With the average price of an aviation headset soaring over $400, it pays to do some research into the market before making a purchase. We put together this website as a tool to help people figure out which headset models best suit them. Our long-term goal is to do long term reviews for each headset on the market to make sure that you truly get the best bang for your buck.
There are a few decisions you will need to make before you begin looking at individual models, though:
What’s your price range?
Price is likely the primary concern of most new pilots looking to buy a headset. We like to categorize headsets into one of four price categories, which we will describe below. The cliff notes is that we recommend budgeting between $400-$800 for a good headset. If you want to purchase something cheaper, consider the used market or be prepared to buy something that isn’t very high quality and loses it’s resale value quickly.
You may be surprised to hear that there are several headsets available for under $400. These headsets are generally manufactured from generic assembly lines in China then branded by individual retailers in the USA. Brands include CRAZEDpilot, Flightcom, Faro Aviation and other “generic” brands you can find on Amazon and eBay. While there are many decent headsets in this price bracket, don’t expect to find anything that will last you for a lifetime or give you any sense of pride of ownership. Headsets purchased at these prices also do not tend to retain any resale value. Before purchasing any “budget” headsets, we recommend you check out the used market for some higher-end headsets first: there are some really incredible deals that can be found on high-end headsets! (see below for more information)
The $400-$600 price range is what we consider the “low-end” price range for a good headset. There are a few decent ANR headsets that can be found in this price range and practically all in-ear headsets fall here. If you are comfortable with ear-plug style headsets and want to keep your purchase cheap, we recommend you pay consideration to the in-ear market. Most headsets in this price range keep their value pretty well – generally we see a used headset going for about 70% of the price of a new one when originally purchased at $400 or more.
The $600-$800 price range is where the really good ANR headsets start to show up. These headsets will have almost every notable feature of their high-end brethren with slightly degraded noise reduction, build quality, or warranty. Used premium headsets also often fall into this price range. We think this is the real sweet spot for most pilots.
The high-end headset offerings from most manufacturers cost up to $1200. These headsets will have exotic noise cancellation schemes and neat features like cockpit voice recording. They will also have top notch build quality and have extremely good durability with long warranties to back it up. In general, though, we feel like the value proposition at this price point just isn’t there. Headsets in the $600-$800 price range just hit so many of the important features it’s hard to justify spending more so much more money.
In-Ear, Passive or ANR?
Similar to pricing, we like to categorize aviation headsets into three different styles: passive, ANR and in-ear:
Passive over-ear headsets are the classic variety that have been around forever. These use cups that totally cover your ears and which are stuffed with acoustic damping material. They rely on a tight seal on your ears to mute sound. For this reason, these headsets must have a high clamping force built in, which can grow uncomfortable when flying for long periods of time. These headsets also have difficulty muffling low frequency noises like rotor blades or large propellers.
Check out our passive headset buyer’s guide to learn more about passive headsets and view some reviews of various models.
Active noise reduction or “ANR” over-ear headsets are designed to mute outside noise electronically. This is done by a specialized microphone built into the earcups which listens for outside noise and reduces it by playing back the same sound 180 degrees out of phase. This destructively interferes with the sound, greatly reducing its volume. ANR headsets are quite effective at blocking out low and middle frequency sounds, but can struggle a bit with high-frequency noise. Fortunately, most aircraft do not produce high frequency tones, except for the gyros and alarms that you want to hear anyways. They do not require the high clamping pressure at the earcups that passive headsets need, and thus are generally extremely comfortable to wear. The catch with ANR headsets is that they require batteries to work properly. All headsets we are familiar with will still work when the batteries die, but their noise-reduction capabilities will be greatly diminished.
Check out our ANR headset buyer’s guide to learn more about ANR headsets and view some reviews of various models.
