This page reflects my personal opinions and experience with headsets.
head and ears may not agree with mine.
to Buy | Lightspeed | SoftComm | Sennheiser
| Bose | David Clark |
to Buy a Headset
When you buy a headset, look at the numbers for noise attenuation,
but make sure it fits YOU. People's heads are different sizes! Ask to
it in the store for at LEAST 15 minutes. (Adjust it to fit, then sit
and read a book). If you can, borrow one from someone else to wear on
Consider how well it fits, the quality of the physical construction,
weight, the passive and (if present) active noise reduction, the
of the sound you hear, how easy it is to adjust the volume, and the
and coverage of the warrantee.
Other features such as a built in push-to-talk switch or a cellular
attachment may be of interest to you. It may sound stupid, but both can
I've used the built in PTT in situations that otherwise would have been
in-flight comm failure or a cancelled commercial flight. I don't have
cell phone attachment but I've wished I had when I've used a cell phone
a running airplane on the ground to check on late co-workers, to close
amend a flight plan, or to ensure maintenance will meet an airplane
attention. I've used a cellular phone in the air in a communications
and it was VERY hard to hear ATC without a cellphone jack in the
Non-emergency use of cellphones is forbidden while flying.
Don't worry about making a mistake buying your first headset. If you
you want a different headset later, there is no money lost, because the
headset will become your spare, that you lend to passengers or use when
main one is being repaired.
Active Noise Reduction
Active noise reduction (ANR) is one of the terms you will hear
with headsets. All headsets provide passive noise reduction. That means
they physically block sounds from entering your ears, by virtue of
your ears tightly with sound-deadening material. The compressions and
in the air that make up sounds do not propagate well through foam and
Advanced headsets also have active noise reduction, also called
noise cancellation. These headsets contain sensors that monitor the
waves inside the headset, and for those noises that are steady and
like your propeller and engine, circuitry in the headset generates opposite
waves that cancel out the noise. It's like if you make
an extra $50 this week, but your spouse reacts to this by spending $50
than usual, you don't end up with any more money in your bank account.
sounds impossible, but it works really really well.
Better noise attenuation improves the clarity of ATC calls, reduces
and fatigue in the cockpit and prevents long term hearing damage. The
of engine an propeller noise actually allows you to better hear problem
such as a clunking in your landing gear or an irregular engine noise.
Drawbacks include the need for batteries, and that ANR interferes with
older intercom systems.
I have owned four headsets, and field tested others. Here's what
I think of them. The links to the manufacturers' sites will give you
technical specifications than I do, but won't tell you the problems I
This is my favourite, and my current main headset. I estimate
that I have put over 1500 hours on it. There are three models, the 15,
and 25. I bought the middle one, so my comments apply to it. According
the manufacturer, the noise cancellation increases with the number.
is a new series out now, and Lightspeed has a trade-up program, so
space for a review of the 3G series.
This is the most comfortable headset I have ever worn. I have worn this
through a day where I logged nine hours of flying, and never had the
to escape from the headset. There is no pinching, no head clamping, no
mashing and I don't notice the weight at all. Flying with a friend in a
airplane, I will go to sleep wearing my headset while the other pilot
The earcups are large and triangular with buttery soft, thin covers on
ear seals. They get a little stiff in cold weather, but don't feel cold
my face. My ear seal covers are ripped a little bit, probably because I
forget to remove my earrings before flying, and they snag and tear it.
The active noise reduction is powered by two AA batteries, which really
live up to the manufacturer's claims and last for 50 hours or more. Not
is there an auto shutoff that saves your battery if you forget to turn
active noise off at the end of the flight, but three LEDs - green,
red show you your battery status. The headset gives about five hours
before the batteries fail. The long lasting AAs will save you quite a
dollars over the life of the headset, and they are probably the same
you use in your flashlight and GPS - useful in a pinch, and saves
to carry different sorts of batteries in your flight bag. A little
unit integrated in the cord holds the batteries and includes
adjustment for each ear. The box is easy to reach and the volume stays
you set it. In some cockpits a hook or clip on the box would be handy;
Lightspeed will put one on the next model, because I did ask them
The Lightspeed is still a good, working headset without batteries or
the batteries dead. It reverts to being a comfortable passive
Sometimes I forget to turn it on.
