Every year, the best new pilot headsets are reviewed for real improvements on those that are already established as firm favourites among pilots. Some are indeed better, while others don’t guite make the grade.
A high-quality aviation headset is an essential tool for pilots, providing critical communications capability, noise attenuation, and comfort during long flights. As technology advancements allow headsets to get lighter, add impressive features, and implement better noise reduction, new aviation headsets are a constant area of interest. This comprehensive guide will explore some of today’s top headsets and the cutting-edge benefits they offer.
Key Aviation Headset Technologies
Several key technologies differentiate the performance and capabilities of quality aviation headsets. Understanding these features helps pilots select the right headset for their needs and budget.
Active Noise Reduction (ANR)
Active noise reduction (ANR), also called active noise cancellation, uses electronic technology to remove ambient noise before it reaches the ear. Miniature microphones built into the ear cups detect surrounding sound waves entering the headset. The headphones then generate inverse sound waves that cancel out and mute that noise.
ANR requires power, generally from onboard batteries or the aircraft, to generate the counter frequencies. While ANR adds cost, weight, and power demands compared to passive systems, it provides the highest level of in-flight noise reduction. This makes communication easier and decreases fatigue.
Passive Noise Reduction (PNR)
Passive noise reduction relies on the physical design and materials of a headset to block sound waves from entering the ear cups. Dense, sound-absorbing ear cup padding muffles noise. Tight ear seals prevent sound leakage around the cups. Passive systems are effective for damping mid and high frequency noise.
Passive headsets are lighter and less expensive than ANR models. They don’t require batteries or aircraft power. However, they are not as effective at removing the low frequency noises that dominate aircraft cabins. Passive reduction alone may not provide enough damping on loud piston singles.
Headset With Bluetooth Connectivity
Many modern aviation headsets incorporate Bluetooth to wirelessly interface with cell phones, tablets, and other smart devices. This allows pilots to make calls, stream music or podcasts, and integrate helpful apps during flight.
Bluetooth headsets connect into the aircraft audio panel to share incoming and outgoing transmissions with passengers. The wireless functionality reduces cord clutter in the cockpit. Bluetooth is a highly desired feature for aviation headsets.
Some innovative headsets feature modular designs that separate the noise-reducing ear domes from the electronics. This allows the domes to remain stable for years while interchangeable plug-in electronic modules can be updated as technology improves.
Upgrading just the electronics instead of the whole headset saves money. Modularity extends the headset’s useful life at a lower long-term cost. As headsets get more advanced, modular upgradeability will likely become standard.
How To Choose The Best Aviation Headset
Selecting the right aviation headset from the many models available can be an overwhelming decision. Here are top considerations when choosing the best headset for your needs:
- Passive or Active Noise Reduction? Passive headsets cost less but block less cockpit noise. ANR models provide superior noise dampening but add cost and battery requirements. Evaluate noise levels in the planes you fly most when deciding.
- Wired or Wireless? Wireless Bluetooth headsets provide outstanding convenience but limit usage to around 25 hours between charges. Wired headsets have lower cost and no battery constraints.
- Circumaural or In-Ear Design? Traditional over-the-ear cup designs shut out sound completely but can get hot. In-ear inserts are extremely portable but feel different. Try both to determine your preference.
- Mic Positioning and Quality. Ensure the microphone boom provides optimal positioning in front of your mouth. Verify it delivers clear transmissions without picking up breathing noise. Microphone quality is vital.
- Comfort. Look for thick padding, adjustable pivots and headbands, and light overall weight. Uncomfortable headsets are likely to be left behind rather than used.
- Noise-Isolating Design. Evaluate passive padding depth, ear seal tightness, and electronic noise filtering to find optimal noise reduction. The headset must make communication possible.
- Reputation and Reviews. Research models of interest online and ask fellow pilots about their real-world experience using the headset. User reviews often provide helpful insights.
Being deliberate in identifying the noise reduction, features, and design factors you need most will help narrow the choices. Prioritize headset traits that are most meaningful to your budget and flying needs.
Bose A20 Aviation Headset – A Private Pilot Favourite
The Bose A20 has been the headset of choice for many professional and commercial pilots for years, and is increasingly popular with general aviation pilots as well. It offers an unequaled combination of comfortable fit, noise reduction, and audio clarity.
This lightweight headset weighs just 12 ounces, with a low-profile headband designed to minimize hat interference. The comfortable ear cushions and headband reduce pressure points that cause fatigue over long flights.
The A20 achieves an impressive 30% greater noise reduction than conventional headsets, making the cockpit a calmer environment. The advanced noise cancelling technology makes voices sound clearer and more natural.
Bluetooth and aux input connectivity allow interfacing with phones and tablets for communications or music. The headset dual volume control lets pilots set optimal levels for the intercom and aux device separately. Intuitive controls are concentrated in the headset’s right ear cup for ease of access.
