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Aviation Headsets: how to choose the right one

Finding the right headset can be a challenge for any pilot. Do you need Active Noise Reduction (ANR)? Is Bluetooth audio a helpful feature or a gimmick? What's a LEMO plug? This seminar answers all these questions and more, with honest opinions from active general aviation pilots. Includes a discussion of key terms, how to choose a headset, what's on the market right now and what pilots are saying about Bose, Lightspeed, AKG and David Clark headsets. Watch the video recording here: http://youtu.be/1jzsiSwNWek

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Aviation Headsets 
How to choose the right one 
John Zimmerman 
Sporty’s Pilot Shop
John Zimmerman 
• Active GA Pilot 
Comm/Multi/Inst/Heli 
• Vice President 
Sporty’s Pilot Shop 
Aviation Headsets
Poll: What headset are you 
flying with right now?
Aviation Headsets 
Presentation overview 
1. Key terms 
2. Buyer’s guide 
3. The market 
4. Editorial comments 
5. Tips and Tricks
Aviation Headsets 
Some caveats 
• We can’t possibly cover every headset – we’ll hit the most 
popular models 
• We’re only talking about new headsets 
• We’re only talking about aviation headsets – don’t mess 
around with modified consumer 
• Headsets are personal, so I will offer some opinions
Quick History 
We didn’t always wear headsets? 
1903-1970s Early 1980s Mid- 
1980s Late 1980s 
Nothing! First headsets Aviation-specific headsets First ANR 
headsets 
1990s Late 1990s 
2000s 2010s 
New entrants 2nd gen. ANR Bluetooth 
3rd gen. ANR

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Aviation Headsets: how to choose the right one

