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Silencer Metering Range Day in Georgia

On a waytoofrickinghot Georgia range last weekend, a group of science-minded individuals crowded around an excessive array of expensive sound metering gear. Datahounds with no association to commerce in silencers: NFA enthusiasts with nothing at all to sell you.

Years ago, these chaps decided they were tired of seeing marketing fluff, junk science, and outright lies used to provide many of the dB numbers that are used to move cans off gunshop shelves. Since then, they’ve busied themselves compiling a free database of sound metering results hosted at NFATalk.org made up of whatever silencers, ammo, and host firearms the public provides. Crowdsourced cans mean no “ringers” from manufacturers. You wind up with everything from the newest items to the makers of the old, the obscure, or the little-known brands. It’s basically a for-the-people-by-the-people passion project for data availability and accuracy in the can world.

On September 7th, at Red Hill Range in Martin, Georgia, these guys put on an open-to-all-comers day to meter whatever anyone brought with them.

Got a Form 1 “roll-your-own” can made from crappy wish.com components and a Maglight tube that you think sounds just as good as $1000 name-brand ones because “it doesn’t ring my ears and seems about the same as my buddy’s Surefire?” Step up to the mic and prove it, pal.

Got a silencer from the dark ages before makers even put dB numbers out there? Get that old Ciener can up on the shooting platform and see how it stacks up to anything from a Daniel Defense to a DeLise.

The day’s session even included metering… meters. There were no less than 11 different sound level meters running throughout the day. New digital systems, ancient analog measuring devices, tons of variants of mics, tangles of cables, and even free iPhone sound level apps were thrown up against the banks of calibrated and certified systems to be compared and contrasted for the public’s betterment.*

GEAR SNIFFING

When a dB reading claim is tossed in a forum post, the inevitable “What meter did you use?” grumbles follow. Any digital system short of a LAN-XI sparks an argument. The majority of modern meters – whether truly good or bad – get the stinkeye. But the near-antique Brüel & Kjær 2209 always seems to just stroll on by with universal approval and drama-free invisibility. No one really ever calls BS on those 1970’s avocado-green boxes with their swinging-needle readout, as long as they’re calibrated and have their bona fides in check.

So the NFATalk guys have a plethora of properly calibrated 2209s, set up in multiple positions to give the people readings from wherever they deem is the most important to them: The traditional “industry standard” 1 meter position 90 degrees from the muzzle, the “at ear, Right” and “at ear, Left” positions. Digital systems might log all the readouts from those multiple positions easily. But here on the sweaty Red Hill Range, every time the hammer falls, there’s a lot of old-school speed scribbling to record all the data. Either way though, the numbers produced at the range are legit. They’ll all be double-checked, accurately collated, computed, and eventually posted online in spreadsheet format. Heck, there might even be accompanying histograms, box plots of the means, medians, and modes, and other nerd formatting for the public to enjoy.

A battery of three 1980s vintage Larson Davis 800B meters (the “other” field-portable system well known in the silencer world) ran in tandem with the four 2209’s, and the often maligned Larson Davis LXT QPR digital meter was offered up to compare and contrast. And sheerly for the hell of it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-written NIOSH Sound Level iPhone app was thrown in the mix just to make the party even weirder.

Plunky, NFATalk’s admin, with a Ruger American in .22LR capped with an old AAC Pilot.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS ANYWAY?

Not to say these data hounds are pure science geeks, but… there are tendencies there for sure. Bill Arevalo is positively giddy to have so many meters collecting data at once. His significant other, Rebekah, is the scribe writing down all the dB results. How does a couple pick up a hobby like this? Arevalo told us he started providing free sound measurement because

“I couldn’t stand people treating dB reduction data like it was a rare lost language only certain elites could speak… I wanted people to have the truth. Years ago, anyone could find out what (a silencer) weighed, how long it was, what the warranty was, what barrel restrictions it had. But when it came to net sound reduction, that info came only from the seller and no one else. I have a science background, degrees in Medical Laboratory Technology and Technical Management, and worked with crazy-expensive laboratory equipment for a living, so I was like ‘how hard can these meters be?”

Therefore, Arevalo started collecting B&K 2209s like some people collect Glocks: They’re all the same, but you can still never have too many.

Scott “Plunky” Harris, the administrator of NFATalk, started the forum in 2009. He wanted a place to make this type of data available to the people, he said, because

“there needed to be an advertisement-free, neutral platform for silencer testing. Bill and myself provided that. We had decided that it was not to be owned or moderated by anyone in the industry, and be advertisement free. That way there would be no implied bias. The endeavor is all funded direct out of our pocket. It is our hobby and our passion.”

