Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, November 30, -0001

Headsets: Choosing The Right Tool

Technology and individuality drive this year’s headset selection

Open cockpits and aircraft with high- performance engines present problems for the ANR headset. First, the noise in those cockpits comes from a lot of different sources and usually includes a lot of high-frequency stuff from the slipstream and prop. Second, the sound varies wildly—especially in open cockpits—depending on how the pilot moves his or her head, how the prop is set and where the throttle is. In those cases, ANR is wrong for the job.

Passive headsets are neither better nor worse than ANR, they're just different. If you're experiencing issues with your communications, the wrong headset could be at the center of your problem. ANR has been a godsend for many pilots, but in the wrong cockpit, it can be disastrous. Again, it's about choosing the right tool.

In recent years, some interesting alternatives to the traditional headset have emerged. The most promising of those is the in-ear headset. In-ears do away with all the clamping mechanisms, weight and ear cups of standard headsets. A featherlight wire goes around the pilot's head and supports the condenser microphone. These headsets take passive attenuation to new heights by fitting the speakers into tiny, earbud-like transducers that insert directly into the ear canal with foam plugs. With the sound pointing directly at your eardrum while the plugs block out everything else, they're hyper-efficient. They require no battery, and come close to doubling the attenuation of traditional headsets, with ratings upward of 45 dB! Weighing less than an ounce, they can be worn for hours.
To increase the chances of selecting the right headset, pilots need to come to the buying table with a bit of savvy.
Leaders in the in-ear field include Clarity Aloft, Lightspeed, Quiet Technologies and Swiss company Phonak with their FreeCom series. The disadvantage of in-ear headsets has always been their cost. However, since Quiet Technologies introduced their excellent-sounding "Halo" for $359, thousands of pilots are discovering the freedom of the in-ear design. For people who can't tolerate anything inside their ear, custom ear molds are an option, because they sit more on the ear instead of in it, and work well with these types of headsets.

A recent trend is the use of earbuds in the cockpit. Earbuds are those tiny speakers you use with MP3 players and tablets. By adding a 3.5mm to ¼-inch adapter and plugging them into the airplane's "PHONE" jack, they can be used in place of the headset's speakers. The headset is worn over the earbuds for its microphone and for added noise attenuation. Pilots should know that the impedance of earbud speakers is typically 16 Ohms, which is a big difference from the 150-300 Ohm speakers your aircraft's radio is designed to drive. The difference could create volume issues for passengers, or pull too much current, so contact your intercom manufacturer and ask about using earbuds with it.


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