What type of aviation headsets do pilots use and why?
Aviation headsets are one of the pilot's most important tools in the cockpit. Essential to consistent communication and noise reduction, pilots require a headset that performs well, is comfortable and can be relied on whether embarking on a short or long-haul flight.
With several important points to consider when choosing a headset and plenty of brands and models on the market, it can be difficult to know what vital selling points you should be looking for.
Follow our guide on aviation headsets, whether you're a student looking for their first headset or an experienced pilot in need of an upgrade, as we explore the importance of wearing a pilot’s headset and navigate what you should consider when finding the right headset for you.
Table of Contents
- Why do pilots wear headsets?
- Do pilots have their own headsets?
- What to consider when buying a pilot headset?
- What’s the difference between helicopter and aircraft headsets?
- What headsets do pilots use?
Why do pilots wear headsets?
There are two main reasons why pilots wear headsets in the cockpit; to prevent hearing loss and for easier communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC).
1. Prevent hearing loss
Hearing loss is one of the most prominent health problems pilots can experience, caused by two main factors; noise and barotrauma.
The intensity of aircraft noise in the cockpit can cause hearing loss. As the nose of the plane forces air aside, it causes loud turbulence. That, combined with the noise of the engines, can cause severe noise that injures the pilot’s ears. Wearing a headset, especially noise-reduction headsets, can help to reduce the intensity of the sound and prevent hearing loss.
Barotrauma is an ear injury caused by air pressure changes. The pressure differences between the inside and outside of the ear can cause pain and sometimes lead to hearing loss. Whilst headsets won't prevent barotrauma, they reduce noise and injury to the ears, minimising the overall risk of hearing loss.
2. Easier communication with Air Traffic Control
One of the main reasons that pilots use headsets is to communicate more easily with Air Traffic Control.
Headsets connect to the aeroplane's audio panel to provide an intercom between the pilot and air traffic controller. Many headsets offer adjustable microphones for easy positioning, optimal communication and crisp transmission.
Do pilots have their own headsets?
When flying at a regional level, pilot headsets are usually provided as standard. However, these may be basic models that are not the most comfortable on long flights.
Some pilots buy a personal headset, opting for more comfortable styles with a contoured shape or preferring one with additional benefits such as noise reduction or Bluetooth.
If buying your own headsets, ensure they meet certain standards and requirements to ensure they are right for the aircraft and job at hand.
What to consider when buying a pilot headset?
There are a few important points of consideration when choosing an aviation headset. Whether it’s a short or long-haul flight, you’ll need your headset to feel just right to avoid any potential discomfort or distraction.
Are pilot headsets comfortable?
Comfort is a major factor you’ll need to consider when choosing a pilot headset. They will be worn for hours at a time, so you want to ensure maximum comfort.
If possible, try out a headset for at least ten minutes to get an accurate feel of how they will sit on your head and if they will dig in.
Keep in mind the materials of the ear cushions and headband to determine whether those factors could contribute to being uncomfortable. If the headset is too bulky or heavy, it could cause your neck to cramp, so you’ll need a lightweight and flexible headset to eliminate any tension.
Are pilot headsets noise-cancelling?
Noise-cancelling pilot headsets can improve your ear health and provide a better flying experience. With various types available, from passive to active to dynamic noise reduction, learn the key differences to find the right type to suit your needs.
Passive Noise Reduction (PNR)
Passive noise reduction headsets are usually a less expensive option. With noise suppressing foam in the ear cup cavity, they passively reduce noise by blocking out sound. These headsets should fit around the ear snugly for optimal noise reduction.
Active Noise Reduction (ANR)
Active noise reduction headsets actively cancel out noise by using electronics inside the headset that remove or suppress unwanted noise. Usually battery-powered, they use a filter to block out frequencies below 300 Hz so you can still hear important alerts.
These headsets are usually more expensive but are often worth the price to protect your ear health.
Dynamic Noise Reduction (DNR)
Dynamic noise reduction headsets sit at the more expensive end of the spectrum. They are lighter for higher comfort levels and reduce extra noise by using digital electronic techniques.
The headsets process repetitive noise signals and remove noise components to cleverly block out unwanted noise.
Cable and plugs
It is important to always make yourself aware of which connectors and cables you’ll need for the aircraft you will be using most often.
In general, aviation headsets usually come with four different types of jacks:
- Standard twin/dual plugs: In general aviation.
- Helicopter/military plug: In military aircraft.
- 6-pin LEMO plug: In privately owned or commercial aircraft.
- Airbus XLR plug: In airbus aircraft.
Choose a headset with the plugs you’ll use most often, and use adapters to convert your plugs if you will be flying in a different type of aircraft.
What’s the difference between helicopter and aircraft headsets?
As helicopters were originally military-orientated, they were wired for dynamic microphones and used a different type of jack.
Despite helicopters now being used outside the military, the same cables and plugs remain. This means helicopter pilot headsets will be different to aeroplane sets, usually using a single plug that is shorter and wider.
What headsets do pilots use?
There are various brands and models of pilot headsets to choose from, each with its own benefits. BOSE, Lightspeed and David Clark are some of the most notable brands in the aviation world.
BOSE pilot headsets result from decades of research and development. They offer excellent sound quality, comfort and noise reduction technology.
Thanks to their lightweight materials, soft cushions and minimal force from the headband, BOSE offers lightweight and comfortable headsets to never pull focus from flying.
The new BOSE ProFlight Series 2 headsets are their most technologically advanced to date, being lighter and engineered more specifically for professional pilots.
Lightspeed pilot headsets are lightweight, offering superior quality and comfort. With over twenty years of development, they’ve designed headsets to improve the flying experience.
The technology is designed to be customised to your ears and preferences to accurately reduce unwanted noise, creating award-winning products.
David Clark pilot headsets are extremely reliable for top levels of comfort and communication. They offer headsets to fit all different kinds of aircraft to suit your needs and improve your flights.
A legendary name in pilot headsets, David Clark first released their noise-reducing headset in 1975 and their products are widely recognised across the globe.
Choose the right pilot headset for you
Pilot headsets are a wise investment to improve comfort and communication during your career. When it comes to price and brands, you certainly get what you pay for in terms of quality, so it may be worth opting for more expensive options to experience superior comfort levels and noise reduction.
Whether you’re a student or a seasoned professional, the right headset can transform your flying experience. Explore our collection of professional airline pilot headsets and pilot headset bags to set you up when you’re in the air.