By Chris Findley, CFI, CFII
One of the great things about being a pilot is the high “gadget-factor”. There are gadgets for just about everything. There are iPhone apps that help your preflight planning. There are system monitors that tell you everything you never knew you needed to know about your engine. But one of the items near and dear to most pilots is their headset. We spend a lot of time in our headsets and often a lot of money on them. One of the most popular models is the Bose X (now superceded by the Bose A20).
Headsets come in two basic varieties, Active Noise Reduction (ANR) and passive Noise Reduction (PNR). PNR headsets are typically less expensive as the technology is much simpler. They block out the noise in the cockpit by essentially forming a seal with the earcups around your ears. These headsets work decently well and are less expensive than their ANR counterparts. However, most people’s complaint is that they can put quite a squeeze on the head. That’s part of the design –the tighter the squeeze, the better the seal. The better the seal, the more quiet the headset.
If you prefer that you reduce the squeeze on your head and don’t mind a squeeze on your wallet, ANR headsets are the way to go. Without getting too technical, these headsets block out incoming noise by creating “noise” that is 180 degrees out of phase with the incoming (unwanted) noise thereby actively canceling out up to 70% of ambient noise.
The Bose X is one of the best selling ANR aviation headsets. Pilots all over the world depend on this model headset in their flying. I have used a number of different headsets including the Bose X and found it to be a good and solid performer.
On the pro side, it is a very quiet headset. It is also lightweight and therefore reduces fatigue on your head and neck during long flights. It does not clamp down on your head with much force and the headset is very comfortable to wear.
On the con side, I’d say that while the headset is quiet, it is not as quiet as you might think. I discovered this when I was flying with a Bose X and the ANR battery died. I immediately heard the increase in cabin noise and knew what had happened. In a rare moment of happenstance, my fellow pilot had a pair of David Clark H-10s on the backseat. I switched headsets and was amazed at the difference. It was noticeably quieter than the Bose X had been. Part of the reason may be that the David Clarks not only use ANR but also have a stronger PNR seal (stronger clamp) with the earcups.
Also on the con side of the Bose X concern the ear seal cushions themselves. I have experienced first hand and heard a number of complaints that the ear seals separate easily and require replacement. Not what you want when you forked over about $900 for a top-of-the-line headset.
All in all the Bose Xs are a nice headset and most people have been very happy with them. As for me, I prefer the David Clark series mainly because of the stronger clamp and seal around the ear cups.
Today’s headsets are incredible. There’s a headset for every budget. Find the one that’s right for you and try them out. The best way to discover the right headset is simply to fly with them a few times and see what is comfortable and effective for you. It’s worth the time to choose wisely. If you do, they’ll be a good friend in the cockpit for many hours