Do you want an over-ear, on-ear or in-ear aviation headset? How about ANR or PNR? Bluetooth or no Bluetooth? What’s your budget? What about…?
Arrgh. With so many options on the market, and so many features to consider, choosing the best aviation headset can seem like a daunting task. This is why he have tried to simplify the process as much as possible.
We have included 3 tables, covering ANR (Active Noise Reduction), PNR (Passive Noise Reduction), and in-ear (both ANR and PNR) headsets. The most important specs and features like Bluetooth, battery life, and NRR are listed so you can easily compare headsets against each other, as well as view their pros and cons, and what type of pilot a headset is best suited for, at just a glance.
A bit further down in our aviation headset reviews section we go more in-depth and talk about each listed model. We have also included some frequently asked questions pilots have, as well as important factors to consider.
This is a long article, so if don’t have time to read it all just know that after extensive research the best ANR/noise-canceling headset is the Bose A20, best for student pilots is the Faro G2, best PNR model is the David Clark H10-13.4, and best in-ear headset is the Bose ProFlight. Whatever your budget and how much experience you have as a pilot you may have, the best option for you will be in this article.
ANR Headset Comparison Table
|Bose Aviation A20||Lightspeed Sierra||Lightspeed Zulu 3||David Clark DC PRO-X2||David Clark DC ONE-X||Lightspeed Tango Wireless Headset||Faro G2|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
|Ranking||Premium Pick||Best Value||Also Great||Best On-Ear||Best PNR from an ANR headset||Best Wireless||Best for Student Pilots|
|Pros||Best in-class noise cancelling, sound quality||Excellent balance of price and quality||Comfort, better ANR and clarity than Sierra||Battery life, build quality||Battery life, build quality, best PNR||Wireless, rechargeable batteries||Low price, dependable
|Cons||High price||Slight clamping||PNR not as good||No audio input ||12-hour battery life||No bluetooth, no carrying case
|Bottom Line||The best there is ||Best value||A step-up from the Sierra||Best on-ear ANR headset||Comparable to A20 with better PNR||Look no further for a wireless headset||Best for student pilots/on a budget
|Battery Length||45 hrs||40 hrs||40 hrs||50 hrs||50 hrs||12 hrs (Rechargeable)||30 hrs|
|Ear Seals||Protein Leather||Plush||Plush||Leatherette||Leatherette||Plush||Leatherette|
|Noise Reduction Rating||N/A||N/A||N/A||30 dB||30 dB||N/A||26 dB|
|Warranty||5 yrs||5 yrs||7 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs||3 yrs|
|Weight||12 oz||16 oz||14.6 oz||7.5 oz||12.3 oz||18 oz||13 oz|
|Frequency Response||15 Hz - 15kHz||20 Hz - 20 kHz||20Hz - 20kHz||12 Hz - 15kHz||12 Hz - 15kHz||20Hz - 20kHz||50 Hz - 20 kHz|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||N/A||200 Hz - 6 kHz||200 Hz - 6kHz||150 Hz - 8 kHz||150 Hz - 8 kHz||200 Hz - 6 kHz||100 Hz - 5 kHz|
PNR Headset Comparison Table
|David Clark H10-13.4||David Clark H10-30||David Clark H20-10||Kore Aviation KA-1||ASA HS-1A||Rugged Air RA200||Kore Aviation P1|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
|Ranking||Top Pick||Also Great||Also Great||Best for Student Pilots||Also Great for Student Pilots||Best Budget||Also Great on a Budget|
|Pros||Excellent PNR, build quality, comfort||Excellent PNR, build quality, comfort||Excellent PNR, build quality, comfort||Low price, carrying case, gel ear pads||Low price, Lifetime warranty||Very low price, 7-year warranty, audio input||Very low price, audio input
|Cons||No audio input||No audio input, sensitive microphone||No audio input||Not very adjustable||No audio input||Comfort ||1-year warranty, comfort
|Bottom Line||The best there is||Ticks all the right boxes except for its microphone||Heaviest model on list, although comfort doesn't suffer||Gel ear pads at this price point, even comes with a carrying case||Unrivaled warranty at any price point. Great for student pilots||Excellent starter headset with surprisingly generous warranty||Excellent starter headset, only its warranty lets it down