The A20 integrates Bose’s renowned microphone technology to ensure crystal-clear, natural voice transmission even in loud single-engine planes. The mic boom optimally positions the mic near the mouth regardless of whether it’s worn on the left or right. If the mic fails, the headset automatically defaults to the boomless mic in the ear cup.
With superb noise cancellation and all-day comfort, it’s easy to see why the A20 remains the headset of choice for many discerning pilots and professional aviators.
Lightspeed Tango Wireless Aviation Headset
For pilots who want the freedom of Bluetooth connectivity without any connecting wires, the Lightspeed Tango is an excellent aviation headset option. As the world’s first wireless ANR aviation headset, it breaks the tether to the aircraft audio panel.
The Lightspeed Tango operates wirelessly for up to 25 hours on a single charge of its lithium battery pack. At just 15 ounces, it weighs about the same as comparable premium wired aviation headsets.
The headset’s earcups suspend the battery pack and Bluetooth module off the side of the head for a comfortable, ergonomic fit. The mic boom is highly adjustable for optimal positioning. The Tango ships ready to integrate with a variety of optional helicopter helmets as well.
Integrated Bluetooth interfaces with phones and tablets for wireless music, flight tracking apps, weather info, and more. Stereo audio makes listening to music or podcasts during cruise flight more immersive. Lightspeed’s CellAll tech actively monitors the Bluetooth connection to prevent any unwanted in-flight signal interference.
The Tango allows shared intercom connections, so the instructor and student can both experience wireless freedom. Independent volume control through the Lightspeed app enables custom audio mix management. Pilots love the convenience of going cordless while maintaining outstanding noise reduction and communications.
David Clark DC PRO-X Aviation Headset
The David Clark Company is synonymous with aviation headsets, having manufactured them since the 1950s. The DC PRO-X exemplifies their continued tradition of innovation. It brings new levels of balance and stability to noise-attenuating aviation headsets.
Key innovations include Pro-Balanced Technology that centers the headset’s mass directly over the user’s head. This creates a more natural balance when turning the head to scan for traffic. The DC PRO-X only weighs about 15 ounces, making it one of the lightest ANR headsets on the market.
The low-profile design works seamlessly with glasses and sunglasses worn in the cockpit. Premium materials provide all-day comfort even on marathon cross-country flights.
In addition to impressive active noise reduction, the DC PRO-X incorporates patented spatial audio processing. This provides a very natural listening experience during radio communications and while listening to music. Customizable audio prioritization ensures pilots hear what’s most important.
The rotating mic boom ensures precise, differentiated audio for crisp communications. Controls are purposefully located for intuitive access to volume, squelch, and mic mute. With long-lasting comfort and usability, the Pro-X exemplifies David Clark’s engineering heritage.
Passive Noise Reduction Headsets
While ANR models from brands like Bose and Lightspeed dominate the top aviation headset conversations, high-quality passive noise reduction headsets absolutely have their place in the cockpit. They provide an economical option when cost is a major factor.
The David Clark H10-13.4 is arguably the best known and most widely used passive aviation headset. Weighing just 9 ounces, the H10-13.4 has been providing clear communication and cockpit noise attenuation for student pilots and budget-minded aviators for decades.
The durability and simplicity that make the H10-13.4 popular among flight schools and weekend pilots come at a fraction of the price of luxury ANR headsets. It excels at damping down the mid and high frequency engine and wind noises that cause fatigue over long flights.
While the H10-13.4 lacks more advanced features like Bluetooth and active noise cancellation, it delivers excellent functionality for the money. In the often harsh training environment, its simplicity also makes it less prone to damage if dropped or abused. The H10-13.4 remains a perfectly serviceable aviation headset for cost-conscious GA pilots.
Innovative Aviation Headset Technologies
Modular Upgradable Headsets
Newaviator’s S1 Bluetooth headset brings modularity and easy upgradability to ANR aviation headsets. It consists of noise-isolating inner ear domes attached to the familiar exterior ear cups and headband. This makes it easy to upgrade the interior electronics module as technology improves.
The Bluetooth connection links with iOS and Android devices for wireless calls, audio, and aircraft system control apps. Side tone lets pilots hear their own mic signal to avoid shouting. An acoustic mesh windscreen reduces noise distortion from the mic.
While cutting-edge on the inside, the S1 retains a traditional look and feel. With ongoing tech improvements, this modular approach prevents headset obsolescence. Newaviator strives to merge innovation with time-tested aviation ergonomics.
Custom-Molded Ear Cups
Given the diversity of aviation head shapes and sizes, companies like UFlyMike and Quiet Technologies offer customized fit through 3D-scanned ear mappings. This ensures the headset contours precisely to the wearer’s unique head and ear anatomy. The result is glove-like comfort that also optimizes noise attenuation.
