3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Buying a Headset

Pilots have a tendency to buy a lot of “flying gear”, a good deal of which they will never or will only rarely use… But then there are a few items that pilots buy and use constantly… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, pilots are, on the whole, cheap. Sometimes they do it in amazing and odd ways that make no sense too.

I’ve seen many pilots fly miles and miles out of their way to buy fuel for $0.05 or $0.10 cheaper than at their departure or arrival airports. Seriously, these pilots burn more gas getting to/from their “fuel airport” that it isn’t worth it. That and I believe you should always give the business to your home airport, but I digress…

If I asked you what items from your every day (non-flying) life you were likely to spend a lot of money on you’d probably skip a few of the things you use the most! Things like a watch, that you wear every day, all day or a bed that you spend anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day laying on, often don’t make the list. Yet the television that you watch for only a few hours a day would likely come up.

Every time I make a purchase decision I weigh the expected usage into the decision; for example, my flying headset. I have previously written about my Lightspeed Zulu headset here on ReviewBeforeFlight. I had used a David Clark headset for about 10 years before I purchased my Zulu headset at Oshkosh in 2010. The Zulu was expensive yes, but for the number of hours I would use it as a flight instructor and the comfort and abilities the headset offered it was literally a no-brainer.

But here are a couple of things to keep in mind when buying a head set. Maybe you are a student pilot just getting into flying and don’t want to use the “yucky” loaner headsets from the flight school… Maybe you’re a new pilot and you promised yourself that once you have a license you would buy a “good” pair of headsets… Maybe you’re a flight instructor in dyer need of a noise cancelling headset to reduce your fatigue when you head home after a long day of flying… Regardless of where you are in your flying and which type of headset you’re looking for, here are a few of the major things you should keep in mind when selecting YOUR next aviation headset!

  1. How long do you fly when you go up?

This may seem like an odd question to consider but it is very important. If you often fly long, extended flight or multiple short flights each day then the weight of your selected headset is very important. This is one of the things that is tough to gauge properly.

If you walked into a pilot shop or up to vendor booths at a trade show (think Oshkosh) you can try on the various headsets and get a quick feel for them, often the manufacturers will have you wear the headsets with a lot of ambient noise to show how much you can’t hear from the outside. This is great and certainly a lot better than comparing headsets on a pilot shop website, but it isn’t perfect. Until you spend a couple of hours wearing a headset you won’t really know how it is going to feel after you’ve been flying for quite some time.

If you are the type of pilot that flies once every month, two weeks or weekend then saving a few bucks on a headset that is a little heavier isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re a flight instructor wearing a headset all-day, every-day or if you commonly fly for hours on end, a light-weight headset is a must.

Flying with my Lightspeed Zulu headset!

During my years as an active, full-time flight instructor I found the noise-canceling of my Lightspeed Zulu headsets really helped… At the end of a full day of teaching I was much less fatigued because of the noise calling, than compared my earlier years of teaching with a pair of David Clark headsets.


That said, there is a point of diminishing returns, essentially a point where the headset is simply put, too light! For instance I have a Bose Quiet Comfort 15 pair of headphones for the office and when I travel. Back when I was traveling for work I bought a UFlyMic so that I didn’t have to use a loaner headset or carry my aviation headset with me when I rented planes during my trips. I found the QC15 & UFlyMic to be a great combination, but for everyday use it simply didn’t feel solid enough for me… For years I used a pair of David Clark headsets as I said and for the past many years I have used LightSpeed Zulus. When the new David Clack Pro-X debuted I was intrigued, but I am not convinced I wouldn’t find it too light, even if it is of excellent quality…

  1. Style doesn’t matter; you can’t see your headset while you’re flying, LITERALLY!

This is one of my favorite concepts… I must be my barber’s favorite customer; I walk in and say bald on the sides, short on the top with a high fade. He knows I don’t like hair and even though he does a great job I always tell him not to worry, because I don’t have to look at it…

