When German manufacturer Sennheiser created their Digital Adaptive S1 headset a few years ago, they had a hit on their hands. Lauded for its comfort, the Digital S1 was the first in Sennheiser's headset line to introduce the "adaptive" concept, whereby pilots could press a button on the headset and "sample" the surrounding environment, adapting the headset's attenuation to the frequencies present at that moment in that airplane. It was an innovative and useful feature that made the headset unique. The headset was a hit in the aviation community, but with a four-digit price tag, it remained in the flight bags of the well-heeled. Sennheiser just introduced their new S1 "Noisegard" to appeal to a wider audience.
The concept behind the S1 Noisegard was to offer nearly the same noise-attenuation performance as the well-respected S1 Digital, but at a lower price. With most other headset manufacturers pricing their top-end headsets in the $1,000 range and up, many pilots are throwing up their hands and buying more affordable headsets, even if it means giving up some features. The S1 Noisegard aims to keep the customer in Sennheiser quality without the stiff price.
The main difference between the new S1 Noisegard and the flagship S1 Digital is the absence of the sampling button. There are some different comfort and cosmetic features, but the Noisegard model keeps the basic design aesthetic of the Digital S1. In fact, other than missing the ability to sample a noise environment at different phases of flight, the S1 Noisegard sports similar overall performance to the S1 Digital in every other area.
Right out of the gate, it's surprising that the lower-priced Noisegard has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 18 kHz. The Digital S1 only goes up to 16 KHz. While we can hear up into the 20 kHz range, most of us who are beyond our 20s and have been flying for several years might not be able to distinguish a huge difference. If, however, you're an audiophile (or have a dog) and love the crispy highs in that upper range, the S1 Noisegard might be better suited to your ears.
In a twist of irony, the frequency response of the microphone is better on the S1 Digital. While the Noisegard reaches up to 8 kHz, the more expensive S1 Digital goes from 100 Hz to 10 kHz. Whether a bump at the higher frequency is worth the additional money remains to be seen, although I doubt most people will discern a major difference. A neat feature of the S1 Noisegard is adjustable microphone sensitivity. Just a twist of a mini- screwdriver on an opening in the boom, and the adjustment is completed.
and the Flagship S1 Digital is the abscence of
a sampling button.
As noted in past reviews, we're enjoying something of a "golden era" in aviation headsets, where nearly all ANR (active noise reduction) headsets sound good. The differences in actual sound between Lightspeed, Bose, David Clark, Sennheiser and a few of the other high-end manufacturers is very subjective. It's not a stretch to say there are no bad-sounding headsets in this tier. What's different about each one is comfort.
Sennheiser took a different approach with the design of the entire S1 line. They differ significantly from the established "HME" line of headsets in many ways. One of the most notable is the size and shape of the S1's ear cups. Larger than the competitors', the S1 features deep and wide oval ear cups. The comfort they offer is obvious the minute you put them on. The larger ear cups also provide a better seal, which is useful if your ANR batteries die and you're left with passive-only attenuation. In fact, the S1 Noisegard, like most modern headsets, automatically switches to passive mode when the AA batteries wear out (which Sennheiser says is about 40 hours).
The S1 Noisegard is cosmetically similar to others in the S1 line, this time sporting glossy, metallic-gray ear cups instead of black. The cord has the same sturdy feel and connectors as the rest of the S1 line. One of the best features of the S1 family is adjustment of clamping pressure, and the Noisegard model has this, as well. Three intensities of clamping can be selected on each ear cup, which is especially useful on long flights.
Having flown with several of the S1 headsets during long flights over the past few years, one area I'd suggest Sennheiser engineers look at, is the two individual head pads on the headpiece of the headset. While they feel comfortable on initial wearing, after about two hours, the individual pads create pressure points. Although it's not a showstopper, a one-piece, consistent-pressure head pad would help match the considerable comfort
of the ear cups. The S1 Noisegard has these same head pads, and although it's a small complaint, it can be significant on long cross-countries.
In aviation, the number-one priority in a headset is protection from noise. Between the engine and exhaust noise, the slipstream and the bleat of the propeller, our ears are pummeled with a good 110 dB (decibels—a measure of sound intensity) of noise, mostly concentrated in the lower frequencies. Studies by the FAA, several universities and industrial firms have determined that exposure to any sound greater than 85 dB will cause permanent hearing damage. Other than being comfortable, our headsets need to protect our ears from the sound intensity and frequencies that cause the most damage. Here, the S1 Noisegard excels.
Sennheiser is already known in the professional sound community for excellence. Their headsets are used in the best recording studios in the world. The S1 Noisegard continues that legacy by offering the same ANR protection as their flagship S1 Digital. However, the Noisegard achieves this with a fixed frequency response instead of the "adaptive" frequency response that reacts to a user's environment. That's okay because Sennheiser engineers chose the most common low frequency areas for the most attenuation. What you get is an almost "airy," quiet response in your headsets.
Sporting considerable comfort, excellent noise reduction, cable connectivity to MP3 players and cell phones, and an appealing, modern design, the S1 Noisegard looks to be another home run for Sennheiser. And with a street price of just less than $800, the S1 Noisegard will appeal to those who want legendary German engineering and quality at a price they can better afford. Visit en-us.sennheiser.com.