UFlyMike uses a six-axis adjustable system to let pilots refine the fit. Quiet Technologies utilizes a heat-activated foam liner that molds to match the user’s head and ear shape. While more costly than off-the-shelf, custom systems provide the ultimate in comfort and acoustic isolation for pilots who want a tailored experience.
In-Ear Headset Design
The Kore Aviation KA-1 in-ear headset offers a radically different approach focused on portability and hearing protection. This battery-powered ANR headset weighs less than one ounce. The earpieces slide into the ear canal to create a tight acoustic seal using different sized included tips.
External microphones combined with noise-cancelling electronics dramatically reduce ambient noise. Physical buttons allow control of volume balance, music streaming, and mic muting. The KA-1’s tiny package makes it easy to carry in a flight bag as a backup.
While the sensation of in-ear headsets isn’t for everyone, it provides immersive communications and audio with hearing protection similar to high-quality earmuffs. As in-ear designs evolve, they offer an intriguing lightweight alternative.
What To Look For When Buying an Aviation Headset
With so many aviation headset makes and models available, it can be challenging to select the right one. Here are some key factors pilots should consider when choosing a headset:
- Noise reduction. Determine how much active and/or passive noise cancellation is right for your budget and aircraft noise level. ANR significantly reduces fatigue.
- Comfort. Look for generous, memory foam ear seals and adjustable headbands that accommodate eyeglasses. Custom-fitted models provide the ultimate comfort.
- Compatibility. Ensure the headset plugs are compatible with your aircraft’s audio panel. Look for Bluetooth if desired.
- Durability. Check warranties and manufacturing quality. Sturdy yet lightweight materials provide longevity.
- Microphone quality. The mic should provide clear, natural voice tone without clipping. Look for noise-cancelling and windscreens.
- Fit and finish. Upgrade options like leatherette pads tend to resist cracking over time compared to vinyl.
- Customer reviews. Learn from fellow pilots who have first-hand experience with the headsets you’re considering.
Finding the optimal balance of performance, features, and budget will lead you to the right aviation headset. Invest wisely in a quality headset you’ll enjoy for years of comfortable flying.
Properly Caring For Your Aviation Headset
Investing in a quality aviation headset represents a significant expense for most pilots. Proper maintenance and care will keep it performing optimally for years of service. Here are some tips for keeping your headset in great condition:
Use the protective carrying case when not in use. Cases protect the ear seals, boom mic, and control buttons from damage. Storing in a case also prevents the buildup of grime in crevices.
Wipe down the ear seals and head pads periodically with a gentle cleaner to prevent bacteria buildup from sweat and skin oils. Take care not to use harsh chemicals that could degrade the padding.
Inspect the mic windscreen regularly and replace it if deteriorated. A damaged cover reduces clarity by letting in excessive wind noise.
Keep the headset away from extreme heat like vent air vents that could damage the wiring or ear seals. Avoid leaving headsets in a hot airplane or car.
When connecting to or disconnecting from the aircraft audio panel, grasp the plug carefully rather than yanking on the cord. Pulling on wires can loosen internal connections.
Replace AAA batteries regularly in ANR headsets to maintain full noise cancelling performance. Use only high quality alkaline batteries from a fresh pack.
Consider having the headset professionally overhauled every 4-5 years or 500 hours to refresh the ear seals, mic cover, and windscreen. This keeps legacy headsets performing like new.
With reasonable care and maintenance, a high-quality aviation headset will deliver many years of reliable performance. Protect your investment by keeping it clean, inspected, and stored properly when not being used during flight.
The Future of Aviation Headsets
Aviation headsets have come a long way from the rudimentary designs used by early pilots. Noise-cancelling technologies, wireless connectivity, and improved comfort provide significant benefits over those original models. Innovations like in-ear designs and upgradeable modular electronics will continue advancing headset capabilities.
Additive manufacturing techniques are allowing companies to produce headsets customized to a pilot’s exact ear and head anatomy at reasonable costs. This optimizes the balance of noise isolation, fit, and comfort for each user.
Look for more aviation headsets to integrate biometric sensors that detect heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, and other health indicators. They will interface via Bluetooth to display this data on a tablet or via headset-mounted displays.
Voice-controlled systems will enable more intuitive headset operation for tasks like radio tuning, music selection, and accessing weather/traffic updates just by speaking. As headsets get smarter, they will transform into true pilot assistance systems.
The freedom of flight begins with the right headset. As technology expands what’s possible, aviation headsets will keep improving every pilot’s experience. Advanced engineering ensures we have the essential tools to communicate and enjoy the magic of aviating safely. Headsets enable the human connection to flight.