The headset is one of the most important accessories and tools a pilot has in the cockpit. Hundreds of different headsets are on the market today, but which one should you get? How much should you spend and what about ANR and PNR? Finding the right headset can be confusing, especially when you see how many different brands are out there, promoting their newest models with all the bells and whistles. Let us help you make a well thought-out decision!
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An aviation headset is easily one of the most important purchases you make as a pilot, apart from an aircraft of course. Your headset will be your tool to communicate with others inside and outside of the aircraft. Not only will it help you communicate, it will also play an even bigger role: protecting your hearing.
Our human hearing system is sensitive to sound frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz and amplifies the sound between 2,000 and 5,000 Hz, since that's where our human voice is situated. While sound frequencies are measured in hertz (Hz), the volume or intensity of sound is expressed in decibels (dB). A quiet room is around 40dB and a normal conversation around 50-80dB. Our hearing is sensitive to these so-called sound pressure levels (SPL), but it's also very vulnerable to sounds with higher intensity like a rock concert or airplane engines (120-130dB). When you are exposed to sounds of 90dB and more, you risk damaging your inner ear, resulting in temporary or worse, permanent hearing loss.
Pilots are exposed to high volumes, and usually in low frequencies, for a long period at a time. Hearing loss can and will occur if you're not protecting your ears properly. The good news is, you can protect them. The key to this is having a headset that does a good job handling and reducing this noise.
That's why having a decent aviation headset is crucial, not only for safety when flying but also for your own ears. Since hearing loss is irreversible, prevention is always better than cure.
First of all, it's important to distinguish a few different types of headsets. The main differences are the noise reduction technology the headset uses and the general look of the headsets.
In-ear vs on-ear
Just like normal headphones people use in their everyday life, aviation headsets come in two main categories. On one hand, you have the on-ear headsets, these are the most commonly used ones. On-ear headsets also offer the biggest choice of brands and models on the market. Well-known examples of on-ear headset brands are David Clark, Bose, Sennheiser and Lightspeed.
The David Clark H10-13.4 on-ear aviation headset
The second category is in-ear headsets. These headsets use little speaker plugs that are put inside your ear, just like the headphones of your smartphone. These headsets are less common, but offer the great advantage that they are usually more comfortable and weigh a lot less (and don't cause bad hair days). However, the way they feel and sit on your head mostly depends on your ears. While on-ear headsets fit almost everyone, in-ear headsets can feel different from person to person. Good examples of in-ear headsets are the Faro Air and Clarity Aloft headsets (more information about headsets those below).
PNR vs ANR & DNR
The second category of headsets is based on their ability to reduce or cancel noise and the noise reduction technology they use. We'll discuss passive noise reduction (PNR), active noise reduction (ANR) and dynamic noise reduction (DNR) headsets.
Passive noise reduction (PNR)
Passive noise reduction headsets are usually the least expensive ones. They have noise suppressing foam that fills the earcup cavity and passively reduces the noise by sealing off sounds that come from outside the headset. For proper noise reduction, PNR headsets should fit firmly around the side of your head.
PNR headsets can range from $60 to $600.
Active noise reduction (ANR) and Dynamic noise reduction (DNR)
ANR headsets actively reduce and cancel the noise by using electronics inside the headset to remove or suppress unwanted aircraft noise. These headsets are usually battery-powered and use a filter to separate the wanted signal from the unwanted signals, usually below 300Hz. The separated noise is inverted and mixed with the original signal, which results in the noise and inverted noise canceling each other. ANR headsets use a little microphone inside the headset to 'read' incoming noise and generate the anti-noise signal.
Active noise reduction headsets can usually obtain a noise reduction of 10-20dB, which means at 20dB, the noise is only 1/100th of the original level. Since you don't want to block wanted signals, like alerts or a sputtering engine, ANR headsets only block frequencies below 300Hz. ANR headsets are in most cases more expensive than their passive noise reduction counterparts.
There is also another kind of active noise canceling headsets, the dynamic noise reduction (DNR) headsets. These are more expensive then ANR headsets, but are lighter and provide an extra level of noise canceling by using digital electronic techniques to remove noise components from the incoming headphone signal. PNR headsets achieve this by digitizing signals in a series of numerical values, which are then processed to look for repetitive noise signals and remove noise components.
DNR headsets suppress noise by 15-25dB and noise signals of up to 3,500Hz can be detected and canceled. They can range in price from $250 up to $1500.
It's not only important to look at the types of headphones and their ability to cancel incoming noise, we'll also need to take into account the outgoing sounds from the microphone.
If the microphone of your headset does not have any suppression against noise pick-up, this noise can enter the audio system of the intercom in your airplane, or be transmitted over the radio to other aircraft and ATC, making your calls a lot less clear and understandable. You might have noticed a lot of microphones have a mic muff, or windscreen, to offer some suppression of cabin noise, but by itself, this is not enough to prevent all unwanted noise entering your mic.
Like the ear muffs, microphones need a quality noise suppressing foam muff. In addition to this, a 'jacket' over the foam will increase its effectiveness. Always make sure to pay attention to the microphone when purchasing a headset.
