A Thought About Headsets

edited December 2023 in General Discussion

I know that many people salivate over new headset technology, but a couple of recent experiences has me wondering: Why?

I get-it that we want to take advantage of advancements in technology such as ANR to limit hearing loss and dedicated Bluetooth connectivity so that the rest of the passengers do not have to suffer through one person's music choice. But I am starting to really wonder whether this is simply chasing after the latest bling as a self-perpetuating money cycle.

To the drivers of the headset's Why question:

- A little while ago I jumped at the opportunity to purchase a Bose X ANR which was great technology at the time, but now 3 Bose generations old. Thought was that it was now affordable enough, had good reviews and it was time to start taking better care of my hearing. I did get a WOW factor, but more from surprise at new noises. At first I was actually spooked by the additional sound and almost aborted the takeoff as it was far from the normal sound profile. In using my ears as the measuring device, the ANR headset was definitely different than my passive headset, but remain unconvinced that it was all that much different in terms of total sound. In time I came to accept the difference in the ANR's sound profile. But I still usually fly with the passive set as they are just as comfortable to wear, and give the Bose X to a passenger to enjoy what was once a high priced and leading edge ANR headset. I do not have high confidence in durability for this Bose headset as there are known physical weak points, Bose is clearly looking to focus on its newer product lines, and aftermarket parts might not continue to fill a few voids. Bose at least has a few parts available (IIRC, ear seals and the like), but nothing electrical wise. If I wanted to, I could buy working good replacements from a fairly ready supply of used Bose X on eBay.

- I was just gifted two LightSPEED QFR ANR headsets (about 2, maybe 3, LightSPEED generations old) by a friend whom is past the point of GA flying and looking to find a good home for the accumulation of items. Unfortunately these headsets will never see the inside of my cockpit as they share the same issue as the Bose: repair-ability. Both of the LightSPEEDs are suffering from cable insulation issues at the exact same locations. And just like when I looked into parts for the Bose, the LightSPEEDs are even worse with NO support other than ability to download a Users Guide. Could not even find a single used unit on eBay, or any parts. So, I cannot even call this item a legacy product, but rather it is basically a museum relic.

- The same friend with the LightSPEEDs also gifted me a David Clark with an aftermarket ANR upgrade. The core DC headset is probably 20 years older than the Bose X or LightSPEED QFR headsets. The DC needs replacement of its gel seals, outer ear foam pads, mic muff, and head cushion. Despite this headset's age, I just ordered new parts directly from David Clark. And if I wanted, I could even order a new mic, cabling and anything else to rebuild.

Point is, I get-it that DC headsets are not known for luxury comfort, but they support their products and have very good passive noise reduction. In fact, it appears like they design their products around long term serviceability. With that, it is looking like the rest of my DC inventory is going to get aftermarket ANR as TCO is far more economical than going with other manufacturers. Also, am seeing reports where adding ANR on top of an excellent passive platform is better for noise reduction than going with a set built from ANR only.

And as near term future steps, I am in research mode toward a helmet with integrated headsets / ear pieces to help with survive-ability in a worst case scenario. Only concern I have with front runner helmet manufacturers is that it appears they go with Bose for ANR. Am really not sure how to feel about this given Bose's long term support of their products. I just might go the passive route and add aftermarket ANR on my own.

So, anybody care to flame me for this heresy of shunning the shiny pants headsets? Or am I missing something?


  • I don't think there's really much of a material debate. DC has been committed to aviation in general, and headsets in particular, since well before NASA was founded. They've had the same CEO since the mid-1980s, and he embodies this business focus. So, it's hardly surprising they have made a consistently high-quality, rugged, reliable, and well-supported product.

    Bose was founded and led for many years by my sophomore-year acoustics professor. Just one of his outstanding PhD students more or less founded the digital signal processing curriculum. Students trained in that curriculum went on to found Garmin, Avidyne and a host of other very important companies we depend on every day. So, it's hard to appreciate just how broad and deep Bose's (the man) influence runs.

