A quality headset is one of the most important pieces of gear any pilot will own. And in the confines of a noisy piston, turboprop or helicopter cockpit, there’s really no excuse for skimping by choosing a headset lacking active noise-cancellation technology. Many of the top ANR headsets also have built-in Bluetooth capability, allowing users to pair the headset with a phone or their favorite audio. And of course, not all headsets are created equal in the all-important categories of durability and comfort, but these are all solid choices in those areas as well.
It’s not surprising that our three favorite headset brands — Bose, David Clark and Lightspeed — are also the industry’s best selling. Headsets from these manufacturers tend to be on the higher end of the pricing spectrum (for good reason), so if you’re on a tight budget, you might want to take a look at lower-tier options, which include several good headsets that cost hundreds less than the top-rated models, but which shouldn’t be overlooked just because they’re built by manufacturers that sell in lower volumes.
What the headsets from Bose, David Clark and Lightspeed all have in common, however, is unrivaled build quality, exceptional customer support and the very best in comfort and ANR quality, important considerations if you fly a lot or on long legs.
Here’s a rundown of the best ANR headsets your money can buy from each of the manufacturers that are active in this highly competitive market segment.
In the confines of a noisy piston, turboprop or helicopter cockpit, there’s really no excuse for skimping by choosing a headset lacking active noise-cancellation technology.
The Bose A20 has been one of our favorite headsets since it hit the market at Oshkosh in 2010, where it became an immediate sensation for its excellent sound quality and unmatched build quality. Priced above $1,000 when you tick the box for optional built-in Bluetooth, though, it’s positioned at the upper reach of the market, so it’s not for everybody. But the comfort (thanks to the A20’s light weight and low clamping force), noise-reduction technology and sound fidelity pioneered by Bose are all superb, making this the headset you probably want to own if money is no object.
The Lightspeed PFX is the headset that introduced to us the Kevlar-reinforced cord that is now also standard on the Zulu 3 headset. PFX stands for Personal Flying Experience, and the technology built into this headset is designed to be customized to your ears, your environment and your preferences. It does this by measuring the “unique auditory landscape” around your ears to optimize noise reduction. We put the PFX up against the Bose A20 in a direct comparison. The Bose headset was quieter, but not by a lot. While the battery box is bulky and heavy, the headset itself is light and comfortable.
David Clark is a legendary name in pilot headsets. The company introduced the industry’s first noise-attenuating headset in 1975, and its products have long been recognized among aviators the world over for their pale-green ear domes and exceptional quality. The DC One-X is David Clark’s newest headset for general aviation pilots, with hybrid electronic noise cancellation that is as good as anything we’ve tested. One of the cool features of the DC One-X is that it folds up into a size that fits in the palm of your hand when not in use, allowing it to be tucked away into an easy-to-pack carrying case.
Lightspeed introduced its first Zulu-series ANR headset a decade ago and immediately drew attention for what many users came to appreciate as a headset with great ergonomics, excellent audio performance and Bluetooth integration right out of the gate. With the recently introduced Zulu 3, Lightspeed has created its most comfortable and durable headset yet. Some of the features we like best are the improved ear seals that are designed to hug the curve of the jaw for a better seal, super durable cables built around a Kevlar core and construction of almost all stainless steel and titanium. Lightspeed also offers the industry’s longest warranty.
We love the idea of a wireless headset, but that convenience comes at a price, namely that the Tango, weighing in at 18 ounces, is among the heaviest ANR models we tested. Still, this headset is so comfortable that the extra heft isn’t really noticeable. The Tango doesn’t use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth but another signal technology called Lightspeed Link that provides exceptional sound quality and allows as many as six Tango headsets to be connected to the audio panel simultaneously. That’s a lot of wires magically gone for good.
The Avcomm AC1000 is a headset you’ll want to compare side by side with other midpriced models. Like competing products from Rugged Air and Faro, this one is also made from strong and light carbon fiber. Heck, you might even pit it against the Bose A20 since the AC1000’s ultralight weight of 9 ounces, integrated Bluetooth capability, excellent sound quality and lower price make it an alternative worth consideration.
If your budget allows for it, we recommend spending a little more for a top-end headset. Our favorites are the Bose A20, David Clark DC One-X and Lightspeed’s Zulu 3.
