An aviation headset is the most intimate object you use while flying which makes choosing the right headset a surprisingly personal decision. Things to consider when determining what headset is right for you are how often you fly, what type of flying do you do, the duration of your flights, what type of plane you fly most often, what your long term or career goals are, as well as your personal preference.
1. Set a budgetRemember we are trying not to break the bank so set a budget that will work for you and your finances. Nowadays, there are many functional, reliable, and effective headsets available at all price levels, so really, set a budget that works for you.
2. What features are "Must-Haves"?
Let’s determine what features you can't go without and in the next step we can talk about additional features that might be good to have if you have room left in your budget.
- You must have hearing protection to prevent long term hearing loss. There are 2 types of noise reduction headsets, passive noise reduction (PNR) and active noise reduction (ANR). Passive noise reduction is simply the ear cup surrounding your ear and creating a seal that doesn’t allow noise in. A similar effect can be created by cupping your hands around your ears. Active noise reduction headsets take a sample of the outside noise using a mic and then produce a sound wave of the exact opposite frequency using noise cancelling circuitry inside the headset. This process will cancel out the outside noise. For a student pilot as well as most other pilots all you need is passive noise reduction. Active noise reduction is necessary for very loud engines but for the most part is considered a luxury.
- You must be able to hear radio transmissions and send radio transmissions that have clear, crisp audio. Most aviation headsets on the market today will deliver on this but some are better than others. The quality of speaker inside the headset is going to determine the clarity of the audio but wiring can also be a factor if it is not shielded enough to prevent interference or static. As far as sending radio transmissions, your microphone is going to determine how audible your message is. There are 3 primary types of microphones; carbon, dynamic and electret. Electret mics are most commonly used in aviation since they are generally considered the most effective when it comes to noise cancellation. Pair a good quality mic with a wind screen also known as a mic muff and your transmissions will be easy to understand and free from any wind noise.
- You must have a headset that is comfortable enough to wear for the duration of your flight. Comfort is a personal preference making it hard to say what features are going to be most comfortable for you but here are some features to take into consideration.
Weight - The longer the flight, the more weight is going to be a factor. Most pilots will agree that the lighter the better but some will argue that a headset that is too light can slip off your head with any sudden or jarring movements.
Head clamping - How tightly the headset clamps around your head helps determine how well it keeps out noise especially in passive noise reduction models but a headset that pushes too tightly can cause a headache.
Adjustability - Most headsets have an adjustable headband providing a custom fit.
Ear seal padding - Gel padding provides better cushioning than foam but tends to be heavier. Also, vinyl-covered ear seals tend to get sweaty in hot weather but knit or cotton covers over the ear seals may not give you as good a seal around your ear.
Mic boom flexibility - the ability to put the mic exactly where you want it tends to increase the popularity of full-flex boom mics however some flex booms tend to droop over time whereas a wire boom will keep its rigidity.
- You must be able to plug your headset into the aircraft panel so pay attention to the connection type.
The most common type of connector is the twin plug sometimes referred to as PJ plugs. These are found primarily in general aviation airplanes as well as some airliners.
The 6-pin plug or LEMO plug can be found in many newer general aviation planes. This connection allows the headset to draw power from the aircraft panel eliminating the need for batteries in the headset.
Helicopters use a single plug called a U-174 while Airbus airplanes use an XLR connection.
It is important to note that some non-aviation headsets might have a connection type that looks similar to an aviation plug but they most likely do not function the same.
Here are 3 Rugged Air headsets that all fall into this "must-have" category:
3. What features do you “want”?Now that you know which features are essential, what additional features, if any, can we squeeze into your budget?
- Bluetooth Music & Cell Phone - One of the hot ticket items today is the ability to connect a cell phone or music device to the headset either wired or wirelessly using Bluetooth. While these are great features for the experienced pilot to have at their fingertips and are arguably a must-have for flying with children, they also increase the cost of the headset especially with bluetooth capabilities.
- Volume controls - A volume control on the headset may be easier to reach than the volume on the radio providing convenience. Some headsets also come with dual volume controls allowing you to adjust the volume in each ear separately.
- Mono/Stereo switch - Mono sounds better for communicating whereas Stereo sounds better for music. Some headsets will allow you to switch back and forth but either will work for both functions.
- Warranty - Most manufacturers offer a warranty of 1-5 years. Rugged Air, as an example, provides a 7 year warranty. This can allow you to rest easy in the event that something happens to your headset. Make sure you read the fine print so you know what is covered by the warranty.
Here are 3 Rugged Air headsets that have a variety of these great features:
4. Start Shopping
Now that you know what your budget is, what features are "must-haves" and what additional features you might be dreaming of, you are now ready to start shopping! Click here to see all Rugged Air Headsets.