|Noise Reduction Rating||23 dB||24 dB||22 dB||24 dB||23 dB||24 dB||24 dB|
|Warranty||5 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs||Lifetime||7 yrs||1 yrs|
|Weight||16.5 oz||20 oz||19 oz||N/A||12 oz||13.4 oz||N/A|
|Frequnecy Response||200 - 5.5 kHz||200 - 5.5 kHz||200 - 5500Hz||N/A||Fo - 5kHz||100 Hz - 17 kHz||N/A|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||300 Hz - 3.5kHz||300 Hz - 3.5kHz||300 Hz - 3.5kHz||N/A||80 Hz - 10kHz||300 Hz - 8kHz||N/A|
In-Ear Headset Comparison Table
|Bose ProFlight||UFQ L-2||Faro Air in-Ear|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
|Ranking||Premium Pick||Best for Student Pilots||Best Value|
|Pros||Best in-class noise cancelling, comfort, Bluetooth||Low price, comparable battery life to ProFlight, carrying case||Remarkably light, comfort
|Cons||High price, heavy cord||No Bluetooth||Mic needs adjustment, no Bluetooth
|Bottom Line||Best in-ear but expensive and audio quality not as good as A20||Inexpensive for an ANR in-ear with excellent battery life||Very light PNR headset with good comfort
|Noise Reduction Method||ANR||ANR||Passive|
|Battery Length||45 hrs||48 hrs||N/A|
|Warranty||3 yrs||3 yrs||3 yrs|
|Weight||4.9 oz||6.2 oz||1 oz|
|Frequency Response||40 Hz - 15 kHz||N/A||50 Hz - 20 kHz|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||N/A||N/A||100 Hz - 5 kHz|
7 Best ANR Aviation Headsets
Best Noise-Canceling: Bose A20
Let’s play a quick game of word association. When I say Bose, what immediately comes to mind? The term noise-canceling probably popped into your head straight away. Ever since Bose introduced the first commercially Active Noise Cancellation aviation headset specifically designed for pilots in 1989, any pilot with the cash looking for an aviation headset first and usually last port of call is Bose.
If you’re looking for the best noise canceling aviation headset and best ANR aviation headset, you’ve found it in the Bose A20. It is outstanding in this regard. Some might even find the A20 cancels too much noise, but you won’t get any complaints from me. Some aviation headsets come close to the A20 with their noise-canceling ability, but what really sets it apart is its consistency. You’re probably all too aware that when using some headsets, if you move around or even just turn your head, the level of noise suddenly increases. This isn’t the case with the A20.
2x AA batteries last for 45 hours, which is only bettered by two premium David Clark headsets: DC PRO-X2 and DC ONE-X.
The ear seals are made from protein leather. Don’t be confused – this isn’t actually real leather. You wouldn’t be the first to have made this mistake. Nevertheless, comfort doesn’t suffer, and you can wear the A20 for long flights with very little discomfort setting in. Not surprising considering it is one of the lightest, weighing just 12 ounces and imparting very little clamping pressure to your head. The way in which weight is evenly distributed helps too.
There are arguably a few too many plastic parts at this price point. Then again, this inevitably contributes to better comfort due to the headset’s lighter weight. There is nothing flimsy about the A20.
It’s worth noting that if you like to listen to music when you’re in the air, you won’t be disappointed, with the A20 managing to top every other aviation headset in this regard. Bose are well-known in the personal audio world after all.
Other features include Bluetooth (a non-Bluetooth model is also available at a lower price), an audio input, and dual volume controls. A carrying case comes with the A20, and the headset is backed by a 5-year warranty. It is also TSO approved.
There is no doubt that the A20 is expensive – in fact it is the most expensive options out there, but if you take your flying seriously and want the best – a Bose aviation headset it must be.