The super-lightweight plastic frame may become brittle in cold weather.
I had put about 800 hours of flying on the headset, I had the earcup
(the U-shaped part that cradles the earcup) break while I was putting
headset on a very cold day. However, Lightspeed offers excellent
service. Even though I didn't have the receipt, Lightspeed rapidly
not only the broken parts, but also the torn ear seal covers, and they
me extra spare strrups with replacement instructions. The company told
that the new stirrups have been redesigned. I have had no problems with
replacement parts, but I haven't done as much cold-weather flying since
The headset is a little weird looking: it's bulkier than metal-framed
and the earcups are sort of triangular. I have been in (tiny) cockpits
the bulkiness of the earcups was a problem. If you fly a
ultralight, borrow and check.
LightSPEED Thirty 3G
I haven't had a chance to get my ears on one of these yet, but the
physical appearance puts me off. I guess LightSPEED wanted to advertise
that it was something new, but did they have to make it light blue and
beige? I don't shrink from flamboyance, but this headset is
gaudy. Give me a black one, please. The battery box has been
redesigned; it's now an elongated teardrop shape and comes with a clip
so that it doesn't need to dangle free.
As for the noise cancelling, after engine start I asked my student,
"did you turn your headset on?" He looked at me quizically, so I
reached over and activated the noise cancelling on his set. The "WOW"
look on his face makes me think that perhaps I should look past the
mismatched appearance of the headset and try one for myself.
I own two SoftComm headsets, a C-60 Silver Edition and a C-40-20
Silver Fox. I learned to fly in the C-60 and still use it for
students. It now has about 700 hours on it. I considered it a good
value that I bought the Silver Fox as a passenger headset.
The fit is reasonable for a headset in its price range, and both gel
are available for about $20 more than the standard foam ones. Gel ear
are more comfortable and form around your ear better, giving better
protection. I don't really feel the difference, but I think some people
more sensitive ear cartilage than me.
One advantage of SoftComms is that the mike is reversible, so you can
it come from the left or the right side (by turning the headset around
flipping the microphone boom over the top). This is useful if you
fly from the right and sometimes from the left, or if the position of
headset jack varies among the aircraft you fly. Why would you care? If
headset cord crosses over your body or wraps around you it can be
can lead to damaging the cord by yanking on it, and it's possible that
could delay your exit from the aircraft in an emergency.
The C-60 features a built-in push-to-talk switch. You can see it: the
button in the lower part of the earcup, on the woman with her head
in the photograph. This is useful to a flight instructor, because she
make a radio call while the student is flying without putting her hand
the yoke, and she can make radio calls in an aircraft that only has a
switch on the student's side. I've also used this feature to avert what
otherwise be a communications failure.
The microphone boom articulates in different places so you can adjust
position of the microphone and then leave it there. I like this better
the fully flexible booms, even though the manufacturers consider the
to be a selling point.
SoftComm headsets are awkward to adjust to fit different heads. The
system involves friction screws that are supposed to hold sliders in
so you can change the length of the headband, and other screws that
help you to adjust the earcup angle. I find that the available
is slow to use, and gives unsatisfactory results. Also the screws must
periodically tightened, or they work their way loose, and get lost.
The position of the volume and stereo adjust knobs, is also irritating.
are right on the earcups and stick out enough that they are easily
as you pull the headset out of its bag, or touch your head against the
of the cockpit. One of the adjustment knobs switches from stereo to
one adjusts the volume, but because the headset is reversible, and both
feel the same, it takes a lot of fumbling to get set up properly. It's
to have to reset the volume level every time you put the headset on.