    On the other hand, Bose's personal brilliance resulted in a whole lot of ADHD that trickled down to his company, and for many years people told me their strategic plan was best characterized as "dalmatian chasing the fire truck." Now that both Bose and his son have passed, and ownership of the company has transferred to MIT, management consultants are heavily involved in figuring out what to make of the company. I suspect their analysis will reveal aviation products are not profitable, and the line will be eliminated.

  • edited December 2023

    When I was a student pilot, I tried several different headsets, ANR, passive, and in-ear designs. The #1 lesson from that exercise was that FOR ME , the fit and comfort are most important, and the are not really correlated that much with headset price, although the build quality of a $1000 headset will be, on average , noticeably better than of a $300 headset. Some models that others found fantastic were at most in the “meh” category for me, and vice versa. It is a very individual thing.

    The ANR ones I tried were of Lightspeed Sierra / Zulu / Zulu 2 generation. Everyone needs to make their own decision whether the ANR feature is worth the price. For me it is , and I would not fly with a non-ANR headset on a regular basis. I did not encounter any sound distortion issues AS LONG as the seal around the ears is good, which can be a bit tricky to achieve, especially with sunglasses on. Bluetooth connectivity to phone / iPad can also be handy.

    In the last several years my primary headset has been a DC One-X. From my perspective it has the best compromise of comfort, small size, performance, and ruggedness. I just replaced the worn ear seals and plan to keep it for foreseeable future.

    Karol Zadora
    PA28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV
    Seattle Area

  • When I was a student pilot, we used the hand held microphone and the ceiling speaker (shudder). Yeah, that probably makes me a dinosaur.

    Since then, I've acquired a couple passive headsets including a DC, and an ANR Lightspeed Zulu headset for my wife. I still have my original Pelton (passive) set, which I continue to use to this day.

    Similar to jacobsja, the few times I've worn the ANR headset, I had some uneasy moments. Don't get me wrong, they are incredibly comfortable, and the ANR is amazing. My only concern is that it does such a good job of noise canceling that I was nervous I'd miss if the engine began to tell me it was unhappy.

    A few yrs ago, the batteries in the Lightspeed headset leaked and damaged the electronics. I contacted Lightspeed, and they couldn't have been better. I sent them the headset and not only did they replace all the electronics, but they upgraded it to the newest version and replaced any worn parts. Might have been the best $100 I ever spent. My wife loves them, and it's important to me that she's comfortable during our flights. It's also important to me that I can hear anything the plane or engine is trying to tell me, so I still wear my passive Pelton's. Win-win for all involved.

    Jim "Doc Griff" Griffin
    PA28 - 161
    Chicago area

  • Interesting discussion...my 2 cents... being from manufacturing (chemical) plants where noise is plentiful...we used insert ear plugs, which gave a great reduction of noise but not all. When looking for a headset, I considered the passive and ANR like Bose and Lightspeed and used a DC and Faro ANR for awhile. The inner ear headset was appealing, Faro and Clarity Aloft had offerings. I bought the Faro with a bluelink Bluetooth, less expensive of the two. I've been using them for 5-years...easy to replace foam inserts and excellent customer service. The muted sound was acceptable and able to hear engine noises; didn't have the pressure squeeze as over the ear headsets; wearing sunglasses didn't interfere with the sound reduction; and the weight almost nothing...I also bought a set for my wife, she likes them except needs help putting them in...

  • edited January 1

    I spent two decades in the Army doing army things that have damaged my hearing. We had Bose headsets on in the truck the day it was blown up and that probably made a huge difference for the better. After retiring, I borrowed a friend’s Cessna 150 for several months and think that may have been worse than I realized early on. Only once before in my flying had my head felt quite as beaten up as it did after most days in that Cessna and that was a marathon day of 7 hours of XC in a Beech Sundowner.