Read More: Bose A20 Aviation Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: Bose A20 Price and User Reviews
Also Great: Lightspeed Zulu 3
Lightspeed’s most expensive offering, the Zulu 3, is a step-up from the Sierra, although the difference isn’t huge. It has the same specs as its less expensive little brother, so you may ask what makes it worthwhile over the Sierra. Even the battery life at 40 hours is the same.
Well, for one thing the warranty stands at 7 years instead of 5. Given that both of Lightspeed’s models are well-constructed, this is unlikely to make much difference, although the Zulu is the better constructed of the two. The difference is largely in what you can’t see or read.
The comfort is improved upon, so while you might feel some clamping and tightness with the Sierra, this completely disappears when the Zulu 3 is on your head. There is a slight difference in weight, but it’s just enough to be noticeable. The Sierra weighs 16 oz, compared to the 14 oz the Zulu 3 weighs. When you’re flying day in day out for hours at a time, these things add up to make a meaningful difference.
There is also difference in the ANR and overall clarity of sound too, enough to make a pilot want to upgrade while stopping short of paying as much as the A20. Considering that the Zulu 3 is not that much more expensive than the Sierra it gets the nod over it.
For a couple of hundred more dollars you’re getting a better constructed, more comfortable aviation headset with ANR and clarity improved upon.
Read More: Lightspeed Zulu 3 Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: Lightspeed Zulu 3 Price and User Reviews
Best Value: Lightspeed Sierra
The Lighspeed Sierra is Lightspeed’s most inexpensive current offering, costing less than the Tango Wireless and Zulu 3. It arguably offers the best value, striking the right balance between price and quality. It is the best value aviation headset.
It isn’t able to match the A20 in ANR or sound quality. If the Bose is a 9.5, the Sierra is an 7.5-8. But it will certainly get the job done and won’t disappoint.
Comfort is very impressive, even more so when you consider comfort is one of the main things that differentiates less expensive aviation headsets to ones that cost close to $1,000 and beyond. The cushions are nice and soft, and any clamping is kept to a minimum, although not quite as effectively as a premium headsets.
If features everything you would expect to find at this price point, including Bluetooth, an audio input, dual volume controls, and a carrying case. It is backed by a 5-year warranty. Batteries will give 40 hours of operation.
Read More: Lightspeed Sierra Aviation Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: Lightspeed Sierra Price and User Reviews
With the Best PNR: David Clark DC ONE-X
David Clark is a company that has a rich and varied history in aviation, with the company’s designs even having been used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force. The David Clark DC ONE-X and PRO-X2 are the pick of the bunch when it comes to the company’s ANR offerings.
It has everything you would expect from a headset with such a stellar reputation. David Clark is one of the very few companies that publish the NRR for their models. The ONE-X has an NRR of 30 dB. Battery life is superb and best in-class. You can expect 50 hours of operation from 2x AA batteries.
David Clark are known for their passive pilot headsets, so it comes as no surprise that the ONE-X beats all other ANR aviation headsets in its passive noise reduction. It has the best passive noise reduction from any ANR headset.
There are times you will forget to switch the noise cancellation on and only notice sometime later. Run out of battery life and the ONE-X will be perfectly useable thanks to this.
Comfort is excellent. You will find very few complaints from any pilot who uses the ONE-X, which is rarely the case with other models. Construction is also superb and everything you would expect from the company: rugged and can take some abuse without issue.
One downside to the ONE-X is that there is no audio input. Some of you won’t care about this in the slightest while for others it might be a deal breaker. You can of course still listen to music through Bluetooth, but it’s something worth noting. In fact, it is the only model on this list of best ANR aviation headsets that doesn’t come with this input.
Read More: David Clark ONE-X Headset Review
Price/Reviews: David Clark ONE-X Price and User Reviews
Best On-Ear Headset: David Clark DC PRO-X2
The David Clark DC PRO-X2 is similar to the One-X is many ways, including the same excellent 50-hour battery life, NRR of 30 dB, 5-year warranty, dual volume controls, TSO approved, and comes with a carrying case. However, there is one major difference between the two. You’ve probably already noticed it: the design.