The Sennheiser is compact, light, easily adjustable and
fit. The volume control knob is on the earcup, but it is not right on
outside point, and thus doesn't get inadvertently turned the way the
does. The microphone boom is flexible and can be placed in any
The headset is bright blue, so it's not
It is also available in an ANR edition, which in the store seemed
to Lightspeed's ANR, but I bought the passive set. I use this one when
flying an old airplane with an intercom system that is confused by ANR,
when I have to pack it with me to go somewhere where I might go flying.
the picture you can see it being worn by a passenger, with the edge of
SoftComm C-60 on another passenger in the foreground. That's the
SoftComm volume control knob poking up in the top corner of the frame.
Mine came with a very stylish headset bag, but it's a little harder
should be to get the headset in and out of the bag. (Talk about minor
Electronic Corp. website
I wore the Bose X on a 30 day trial. I tested it for about
60 hours in a C172 plus a couple of flights in a Beech Dutchess. It was
and compact, really attractive-looking and folded up to take less space
other headsets in its carrying bag. The noise reduction was excellent:
felt like being in a quiet carpeted room. After about an hour of
I would become annoyed by pressure at the top of the head where the
was, and my hair got caught in the hinge during the flight.
For that money it had to be absolutely perfect, and it wasn't.
I understand that Bose now includes a sheepskin cover pad that
the hinge pinch aspect, but we're still talking $1000 US. I think
if money were no object I would buy Bose for the passengers, but keep
The David Clark headset is the de facto aviation standard. The pilot in
movie you've ever seen wears distinctive copper-green David Clarks. I
The headset frame is huge, inflexible, and hard to adjust. I was once
by a salesperson that it is the same frame as the SoftComm, but with
earcups and padding. The David Clark earcups are sloppy on me: I have a
head. Big-headed people suffer severe headset clamping in DCs. If a
provides headsets for employees, that's what you'll get. Headset racks
cockpits are designed to accommodate them. This is obviously a personal
but I feel they are overpriced just for the name. They have huge market
and name-recognition. In their defense, they are very durable. The
heel is the connection between the headset cord and the earcup. If
willing to replace that every thousand hours, the rest of the headset
David Clark headsets with the electronic noise cancelling option use
batteries. These are a little more expensive than AA's, a little harder
find for sale in out of the way places, and more of a fire hazard if
it in your poket with some conducting metal or you drop them into some
of your aircraft, because the terminals are so close together. A pilot
know who owned an electronic noise cancelling DC headser had problems
terrible feedback in the headset, where the circuitry enhanced rather
I recently spoke to a pilot who bought a David Clark H20-10, with their
new plastic frame. He has had so much difficulty with the fit that he
plans to sell it at a loss and buy another brand. The headband is too
flat and the only adjustment makes it stick up above his head, so that
when he looks down, it falls off.
You can see the edge of a David Clark headset on the right seat pilot
the picture above that shows the SoftComm.
David Clark Company
There exists a celular telephone adapter for headsets. This is
Christmas wishlist. It's a gadget that allows you to plug a cellphone
any airplane (sorry, rotary wing people, I don't know if it's available
you) headset. It can also be used with your portable music
to record ATC transmissions or flying lessons. My Pilot
this adapter, but I have no association with this company, and I
remember ever doing business with them. They haven't even given me a
adapter. Darn. They should, shouldn't they?
You should definitely get a bag for your headset if it didn't come with
The money you spend on the bag will be saved on headset repair. Don't
$40 for a fancy headset bag, though. Buy an insulated (padded)
bag from your local discount department store for about $12. (Even less
if you're willing to carry a bag with My
Little Pony or Pokemon on
it). The thermos pocket
is perfect for a flashlight, and you can put charts and pens in the
pockets. I swear, the exact same bag is sold to pilots at triple the
If you use rechargeable batteries in a noise cancelling
carry spares. The low battery warning feature does not work well with
because they have such a square power profile. (They stay good
long time and then drop quicky to dead, unlike regular batteries that
off more gradually).
Robyn's Flying Start is a
free website for Canadian student pilots.
This page written 29 June 2003 by Robyn Stewart. Last updated 12