  • 1. Aviation Headsets How to choose the right one John Zimmerman Sporty’s Pilot Shop
  • 2. John Zimmerman • Active GA Pilot Comm/Multi/Inst/Heli • Vice President Sporty’s Pilot Shop Aviation Headsets
  • 3. Poll: What headset are you flying with right now?
  • 4. Aviation Headsets Presentation overview 1. Key terms 2. Buyer’s guide 3. The market 4. Editorial comments 5. Tips and Tricks
  • 5. Aviation Headsets Some caveats • We can’t possibly cover every headset – we’ll hit the most popular models • We’re only talking about new headsets • We’re only talking about aviation headsets – don’t mess around with modified consumer • Headsets are personal, so I will offer some opinions
  • 6. Quick History We didn’t always wear headsets? 1903-1970s Early 1980s Mid- 1980s Late 1980s Nothing! First headsets Aviation-specific headsets First ANR headsets 1990s Late 1990s 2000s 2010s New entrants 2nd gen. ANR Bluetooth 3rd gen. ANR
  • 8. Key Terms What does it all mean? • NRR • ANR • Bluetooth • A2DP • TSO • LEMO/XLR • Mono/Stereo • Electret/Dynamic Mic
  • 9. Key Terms NRR: Noise Reduction Rating • The measurement, in decibels, of how well a headset reduces noise • Total noise level – NRR = total noise exposure • Not as useful as it sounds – what’s measured in a lab is not the same as real world perception • Many manufacturers don’t even publish it anymore The NRR wars are over
  • 10. Key Terms ANR: Active Noise Reduction • Microphones “listen” to the ambient noise • Speakers emit a sound wave with the same amplitude, but inverted phase • This effectively cancels the unwanted sound • Most effective at canceling low frequency noise (engine and prop)
  • 11. Key Terms Bluetooth • Allows you to connect your headset to your cell phone • Requires you to pair the two devices • Pick up clearances on the ground • Passengers can listen to music • Music or phone or both? Important question
  • 12. Key Terms A2DP: Advanced Audio Distribution Profile • Allows stereo audio to be transmitted to your headset • Generally (although not always) requires Bluetooth 2.0 • Lightspeed Zulu, Sennheiser S1 and AKG have this • S1 and AKG also have AVRCP, which allows the headset control box to select next/previous track and pause/play
  • 13. Key Terms TSO: Technical Standard Order • FAA’s minimum performance standards • TSO-C139 is the current TSO • Does not matter for Part 91 (GA) flying • Required for Part 121 (airline) operations – sort of So is a TSO’d headset better? Not necessarily.
  • 14. Key Terms LEMO/XLR • Types of connectors • LEMO is actually a brand name, but is commonly used to refer to a single, panel-powered, 6-pin plug • XLR is another panel connector, used on Airbus • Both eliminate the need for a separate battery box
  • 15. Key Terms Stereo/Mono • Most headsets have both • Stereo allows the option to hear stereo audio in headset • Requires a stereo intercom (most older ones are not) • Does not matter for ATC • Stereo intercom? Must have a stereo headset • If not, stereo is probably worth the few extra $
  • 16. Key Terms Electret/Dynamic Mic • Electret is a type of condenser microphone • It’s the standard and best at noise canceling • Watch out for low impedance dynamic mics – these are for military use only
  • 18. Buyer’s Guide Finding the right headset – for you! Comfort Quiet Clarity Audio/phone features Durability Manufacturer support vs. Price No one perfect headset – match it to your mission.
  • 19. Comfort The most important feature? • Weight matters • But also weight distribution (ear cups or headband?) • Ear seal size/quality • Headband cushion • Side pressure – adjustable?
  • 20. Quiet Important, but don’t get caught up in it • Noise really depends on how you perceive it • Depends on the frequency too – could have great NRR at one level but bad at another • Is it “quiet enough” and does it work in your airplane?
  • 21. Clarity Often overlooked, but essential • This is where cheap headsets really fall short • Quality of speakers • Quality of microphone • This has really improved dramatically in the past 20 years
  • 22. Audio/Phone Features Do they matter to you? • Wired phone • Wired audio • Bluetooth phone • Bluetooth audio • Audio controls on the headset? Wired input Bluetooth control More than just music – audio alerts from iPad apps.
  • 23. Durability Where do you fly with your headset? • In general, ANR headsets are not as durable as passive (external microphones) • But this is only an issue for some pilots (Alaska, Bahamas) • David Clark has a reputation for indestructible gear • Any headset from a major brand is probably fine unless you’re really abusing it
  • 24. Manufacturer Support It’s generally excellent • What is the warranty? • What is the reputation? • Are accessories available? • Do they support old headsets? • How expensive are repairs?
  • 25. Cable Variations Panel, battery or helicopter • LEMO/panel plug means no more batteries • Does require installation • Some airplanes have LEMO plugs built in • Battery powered is totally portable • Helicopter pilots – single plug • Do you fly multiple airplanes? • Bose sells LEMO-to-twin plug adapter • AKG has both panel and twin plugs
  • 26. Little Stuff Sometimes it makes a difference • Folding ear cups are nice for storage • AKG has lights in ear cups (iPad?) • Does it include a carrying case? • Battery life of ANR/audio features?
  • 28. The Market Plenty of options, from $150 to $1100 • Passive • Mid-range ANR • Super high-end • Niches: lightweight and in-the-ear
  • 29. What’s New Innovation at the high end • Multiple ANR microphones • Digital ANR • Adaptive ANR • High end Bluetooth features • Focus on comfort • “Can you top this” service
  • 30. Poll: What is your budget for the next headset you buy?
  • 31. Passive Headsets Great entry-level option Pros: Cons: • Affordable • Durable • No batteries • Heavier • More squeeze • Cell phone? Sigtronics S20 Telex Echelon 20 David Clark H10-13.4 Sennheiser 1 Passive
  • 32. Mid-range ANR Lots of value and performance Pros: Cons: • Bang for the buck • Good ANR • Improved comfort • No digital ANR • Fewer audio features • Heavier than Bose, Zulu Sigtronics S-AR Lightspeed Sierra Telex Stratus 50D Sennheiser S1 Noisegard
  • 33. Super High-end The best of the best Pros: Cons: • Best noise reduction • Best overall comfort • High end audio • Expensive • Expensive • Expensive Lightspeed Zulu PFX Bose A20 Sennheiser S1 Digital AKG AV100
  • 34. Lightweight Headsets Mostly for jets Pros: Cons: • Very light weight • Battery-free ANR for some (mic bias) • Less ANR • ANR tuned to wind noise, not prop noise Telex Airman 750 Telex Airman 850 Sennheiser HMEC 26 David Clark Pro-X
  • 35. In-the-ear Headsets A different approach Pros: Cons: • Extremely light • No side pressure • Very quiet • Can be uncomfortable • Ear tips need replacing • Not inexpensive ($500+) Clarity Aloft