The PRO-X2 is an on-ear instead of over-ear model. This contributes significantly to each respective weight. The X2 weighs just 7.5 oz while the ONE-X weighs 12.3 oz. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will find one more comfortable than the over though. Some pilots prefer the comfort that an on-ear model can provide while others can’t get along with how the ear pads sit on the ears rather than cover them.
What this also means is that, while David Clark are known for their passive headsets, this model isn’t great in this regard. Inevitably, when a company designs an in-ear model its passive noise reduction is going to suffer.
The other big difference is that the PRO-X2 comes with an audio input. If you want to listen to music but not be stuck with Bluetooth as your only option, you won’t have to with this aviation headset.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for the best on-ear ANR headset there is nothing better than the PRO-X2.
Read More: David Clark PRO-X2 Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: David Clark PRO-X2 Price and User Reviews
Best Wireless Aviation Headset: Lightspeed Tango Wireless
If you’re looking for the best wireless aviation headset you’re not exactly spoilt for choice. The Lightspeed Tango is your only viable option.
The headset’s biggest strength is undoubtedly the lack of cords to deal with. However, there are other aspects that will either be a pro or con, depending on the pilot.
The batteries are rechargeable, which some pilots will love. But you can only get 12 hours of operation out of them compared to 4x the lifespan from the other models on this list. Of course, this will save you from having to spend money on new batteries but remembering to charge them after every few flights can become annoying.
However, it’s good to see that the batteries can be charged while the headset is in use, so not all is lost if you forget. A backup cable for wired operation is also provided, although the ANR won’t work without the batteries having a charge. The ANR is a touch better than the Sierra but not as good as the Zulu 3.
Despite being wireless and not having any cords to deal with, the Tango is actually the heaviest aviation headest on this list, weighing 18 oz. This is largely down to the built-in battery. Comfort does not suffer though, with the headset sitting in between the Sierra and Zulu 3. Plush ear pads are also used.
Other features include Bluetooth, an audio input, dual volume controls, and a carrying case. Like all Lightspeed models the Tango is not TSO approved, and backed by a 5-year warranty.
If you’re sold on the idea a wireless aviation headset, look no further than the Tango.
Read More: Lightspeed Tango Wireless Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: Lightspeed Tango Wireless Price and User Reviews
Best Headset for Student Pilots: Faro G2
The Faro G2 is the most inexpensive avition headset on this list. It is the best aviation headset for student pilots and best headset under $500. The biggest compliment that can be given to the G2 is that it just works. This may sound like faint praise, but it isn’t. At this price point all you can really hope for is an aviation headset to work as described and be depended upon. The G2 gets full marks in this regard.
The ANR works well and effectively reduces noise when flying. It can’t be compared to an A20 but it gets the job done. The same can be said about the comms. The battery life stands at 30 hours.
The G2 is also one of the lighter models on this list, weighing 13 oz. You may be pleasantly surprised with the comfort, given its price point. There is very little to complain about. Everything is easily adjustable, clamping force is minimal, and the leatherette ear pads sit nicely over the ear.
It’s also nice to see an NRR rating provided, considering the only other company providing this information is David Clark. The NRR stands at 26 dB.
There is no Bluetooth, but you do get an audio input that allows you to listen to music in that way. There are dual volume controls, though, and no carrying case is provided. The G2 is backed by a 3-year warranty.
The G2 may not excite you like the thrill of finally owning a Bose aviation headset, a David Clark headset, or a model with a cool technological feature like the Tango Wireless, but if you’re a student pilot it doesn’t have to. This is why it’s a great option for anyone learning to fly and needs to stick to a tight budget. If you’re looking for an ANR model for passengers, you can’t go wrong with this either.