When purchasing a headset, there are a few other things to consider than just the way they reduce noise.
The first factor to consider is how comfortable the headset is. You will be wearing it for hours at a time, make sure they properly fit and feel comfortable. Ear cushions and the headband will have a big impact on the comfort, to make sure to try some different models and brands. Some headsets have the bad characteristic of starting to squeeze your head after wearing them for a while. Be sure to wear the headset for at least 10 minutes to really feel how they sit.
A common option for modern headsets is Bluetooth capability. Lots of devices, like GPS systems and smartphones, can be connected to headphones via Bluetooth, eliminating the need for extra cables in the cockpit. Having Bluetooth functionality on your headset can be a big advantage and a good reason to pay a little extra.
The Bose A20 ANR headsets can be purchased with Bluetooth capability
We've already discussed the different types of noise reduction of headsets. Deciding whether to buy a PNR or ANR headset depends on a few different factors.
First of all, set a budget for yourself and buy accordingly. ANR headsets can cost significantly more than PNR, but if you have the budget for it, ANR could be the way to go.
Secondly, you'll need to think about how often you will use your headset. Are you going to use it only a few times a month, or will you be flying with it daily for hours at a time? If you're going to use your headset daily, you might find ANR headsets a better option since they will significantly reduce the noise you are exposed to.
Cable and plugs
Depending on the type of aircraft you're going to fly, another type of headset plugs are required. Helicopters, for example, use other connectors than fixed-wing GA (general aviation) airplanes, and manufacturer Airbus uses another connector, XLR, which is also used in professional audio recording.
Always make sure to check which connectors and cables you'll need and buy the correct one.
The weight of your headset can be another factor to take into account. PNR headsets are less expensive, but they are usually also heavier since the earcups contain noise reducing foam. Again, make sure to wear a few headsets to see which feels the most comfortable. Heavier doesn't necessarily mean less comfortable.
We've already touched on the price point of different headsets and mentioned ANR headsets are more expensive than their PNR counterparts, with DNR headsets even more expensive.
Just set a budget for yourself and stick to it. If you can afford a more expensive one, it could be the right thing to do. When in doubt, the best advice is still to "buy the most headset you can afford".
Below we bundled some of the best headsets on the market today and arranged them by price.
The ASA HS-1 is a headset we personally own and love. ASA's basic headset model is perfect for student pilots and those not willing to spend a fortune on a headset. The foam ear cushions are comfortable and provide good noise reduction but still allow you to hear the sounds around you, which is very helpful for student pilots. Together with the double volume knobs on each side, the headset makes for great sound quality.
The only downsides we found with this headset is that it tends to get a little tight around your head on longer flights. It also lacks the aux audio input that other comparable headsets at this price point have. Apart from that, it's a great starter headset!
Looking at price/quality this is one of the best headsets you can buy. You can't expect Bluetooth, mp3 input or other fancy options at this price point, but it is affordable, comfortable, durable and gets the job more than done. If you later decide to get a more expensive headset, you can always use this one for other passengers.
Faro G2 PNR
Faro Aviation, a pilot owned and operated company started in the 90's when the pilot-owner was dissatisfied with the current headsets on the market. He went on to create Faro Aviation, a company that offers great headsets at a great price.
The Faro G2 PNR is Faro Aviation's least expensive and most popular model. With passive noise reduction up to 26dB, the G2 is quieter than most other PNR headsets we cover in this guide. The large soft cushion provides extra Comfort for long cross-country flights and makes the headset feel light. The G2 also comes in different colors, has dual volume controls and an MP3/iPhone input.
A big advantage is Faro's 3-year full coverage warranty, which allows you to send back your G2 and receive a brand new replacement if anything happens to your headset within 3 years of purchase.
Kore Aviation KA-1
The KA-1 is Kore Headset's premium model. Featuring dual volume controls, a flexible mic boom, great noise reduction and aux audio input for your smartphone, this headset is perfect for pilots, passengers, instructors, student pilots, flight schools and more. It provides maximum comfort with ultra-soft gel ear seals, clear sound with exceptional noise reduction, durability built to last and luxury you can feel with the highest-quality materials.
$159.99Buy now on Amazon
David Clark H10-13.4
David Clark is one of the oldest and most trusted brands when it comes to aviation headsets. The H10-13.4, its most popular model, has been around for many years and used all over the world in every different type of aircraft imaginable. Wherever you go, you will always see people wearing the trusty DC H10-13.4.
The super-soft, double-foam head pad make the headset comfortable to wear, even on longer flights. It comes at a slightly higher price point than other comparable headsets and doesn't have the double volume controls or auxiliary audio input, but it is backed by David Clark’s famous reputation for quality and service. When buying the H10-13.4, you're set for years of reliable service.
Faro G2 ANR
The Faro G2 ANR is the G2 PNR's bigger brother, with active noise reduction. For about $200 more, you get noise reduction up to 52dB for the quietest cockpit and most comfort.
The G2 PNR uses two AA batteries that provide up to 30 hours of active noise reduction, depending on the environment. The headset will continue to work as PNR when the batteries run low or die.
