Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sennheiser S1 Passive

Digital features and BMW design set a new standard in passive headsets

The real test of any headset is the cockpit, so I fired up the 140 and taxied out. All headsets attenuate noise over a curve of some sort, with the best attenuation occurring over a narrow frequency range. Since studies have shown that the noise from your propeller, exhaust and engine combine around the 100 Hz range, most headsets target this low-frequency area.

Unfortunately, most manufacturers won't provide this curve in their documentation, which is a real shame since it's really the only true way to compare headsets. Though Sennheiser was unable to provide me their attenuation curve (they're retesting after some clamping adjustments), they told me the passive S1 attenuates 22 dB. Unfortunately, I have no idea what frequency that's based on. One change I'd like to see from all headset manufacturers is a noise-attenuation curve provided with each headset.

The S1 sounded good in the sense that it did make a dramatic difference in noise attenuation. One feature I appreciate as a musician is that the S1 will automatically cut off any volume peak above 110 dB, safeguarding your hearing from sudden bursts of noise. The attached control unit provides this feature, along with volume control over external devices and an attachment mechanism for cell phones and music players. Though these features work off the unit's batteries, the headset will function fine without batteries.

I loved the feel and comfort of the S1 over headsets that are more traditional. I appreciated the "V" shapes built into the extra-large ear cups that accommodate the wearer's ear lobes; a frequent pressure point. It was also nice to be able to adjust the clamping pressure on each side individually. I can see where this headset would remain comfortable over a long flight.

The condenser microphone sounded crisp and seemed to block a good amount of the ambient noise in the cockpit. I listened to music through an iPod I plugged into the accessory control unit, and it sounded great! Whenever ATC called, the music muted, and I really liked being able to adjust the volume through the control unit. I also made a cell-phone call through the S1, and the sound was just as good, with the same call muting whenever an ATC communication came through.

The S1 is definitely a high-performance passive headset, especially at its retail price of $369. Absent any documented attenuation curves, I could only judge the headset's "quietness" subjectively; though it sounded comparable to the best sets I've tried. I did an "A-B" test with my favorite passive headset, and the attenuation was close, though the S1 was more comfortable. Overall, I give Sennheiser a high score on the passive S1, and I can recommend it for any typical, enclosed GA cockpit. Plus it looks and feels great and comes with a five-year warranty.

For additional information on the S1, visit

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