Read More: Faro G2 Headset Review
Price/Reviews: Faro G2 Price and User Reviews
7 Best PNR Aviation Headsets
Best Under $200: ASA HS-1A
When it comes to the best aviation headsets for student pilots, if you’re looking for ANR models you are limited in your choices with the Faro G2 being the best option. However, when it comes to PNR headsets there are a few to choose from. The ASA HS-1A is one of the best, as it is considered to bethe best aviation headset under $200.
If I were to ask you which headset comes with the best warranty, you would instinctively name the Bose A20 or a couple of David Clark models. However, it is the HS-1A that has them all beat. You are given a lifetime warranty, which is hugely surprising considering its price point. To put this into perspective, a competing model like the Kore Aviation P1, while being a fantastic headset for the price (around half as expensive), especially for student pilots, is only backed by a 1-year warranty. Even the Bose A20 is only backed by a 5-year warranty.
Comfort is pretty good with these. They can start to become uncomfortable after a few hours of continuous use, but if you use them for a couple hours at a time there is no issue – it’s a bit much to expect gel instead of foam ear seals at this price point. The dual volume controls are a nice touch, though.
The ASA HS-1A has an NRR of 23 dB.
Read More: ASA HS-1A Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: ASA HS-1A Price and User Reviews
Best Overall: David Clark H10-30/H10-13.4/H20-10
Rather than talk about these 3 aviation headsets individually, it is best to group them together.
All David Clark pilot headsets on this list are similarly price with as little as $50-100 separating the three. It is the H10-30, however, that is the least expensive. Despite this it has the best NRR rating at 24 dB, although there is only a 1-2 dB difference compared to the H10-13.4 (23 dB) and H20-10 (22 dB). The PNR from all models are comparable and top all others on this list. All feature a single volume control.
The H10-30 is the heaviest out of three, weighing 20 oz, followed by the H20-10 at 19 oz, and the H10-13.4 at 16.5 oz. This all makes little difference when it comes to comfort, though, which is still great thanks to all three coming with ear gel pads and soft head pads. The H10-13.4 head pad has double padding for even better comfort.
All three models are superbly constructed and maintain the quality David Clark has become known for over the years. These really will last a lifetime. In any case, the company offer their standard 5-year warranty.
If there is one thing that lets with H10-30 down slightly, it is its microphone. It tends to pick up some background noise. This doesn’t appear to be an issue with the H10-13.4 or H20-10.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these PNR headsets. They come highly recommended by anyone who has used them for their noise reduction and comfort. They are, of course, all TSO approved.
David Clark H10-13.4: View Price and Reviews
David Clark H20-10: View Price and Reviews
David Clark H10-30: View Price and Reviews
Best Budget Headset: Rugged Air RA200
Along with the Kore Aviation P1, the Rugged Air RA200 is the most inexpensive model on this list. It would make a great starter option for student pilots, passengers or even to have as a backup pair. These are really the only situations where headsets at this price point should be considered.
Comfort right out of the box isn’t the best, but after some wear-in time they are perfectly fine. Weighing just 13.4 oz the RA200 is the lightest model on the list.
The RA200 also comes with an audio input, single volume control, and the warranty is very generous at 7 years.
If you’re looking for step-up from the RA200, the logical choice would be the RA900. While specs and warranty are the same as its little brother, with the RA900 you get dual volume controls and a push-to-talk function. Not to mention that comfort is improved upon.
Read More: Rugged Air RA200 Headset Review
Price/Reviews: Rugged Air RA200 Price and User Reviews
Also great : Kore Aviation P1
There isn’t much to choose between the Kore Aviation P1 and Rugged RA200. They are both more or less the same price, have an NRR of 24 dB, audio inputs, single volume control, and foam earpads. In terms of construction quality there also isn’t much to choose between them, though the edge goes to the RA200.
The big difference is in terms of warranty. While the RA200 is backed by a 7-year warranty the P1 is only backed by a 1-year warranty. Interestingly, the KA-1, also from Kore Aviation, is backed by a 5-year warranty. It isn’t as if the KA-1 is that much more expensive either. No specs like the headset or microphone frequency response are specified by Kore, nor even its weight.
