Pilot Headsets: A Review of the Top Models

We take a closer look at a variety of headsets of every description.

Aviation headsets have come a long way since the early days, when aviators were forced to suffer hearing loss as they accrued hours upon hours in the cockpit amid the continuous thrum of roaring engines. Any new headset you buy today will likely provide decent noise cancellation, new levels of comfort and, in many cases, great additional features. But not all headsets are created equal, and selecting the right one can enhance not only your flying experience but possibly your piloting skills as well.

While even a less-than-stellar headset will reduce critical levels of airplane noise, several recent studies have shown that any unnecessary volume that reaches your eardrum will cause pilot fatigue as time goes by. Discomfort can also be distracting and detract from the focus needed in the cockpit. Fortunately, much work has been done in the past decade to make headsets comfortable — with soft cushioning around the ears and on top of the head — so you may even forget you’re wearing one. Aside from pressure points, or the lack thereof, weight also matters, and several manufacturers in the market now provide featherweight models.

These days, many top-of-the-line headsets come with the ability to connect to a portable device. Music can definitely enhance the flying experience, and it is nice to be able to connect with friends and family by phone without having to scream over engine noise. However, to make sure you don’t miss any ATC calls, look for a headset that provides the ability to auto-mute the sound input during ATC communications. Bluetooth is also a very nice addition that eliminates clutter in the cockpit.

The most expensive headsets provide all the bells and whistles that are available today. But if your budget doesn’t support a $1,000 headset, there are some good budget options out there too.

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Bose A20 Bose

Bose A20

Past Editors’ Choice Award Winner

The Bose A20 has been around for a few years, which is consistent with the company’s strategy of focusing on one industry-leading product — the former Bose Aviation Headset X was a best seller for a decade. The active noise-reducing (ANR) A20 improves upon the X in every conceivable way: It is quieter, more comfortable, has more features (including Bluetooth and a sound jack), and it is sold for about the same price as the previous model. I’ve flown the A20 for hundreds of hours over the past several years, and I still love it. It’s comfortable even for very long, multileg flights; its sound quality is excellent, and more importantly, it does an amazing job of maintaining the seal around the ears, even when I’m wearing sunglasses or snacking, something I can’t say about most other headsets. With a street price of more than $1,000, the A20 isn’t cheap, but for pilots who put in a lot of hours behind the yoke, it’s an investment in comfort and auditory well-being that is worth every penny. — Robert Goyer

Model: Bose A20
Price: $1,095
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 12 oz
Bluetooth: Yes
Aux Jack: Yes
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power Plug: Hard Wire
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 5 years

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pilot headset, aviation headset, noise cancelling headset pilots
David Clark DC Pro-X David Clark

David Clark DC Pro-X

A New Vision from an Industry Leader

David Clark’s latest headset, and 2013 Flying Editors’ Choice Award recipient, is a real departure for the legendary manufacturer. The DC Pro-X combines a super lightweight construction with great ANR to give pilots the best of both worlds. While it’s not as quiet as a full-coverage headset, it’s nevertheless impressive. With ear cups that sit on the ears instead of around them, the DC Pro-X makes up for a relative lack of passive noise reduction with great electronic attenuation. While the headset might not be for pilots who fly long legs in relatively noisy airplanes (like many high-performance singles), it’s just the ticket for pilots of quieter models up through bizjets. And because it’s TSO’d, the DC Pro-X is a natural for corporate pilots, airline pilots or anyone whose manuals require a TSO’d product. At a price of $637, it’s a bargain for an ANR headset to boot. — R.G.

Model: David Clark DC Pro-X
Price: $695
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 7.5 oz
Bluetooth: Yes
Aux Jack: No
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power: DC Plug
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 5 years

aviation headset, noise reduction headset, pilot aviation headset
Faro G2 Faro

Faro G2

Low Cost, Modest Performance

At a price tag of just $390, Faro’s ANR headset seems too good to be true. To a significant degree, it is. Based on conventional steel band and plastic ear-cup designs, the offshore-produced G2 does everything a much more expensive ANR headset does for a lot less. It just doesn’t do any of it nearly as well. The near deal breaker for me is the very high clamping pressure. It was so bad I sent the evaluation unit back to the manufacturer unused. When a friend offered me the use of his own pair on a local flight, I tried the G2 out. I’m glad I did. The good news is that after some use, the headset loosened up a bit and wasn’t as tight as when I first tried it on. The other good news is that the ANR is actually pretty good, though the sound was a bit tinny to my ear. The model was better than a passive headset of similar design by a good measure. But the G2 is heavy. It weighs 23 ounces, according to Faro. That’s almost twice as heavy as the Bose A20, and you can tell. Then again, at around a third the price, budget-minded pilots might want to give it a try. With Faro’s 30-day return policy, at least that pressure is off. — R.G.