  • 37. Bose A20 Aviation Headset Top-selling headset • Bose’s best noise reduction ever • 1/3rd less clamping force • Bluetooth phone interface • Wired audio interface • Priority switching for audio • Made in USA, TSO’d • $1095
  • 38. Lightspeed Zulu PFX Newest headset on the market • New approach to ANR – adjusts to each environment • Great audio quality for music • Bluetooth phone and music • Firmware upgradeable • Cable is strong and flexible • $1100
  • 39. Lightspeed Zulu.2 Still a great headset • Not PFX, but still very good ANR • Stainless steel headband • Bluetooth phone and music • Auto-mute audio • $850
  • 40. FlightLink App Free app for iPad/iPhone • Adjust settings – especially good on the PFX • Record/play back audio • Copy clearances • Free app for iPhone/iPad
  • 41. Sennheiser S1 Digital Making a push into general aviation • Smart adapt digital ANR – resamples noise • Adjustable headband tension • Bluetooth phone and music • Built-in audio controls on box • Stainless steel headband • Made in Germany, TSO’d • $995
  • 42. AKG AV100 New player in aviation headsets • Harman is the parent company – long history in audio • Bluetooth phone and music • Built-in audio controls on box • LEDs on ear cups • Includes LEMO and twin plugs • $1099
  • 44. Editorial Comments Totally biased • Avoid the $99 special on passive headsets. You get what you pay for. • ANR is expensive, but generally worth it. • Nothing wrong with starting with a passive headset. You can always make it a passenger headset.
  • 45. Editorial Comments Coke or Pepsi question? • All 4 top end headsets are really great. Mostly a matter of personal preference. • Bose is tops for comfort • Lightspeed tops for quiet • AKG and Sennheiser good on audio
  • 46. Customer Reviews Don’t take my word for it • Over 30,000 reviews on sportys.com • All verified buyers – no review spam • We give you the pilot rating so you can judge • We publish them all: good, bad and ugly “This headset is worth its weight in gold.” VS. “Buy this product only if you are starved and have no income.”
  • 47. Customer Reviews Bose A20 • “Very comfortable, even for 8+ hour days.” • “Battery life is outstanding, even with the extra functions.” • “In the end I felt that it was worth spending the money… which is a lot coming from a CFI who is by no means rich.”
  • 48. Customer Reviews Lightspeed Zulu.2 • “Great sounding headphones. XM never sounded so good.” • “The Bluetooth setup for cell phone and music is seamless.” • “Stylish, modern… The best bang for the buck.”
  • 49. Customer Reviews Sennheiser S1 Digital • “Very comfortable with adjustable clamping force.” • “Very high quality construction.” • “The fidelity is amazing.”
  • 50. Customer Reviews Lightspeed Zulu.PFX • Brand new, so no customer reviews yet. • Our product tester comments: • “Very quiet – probably quieter than a Bose A20.” • “Comfortable ear seals, but not as light as a Bose.” • “Fantastic audio quality and Bluetooth features.” • “Love the cable design – really convenient in the cockpit.” • “A little complicated to operate at first – lots of options.”
  • 51. Customer Reviews AKG AV100 • Brand new, so no customer reviews yet. • Our product tester comments: • “Really comfortable ear seals and head band.” • “Microphone and audio quality was superb.” • “Very high tech look, quality components.” • “ANR was good, but not exceptional.” • “A little heavier than expected.”
  • 52. Customer Reviews Lightspeed Sierra • “As a student pilot I had been using standard cheap headsets and now I have a Sierra I have no idea why it took so long to make the change.” • “Good value for the money.” • “We use the Sierra for passengers.”
  • 53. Customer Reviews David Clark Pro-X • “These are great noise canceling headsets, even in a Bonanza F-33A.” • “Very comfortable on long flights. The ear pads are soft.” • “It can take some time to figure out a good position.”
  • 54. Customer Reviews David Clark H10-13.4 • “David Clark’s most popular model for a reason!” • “22 years later the headset is still working great.” • “Excellent value.”
  • 55. Customer Reviews Sigtronics S20 • “Nice headset for the money. Built very well.” • “Surprisingly light.” • “Great for those on a budget.”
  • 57. Owner Tips For better performance • Most ANR headsets are one-sided • Ear cups are not symmetrical (L/R) • Can switch mic position for co-pilot • Know how to set stereo/mono and auto shut-off • If you hear audio out of one ear, switch to mono • Could be switches in the battery box • A good ear seal is critical – take your time
  • 58. Owner Tips For better performance • Replace your ear seals every 18 months • Keep track of your volumes • Intercom – volume of your co-pilot • Radio – volume of ATC • Headset – master volume for all (sync with co-pilot) • Aux audio/phone – external volume (music, phone) • Protect your investment with a headset bag • Turn off Bluetooth when not in use
  • 59. Owner Tips For better performance • Carry extra batteries – always! • Cable management – a little Velcro goes a long way • The lighter the headset, the more a clothing clip matters • Don’t leave your headset on the glare shield in the sun Battery Caddy 5676A $7.95 Velcro Wraps 2409A $3.75
  • 60. Why buy from Sporty’s? #1 aviation headset retailer • We only sell quality headsets • Same day shipping • Two day delivery is standard • Free shipping on Bose, Zulu, Sennheiser • Guaranteed lowest prices • Dedicated after-sale support Sportys.com/Headsets
  • 61. Aviation Headsets How to choose the right one John Zimmerman zimmerman@sportys.com

Editor's Notes

  1. Biggest complaint? No Bluetooth audio
  2. Complicated to operate
  3. Not as comfortable as Bose – heavier and squeezes
  4. Not as comfortable as Bose – heavier and squeezes
  5. Big headset
  6. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  7. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  8. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  9. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  10. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  11. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  12. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  13. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  14. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  15. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  16. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  17. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  18. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  19. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  20. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low
  21. Not as quiet as Bose, Zulu. Battery life is low