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Aviation Headset Buying Guide

One of the first pieces of equipment a student pilot considers purchasing is an aviation headset. Many flight schools allow students to rent or borrow a headset, but if you plan to be a regular pilot, purchasing your own set will prove to be much more efficient and give you the opportunity to use top notch technology, not to mention save you money in the long run.

However, choosing the right headset can be a daunting task, and if you ask other pilots for a recommendation, you are likely to get a wide variety of answers. What works for one person may not be the top choice for the next. Finding the model that fits your needs is your best choice, and we’ve put together this guide to help assist you in the process.

One of the first things to consider when purchasing a headset is what you will be using them for.  Different sizes of aircraft produce different noise levels changing the need for headsets. The more unnecessary noise that you are exposed to will increase pilot fatigue. Making sure your headset is comfortable is another thing to consider. The more discomfort, the more distraction for the pilot. Some headsets even come with extras such as bluetooth capabilities and auto mute settings. There are headsets available to fit nearly every budget.

There are three major categories of aviation headsets: noise attenuating (passive noise reduction), active noise reduction, and digital noise reduction. Not all headsets are created equal and finding the right headset can make your flying experience more enjoyable and possibly increase your piloting skills as well.

Noise Attenuating Headsets (Passive Noise Reduction)

Noise attenuating aviation / Passive Noise Reduction (PNR) headsets are the most basic type of aviation headset and use mechanical means to block out noise. With mechanisms such as thick ear cup walls, foam, different shaped ear cups, and adjustable sizes to clamp the cups tightly to the ears, the headsets are able to block out much of the unwanted noise. In a nutshell, these headsets use their design to mechanically keep sound waves from entering your ear. Most of the traditional aviation headsets seen today are PNR headsets.

Much like the headsets used for protecting ears while working with heavy machinery (lawn mowers, snow blowers, construction sites, etc.) and gun ranges, these are your run of the mill headsets. They work fine, but when you experience noise canceling technology you will know that these are just “ok”.

Most PNR headsets are fairly inexpensive, starting at around $100. These headsets do a relatively good job at canceling out noise, producing noise reduction ratings between 15-20 decibels. However, most pilots prefer the use of more advanced headsets that offer more extras, such as bluetooth capabilities, and report that they are more comfortable for long trips and frequent flying.

Two very popular PNR headsets are the Faro G2 and the David Clark H10-13.4. The Faro G2 comes at a lower price point, is available in five colors, and offers lifetime wear and tear protection. The David Clark H10-13.4 headset is a classic-looking headset with a mid-range price point, is available in five different configurations, and offers a five-year warranty.


Active Noise Reduction Headsets

Active Noise Reduction (ANR) Headsets are those used most commonly by modern pilots. They protect your ears from outside noises and potential damage but use technology rather than physical mechanics to cancel out the noise. Inside each ear muff, ANR headsets have a microphone that filters out ambient noise.

ANR headsets are best suited for protecting against low-frequency engine rumble but are not good at blocking out noises created by jets or open cockpit planes. You will still be able to hear voices and sounds such as the wind flowing over the plane. Changes in sound, such as loss of power or the rhythmic pulse of a propeller are also detected while wearing an ANR headset.

Bose and Lightspeed are two of the most popular brands of ANR headsets. The Bose A20 headset is considered a top of the line headset but comes at a higher end price point, offers bluetooth, and multiple configurations plus a five-year warranty. The Lightspeed Zulu.2 headset also offers exceptional quality with a five-year warranty at a somewhat lower price point than the Bose, while still offering bluetooth and multiple configurations.


Digital (Dynamic) Noise Reduction Headsets

Created using a relatively new technology, Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) Headsets use digital technology to remove extra noise from an incoming signal. DNR headsets have created a whole new generation of headsets that can be used in a large variety of environments.

A tiny computer is inserted in the ear cup of the headset to look for repetitive, unnecessary noise and blocks those noises while sending a new clear signal to the pilot’s ears. The downside to DNR headsets is that they are more expensive than both PNR headsets and ANR headsets.

Wrapping It Up – The Pros & Cons

When it comes right down to it, choosing the best headset comes down to your personal preference and your budget. Trying to make scientific comparisons between attenuating, PNR, ANR, and DNR headsets can be difficult because most information available comes from the manufacturers and is specific to their model only and often presented in a confusing manner. What works in one cockpit may not work so well in another cockpit and where each work best simply depends on who you ask.

Some pilots will tell you that you get what you pay for, and while at times that may be the case, even the less expensive PNR headsets have improved in comfort and technology over the years, and ANR technology advances have enabled manufacturers to sell a quality product at a lower price.

When setting out to purchase your first headset or to upgrade to a new model, simply decide what options you are looking for, know what your budget is, and search for the set that you feel will ultimately meet your needs.

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