The RA950 combines the benefits of ANR with durability and an affordable price.
One market segment generally ignored in aviation-headset makers is the rough-and-tumble world of flight schools and industrial operations. There are plenty of high-end active noise reduction (ANR) headsets around for the more genteel pilot, cruising in air-conditioned comfort at 20,000 feet, but fewer choices exist that will stand up to the abuse of university flight-training programs, accelerated ab initio academies, busy local FBOs and harsh industrial environments. Most operations on a budget would be hard-pressed to shell out some $1,000 each for a delicate-but-high-performing “name” headset. Rugged Radios has clearly targeted this market and introduced its “hardened” version of a professional-class ANR headset.
The first thing you notice when you pull the Rugged Radios RA950 ANR headset out of the padded bag is how rugged it really is. Built a bit like a Jeep®, this headset is no dainty, fragile contender. From the plated, spring-steel headband to the sturdy ear cups and ratcheting full-flex microphone boom, this headset is made for tough environments. The feel and heft of it is substantial, though it’s no plodding boat anchor. The unit just feels like it’s going to last through anything.
The build quality and durability of the RA950 is evident in simple things like the cord itself, which feels thick and unyielding to pulls and constant coiling. It terminates in a sturdy, nine-volt battery pack with an industrial-quality belt clip to keep it out of the way (a nice touch). The stereo-mono switch gives a satisfying “clack” when moved, and would be easy to find in dark cockpits or bouncing around in rough air.
The two jacks exit the battery box in a molded, heavy rubber bushing that keeps the two cords together and intact. The jacks themselves could be run over by a car and wouldn’t suffer much damage.
I should mention a word about Rugged Radios as a company. They have 20 years’ worth of experience building communications equipment for high-noise, harsh environments, including off-road racing, fire and law enforcement, motorcycles and heavy industry.
Located in San Luis Obispo, Calif., the folks at Rugged Radios manufacture not only headsets, but also complete intercom systems, helmet kits, professional racing communication systems and all the components and cables that go with them. They have an entire line of aviation headsets, with the RA950 as their flagship ANR set.
With the RA950, durability and strength don’t translate to excessive weight. The RA950 weighs in at 19 ounces, so it’s no featherweight, but it doesn’t feel like a helmet on your head either. It feels about right for a headset meant for tough flying environments.
Rugged’s engineers have paid attention to details that matter, such as extra-deep gel ear seals, a contoured deluxe headband, “clear hear” speakers and an included foam mic muff. The headband adjustment is a set of no-nonsense nylon-insert locknuts, which makes sense, since pilots seldom adjust the ear cup height once it’s set. There are no pesky knobs to lose.
The RA950 has dual volume controls, and an LED tells you when the unit is working. I thought the glossy black finish on the ear cups was a little dated, but maybe that’s just the 1970s coming back to haunt me.
Overall, the RA950 isn’t especially “high-tech” looking, but then that’s not really the market it’s designed for.
Any headset has to prove itself in the cockpit, so I took the RA950 out for a spin on a couple of occasions in both my biplane and a friend’s Legend Cub. One has to realize that this unit isn’t meant to compete head-to-head with something like the Bose or Zulu so it’s not fair to compare them in every respect. The RA950 has a list price of $499. Clearly, this headset is meant for folks who need good-quality sound without the complexity, cost and vulnerability of headsets in the $1,000 stratosphere.
In the cockpit, the RA950 was a pleasant surprise. Though the sound was a bit focused in the midrange of the audio spectrum, it wasn’t harsh or brassy. Ideally a little less mid and a bit more low and upper-high would make it even better.
The durability of the RA950 shows even in small details, like the quality of the battery box and the industrial-grade jacks and cords.
The electret condenser microphone did its job in my windy open cockpit and the inside of the Cub. I noticed the lack of “warble,” which occurs sometimes when using a high-end ANR headset in a windy environment as the sample microphone and “anti-noise” try to keep up with the changing sound. ATC was clear, though I’d opt for a bit more output from the speakers for noisy cockpits like mine.
The RA950 offers 24 dB of passive noise reduction, which is pretty standard. The ANR increases attenuation to 39.5 dB, but like all ANR headsets, it only offers that amount of reduction in a narrow spectrum. For the RA950, that’s around the 3,000 Hz (or 3 kHz) realm, which is right about where human speech lies. The lower end of the RA950’s main attenuation band is from 20 Hz to 600 Hz. The unit’s total frequency response is 5 Hz to 20 kHz, as published by the manufacturer.
The unit comes in a padded, zippered nylon carrying case from the manufacturer, and includes everything you need to use it right out of the box. Optional accessories include different headbands, foam ear seals and cloth ear-seal covers. The RA950 comes standard with a two-year warranty.
This headset is ideal for flight schools or industrial operations that want a rugged headset that offers the benefits of ANR at a realistic price and will survive rough handling. I can’t imagine an environment that would damage the RA950, and I can see where this unit fits into the aviation world. It’s also a good value for the average pilot on a budget who wants ANR without mortgaging the farm. If I had a flight school, I’d buy 15 of these, put them in the airplanes and forget about them. Like the company that makes them, “Rugged” defines the RA950. In this rare case, it’s no marketing hype.