If you are looking for an ANR headset but not willing to spend $500+, the G2 ANR gives you the most bang for your buck!
Most pilots put up with carrying a large heavy headset on their head for hours and hours. The Faro Air changes this.
With its 28 grams, the Faro Air is the lightest and the only in-ear headset in this list. Its noise reduction of up to 50dB makes the Faro Air also as quiet as most ANR headsets, which is great for pilots looking for an ANR headset but not willing or able to spend too much.
Not only is this headset very light, comfortable and quiet, it also ends bad hair days!
You can see the Faro AIR in action in one of Steveo1Kinevo's YouTube videos.
Lightspeed Sierra ANR
The Lightspeed Sierra is a great choice for budget-conscious pilots, students, and passengers. It offers high-end performance and features - including outstanding noise cancellation, full Bluetooth integration and compatibility with FlightLink, Lightspeed's in-cockpit recording app. It's a great place to start into the world of ANR headsets.
Faro G3 ANR
Weighing only 255 grams, the Faro G3 ANR is the lightest on-ear headset in this list. Because the G3 is the first aviation headset out of Carbon Fiber, it weighs nearly half of a typical aviation headset.
The G3 has everything you want in a headset; it's an affordable ANR headset equipped with Bluetooth, MP3 audio input, ultra-comfortable ear cushions and it comes with a headset bag and audio cable.
You can see the G3 in action in one of Steveo1Kinevo's YouTube videos.
David Clark DC Pro-X
The Pro-X is David Clark's latest aviation headset model. Based on the brand's previous best-seller models, their new headset offers best-in-class Hybrid electronic noise cancellation and Bluetooth wireless technology in a rugged, yet feather-light magnesium alloy suspension.
$781.46Buy now on Amazon
Lightspeed Tango Wireless
The Tango Wireless is Lightspeed's first premium wireless headset. It offers the capabilities of comparable ANR headsets, with the convenience of wireless usage. With no cables to get in the way and critical controls located on the headset, Tango creates an entirely new level of flying enjoyment and untethered freedom.
Lightspeed Zulu 3
The Zulu 3, Lightspeed's most premium headset. This new model has new contoured ear seals that reduce pressure, new cables that are more flexible and durable and the same ANR technology other models of the brand have. Additional features include Lightspeed's Auto Shutoff and ComPriority.
Bose ProFlight Aviation Headset
The Bose Proflight Aviation Headset is the smallest, lightest, most comfortable headset from Bose. Lightweight, in-ear active noise cancellation for long-term comfort over extended flights, with many new features designed specifically for airline and corporate aircraft flight decks.
The ProFlight features three levels of active noise cancellation and a unique feature called tap control for talk-through communication in a compact, banded, in-ear design. It’s decades of Bose research engineered into a form factor unlike any other aviation headset.
Bose frequently received the question “Will this headset work in my GA aircraft?”
Their answer is the following: "The ProFlight is designed and best suited for quiet to moderate noise levels in flight decks of pressurized turbine powered aircraft. Here’s a partial list of aircraft companies that make planes where ProFlight will excel: Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Gulfstream, Citation Jets, the Cirrus Vision Jet, Eclipse Jets, HondaJet, Learjets, Beech & Hawker Jets, Dassault, Pilatus and Daher TBM. The ProFlight is not recommended for use in single or multi-engine piston aircraft. If you fly that type of plane, the Bose A20 Aviation headset is still your best option."
Bose A20 ANR with Bluetooth
With its price point of just over $1k, the Bose A20 Bluetooth aviation headset is the most expensive on this list. If you have ever used Bose headphones or other audio systems, you know what superior sound quality the company's speakers can produce. The A20 aviation headset is engineered to be more comfortable and provide more noise reduction than any headset Bose has ever made, while still delivering the clear audio you expect from Bose.
The A20 is one of the most comfortable headsets, if not the most comfortable one, we have used. The soft leather ear cushions and the comfortable fit of the headband make this headset very comfortable, especially on longer flights.
At this price point, you expect the best. The Bose A20 does a great job delivering just that.
Most new aviation headsets come with accessories like a headset bag, other microphone muffs, ear seals or other items and replacements. The headset bag, for example, can be a very good impromptu flight bag to store some charts and other items you need.
Other useful accessories can include adapters for smartphones or intercoms, flashlights to mount on your headset when flying at night, more comfortable ear seals and headbands, handheld transceiver adapters, microphone windscreens, plugs and jacks, and more.
Make sure to check which accessories could be useful when purchasing a headset.
Based on our own experience with some of the previously mentioned headsets, we strongly recommend the following models:
Here are some additional tips that can help you decide which headset to buy:
In general, you get what you pay for. Quality headsets can last for a decade, so it will be an investment that will pay off. If you're still not sure which one you should buy, ask a few pilot friends or people at your airfield if you can borrow theirs for a test flight. Always be aware of cheap headsets, they can be attractive but will do a very poor job protecting your ears.
When in doubt, the best advice is still to "buy the most headset you can afford".
Do you have good/bad experiences with any of the models above? Or did we forget to include any other great headsets? Feel free to shoot us a message!