    I bought my Bose A20s halfway through my time in the Cessna and I’ve never felt that beat-up feeling since. The difference they make is very noticeable when the batteries die without warning mid-flight. I test flew my new-to-me Archer a few months ago using the previous owner’s Telex passive headset and told my wife that it was the smoothest running Lycoming I’d ever flown behind despite being past-TBO. Since flying nearly 30 hours in it with my own headset, I have noticed more detailed and nuanced sounds than I could have ever dreamed without the headset. When I take it off during cruise (sweaters or glasses perhaps), the engine is smooth as glass. Once I put it back on, the very subtle rhythms of my older engine return.

    I don’t think you’re missing much using an ANR set but I know I was missing a bunch without one. Also, refusing to use gifted headsets because they aren’t repairable by you is peculiar. If they break and you don’t want to pay to fix them, throw or give them away. Repairability is nice but for my money, hearing the people around me is worth more.


    Veteran | CMEL/SEL | CFII

    1974 Piper Archer N41477

  • I have a mix of headsets. Far more than seats in the plane. The passives are for kids on short flights. The Zulu 3 is my wife's. A newish Bose A20 is my new favorite after Lightspeed wouldn't fix the cord on my Zulu 1 even with my payment. Too old they said, no longer supported they said.

    I want a set that can be fixed, but I also want one that's comfortable and won't leave me with ringing ears. So far the A20 connects all my dots. No ringing in the ears either, like I did get from Zulu. You can't pay me to fly without ANR. My ears are worth it.


  • Spoiler alert. Since starting this conversation, am leaning more heavily in the direction of helmet with CEP and then decide whether to add ANR. More on this further in the narrative.

    Truly appreciate the inputs and am glad to see that it is not just me in terms of the higher level observations.

    Looks like I need to retract one comment about the Lightspeed QFRs. I found that Lightspeed does still supply ear seals. Current price is $35 per pair and not clear whether it includes shipping. Recommendation is to replace the ear seals every 18 months. So, not exactly a museum piece, but still not impressed.

    For ear plug use, agree that they do not completely deaden sound, but the sound that does pass is more likely from our skeleton with the bones acting as the transfer medium. Not much we can do here. Even with bone transfer of energy, primary focus for sound control seems like the best mitigation in headset use is both ear seals and in the ear audio (CEP). But do not see any CEP use in the headset.

    To the comment about $1000 headsets having better quality than lower price levels, will accept this as a general truth. Although the heartburn for me is that the Bose X and Lightspeeds were the $1000 items in their day and DC's is simply spanking them in terms of durability and serviceability all the way down to the entry level products. Given the track record, it really makes me wonder whether people are paying attention, or just buying today's marketing hype and simply expecting that the units will last forever.

    Another comment that I completely agree with is about wearing glasses and maintaining a good ear seal. I use gel seals as they do a nice job of wrapping around most glasses' frames while providing good comfort, and this is the case with my go-to passive headsets.

    Regarding the curiosity on refusal to use gifted headsets due to wiring issues, this is why:

    With bare copper exposed, it is just a matter of time until complete failure. One of the headsets was noted as not working normally anyway. And the more I handle the units while inspecting for what repairs are possible, the more the insulation flakes off. Fortunately this seems limited to the cabling between the control unit and plugs. Based on Jim's inputs, am not going to waste any more time in searching for parts or contacting Lightspeed. Seems that the corporate decision is to try and future proof their revenue stream by forcing people to buy new units when the old units need service. Too bad as this is a super easy fix: two machine screws and a connector.

    I actually can remediate the QFRs issue, but the question is whether I want to Frankenstein the headset by sourcing generic cables.

    Back to the spoiler. The more I dig into new top contender ANR headsets, the more I get an empty feeling when it comes to spending that much money for high end ANR units when quality passive units offer the same safety benefit (reduced fatigue due to noise). Seems like the only real benefits to the high end ANR headsets are light weight and good acoustic range to enjoy music. Bling from my perspective. Does look like there is common agreement that passive headsets can do just as good a job at noise reduction, with a downside of not allowing some possibly desirable sound through.