In his day job, Plunky is a Biologist, where participating in scientific research studies allowed him to hone his skills in working with data sets. “Statistical analysis for me was easy, as was data management.”

“One of our main goals was to allow folks to download the entire data set for free, as well as have the community at large attend and participate in our testing sessions. At that time, third party independent performance data on silencers was quite lacking, and you had to pay to see it, and could not see the complete data set. We wanted to change that.”

“We have had a tremendous following, and support in the form of people showing up at our test sessions with all kinds of amazing things to test. Manufacturers have even showed up to our events, and even let us test their products on more than one occasion. We’ve had fantastic support from everyone. The community is what made us what we are.”

Speaking of manufacturers, the Red Hill Range shoot has seen national and local makers show up to let people go hands-on. Seeing as you’re right next to impartial sound meters, it is an undeniably ballsy move that says you believe in your products.

Dead Air, CGS Group, Volunteer Aerospace, KG Made Suppressors, and others have made the trip to Red Hill, handing their wares to attendees for one of the most honest test drives they’ll ever get. Kyle Grob, proprietor of KG Made, made the discreetly generous contribution of paying everyone’s range fees (Thanks, Kyle!) for the event so more people could get ears on everything. His own silencers were mostly tucked away at the far end of the range and not heavily promoted. “I don’t do this to push my own products – I do it so the people can understand what suppressors are capable of, have fun shooting all kinds and brands, and get some truth out there. That’s exactly what this shoot’s about.”

Kyle of KG Made with the Ticho integrally suppressed CZ 455 in a Masterpiece chassis.

WHAT KIND OF STUFF SHOWS UP AT THIS PARTY AND WHY

It would be reason enough to show up on such an ungodly-hot day just to see a historically-accurate Form 1 Welrod integrally suppressed pistol (complete with neoprene wipe baffles) going head-to-head with an AAC TiRant. But many attendees had their own motivations for making the trek to Georgia from as far as the mountain states.

One attendee was most interested in testing different loadings through the same Dead Air Wolverine PBS-1 AK47 silencer to see the performance difference. “I wanted to find out the difference between Brown Bear, subsonic, standard loads, and Wolf ammo.” (Those results will be downloadable along with all the other data collected.)

Another participant brought a silencer to check up on a manufacturer. “I bought a SIG 5.56mm can based a lot on what their website said it weighed. When my dealer got it, we discovered it didn’t weigh anything near what their advertising copy says. I was concerned their dB claims might be inaccurate too.” (We checked: the brand-new can did weigh ounces more than advertised.) Thankfully, a local attendee stepped up to the plate, bringing some SIG 5.56mm and 7.62mm silencers. He was mostly there to see how a Bootleg adjustable bolt would change sound performance in its various settings. Unbiased decibel readings were obtained.

A SIG 5.56mm silencer with the range all to itself

Unusual stuff always comes out of the gun safes at NFATalk events – Dale Wilson, a gentleman with an obvious affinity for suppressed lever guns, drove down from South Carolina with a vintage Marlin 1894C in .357 Magnum with a Liberty Suppressors Mystic mounted to it.

This is just one of his miscellany of Marlins with cans collection: Everything in the photo below, from 45-70 to .22LR, got the bug to be suppressed. Cowboy action shooting, indeed!

Spotting 5.56mm silencers on a range like this may be a dime a dozen. But you show up with that aforementioned homemade Welrod, like Stan here did, you’re bound to see a line of folks vying to mooch a shot or two from the British WWII resistance-fighter weapon. Often-heard comment: “It’s even quieter than the myths”. The champagne-cork-like plunk of the round ejecting from the still-pressurized breech being tugged open made grown men giggle.

However, keeping with NFATalk’s truth-for-the-people efforts, over the course of the day the 73dB claims found in the Welrod’s Wikipedia entry were invalidated. (Science and sound meters aren’t always kind to folktales.)

The annual Red Hill Range shoot is just one of the metering sessions the lads put on that are open to the public. They just did an Indiana session last month. Arevalo mentioned

“Every year on NFATalk we post the available dates that we are willing to work with anyone to meet up and host a silencer metering event. We ask that you have a place we can shoot, provide any weapons and ammo you want to test, and allow NFATalk members to meet up as well. It can be a private individual’s property, a manufacturer’s range, or a public place to shoot. We did our first metering session with Liberty Suppressors in Georgia and the last few years with KG Made Suppressors hosting the event at Red Hill Range. I started this in Georgia and it still seems to be the most popular place I return to!”


*This isn’t a scholarly article on sound measurement. Interested in data? Go check out the test protocols, science-nerd stuff, as well as the dB results at NFATalk.org at your leisure.


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