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HomeHow to Become a Pilot Headset Buying Guide

How to Pick the Perfect Aviation Headset for You

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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 what when you see how many different brands are out there, promoting their newest headsets with all their bells and whistles. Let us help you make a well thought-out decision.

How to Pick the Perfect Aviation Headset for You
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links and we may get a commission on orders you make through these links. You will not be charged a $ or € more, but you are supporting the Hangar.Flights website and the creation of even more great content for you.

Aviation headsets

A 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 for 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.

Best Aviation Headsets Guide - Hearing Loss prevention

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 is having a headset which does a good job handling and reducing this noise.

That's why having a good headset is crucial, not only for safety when flying, but also for your own ears. Since hearing loss is irreversible, prevention is better than cure.

Types of headsets

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.

Best Aviation headsets: David Clark on-ear
The David Clark H10-13.4 on-ear aviation headset

The second category is in-ear headsets. These headsets use speakers that you 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. 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.

Best aviation headsets guide: Faro AIR in-ear headset
The Faro AIR in-ear aviation headset

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 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 and $1500.

Best aviation headsets Active Noise Reduction ANR

Microphones

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.

Things to consider

When purchasing a headset, there are a few other things to consider than the way they reduce noise.

Comfort

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.

Bluetooth

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.

Best aviation headsets: bluetooth
The Bose A20 ANR headsets can be purchased with Bluetooth capability

Noise Reduction

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.

Best aviation headsets: plugs and cables

Weight

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. 

Price

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".

Disclaimer: this guide contains affiliate links and we may get a commission on orders you make through these links. You will not be charged a $ or € more, but you are supporting the Hangar.Flights website and the creation of even more great content for you.

The best headsets under $500

Faro G2 PNR

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: Up to 26dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 370g
  • Ear cushions: Silicone gel (leather ear cushions optional)
  • Headband: Soft cushion
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: AUX audio cable
  • Amazon rating: 4/5 (68 reviews)

Price: $169.99 on Amazon

Best Aviation Headsets: Faro G2 PNR

Buy on Amazon


Faro G2 ANR

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 2 x AA, up to 30 hours (depending on environment)
  • Noise reduce: Up to 23dB without ANR, 52dB with ANR
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 570g (G2 PNR + 200g)
  • Ear cushions: Soft leather
  • Headband: Soft cushion
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: AUX audio cable
  • Amazon rating: 4.3/5 (53 reviews)

Price: $349.99 on Amazon

Best aviation headsets: Faro G2 ANR

Buy on Amazon


David Clark H10-13.4

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 23dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 468g
  • Ear cushions: Gel
  • Headband: Double foam
  • Volume control: Single
  • MP3/audio input: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Amazon rating: 4.7/5 (94 reviews)

Price: $326.42 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: David Clark H10-13.4

Buy on Amazon


Faro AIR

  • Type: In-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 30-52dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 28g
  • Ear plugs: Slow recovery composite foam, 3 sizes
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: replacement ear tips
  • Amazon rating: 3.3/5 (11 reviews)

Price: $325 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: Faro AIR in-ear

Buy on Amazon


Kore Aviation KA-1

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 24dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 468g
  • Ear cushions: Silicone gel ear seals and acoustic foam earcups
  • Headband: Gel
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Extras: Headset bag
  • Amazon rating: 4.7/5 (140 reviews)

Price: $149.99 on Amazon

Best aviation headsets: Kore Aviation KA-1

Buy on Amazon


ASA HS-1

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 23dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 884g
  • Ear cushions: High-density acoustic foam
  • Headband: Gel
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: No
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: Lifetime manufacturer's warranty
  • Amazon rating: 4.4/5 (127 reviews)

Price: $109.99 on PilotMall.com

Best Aviation headsets: ASA HS-1

Buy on Amazon


The best headsets over $500

Bose A20 ANR with Bluetooth

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 2 x AA, at least 45 hours
  • Noise reduce: Not published by manufacturer
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 340g
  • Ear cushions: Leather
  • Headband: Plush padded
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Extras: AUX audio cable, headset bag
  • Amazon rating: 4.6/5 (97 reviews)

