Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

JH Audio Aerous VX-Series Headsets


In-the-ear sound for audiophile aviators


tech talkFor most pilots, aviation headsets are a necessary evil. They protect your hearing from long-term damage due to engine noise and make it easier to hear passengers, other pilots and ATC on the radio. But most do so by clamping down hard over your ears to block out sound; if worn for more than a few hours, they can give you a headache. I started with the generic passive headsets sold at my flight school, and when I started making long cross-country flights (up to 10 hours in a day), I upgraded to somewhat lighter and more comfortable automatic noise reduction (ANR) models. With those, the clamping pressure is less, the background noise is cut down, and it takes longer for me to get a headache—but I still get it.
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tech talkFor most pilots, aviation headsets are a necessary evil. They protect your hearing from long-term damage due to engine noise and make it easier to hear passengers, other pilots and ATC on the radio. But most do so by clamping down hard over your ears to block out sound; if worn for more than a few hours, they can give you a headache. I started with the generic passive headsets sold at my flight school, and when I started making long cross-country flights (up to 10 hours in a day), I upgraded to somewhat lighter and more comfortable automatic noise reduction (ANR) models. With those, the clamping pressure is less, the background noise is cut down, and it takes longer for me to get a headache—but I still get it. And while aviation headsets generally do a good job with voice—with rare exceptions (i.e., Bose Series X)—they don’t offer audiophile-quality music response.

Now comes Jerry Harvey, an experienced audio designer (and founder of Ultimate Ears, which makes headsets for professional musicians) who happens to be a pilot. He wasn’t satisfied with the options available in aviation headsets, and decided he could do better. After trying one of his headsets, I’m convinced he has.

Harvey’s Aerous VX-series are stereo, in-the-ear headsets. They’re extremely light—less than three ounces. Though it’s passive, I found his VX3 almost as effective at blocking outside noise as my ANR headset. And with no headband and no clamping pressure, I didn’t get a headache!

The process of buying an Aerous VX headset is, in a word, different. When you call JH Audio to order one, you’ll be referred to a local audiologist who can make custom molds of your ears. Harvey has an arrangement with the Sonus network (www.sonus.com), which has member audiologists in most cities.

The audiologist near me gave me a brace to bite on, then put small pieces of foam in my ears with strings attached so he could pull them out. He then injected plastic mold material into my ears using what looked like an old-fashioned grease gun. Waiting with the brace in my mouth for the plastic to harden was the worst part, but it took just a few minutes. I was then given the molds, which I shipped to JH Audio (in the provided box).

From those molds, a custom set of earpieces are made, attached to lightweight cables that end with either conventional aircraft audio jacks or a Bose LEMO connector (used on Cirrus and Columbia aircraft and some helicopters). One of the two earpieces has a boom mic attached—by default, it’s on the right, but you can order one on the left if you prefer. The low-end VX1 model comes in a plain plastic case; the two higher-end models (including the top-of-the-line VX3, which I tested) come in a custom carbon-fiber case that can be laser-engraved with your name (or your aircraft number) at no extra cost.



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