The RA980 is a seriously cool headset from a California company that formed its headset division in 2005. Made from high-quality materials, including leather ear seals and carbon-fiber ear cups, the top-of-the-line RA980 model is one of the lighter headsets we’ve come across, tipping the scale at 10.23 ounces. Individually selectable modes let the pilot choose whether to mute music when radio calls are received, a nice feature. Rugged Air is the only headset-maker besides Lightspeed to offer a seven-year warranty.
With the Pro-X headset, David Clark makes a bold claim. The company says that with this model’s “hybrid” noise-cancellation technology and Bluetooth capability, you “simply won’t find a better headset or a better value.” What we found is that the on-ear cup and light clamping force make for an exceptionally comfortable headset. The hybrid technology uses two microphones to pick up ambient sound, an approach that David Clark claims can reduce sound to the ear by 30 db. We agree the results are impressive. At 7.5 ounces, the Pro-X is the lightest ANR headset we tested, and the well-padded alloy headband makes it a joy to wear even on long flights.
Faro is another headset-maker that’s opting for the carbon-fiber look, though we’re not sure we’re completely sold on the big, gold metallic Faro logo under the clear coating (but at least you won’t have to worry about it wearing off). The G3 also isn’t as comfortable, nor does it offer the sound quality of the top ANR headsets we’ve tried, but it does boast among the lightest weight of any of the ANR headsets included here, weighing in at just 9 ounces, same as the Avcomm AC1000, proving carbon-fiber construction isn’t only about a hip look — it’s the reduced weight these headsets offer that really matters, which we’re sure buyers will appreciate over the long run.
Lightspeed bills the Sierra ANR headset as its “value-priced” model, and we agree. This is a headset that sells for less than competing headsets that, quite frankly, aren’t as good. Built-in Bluetooth capability, Lightspeed’s ComPriority feature and compatibility with the FlightLink playback app for iPhone and iPad add premium features to this budget headset, which also features plush ear seals and sturdy construction that will hold up to abuse and last for years. Another nice feature is the ability to swap the microphone from one side to the other.
The Stratus 30XT ANR headset from Germany’s Telex is positioned as a less expensive alternative to the Bose A20 that delivers good value but is the heaviest ANR headset we tested. Sound quality is judged as excellent for this price range, though it’s also a bit bulky compared with the competition. Telex’s ComfortCam technology built into the headband lets users adjust clamping pressure, which helps, and the ear pads are made from memory foam to reduce pressure points on the ear. Overall, a good choice if you’re looking for a midpriced headset that delivers decent performance.
This ANR headset from Sigtronics is another that pilots on a tighter budget should consider if they’re looking for good sound quality, great noise-reduction capability and adequate comfort for half the price of the top products. There’s really not much to complain about with this no-frills headset that’s made in America. A nice option in this line is the child-size S-ARY version Sigtronics also offers.
This is a budget-priced alternative to the big boys’ products that delivers quality sound and a comfortable fit. Weighing in at almost 17 ounces, it’s one of the heavier headsets out there, but it sounds good and noise canceling is decent for an ANR headset in this price range. It’s also one of the few headsets we tested that uses a rechargeable NiMH battery. This company also produces the Pilot BluLink Bluetooth adapter, a $260 unit that is compatible with most dual-plug GA headsets.
FlightCom’s Denali D50ANR headset qualifies as a budget-priced alternative to higher-priced headsets from other manufacturers, and is the least expensive ANR headset we tested. While noise canceling isn’t on par with top models, sound quality is adequate, and comfort, with its twist-flex headband and extra-thick ear cups, is acceptable. For the money, this isn’t a bad option among a field of great, if pricier, competitors.
Non-ANR Headset Alternatives
OK, we’re cheating by including these non-ANR passive headsets. But many GA pilots are growing to love the Clarity Aloft Pro Plus and QT Halo because of their extreme light weight and comfort made possible by their ingenious ear buds, which block external sound without the need for ear cups or built-in active noise-canceling technology. A favorite of airline pilots, these headsets work well in piston-airplane cockpits as well, and come with different size earbuds to fit different size ears. They look and feel a little flimsy but stand up to abuse surprisingly well. The fact that there are no batteries to worry about appeals to pilots who stay away from home base for extended periods. Best of all, perhaps, they won’t give you a case of “headset hair” after you land.