Price: $1095.95 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: Bose A20 

Buy on Amazon


David Clark DC Pro-X

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 2 x AA, at least 50 hours
  • Noise reduce: 30dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 215g
  • Ear cushions: Leather
  • Headband: Leather
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: No
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Extras: Headset bag
  • Amazon Rating: 4.2/5 (116 reviews)

Price: $695.00 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: David Clark DC Pro-X

Buy on Amazon


Lightspeed Zulu PFX

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 4 x AA, 20 hours
  • Noise reduce: Not published by manufacturer
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 395g
  • Ear cushions: Plush
  • Headband: Leather
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Extras: Headset bag, AUX audio cable, 
  • Amazon Rating: 4/5 (37 reviews)

Price: $1050.00 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: Lightspeed ZULU

Buy on Amazon


Lightspeed Tango Wireless

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 2 x 3.7V rechargeable lithium-ion, up to 12 hours of continuous operation
  • Noise reduce: Not published by manufacturer
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 510g
  • Ear cushions: Plush
  • Headband: Leather
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Wireless: Yes
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Extras: Headset bag, AUX audio cable 
  • Amazon Rating: 4.2/5 (101 reviews)

Price: $800.00 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: Lightspeed Tango Wireless

Buy on Amazon


Clarity Aloft Classic

  • Type: In-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 29.5dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 55g
  • Ear plugs: Slow recovery composite foam, 3 sizes
  • Volume control: Single
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: extra pairs of ear tips, headset bag
  • Amazon rating: 3.9/5 (47 reviews)

Price: $525.00 on PilotMall.com

Best aviation headsets: Clarity Aloft Classic

Buy on Amazon


Clarity Aloft Link

  • Type: In-ear
  • Noise reduction: PNR
  • Noise reduce: 29.5dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 55g
  • Ear plugs: Slow recovery composite foam, 3 sizes
  • Volume control: Single
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Batteries: 2 x AA
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: extra pairs of ear tips, headset bag
  • Pilot Mall rating: 4.5/5 (2 reviews)

Price: $795.00 on Pilot Mall

Buy on Pilotmall.com

Best aviation headsets: Clarity Aloft Link


Faro G3

  • Type: On-ear
  • Noise reduction: ANR
  • ANR battery: 2 x AA
  • Noise reduce: 52dB
  • Microphone: Electret
  • Weight: 255g (full carbon fiber design)
  • Ear cushions: Leather
  • Headband: Soft padding cushion
  • Volume control: Dual
  • MP3/audio input: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Wireless: No
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extras: Headset bag, AUX audio cable 
  • Amazon Rating: 4.6/5 (7 reviews)

Price: $679.99 on Amazon

Best aviation headsets: Faro G3 ANR

Buy on Amazon

We have not been able to test all of the above headsets. Once we do and we have tested them under the same conditions, we can give each headset an objective rating to help you make an informed decision.

Headset accessories

Most new 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.

Best aviation headsets: bags

Design 4 Pilots headset bag

Headset buying tips

Here are some additional tips that can help you decide which headset to buy:

  1. Rule number one: you get what you pay for. Don't go cheap and buy a knock-off, how tempting that price tag might be, it may not hurt your wallet, but it can seriously impact your safety and ears. 
  2. Always try to test out the headset of your choice in flight, to make sure you've made the right decision. Often it's after flying with it the first few times that you can really experience the way it feels and functions. Don't be afraid to ask your local pilot shop, almost all of them have some sort return policy. If they don't, make sure to wear the headset for at least 10 minutes in the store. Passive headsets can become heavy when wearing them for hours at a time, make sure they're comfortable.
  3. If the headset of your choice does not have the most comfortable ear seals or headband, you can always purchase some aftermarket ones that provide significantly more comfort.
  4. Consider purchasing second-hand brand-name headsets. You can often find thousand-dollar headsets for a quarter of the price and pilots usually take very good care of their possessions.
  5. If you decide to buy an ANR or PNR headset, consider the bulky battery pack and think about how it feels hanging on your neck or where you will put it.
  6. There are different types of microphones (Dynamic, Amplified Dynamic and Electret), make sure to check which ones work best with your radio!
  7. Always remember you will wear the headset a lot. Cheap in the short term can become expensive (on your ears and comfort) in the long term.

Conclusion

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".

Last update on June 23, 2017 by Senne Vandenputte.

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