Guide To Buying A Pilot Headset
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Guide To Buying A Pilot Headset

Here is our Guide To Buying A Pilot Headset:

Pilot headsets have evolved significantly in recent years with an explosion of features… High-end headsets provide all the advanced features you’d expect in personal electronics… but today even a lower-end Pilot Headset will significantly reduce aircraft noise levels, protect hearing, likely feature soft ear cushioning and provide good aural communication quality.


Noise Reduction: Passive vs Active vs Dynamic/Digital


Passive Noise Reduction (PNR) simply works by attenuating (deadening) noise with noise insulating material and design. This noise reduction is quantifiable, check the manufacturers quoted attenuation rating when selecting a headset, a typical value would be 24bd Noise Reduction Rating (NRR).  Passive headsets use thick ear-pads made from foam or gel, to create a seal around the ear. Passive headsets rely on the seal as a significant noise attenuator, however be aware that sunglasses or hair could disrupt these seals, significantly reducing their effectiveness.

Passive noise reduction headsets can be very effective, very light and very comfortable. They usually occupy the lower-end of the market and are likely to be significantly cheaper than their Active Noise Reduction cousins.


Active Noise Reduction (ANR) increase the effective noise attenuation of a headset when turned on, in addition to the headsets natural passive noise attenuation. When turned on a tiny microphone, typically placed in the ear-cup of a headset, picks up noise inside the ear-cup. That information is transmitted to the headset’s electronics, which drive a speaker, also inside the ear-cup, to produce a noise that is the exact mirror image of the original noise. In other words the trough of one sound wave (the noise caused by the propeller) corresponds to the crest of another (the antiphase created by the headset). The noise and antiphase noise cancel each other.

An ANR headset will not completely insulate you from the mechanical workings (and un-working) of your aircraft however, any change in tone will be picked up by your ears, it’s just the overall noise level reaching your ears will be lower. ANR works most effectively on low-frequency noise (this is the kind of noise that causes permanent hearing loss, if experienced over a long period of time). ANR doesn’t have much overall effect on the higher frequencies, such as air-traffic voices for example.

Quick Facts ANR: ANR systems can typically achieve noise suppression of 10-20dB  •  At 20dB the noise is 1/100thof the original level •  ANR will most effectively suppress noise below 300 Hertz.


Dynamic (or Digital) Noise Reduction (DNR) (also called Electronic Nose Reduction – ENR) uses a microphone external to the inner ear-cup and along with digital electronic signal processing, removes the noise components from the incoming headphone signal. The incoming signal is digitised into a series of numerical values, then the digital signal processor analyses this data to search for repetitive noise signals. Repetitive noise components of the signal are then predicted and removed from the signal, in a feed-forward system.

Quick Facts DNR: DNR systems typically suppress noise from 15dB to 25dB  •  Noise signals up to 3500 hertz can be detected and suppressed  •  DNR systems are usually more expensive than ANR systems  •  DNR technology can make headsets significantly lighter.




In most aircraft there is some form of intercom and if the microphone has no suppression, this noise can enter the audio system, making communication more difficult.

There are three main types of microphones:

  • Carbon
  • Electret
  • Dynamic


Carbon microphones, the principal advantage of carbon microphones over other microphone designs is that they can produce high-level audio signals from very low DC voltages.

An Electret microphone is a type of electrostatic capacitor-based microphone, which eliminates the need for a polarizing power supply by using a permanently charged material. They work by placing a flexible electrostatic diaphragm a given distance from a fixed plate. Sound waves created by speaking into the microphone cause the diaphragm to vibrate, changing the distance between the diaphragm and the plate, this is translated into electrical signals.

Dynamic microphones use the same dynamic principle as in a loudspeaker, only reversed. A small movable induction coil, positioned in the magnetic field of a permanent magnet, is attached to the diaphragm. When sound enters, the sound wave vibrates the diaphragm. When the diaphragm vibrates, the coil moves in the magnetic field, producing a varying current in the coil through electromagnetic induction. Dynamic mics in aviation are shielded to minimize the chances of electromagnetic interference.

A noise-cancelling microphone is a microphone that is designed to filter ambient noise from the desired sound, which is especially useful in noisy environments, like aircraft!

One solution has at least two ports through which sound enters; a front port normally oriented toward the desired sound and another port that’s more distant. The microphone’s diaphragm is placed between the two ports; sound arriving from an ambient sound field reaches both ports more or less equally. Sound that’s much closer to the front port than to the rear will make more of a pressure gradient between the front and back of the diaphragm, causing it to move more.

Another technique uses two or more microphones and active or passive circuitry to reduce the noise. The primary microphone is closer to the desired source and a second mic receives ambient noise. In a noisy environment, both microphones receive noise at a similar level, but the primary mic receives the desired sounds more strongly. Thus if one signal is subtracted from the other much of the noise is cancelled while the desired sound is retained.


Plug / Connection Types


GA Plugs / Fixed Wing Plugs / Dual Plug: this is the typical GA plug, twin male pins, found on most general aviation aircraft. The smaller plug (PJ-055 .25 inch / 6.35mm) gives you the audio to the speakers. The larger plug (PJ-068 .206 inch / 5.25mm) carries the microphone output signal.

Helicopter Plug: It’s both shorter and fatter than either GA plugs and the single plug (U174 0.281 inch / 7.1 mm) gives both audio and microphone input / outputs

Helicopter Fischer Connector: 8 pin connection, used in Augusta helicopters among others.

LEMO (Redel) / Panel powered: if you own certain Cirrus, Beechcraft or other aircraft, there may be a 6-pin circular type jack installed. This panel power plug is made by a company called LEMO and they called their plastic connector: Redel. This will allow you to plug any LEMO equipped ANR headset directly into the panel, powering your headset directly, no need for batteries. The single 6-pin jack carries audio, microphone, as well as power for the ANR in the headset.

XLR5: Airbus aircraft, or another French made aircraft the ATR, might use a single 5 pin XLR connector. This XLR connector provides power, microphone and audio to a 5-pin XLR equipped headset.


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Discomfort can be distracting and detract from the focus needed in the cockpit. One of the major considerations is headset weight, lighter headsets will likely be more comfortable, however there may be a trade off with lighter headsets possibly offering lower levels of Noise attenuation, be sure to check the headset spec.

Fortunately soft cushioning around the ears and on top of the headset can significantly spread the pressure and make even heavier headsets comfortable during flight, this will likely be personal preference (the author preferring light headsets). Cushioning is either traditional foam (light) or gel (heavier) variety to offer a good seal between your scull and the headset.



Other Features


Many high-end headsets come with the ability to connect to your smart phone by Bluetooth or traditional wired connection. Taking a call, hearing skydeamon/flight aware audio cues or listening to music directly through your headset is a nice feature to have potentially. However, look for a headset with auto-mute technology to stop external sound input during ATC communications, flying the aircraft is your #1 priority.

ANR and Bluetooth enabled headsets will require battery power for functionality, usually located in the inline control unit on the cord. So check the battery life and type specs for each headset to factor into your decision making.


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