The Sound of Silence

by David Barnett, P.E.

Sound seems like an odd topic to cover in a blog dedicated to tactical lighting. Nonetheless, sound, or the lack thereof, is an important factor in choosing the best flashlight or any other tactical tool. Tactical missions, by their very nature, often demand covert operation. Escape/evasion scenarios are obvious examples where one must work without generating excess sound. Noise created by any means can jeopardize stealth and put such undertakings at risk. It is important therefore that all equipment function silently.

Most manufacturers of tactical equipment recognize this need and make efforts to minimize sound levels of their products. Unfortunately, such considerations are largely ignored by makers of tactical flashlights today. Many of the most popular flashlights on the market have switches that make relatively loud clicks when depressed (hence the common name “click switch”). While Elzetta has adopted the common terminology, we have designed our “Click” switches to operate nearly silently. This allows users to operate Elzetta Modular Flashlights without hearing their activation. Some have posited that loud switches are actually beneficial in providing audible feedback that the switch has latched. The problem with this idea is that not only must tactical flashlights be properly designed for extremely quiet missions, they must also function equally well in extraordinarily loud environments. Relying on the audible feedback from a small switch will be futile in the midst of gunfire and chaos. True reliable feedback must come from good tactile feel, not that which is heard by the ear.

Another source of sound from LED flashlights originates in the circuit boards. While such sound is generally not as loud as a clunky switch, it is often constant when the flashlight is operating. Electrical noise is usually a constant annoying tone. It may be soft enough to require holding the device near one’s ear to hear it. Just because the sound is small, however, does not mean that it is a small problem. Noise emitted by electrical devices generally indicates poor system design and/or poor quality components. When evaluating an LED flashlight, if any discernable noise can be heard it is advisable to select another model.

Elite military units and Special Forces teams are often referred to as “Quiet Professionals”. Such a title should not be ruined by noisy gear. Quality tactical flashlights should operate as quietly as the professionals who use them. Light is to be seen, not heard.