The first thing that most first-time students notice when the engine starts up is how loud it is in the cockpit of nearly every GA aircraft. For many people, the only experience they’ve had inside an aircraft is as an airline passenger, and it is silent compared to the roar of the engine in most non-passenger aircraft. I’ve flown in literally hundreds of different aircraft since I became a pilot, and I can tell you that in the list of design priorities, noise-suppression is at the bottom of the list, behind cup holders, unless you’re in a passenger aircraft.
Luckily there’s a relatively simple solution, which also solves the equally important problem of having to communicate in the air – headsets.
I’ve gone through several headsets in my time from, made by some of the big brands in the market. Headsets range from cheap and nasty (for passengers you don’t like!) to good value, to absolutely outstanding quality.
I’m not going to waste your time with bad headsets, but I will give you an insight into my experience with 3 of the most well-known headsets, and my advice on what’s the best aviation headset.
Most popular aviation headset – David Clark H10
David Clark H10’s are the benchmark in passive noise attenuation pilot headsets. Their sturdy construction, user comfort features such as padding and gel comfort earcup options, and mid-range pricing have for years made them the industry standard. it is hard to find an aircraft passenger or pilot who hasn’t worn a pair of H10s.
I personally began flying with a pair of H10s to replace the school Pilot avionics loaner pair, and it was a much-needed step up in comfort. Even for shorter sorties up to one hour, the difference is noticeable over cheaper pairs; ear pressure due to the stiffness of the brace and comfort from the gel pads mean that you won’t have sore, red ears when you take them off. This also reduces distraction in flight allowing you to provide your full attention to the job – something which is already difficult enough for most trainees trying to earn their wings.
The H10s come in a variety of options of passive and active noise attenuation, and in single plug helicopter or dual plug general aviation configurations. A simple converter is all that is needed to switch between plug types; however, ensure the headset ohmage is correct for your class of operations (and determined by your avionics). For all industry and GA usage, the standard ohmage is appropriate, but pilots of unique aircraft such as military warbirds will need to consult their flight manual and avionics maintainer for further advice.
- Super Soft, Double Foam Head Pad
- New Comfort gel, undercut ear seals
- Universal Flex Boom for perfect microphone placement
Best value aviation headset – Rugged Air RA200
If you’re looking for a good, noise-dampening, headset with clear audio and speech, then you can’t go past the Rugged Air RA200. For under $100, the RA200 is a great value aviation headset for when you’re starting out as a student pilot.
The RA200 has passive noise attenuation options only, standard microphone and soft padding materials all round. It’s made in China, but if you are on a budget and not yet ready to invest in the more expensive options or wanting something for passenger seats without breaking the bank, this is appropriate.
- 24dB Noise Reduction Hearing Protection
- EM56 Noise Reflective Cup Microphone with NEW Flex Boom
- 50mm Performance Audio Speakers
Best Overall Aviation Headset – Bose A20
The Bose a20 is the premium pilot headset. Whilst primarily designed for the general aviation segment, It’s lightweight and comfortable construction makes it easy to wear on long flights and has been adopted by a number of airlines and military flying squadrons.
My review of the Bose A20 aviation headset is based on over 10 years of flying with it. I first purchased my pair of Bose a20s while studying engineering at college. I was learning to fly and I was sick of the uncomfortable and unhygienic ‘loaner sets’ on offer at the flying school. I knew I needed my own pair, and set out to find the best and cheapest available.
After several weeks of searching and indecision, something happened that made up my mind instantly.
A local pilot from the town I was flying in offered to take me up for a quick joy flight to show off his new crop-dusting aircraft. Being a keen student, with an excited grin I took him up on the offer and within minutes we were walking airside toward the aircraft. When we got in the cockpit I realized In my excitement I had left my loaner pair in the school on the rack and turned bright red- “not to worry” Ian comforted me as he offered me his wife’s pair of Bose a20s for the flight.
When I picked them up the first thing I noticed was their lightweight and nice aesthetics, and putting them on they were very comfortable. We flew for just over an hour, and in comparative silence and crystal clear comms due to Bose’s Active Noise Reduction noise-canceling technology, despite Ian letting his IO-720 piston engine roar as we blasted down the coast low level at close to full power, in a vibrating agricultural aircraft and turbulence due to strong winds.
Strangely, After the flight, I noticed I didn’t have my usual sore ears and dull headache. I was sold and ordered my pair that night – spending $1600 including express delivery. I still have my original set, which has now accumulated over 2000 flying hours over ten years of weekend getaways and working as a flight instructor.
Whilst I still have since also acquired a trusty pair of David Clark H10s for my infrequent passengers, and always wear my Gallet LH350 flight helmet for warbird and aerobatic flying, I always reach for my A20s during regular flight operations. Once you’ve flown with a high-quality noise-canceling aviation headset like the Bose A20, it’s hard to go back. The comfort, noise attenuation, and lightweight reduce my fatigue on long flights allowing me to focus on my core job of flying and aircraft safety.
Bose also has excellent after-sales support and product warranty. Rather foolishly, one day I managed to slam the headset adaptor cord in the door of the aircraft very hard, crushing the cable and one of the ear cups stopped working. One quick phone call to my local pilot shop who was an authorized Bose agent, and I had a plan in minutes. I dropped the headset off later that day to the shop and they mailed the broken headset to customer care – despite my actions causing the damage this was all covered under warranty and I had them back within the week, total cost – $14 worth of postage. The customer care team had also taken the care to replace the earcup and head padding at no extra cost, and extended the warranty of their work!
Many pilots that I meet use the Bose a20 and once you have tried a pair it is hard to go back to the cheaper brands.
- 30% greater active noise reduction than conventional aviation...
- 30% less clamping force than conventional aviation headsets
- Clear audio with active equalization
What headset do you use when you fly? If you’ve got alternative recommendations we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.