The final major type of headset is the in-ear headset. You may be surprised to learn that this is the newest type of headset on the market, despite the fact that a typical in-ear headset is little more than a pair of earplugs with small speakers and a microphone attached. In-ear headsets offer a range of benefits: they are always small and lightweight, they are cheap and they can easily be worn with sunglasses or hats (or both). They cancel noise as good as most passive headsets but are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The downside of in-ear headsets is that the foam earplugs wear over time and must be replaced. Similarly, the plugs can be a pain to use in the winter (they take a long time to expand, or don’t do it at all). Finally, this style of headset simply doesn’t appeal to some folks. If you’re the kind of person who listens to music with in-ear headphones, though, an in-ear headset should definitely be a consideration.
Check out our in-ear headset buyer’s guide to learn more about in-ear headsets and view some reviews of various models.
All About Aviation Microphones
There are three main types of microphones that can be found on most aviation headsets. We found this illustrated infographic from Telex to be an extremely concise description of the differences:
There is some marketing hype here. Keep in mind that voice transmissions over aircraft radios are never going to be crystal clear – there is simply too much noise and the technology carrying the sound is too archaic. In practice, we find that most dynamic mics perform just as well as electret mics – that is to say that we are able to chat with passengers and ATC can hear us fine with either. Noise cancelling mics, however, are a really cool development because they are bi-directional. This means you don’t have to constantly verify that you are speaking in to the right side of the microphone. It also means the mic can be easily swapped to either side of the headset so it can be worn with the cords coming out of either your left or right.
Besides hooking up to your airplane’s communication system, headsets can perform a variety of other functions as well:
Music Player – Many headsets on the market come with a way to hook an 3.5mm stereo audio cable into the speakers. This allows you to plug your smartphone or iPod into the headset and play music while you are flying. Some headsets augment this feature further by adding an automatic sound ducking feature which lowers the volume of the music whenever audio comes in from the airplane – the idea being that you never miss an ATC call because of music.
Bluetooth – The ability to connect wirelessly to your phone via Bluetooth is similarly becoming a popular feature on some headsets. This feature can serve a two purposes: First, it can allow you to make and receive phone calls while in flight (assuming you have cell reception, of course). Secondly, it can allow you to stream music wirelessly from your phone, omitting the need for a connection via an aux cable.
Wireless – There are currently two headsets on the market that are capable of operating wirelessly. That is – you plug a “base station” into your plane’s audio jacks and your headset connects to it wirelessly. This enables you to easily move around the cockpit without having to worry about cables, for example. For pilots of busy cockpits like aerobatic planes, rescue helicopters or STOL aircraft, this can be a real game-changing feature.
Cockpit Voice Recording – This is a feature that is thus far only found on Lightspeed headsets, but something we thing is really neat. When some Lightspeed models are connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, all cockpit audio (be it ATC or intercom chatter) can be recorded and re-played as desired. This can prove invaluable for students trying to learn proper radio lingo, among other uses.
Used or New?
Regardless of which headset you ultimately decide on, there is likely to be a used market for it. If you are purchasing on the cheaper side of the headset market, the deals you can get can be pretty amazing. As you start looking at higher-end models, though, it can be difficult to find much more than 20% off of retail price, even for headsets that have hundreds of hours of use on them! In general, I wouldn’t recommend buying a used headset for anything less than 70% of the purchase price.
The first stop you should make when searching for a used headset is eBay. eBay has a huge fanbase in the aviation crowd and headsets are no exception. When looking for a headset, make sure to check the “Used” filter in the sidebar so that you can view used items instead of retailers using eBay as a storefront for their retail goods.
Another great option for finding used headsets is in the classified sections of the various popular online aviation forums. Since sellers generally do not need to pay a listing fee when selling on these sites, you can often find very good deals. The catch is that you will not get the purchase protection you would normally get through eBay – you need to rely on your own skills to divine the reputability of anyone you deal with.
If you are flying part 135 or part 121 operations, you must use a TSO-certified headset. Many headsets are not TSO-certified and those that are often require you to pay extra for the “certified” model. If you are looking for a certified headset, you can check out our reviews by clicking here.