    With this, am starting to sense that the better money spent is "go big or go home" with a well fit helmet. HGU-56/P and SPH-5 seem like the current gold standards. Bonus is good maintainability and serviceability. If I want to go with a slightly less costly headset, Bonehead currently has appealing offerings, but it looks like maintainability over the long term carries some risk. Definitely not knocking Bonehead, it just seems that their primary market focus is pushing the envelope, which is still a good thing.

    Another benefit of a helmets is that it is possible to get one with an integral visor which mitigates the need to wear sunglasses for those who can fly without corrective lenses. Folks needing corrective glasses will probably have to continue wearing them even with a helmet, but it looks like it is possible to place the glasses' arms above the ear piece which helps with sound control and comfort. One potential sacrifice I am seeing with a helmet and CEP is that music quality might suffer. I can live with this just as long as ATC and ADSB alerts sound the same. Based on a couple reviews that I found, CEP might prove overkill in a GA cockpit in which case music may still have good fidelity by only using the headset speakers.

    Helping with the helmet focus is that Headsets Inc now supports ANR conversion for helmets. Learned this yesterday when I went back on some old research. When I first looked into aftermarket ANR about two years ago, Headsets Inc's ANR add-on was for headset only. Nothing screams that a product is mainstream more than when the aftermarket community jumps in to support.

    Only open question with helmets is there is no clear indicator about native stereo capability with passive noise reduction. To thread the thought, PS Engineering is stating that their IntelliAudio (ability to separate COMM streams to unique perceived locations in order to better hear multiple sources at once) uses a license from the military in order to provide stereo separation of the COMM channels. And helmets are common in the military. Might simply look into whether porting one of the stereo David Clark passive headsets into a helmet takes care of the question. I currently have IntelliAudio and do not look forward to flight without the capability.

    Another downside to helmets are they weigh a lot more than high priced ANR headsets, but I am not seeing motorcycle riders complain about their helmets which are heavier. Am not seeing where rotary wing folks are complaining about the current generation helmet's weight either.

    Last possible downside to a helmet from my perspective is that I might get funny looks while taxiing to parking in a civilian GA aircraft. Especially with one of the military style helmets. To help with the effect, perhaps I'll paint some muzzle openings on the wings' leading edges, glue one of those round targeting thingys on the dash, paint some bullet holes on the fuselage, and adopt a call sign of "Flame-On" just to make people really wonder about that helmet 🙂

  • Some helmet options. I recommend seadless for the 2nd one. ;)

    The ultralight community uses helmet headsets as well as helicopter, military, etc.

    Eric Panning
    1981 Seneca III
    Hillsboro, OR (KHIO)

  • edited January 3

    Ah, yes. Forgot about the seedless variety.

    But am sure there is some resonance damping benefit to seeds and there's gotta be a SAE spec for that somewhere in the books 😋

    Yes, some of the flying sectors wear helmets and brow beat members who don't. Well, Ok, in some of the rotary sectors, the employers demand it. Except it is not all that cool for the common GA pilot. Kind of like when only oddballs wore helmets on the ski slopes. But once some celebrities met their demise against trees and poles, slopes gradually started to show helmet use.

  • I'm a long time DC fan. I've owned a pair of H10-13.6 headsets for at least 25 years with no performance or wear issues. After a long layoff from flying I sent my headsets back to DC and for about $250 total they completely refurbished them to like new condition. It's another example of DC's commitment to product support and customer satisfaction. Call me old fashioned, but now that I'm flying again, I'm sticking with what has, and continues, to work for me. I did purchase a Bluetooth adapter so I can hear the spoken advisories from Foreflight.

  • Have had my LightSPEEDs for 12 years and recently had them (2) repaired and upgraded for half the cost of a new one, one day turn around.

  • Excellent. :) That's great news!

    Scott Sherer
    Wright Brothers Master Pilot, FAA Commercial Pilot
    Aviation Director, Piper Owner Society Forum Moderator and Pipers Author.

    Need help? Let me know!

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