Six must-have headsets for every modern pilot

The lightspeed Zulu PFX boats 'Stearming Quiet' adaptive ANR and super-flexible braided cables

The lightspeed Zulu PFX boats 'Stearming Quiet' adaptive ANR and super-flexible braided cables - Credit: PIL AUG15 BOOKS AND GEAR

With a huge array of different models out there on the market – and prices ranging from hundreds up to thousands of pounds – choosing a headset can be a bewildering business! So sit back, relax, and let us do the hard work for you.

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Years ago, when all headsets were passive units carrying simply a microphone and pair of speakers, one particular headset designed to a US military specification set the standard in general aviation.

The ‘one with apple green ear cups’ was – and still is – of first class mechanical construction and competition came from cheaper, copy-cat designs (nothing wrong with that – you get what you pay for) or different and quite often lighter models from other manufacturers that were claimned to be more comfortable to wear.

Comfort remains an important factor – while professional reviews will give you a fair idea of build and audio quality (and might even include scientific measurement of noise attenuation), everybody’s head is differently shaped. Fluid-filled ear pads and lambswool headbands should work for most people, but to be sure that a headset is not going to make you feel like your ears have been clamped in a vice or that you’ve had an iron bar resting on your scalp, you’ve really got to try wearing the thing for a decent length of time.

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Quality and comfort are still important, but the landscape has changed with the advent of active noise reduction (ANR) where, in its most basic form, a circuit generates though speakers in the ear cups an out-of-phase sound to cancel out ambient noise. While early models combined the ANR technology with typical passive headset design, Bose went a step further in making the noise reduction element so effective that the passive elements could be pared back, resulting in a much lighter and more comfortable unit. These are brilliant in aircraft with a built-in power supply, but of course offer limited hearing protection when the power fails, as happens from time to time in battery powered models.

Further refinements have come from manufacturers like Lightspeed, who have introduced manual and automatic means to tune the audio response to suit both the aircraft cockpit environment and wearer’s individual hearing characteristics. And now, of course, we have cordless models that eliminate those pesky wires and vulnerable jacks.

Lightspeed Tango Wireless Headset (£600): The first premium wireless aviation headset – and the winner of the Flieger magazine Innovation of the Year Award – the Tango Wireless headset blends outstanding noise cancelation, renowned Lightspeed comfort, and cable-free convenience. With no cables to get in the way and critical controls – including volume and ComPriority™ - located on the headset, Tango creates an entirely new level of flying enjoyment and untethered freedom.

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At the heart of Tango is Lightspeed Link. Developed by Lightspeed engineers to ensure the reliable communication pilots demand, Lightspeed Link is not Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but incorporates existing technologies chosen for both signal reliability and audio quality for the aviation environment.

Seht SH 30-60 ANR Headset (£199.95): This is a superb active headset that brings quality and affordability to new levels. A very comfortable and lightweight headsset designed for durability and more importantly to save your hearing! With a Passive Noise Reduction Ratio Rating (NRR) of 24dB combined with an Active NRR of 20dB means that noisy cockpit environment suddenly becomes a lot quieter, with a low head bearing weight of under 600 grams those longer trips will now become far more pleasurable.

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The headset uses a single 9V battery which gives approximately 48 hours use and coupled with Auto on/off circuitry, which automatically switches the headset on when connected to the aircraft and off when disconnected, one battery will last a lot longer than you believe it should.

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Unlike many others this headset comes complete with a high performance mic windshield, gel ear seals, cotton ear seal covers, auto on/off, 9V battery, auxiliary input cable, and mono/stereo switch.

Lightspeed Zulu.2 (£600): Experience the remarkable comfort and quiet of the ANR aviation headset that firmly established Lightspeed as the innovation leader. The winner of the 2011 Flying Magazine Editor’s Choice Award, Zulu.2 is a proven workhorse in the most demanding missions and environments, making it the choice of private and professional pilots around the world. Like all new Lightspeed headsets, it is fully compatible with Lightspeed’s free, proprietary FlightLink app, which turns your iPad or iPhone into an in-cockpit recorder, allowing pilots to record intercom and radio activity for the entire flight or instantly retrieve audio from any point during the prior two minutes.

Pooleys Headset Twin Plugs (£114.95): The Pooleys EHD303 headset represents excellent value for money. The matte blue textured outer ear-cup with a black textured inner ear cup gives the headset a very distinguished look. The new unit can be used with mono or stereo intercoms and provides the user with hi-fidelity stereo sound while providing the comfort and noise protection required by today’s demanding general aviation pilot. The headset is outfitted with a noise cancelling electret microphone, metal-flex microphone boom and weighs only 15.2 ounces. A dynamic Mic version of this headset is also available at the same price. What’s more – get a free single headset bag with every Pooley’s headset!

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Lightspeed Zulu PFX (£765): The world’s quietest aviation headset actively conforms to your ears, your environment, and your preferences to deliver stunning clarity, quiet, and audio quality. The winner of the 2014 Flying Magazine Editor’s Choice Award and a 2015 CES Innovation Award Honouree, Zulu PFX is packed with innovations designed to make flying safer and more enjoyable, including Streaming Quiet® ANR, acoustic response mapping – which fine tunes the audio based on your unique auditory landscape – and custom audio settings through Lightspeed’s free FlightLink app. And firmware enhancements are just a download away, giving Zulu PFX unlimited potential to evolve with new innovations.

David Clark DC One-X ANR Headset (£799): This headset features the ideal partnership of comfort, technology and durability. The feel of soft, leatherette ear seals that enclose your ears in comfort. The plush, vented head pad uses “Outlast” fabric that actually absorbs heat build up to keep you cool during the flight.

The advanced, Hybrid Electronic Active Noise Cancellation technology delivers extraordinary ANR performance. The DC One-X is made from rugged, yet lightweight alloy with adjustable headband and swivel hinge stirrups to ensure a personalised fit, as well as Bluetooth technology for all your smart devices. It’s the one headset that has it all - the ONE for you.