Howard Leight Impact Sport Review and Analysis
The Howard Leight Impact Sport is a well known electronic hearing protection headset within the shooting world, popular primarily due to it's function/cost ratio. The headset is typically priced between $50 and $55. It is available in a variety of colors, including Green, Black, Purple, Teal (pictured here), Pink, and a hunter styled Camouflage.
Headset Features: Uses two AAA batteries, rated battery life of 350 hoursNRR of 22Two front facing microphones, one on each earcupVolume adjustment uses sliding scale rather than separate levelsBattery save feature, headset will turn off after 4 hoursDue to sliding scale adjustment which uses a rotating knob for On/Off and volume control, volume level cannot be saved at certain level for next useAdjustable for fit3.5mm audio In port on left (control side) earcup
The headset: This is the headset, this particular model being in the Teal color.
Left side earcup: Front (microphones) to the left. Here the combination power On/Off and volume control knob is located, along with the 3.5mm port.
Right side earcup: Front (microphones) to the right. Here the battery compartment is located under a sliding cover plate.
Here is the open battery compartment. The compartment is not sealed. The battery contacts are all stamped sheet metal.
Also seen here is one of the microphones. The mics are covered with an open cell foam windscreen.
Inside the headset: This is the inside of the control side earcup. The speaker and circuit board can be seen, along with some acoustic foam.
View with the circuit board moved. On this side of the board are the primary solder joints, which all look good, and more acoustic foam under the board.
Same view of the above circuit board but under UV light. This board is coated in conformal coating, conformal coating being a broad term referring to a family of electronics coatings.
Conformal coating protects electronics from water and dust damage. They typically feature a UV tracer which fluoresces under UV light for inspection purposes. As you can see the solder joints for the wires and much of the board components are coated, but there is an area with no coating and the coating job itself is somewhat lacking in quality.
Other side of the board, also coated. Again, flaws in the coating can be seen.
Pictured below to the left is one of the ear seals and the comfort foam layer within the headset. The ear seals snap into place and are replaceable.
The quality of the ear seals is adequate, not good but not bad either. They are standard open cell, fast rebound foam with a rubbery skin.
Comfort is adequate, though some users note having issues with achieving a good seal due to the ear seals shape. This is dependent largely on individual anatomy/head shape, though in my personal opinion the ear seal shape utilized on Howard Leight headsets is non-ideal.
Alternate view of the ear seal. The ear seals feature an o-ring to prevent acoustic leaks where the ear seal locks into the headset.
Use as shooting muffs: The headset largely performs as expected of a headset with a 22 NRR rating. 16" barreled 5.56 rifles, 12 gauge shotguns, 9mm handguns, and similar firearms are comfortable to fire in an open space with this headset. This headset may not be adequate however for indoor shooting or weapons with much louder report such as short barreled AR rifles.
These headsets in the past used clipping circuitry, where the headset would simply turn off the speakers when sound exceeded ~82 dB. It appears this circuitry has been switched to compression circuitry, where sound levels are simply "compressed" or lowered until harmful sound ceases rather than completely shutting off the speakers.
During firing and during a clap test where measured sound level exceeded 100 decibels the headset would only compress sound rather than clipping. This is a marked improvement over previous generation Impact Sports headsets.
Sound quality: The sound quality of the headset is above adequate, arguably good especially in relation to its price. Bassy sounds are handled fairly well, with no echo or muddy thud. There is no notable frequency bias.
There is a slight, persistent background hiss but this is only particularly noticeable at or near the highest volume level.
Handling of wind noise is surprisingly good, with little buffeting in mild wind even at the highest volume level. Sounds are still heard well over buffeting.
This headset does have a problem with RF (radio frequency) resistance. Its RF resistance is poor, with the headset capable of self interfering even when worn. This occurs primarily at high volume levels when an object, such as a hand, is brought near the mics. This can result in a high pitched whine sound, the sound generated when microphones experience interference.
Directional hearing is decent, but not as good as natural hearing. The headset however does allow for directional hearing of most sounds, particularly low volume constant noise like running water. Locational hearing is semi-adequate, discerning distance is not a strong point of this headset.
Overall the sound quality is good, especially considering the headsets price. It does seem as though it may be lacking somewhat in mid-range reproduction but overall I find little to complain about for the price of the headset.
Durability and environmental resistance: This headset is not totally waterproofed. While most of the circuit board components are coated the coating is not complete and the battery compartment is not sealed. A "tissue test" of the compartment, wherein tissue is placed into the battery compartment and water poured over the closed compartment ended with the tissue being wet, meaning water and possibly dust can get into the battery compartment.
Wire inlets from the 3.5mm port and the like are hot glue sealed, which means ingress of water/dust from these areas is prevented.
The earseals seem durable, there is nothing about them that stands out.
Overall the headsets construction is decent, damage from drops and rough handling should be largely cosmetic. The headband is metal, so it won't be damaged by stress or impact. Drop testing onto concrete did not noticeably damage the headset itself or the electronics.
A notable weak point however is where the ear seals seat to the "ear seal base", the portion that interfaces between the ear seal itself and the earcup. Here there are multiple tabs that are easily bent which results in visible strain whitening of the plastic. It is likely these can break given sufficient wear and they are critical to maintaining the fit of the ear seals to the headset.
It is also possible for the microphone windscreens to be subject to damage as they protrude from the headset and can easily be snagged on branches or the like. It appears they cannot be replaced, though it may be possible to fit in substitute covers made by the end user if need be.
Operation: Operation of the headset is simple. The controls consist entirely of a rotating knob. The knob is rotated backwards (away from the mics) to turn the headset On. It is rotated in the opposite direction to turn the headset Off. Between the On and Off positions is where the volume is adjusted.
There is a dead zone roughly a quarter turn past the On position in which the headset is on but no ambient sound can be heard. Past this dead zone the ambient sound turns on and the volume can be adjusted.
The headset features no audio tones or other operational guide.
Compatibility with consumer electronics: The headset features a 3.5mm In port which can be used to pipe in audio from a handheld radio or cellphone in combination with a 3.5mm male-to-male cable, such as the one the headset is packaged with.
Conclusion: The Howard Leight Impact Sport headset is a proven electronic headset and good for its price point. Its construction and sound quality, while not as good as premium headsets, are both on par and in some places above par for its price point.
If you are looking for a low budget electronic hearing protection headset for hunting, general shooting, or other activities where ambient hearing is desired but hearing protection is also needed and all on a low budget this headset is difficult to beat.