In any case, both offer similar performance in all aspects, and there isn’t much to choose between them. The nod goes to the RA200 in terms of comfort, though.
If you want a headset that was released more recently and any potential benefits this may have, go for the KA-1. If you feel more secure knowing your headset has a longer warranty, pick the RA200.
Read More: Kore Aviation P1 Headset Review
Price/Reviews: Kore Aviation P1 Price and User Reviews
Best PNR Headset for Student Pilots: Kore Aviation KA-1
The Kore Aviation KA-1 is priced similarly to the RA900 but many will agree it is the better deal. Kore don’t release specs apart from the NRR (24 db), so it is hard to know how much the KA-1 weighs or the frequency response – the latter probably isn’t important to many anyway. The warranty is 5 years compared to the 7 years the RA900 is backed by.
However, the KA-1 has two important features that the RA900 lacks. First are the gel ear pads. Anyone who has used an aviation headset with gel ear pads know just how much they contribute to better comfort. The only other PNR models that feature gel pads come from David Clark, which are at least double the price. It’s probably a good idea to get a pair of cloth ear covers too.
It’s also good to see the KA-1 coming with a carrying case. Even David Clark do not provide a case when buying one of their PNR headsets. Other features include dual volume controls and an audio input.
If you’re looking for the best aviation headset under $200, no need to look beyond the KA-1.
3 Best In-Ear Aviation Headsets
Premium Pick: Bose ProFlight
The Bose ProFlight is the best in-ear aviation headset but there are some genuine gripes.
First, the good stuff. The ANR is superb. Bose really know how to do noise-canceling . Whether it’s the A20, one of their popular consumer audio products, or the ProFlight, it doesn’t matter – Bose have figured it out.
The comfort level is high. The ProFlight weighs 4.9 oz, which is excellent considering that it takes batteries. The way in which any clamping is kept down to a minimum is also excellent. Operation from the batteries stand at an impressive 45 hours
Now the bad – or perhaps not so good.
If you’re coming from the A20 you might be a bit disappointed with the sound quality when listening to music. The ProFlight is an in-ear model compared to the bigger, over-ear A20, so to an extent this is to be expected. However, due to Bose being very popular in the personal audio world expectations are always going to be higher than other aviation headset manufacturers. Some may be disappointed with the sound quality, while others won’t. Your mileage may vary, depending on how much of an audiophile you are. No issue with the comms, though, which is arguably more important. The sound is crisp and clear.
A common complaint concerns the cord, and I can see where people are coming from. It is on the thick and heavy side and can move the headset’s position on your head. However, this is easy enough to remedy. Just attach the clip to your epaulette or shirt and it’s no longer an issue.
Other features include a single volume control, carrying case, audio input, and Bluetooth. A big plus to the ProFlight is how it is TSO approved. You certainly aren’t spoilt for choice when it comes to TSO approved in-ear headsets, so this alone is a big enough selling point for many.
Read More: Bose ProFlight Headset Review
Price/User Reviews: Bose ProFlight Price and User Reviews
Also Great: UFQ L-2
UFQ isn’t the most well-known brand out there. They make some decent over-ear models, but none were good enough to replace any of the others listed in the section above.
In the UFQ L-2, however, the company has produced a viable option for pilots looking for a budget ANR in-ear headset. It costs a third of the price of the Bose ProFlight and manages to match it in at least one aspect.
For one, the battery life is very similar. While the ProFlight gives you 50 hours of operation, the L-2 lasts for 48 hours. The weight of each is in the same ballpark, with the L-2 weighing a little over an ounce more.
Comfort is good and it’s unlikely you will have many complaints – at least until a few hours of continuous use have passed. The same applies to the noise-canceling implementation. Of course, it can’t compare to a ProFlight, but there isn’t much to choose between the L-2 and something like the Faro Air, even though one uses ANR and the other PNR.
Unsurprisingly, there is no built-in Bluetooth, but a Bluetooth adapter is included, which is a nice touch. A carrying case is even included, as is an audio input and dual volume controls.
The cheaper UFQ L-1 is also available.
