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Choose the right aviation headset

Every pilot needs a good headset that can help them concentrate on flying while keeping them comfortable. But with so many options out there, how do you choose? In this short guide, we walk you through the most important factors to consider.  

A good aviation headset is one of the most important things a pilot needs in the cockpit. 

Pilots are exposed to high volumes frequently and for extended periods, making a quality aviation headset a vital piece of safety equipment. It’s not just about protecting your hearing, though. Aviation headsets help pilots concentrate on flying by eliminating distracting noises that can cause mental stress. They also allow for communicating with others both inside and outside of the cockpit. 

There are four main factors in choosing an aviation headset: physical form, weight and comfort, noise cancellation and impedance. In this guide, we’ll touch on what you need to consider in all four areas as well as look at pricing. 

satair-2021-headset-guide

Headset price

There is a large selection of aviation headsets on the market. The wide range of options includes budget models under $200 to more expensive headsets that can easily exceed $1,000. Where a headset falls in this price range is highly dependent on the various factors we discuss here. In short, the more “bells and whistles” a headset has, the higher the price is likely to be. 

Your purchasing decision is going to depend on your available budget but headsets shouldn’t be an afterthought or an area where you want to save as much money as possible. A quality aviation headset is an important piece of safety equipment and something a pilot will spend many hours wearing, so we advise taking heed of a good rule of thumb: “Buy the most headset you can afford.”

Noise reduction

The most important factor in choosing an aviation headset is probably its ability to reduce or eliminate noise. 

Nearly all quality headsets on the market employ noise reduction technology. There are two different types: active noise reduction (ANR) and passive noise reduction (PNR). Let’s examine the differences. 

ANR headsets use electronics within the headset to actively reduce and cancel unwanted outside noises. Typically battery-powered, ANR headsets detect incoming noises and cancel them out by broadcasting opposing audio signals. The ANR technology works against sound frequencies below 300Hz and can spare wearers from hearing certain continuous sounds, like the rush of the wind or the roar of an engine. The majority of ANR headsets reduce noise levels by 10-20 dB.

PNR headsets are the most cost-efficient of the bunch but also the least effective at cancelling noise. Rather than using internal technology to detect and cancel out noise, PNR headsets use a special type of foam in the ear cups to reduce outside noise. They essentially create a seal around your ear that keeps unwanted noises out. It’s thus very important that they fit firmly and snugly. 

Deciding between the noise reduction options comes down to two primary factors: how much you want to block out the external world and how much you are willing to pay. 

Weight and comfort

Pilots wear the headsets for long periods at a time, so weight and comfort are very important factors to consider when picking the right pair. 

For over-ear headphones, the cushions that enclose your ears are going to play a major role in how comfortable they feel. The ideal cushions will feel soft against your head and ears. You also don’t want a pair that feels too hot. The last thing you want on a long flight are cushions that feel too hard, chafe your skin or make you sweat. You’ll probably also want to make sure that your sunglasses or spectacles fit comfortably under the cushions, so when you’re trying out different pairs be sure to have them on. 

The headbands of over-ear headphones are also important comfort and weight factors. Some models have a basic headband reminiscent of a classic Walkman while other models have large, cushiony pads that provide extra comfort – and bulk – to the headset. 

Impedance

If you’ve ever shopped for a home stereo, you’re probably familiar with the concept of impedance. All speakers and headphones have what’s known as an impedance rating, which describes how easy it is to provide the necessary power to produce sound. Impedance is measured in ohms and it’s important that the load, in our case the aviation headsets, and the output, the aircraft’s radio system, have ohm ratings that match. If they don’t, it can cause sound distortion or even damage the headsets or the users’ hearing. 

While home speakers are typically rated for four, six or eight ohms, the impedance range for headphones is much wider at eight to 600 ohms. The types of headsets that go with consumer products like smartphones are low-impedance (under 50 ohms), while audiophiles who want to savour every aural nuance tend to opt for high-impedance headsets. 

When it comes to aviation headsets, it’s important to be aware of impedance but in most cases, it isn’t something that requires a lot of extra homework. Civilian aircraft radios require high-impedance headsets that have a range of 300-500 ohms, while military aircraft use a low-impedance system that operates at five ohms. So if you know the type of aircraft you’ll be flying, you’ll know what impedance range you need. 

In-ear, on-ear or over-ear

Aviation headsets, like their everyday counterparts, come in three basic forms. There is the in-ear type, which are small speakers that are inserted into the ear, the on-ear type that sits on the outside of the ears, and the over-ear type that completely covers the ears. 

While in-ear headsets are quite popular on the consumer level, they’re less common in the aviation world. But that isn’t to say that in-ear aviation headsets can’t be found or that they don’t offer certain advantages. 

In-ear headsets tend to be very lightweight, which can be beneficial if you’re going to be wearing headphones for long stretches at a time. They also offer a comfortable fit in the ear, but there’s a catch. Because everyone’s ears are shaped slightly differently, a pair that might fit one pilot perfectly could cause discomfort in the ears of another. 

Over-ear or on-ear headsets are much more common in the aviation setting. The distinction between these is how they sit on the ear. While an on-ear headset rests on the ear, over-ear models completely surround the ears, helping to more completely shut the user off from the outside world. 

There is a wider variety of on-ear and over-ear models to choose from and unlike in-ear models, you don’t have to worry that they might not fit quite right. On-ear and over-ear headsets have adjustable headbands that are typically topped by a pad for greater comfort. Because they enclose the entire ear, these models are also better at blocking out unwanted sounds. 

The style of headset really comes down to personal preference. Some people may prefer in-ear headsets because they are lighter and less bulky than over-ear headphones. If you’re looking for a headset that looks discrete and has a ‘barely there’ feel, an in-ear set may be the best choice for you. If you’d prefer a softer and more encompassing feel, an on-ear or over-ear headset is probably the best best, with the latter being the better choice for blocking out outside distractions. 

Find the right aviation headset for your fleet

Find an avation headset to your specifications by answering just a few questions with the Satair Headset Selector. You can also download an overview of all of the headsets here.

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At the Satair Market, we have a variety of aviation headsets from providers like Bosch Telex, Holmco, David Clark and Bose. Keeping the above factors in mind, we invite you to take a look at our selection and find the set that’s best for you. 

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About this blog

This blog is driven by Satair Marketing & Communication with input from both internal and external contributors.