If there’s one thing i can’t stand, is sharing headphones. The thought that someone else’s ear juice has infected the cans is nasty, so finally, after many hours of research and speaking with many pilots, I have bought my own headset.
There are so many different headsets on the market and like anything, there is a huge range of prices too, you can pick up a very basic pair from around £100 but of course, you DO get what you pay for. Chances are the build quality is going to be poor and the sound reproduction, hideous. Remember, headsets form part of your safety equipment too, so reliability is key.
So what should you consider when purchasing your first headset?
- Attenuation. What is the ambient noise attenuation like? The cockpit of a small prop-driven aircraft can be VERY noisy and your hearing is delicate. Spend more than a few minutes without hearing protection and you’re going to cause damage.
- Build quality. Are they well built? Will they last? Are spare parts widely available?
- Sound-quality. To me, very important. If the sound reproduction is poor, you’re going to find it difficult to distinguish between the speech from within the cockpit (intercom) and the radio. A good sound adds to the over-all comfort too.
- Weight and Comfort. Is the headset light enough to wear for extended periods? Do the earphones completely cover your ears?
There are essentially 2 types of headsets. Ones that attenuate using mechanical methods and those that attenuate using electronics.
Mechanical attenuating headsets are usually a little larger and a bit heavier. They are also much cheaper and in my opinion, more reliable as there is less to go wrong. Furthermore, they don’t require charging, or having batteries replaced, the attenuation levels are achieved via what is essentially insulation and a good seal around your ears. You’ll find that most attenuating headsets use silicone filled pads which mould around your ears to block out the sound of the aircraft. (the softer the pad, the better the seal and the more comfortable they are to wear)
Electrical attenuation is achieved using circuitry, microphones and audio physics. They require either batteries or charging (some will run from the aircraft electronics). The headphones actively monitor the ambient nose inside and outside of the headphones and play back the same audio but phase reversed at an appropriate level so that the noise outside of the headphones is cancelled out… like adding sugar to lemon juice to neutralise the PH levels.
Prices vary from around £100 to £1000 but expect to pay around £350 for a reasonably acceptable set. My money went on the David Clark H10-60 which have independent volume controls for each ear and an interchangeable, anti-kink cable. Every part is replaceable too which is great for longevity. They’re not the lightest passive headset but the sound reproduction is very good and they’re very comfortable with a large, soft padded head band for the perfect headphone hair look after. They’re well balanced and you can adjust and lock off the angle of the headphones and headband too so they fit perfectly every time with minimal adjustment fuss.