PNR Headset: Faro Air In-Ear
The first thing you’ll notice about the Faro Air is how remarkably light it is. It is the lightest in-ear pilot headset available, weighing – wait for it – just 1 oz. This is usually the part where we talk about clamping pressure. But with the Faro Air being so light there is nothing to add. Any discomfort would come from the ear tips themselves.
Made from composite foam, the ear tips are slightly longer than any others you may have used. This so they fit deeper into the ear canal to provide more noise isolation. No need to worry about fit either, as 3 pairs of standard and 3 pairs of large ear tips are included.
The only issue is the placement of the mic. It needs to be adjusted every now and again because it doesn’t always stay in its correct position, although this is easy enough to fix.
Features to Consider When Buying an Aviation Headset
- ANR or PNR
Deciding whether you want an ANR or PNR aviation headset is likely to be the most important factor to consider. They both work to reduce noise in different ways. Refer to the What is the difference between an ANR and PNR headset section where we go into more detail.
Unless you’re a student pilot, need a backup headset, or one for passengers it’s not a good idea to skimp on price. The biggest influence on price will be whether you opt for an ANR or PNR model. ANR models use noise-canceling technology so are inevitably more expensive – sometimes substantially so when it comes to the best ones.
Other things that can influence price include the quality of the noise reduction and comms; the comfort of the aviation headset, more specifically if the pads are foam or gel; as well as the build quality and a feature like Bluetooth is implemented. Whether the headset comes with a carrying case and is TSO certified can also make a difference.
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)
Not all manufacturers provide an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating), but when specified by a manufacturer we have listed it. The higher the NRR the quieter the headset will be.
Comfort is such an important factor that it really can’t be overstated. A headset may have terrific noise reduction capabilities, excellent audio quality, and come with all the features you want, yet if you can’t stand having it on your head it will be nothing more than an expensive paperweight.
You’ll want a model that doesn’t clamp too tightly on the top of your head and your ears. While a PNR headset must seal well (more than an ANR model) this doesn’t mean you should have to put up with any discomfort.
Ear pads are another consideration. Gel ear pads go a long way in enhancing comfort and helping to avoid sweaty ears.
Don’t forget padding either. The more padded and softer the headband the better the comfort will be.
The weight of the headset is another important consideration. A heavy model can result in strain on your neck and shoulders, though a heavier aviation headset with better weight distribution can be more comfortable than a lighter one.
Buying a headset with Bluetooth is usually a good idea, as it allows you to connect and use many devices while eliminating cables. You’ll usually have to pay a little more for this functionality, but many pilots won’t even consider a headset without it.
- Audio Input
For some pilots a headset without an audio input will be a big deal, and others won’t mind at all. Price doesn’t necessarily play a role in this.
It may be surprising to see a quality headset from a manufacturer like David Clark not feature an audio input while some budget models do. The reason for this is that some of those David Clark headsets have been around for years and years, so being able to connect a phone or music player wasn’t of concern.
- Sound Quality
We’re not just talking about the quality of the comms so you can communicate clearly inside the cockpit through the intercom, and outside when talking to air traffic control, flight service, or other aircraft. This is of course a key concern. We also mean the sound quality if you like to listen to music. As you might expect the Bose A20 beats all others if you’re a music lover given their experience in personal audio, but this best in-class performance comes at a high price.
- Build Quality
Aviation headsets aren’t cheap, so you’ll want one that will last a long time. There’s no reason why the one you buy shouldn’t last for years and years, even with daily use. Inevitably, cheaper models won’t be particularly well constructed, and are designed for those starting out or as backup. You will reach a point when you start to take flying more seriously that upgrading will be the next logical step. At this point, you have to be willing to spend more to achieve this. A David Clark headset is said to last a lifetime.
A good warranty can also go a long way. Take the ASA-HS1A, for example, it may be an inexpensive aviation headset, but you can be safe in the knowledge that it is backed by a lifetime warranty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aviation headsets will primarily reduce sound in either one of two ways: through ANR (active noise reduction) or PNR (passive noise reduction).
