a lot of battery life, as they’re big enough to house AAA or AA batteries. But they have drawbacks.
They can grip your head and give some people a headache after wearing them too long, the bigger the cans, the more they interfere with shouldering a stock and getting a good cheek weld on a long gun, and in all but the coldest weather, they get hot. There’s just no way around that. Plus, if you like to wear a hat at the range, you can take it off or adjust it without removing your ear pro or doing some fancy swiveling.
In-ear earbud style electronic hearing protection offers more than enough protection for almost all shooting scenarios while allowing you to hear normal sounds with clarity while blocking out the damaging high-decibel shocks of gun shots.
But, they also have drawbacks. Because of their small size and tiny microphones, the sound quality in general can be hit or miss. A lot of times the ambient sounds you get through them is flat, all magnified to the same level and sometimes there can be distortion. Plus, every time there is a noise loud enough to trip the software, all noise is blocked out for a second or two, leaving blank spots. This might not sound like a big deal, but it can make instructions difficult to understand at a range with rounds going off all around you.
Then there’s battery life. With their size, they often rely on internal rechargeable batteries, hearing aid batteries, and other small button batteries. These often don’t last long and are tough to change in the field, though it’s easy to carry spares because they’re so small. And you’ll need them.
How the NoizeBarrier Micros are Different
The Otto NoizeBarriers solve a lot of these problems in a simple and straightforward way. The NoizeBarrier Micros use an internal, rechargeable battery that has some serious longevity. They last for up to 16 hours of continuous use between charges. That’s a lot, but in testing them, I think this estimate might be low or based on continuous use at the highest amplification setting. But more on that later.
And the charger is the rugged protective case that the NoizeBarrier Micros come with—just put them away and they’re recharging. The case itself can be charged with any USB cable, so you can plug it into a phone charger in a wall socket or even grab some juice off a portable charger or backup battery in the field if you have to—but with battery life like that, and the case providing over two dozen charges, those occasions will be rare, even for heavy users like waterfowlers or competition shooters.
I’ve talked to a few people using the Noizebarriers longer than I have, and they all say the same thing, they haven’t recharged their cases or “I can’t get it to go below 30 percent.”
As you can tell from the photos, they’re also quite small, and ruggedly built. They offer up to 40 dB of impulse noise protection and up to 15 dB of adaptive noise attenuation and their hearing enhancement mode amplifies soft sounds up 5x—great for still hunters. The electronics allow for natural hearing of safe sounds through the company’s Accu-Technology HD sound quality.
Buttons and Features
The controls are simple with a one-button touch pad that cycles through two modes of operation—regular and hearing enhancement mode. The large buttons, which take up most of the face of the buds, are easy to activate, even with gloved hands and there aren’t a million modes to cycle through every time you turn them on. There are just three, off, on, and enhanced.
The buds, which are waterproof, also come with both flange tips and foam tips, for whichever the user prefers, and for when they get worn out or nasty, replacement packs of 10 of either type are available from the Otto website.
The case/charger is IP67 water resistant and will provide up to 20 charges for the earbuds before needed to be recharged itself. That’s 320 hours of use—or 13 days and change.
The charger case also features and LCD panel indicating the charge status of the case and the earbuds. Actually, it gives you three numbers: the charge status of the case and the amount of power left in each earbud independently.
With all those features, the price is extremely competitive. Right now they’re selling on Otto’s website for $389, which is a bargain considering there are similar products on the market selling in the $1,000 range.
I’ve been using a pair of NoizeBarrier Micros for several weeks now, at both outdoor and indoor shooting environments. I’m usually tentative about using just one type of hearing protection at indoor ranges, usually opting for foam earplugs and muffs over that. But with everyone on the line shooting handguns, the NoizeBarriers were perfectly adequate because the foam tips form an excellent seal—and yeah, I vastly prefer the foam tips to the flanges.
For outdoor range sessions, they proved to be perfectly comfortable and utterly unobtrusive. They didn’t make my ears ache in the cold after several hours and they were easy and comfortable to wear even under a tight watch cap. That’s a big test for me. During normal range sessions of two or three hours, the power level never got below 90 percent.
Then for the real test. I wore them through the entirety of Industry Day at the Range the day before SHOT Show. That’s a long range day, usually lasting about nine hours for me.
At noon, they were at 70 percent. I charged them back to 100 in the time that it took for me to eat. When I finally got on the bus at about 4:30, they were at 90 percent. That means after near constant use from 7:40 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.—minus 40 minutes for lunch— they only lost 40 percent. That’s impressive and about as long as any hunting session is apt to last. That will be their next test: wearing them on a spring turkey hunt, but they’ve already earned my confidence.
The NoizeBarrier Micro earbuds are feature rich and rugged hearing protection while at the same time being simple to use with battery life and a charging case that ensures they will be ready to turn on when you’re ready to shoot, and keep going for as long as you want to shoot—all in an affordable package backed by a one-year guarantee.