Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Headsets On Parade

Newer colors, better performance and more upgrade options lead the headset pack

Microphones today are offered as dynamic or electret condenser. These two terms refer to the way in which the microphones create an electrical signal. It's generally accepted that, while dynamic microphones can handle more abuse and are sturdier, the sound quality of the condenser microphones is superior (at least in our aviation headsets). That "silky" sound you hear on the radio is usually a condenser microphone.

Hot-Rod Your Headset
Combined with a new headset, you can realize a dramatic improvement in performance by considering a few enhancements.

Microphone—Believe it or not, the right microphone will give you the most bang for your buck. Most of the headsets available from the major manufacturers today have decent mics, but a huge change in sound is available by swapping it. And it can be done for well under $100. Pilot USA manufactures a line of their own headsets as well as headset accessories and upgrades for many popular headsets. Part of that is their top-of-the-line, PA-9EHN high-noise electret condenser mic that interchanges with stock mics on many headsets. The audible difference between your stock microphone and their various upgrade mics is nothing short of amazing.

Hush Kit—Oregon Aero has been marketing this upgrade kit for a while, though it's still relatively unknown to many pilots. This is an upgrade that makes your headset easier to wear and much quieter. The good news is that a kit is available for just about every headset out there. It's comprised of new ear cup seals made from special "memory" foam, several other foam components that go inside the ear cup, a special mic cover, ear seal covers and a new head pad. It's user-installable with nothing more than a screwdriver, and makes a dramatic difference. It's designed only for passive headsets.

Ear Buds—The proliferation of MP3 music players has created a revolution that is benefiting aviation. Today we have little "ear buds" that connect to your music player and use increasingly small drivers to reproduce studio-quality sound directly to your ear. Many pilots are connecting ear buds to a stereo adapter (1⁄8-inch male to 1⁄4-inch male) and plugging that into the receiver jack in the airplane, using the ear bud to receive radio transmissions. It fits under their standard headset and provides not only better sound but also better noise protection similar to wearing ear plugs.

What's Coming
It's no secret that the future of aviation headsets is wireless. Though a few companies have dabbled with wireless headsets, none have made a product that's truly viable in the cockpit. That's rapidly changing as the R&D departments of these companies triumph over the complexities of designing a wireless headset that works with all intercoms in all aircraft.

Newer headset materials and designs are evolving. Speaker drivers will continue to shrink and improve, and comfort will drive manufacturers to innovate. Headsets are being offered in newer colors as pilots seek to personalize what they buy.

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