Model: Faro G2
Price: $390
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 23 oz
Bluetooth: No
Aux Port: Yes
Carrying Case: No
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power: No
Volume Control: No
Auto Shut-off: No
Warranty: 3 years

aviation headset, easy control headset
S1 Digital Sennheiser

Sennheiser S1

Versatility with High-tech Features

With a price tag approaching $1,000, Sennheiser’s S1 should be a nice headset, and it is. I managed to get the S1 snug around my peanut-size head thanks to the adjustable headband and switches on the inside of the ear cups, though moving each switch is a little tricky. In addition to the on button for the ANR on the control box, I pushed a skinny button on the outside of the left earcup to optimize the ANR. While taxiing with the window of the Cessna 172 open, the airflow somehow disturbed the ANR system, producing a strange, loud thumping sound. The noise disappeared when the window was shut, and the noise-cancellation quality was very good. Music lovers will particularly enjoy the S1, as the sound quality coming through the Bluetooth connection is excellent. The phone sound was also terrific on both ends. Setting up the Bluetooth was a seamless process, but in direct sunlight, the skinny indicator light on the control box was not bright enough for me to see the emitted color, which signals whether the Bluetooth is pairing, etc. Activating the headset’s auto-mute feature, which mutes the music during ATC transmissions, is as simple as switching a button on the control box. Visit Sennheiser — Pia Bergqvist

Model: Sennheiser S1
Price: $995
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 14.5 oz
Bluetooth: Yes
Aux Port: No
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power: DC Plug
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: No
Warranty: 5 years

aviation headset, pilot headsets, innovative headset
Lightspeed Aviation Zulu PFX Lightspeed

Lightspeed Aviation Zulu PFX

First Look at the Next Great Thing

One of the most exciting developments in the headset world in years is Lightspeed Aviation’s new Zulu PFX headset, claimed to be the world’s quietest thanks to improved dynamic ANR and acoustic response mapping. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fly with the PFX in time for this roundup, as the headset was delayed in development. We did have the chance to try the headset at the Lightspeed booth at 2013 AirVenture Oshkosh and found it to be very quiet. The secret, says the company, is in the electronics. The PFX processes incoming noise and adapts the signal to conform the output to the wearer’s ear shape while eliminating external sounds. With redesigned electronics, the Zulu PFX is also lighter, which should provide additional comfort on long flights. You’ll notice the size and heft of the battery pack that holds it all now, including a more powerful microprocessor. When powered on, the pilot hears the normal level of ANR through the headset followed a moment later by an even lower level of quiet as the acoustic response mapping kicks in. — Stephen Pope/R.G.

Model: Lightspeed Aviation Zulu PFX
Price: $1,100
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 14 oz
Bluetooth: Yes
Aux Port: Yes
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 4 AA Batteries
Panel Power: Available
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 5 years

digital headset, noise reduction aviation headset
Telex Stratus 50 Digital Telex

Telex Stratus 50 Digital

ANR and Features Galore

While bulky and a bit on the heavy side, the Telex Stratus 50 Digital’s thick cushioning makes it a comfortable headset. The ANR is not exceptional, but it eliminates the low hum of the engine very effectively. Noise cancellation also exists in the microphone, which works great and doesn’t let any background noise through, even when positioned right in front of an open air-vent. The headset has a large, heavy control box for the on-off switch and DC power port, yet the volume controls are on the ear cups. There is also a separate box attached to the chord that connects to a phone or music device. The cockpit gets a little messy with all the chords and boxes. While the system provides enough volume for the music and phone features, the sound quality is not quite up to par with some of Stratus 50 Digital’s competitors. The Stratus 50 Digital provides all the features pilots desire, but the difference in quality compared to its more expensive cousins is noticeable. — P.B.

Model: Telex Stratus 50 digital
Price: $799
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 18 oz
Bluetooth: No
Aux Jack: Yes
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 4 AA Batteries
Panel Power: DC Plug
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 5 years

bluetooth aviation headset, pilot headset bluetooth
Clarity Aloft Link Bluetooth Headset Clarity Aloft

Clarity Aloft Link Bluetooth Headset

Featherweight and Feature-Packed

The undisputed leader of the small but significant in-ear headset market is Clarity Aloft, which for years has been selling high-quality headsets that make use of little earplug-like foam tips the user inserts into his or her ear canals. The end result is a remarkable mix of great sound attenuation — which rivals or surpasses over-the-ear cup-style headsets — and outstanding audio. The company’s headsets make use of a super-light plastic boom for the mic. The whole affair weighs in at less than a third of most of its conventional competitors. The most capable headset from Clarity Aloft is the Link model, which combines a dual-channel Bluetooth device (developed by partner Pilot Communications) with the super lightweight design and great sound of Clarity Aloft’s other headsets. At $795, the Link is a premium product. The in-ear approach isn’t ideal for users who don’t like the feeling of earplugs. But for those who are comfortable with the fit, the Link is close to pure magic. — R.G.

Model: Clarity Aloft Link
Price: $795
ANR/Passive: Passive
Weight: 4.2 oz
Bluetooth: Yes
Aux Port: No
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power: No
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 3 years

aviation headphones, aviation headset
More products from Beyerdynamic Beyerdynamic

Beyerdynamic HS 800 Digital

European Styling and Comfort

With its carbon fiberlike details, Beyerdynamic’s HS 800 Digital headset appears more expensive than its $699 price tag. Not only does the German manufactured headset look cool, but it also provides great comfort. Soft, supple leather encloses the round ear seals and provides a nice fit around the ears. But perhaps they are a little too comfortable because the passive noise cancellation is not very effective. However, the headset does provide ANR, which is managed via a compact control box. The ANR capability is good, but not quite up to par with higher-end products, as it has a noticeable squelchlike counter noise. There is no interference noise with the mic. You get decent sound quality with the music and phone features through the auxiliary port, and you can choose to auto-mute the sound during ATC communications. Overall, the quality and features provided by the HS 800 are worth the price tag. Visit Beyerdynamic — P.B.

Model: Beyerdynamic HS 800 Digital
Price: $699
ANR/Passive: ANR
Weight: 12 oz
Bluetooth: No
Aux Port: Yes
Carrying Case: Yes
Power Source: 2 AA Batteries
Panel Power: Hard wire and DC plug
Volume Control: Yes
Auto Shut-off: Yes
Warranty: 5 years

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