With ANR a tiny microphone is placed inside the ear cup to pick up any sound. Also inside the ear cup is a speaker that produces a noise that is the exact “mirror image” of the original sound. This is able to cancel the noise of the original sound, resulting in silence. This is why the term is called “noise-canceling ” – it literally functions as it says.
ANR headsets aren’t designed to work on all frequencies, though. If they were then you wouldn’t be able to hear important things like speech and changes in the engine’s sound. They are designed to affect only certain low frequencies, like propeller noise.
ANR first headsets still offer some form of passive noise reduction, but this varies and reducing sound in this way isn’t the main goal of these headsets. The best headset that delivers both ANR and PNR is the David Clark DC ONE-X.
What is a Passive Headset?
PNR (Passive Noise Reduction) aviation headsets, on the other hand, work much more simply, and is why they are also much cheaper. No electronics are used to block out sound. Instead the ear pads, typically very thick and made of gel or foam, are designed to engulf and create a tight seal around your ears. The noise reduction is all about the seal, so lose this and expect performance to decrease.
Due to the way in which a PNR headset blocks sound, you will never find an on-ear model. In fact, it is rare to find even an on-ear ANR headset because it is more difficult to design right and the PNR is reduced. The only model is the David Clark PRO-X2.
Should I Buy an Over-Ear, On-Ear or In-Ear Headset?
The most common are by far over-ear models. As just mentioned, over-ear pads are highly effective at passive noise reduction. So why might someone choose an on-ear or in-ear model?
Well, with the only on-ear headset being the PRO-X2 you’re not spoiled for choice. Someone might choose the PRO-X2 over others because they want a headset that doesn’t engulf the ear, which can be uncomfortable and result in sweaty ears. The PRO-X2 also weighs on average half as much as other options too, which can enhance comfort.
The real strength of an in-ear model is its low weight and small form factor. You will find these headsets weighing from as little as 1 oz to 6 ounces. This means that any clamping force will be kept to a minimum. They can either primarily use ANR, like the Bose ProFlight or UFQ L-2, or PNR, like the Faro Air.
What Makes One Aviation Headset Much More Expensive than Another?
Whether ANR or PNR is used plays the largest role. Looking more specifically at ANR models, it doesn’t necessarily come down to the effectiveness of the noise reduction, though this does play a role. Once you reach a certain price point the noise reduction from one headset to the other is comparable.
It is also doesn’t usually come down to the features. Any modern ANR headset, even the cheaper ones will at least feature an audio input. Bluetooth is usually too much to ask for, though.
So what is it then?
Well, build quality and comfort play large roles. When you’re wearing an aviation headset day in, day out, usually for several hours at a time, a high level of comfort soon becomes the most important thing you are looking for. You also need the headset to be able to withstand such frequent use too.
Due the way in which PNR models are designed, Bluetooth isn’t possible, so is of no concern, although an audio input might be. So the difference is usually also made up in build quality – and perhaps even more so comfort. PNR headsets rely on a tight seal, so comfort is even more important to get right than ANR models.
For both ANR and PNR models, the comms is also important. Clarity is a must.
What is TSO? Do Pilots Need a TSO Approved Aviation Headset for Flying?
TSO stands for Technical Standard Order. This is the minimum performance standards an aviation headset must meet. More information on these standards can be seen in this document by the FAA.
While many airlines allow their pilots to use non-TSO certified models, some don’t. It’s therefore a good idea to directly check with the airline so you know if you will or won’t be violating company policy.
This varies depending on what you’re looking for. There isn’t necessarily one manufacturer that can be considered to design the best aviation headsets.
Manufacturers like Bose and David Clark are not interested in designing models for the budget market, so they are the go-to for the best premium headsets.
Lightspeed Aviation occupy the middle-ground, though the Zulu 3, which is the company’s most expensive offering, can also be considered a premium headset.
Other manufacturers like Faro, Rugged Air, Kore Aviation are all about affordable options for student pilots and passengers.