I remember at one point one of my flight students was interested in buying a headset and I recommended a pair of the “standard issue” David Clarks that I think are essential for any student/private pilot that doesn’t fly often enough to justify the investment in noise cancelling headsets. When he told me he was leaning towards a pair of ASA headsets as opposed to the very similar (yet much higher quality) David Clarks, I asked why… His response, and I’m not kidding, “I’m not a fan of the green color…”

I was flabbergasted and asked how much time he spent looking in the mirror while flying. He quizzically looked back and I said, well you literally cant see them while you’re flying so what is the difference? I have a pair of the basic ASA headsets, they work well and come with a lifetime guarantee, but they simply are not the same quality of David Clark 10-13.4’s. Two flights later the student showed up with a brand new pair of David Clark headsets, which I complimented. Eventually the color grew on him to the point where he realized the uniqueness of the headset made it seem ever more important when he showed them (or pictures of him flying while wearing them) off to his friends and family!

All of that said, I do believe that my Lightspeed Zulu’s look a heck of a lot better than the Bose noise cancelling aviation headsets… Just for the record!

  1. What features (design & options) are important to you?

Whether it is the physical workings of the headset or the capabilities you have to decide what is important to you. I has quite a few hours of flying with a pair of Bose headsets before I opted to purchase a pair of Lightspeed’s. One of the deciding factors was the Zulu’s simply felt better on my head. The flexible steel head band on the Zulu’s was more comfortable (to me) than the top hinge sported by the Bose. This seems like a simple thing, but it made a difference to me. Moreover, the ear cup shape on the Lightspeed fit around my ears/big head than the Bose did…

When it comes to technology competitors are constantly trying to out-pace one another… So the features you can find on products are often limit-less and if you give it some time you’ll find even more options!

The first big decision you have to make when purchasing a headset is active or passive noise cancelling? Passive noise canceling means the headset is a headset and the fact that your ears are covered blocks some of the noise, passively. Active noise cancelling means that you have passive noise cancelling plus some technological “magic” happening in the ear-cups that off-sets the noise coming into your headphones. One of the great myths that many pilots stick to is they won’t buy noise cancelling headsets because they want to be able to hear their engine. Myth debunked right here- even the best noise cancelling headsets don’t block all the noise of the vibration. As a result, even with noise canceling, an astute pilot can be well attuned to the operation of their engine based on both noise and vibration feeling.

Often the passive vs. active decision is based on the budget you have for purchasing a headset. Again remember the cost-benefit analysis for the purchase. If you fly often the noise-cancelling is very valuable. There was a marked difference when I drove home after a full day of flight instructing when I wore a passive headset (David Clark 10-13) versus days when I wore a headset with active noise cancelling (Lightspeed Zulu). There is a real cut down in the fatigue on your body when the noise us cut down over the course of many hours on a day. Thus, your headset should be aligned with your mission. If you commonly fly for one or two hours every now and then, then a noise-cancelling headset is probably not worth it…

Once you make the decision to go with an active noise-cancelling headset you get to delve into the realm of the headset options! When comparing the two most common noise-cancelling headsets the Bose A20 and Lightspeed Zulu.2 the specs are very similar! The weight is 12 oz for the Bose and 13.9 for the Zulu.2. The ear cups are larger on the Zulu.2 as opposed to more narrow cups on the Bose. Both headsets can do Bluetooth connections to a phone, but only the Zulu can connect for music, if that is important to you… Both headsets come with a 5-year warranty as well.

For the record a “fully-loaded” Bose A20 retails for $1,095.00, where as a “fully loaded” Lightspeed Zulu.2 retails for $850.00. That is a big difference, in this writer’s opinion. Recently, Lightspeed debuted a state-of-the-art new headset, the Lightspeed Zulu PFX! The PFX reaitls for $1,100.00 and includes a new technology, which Lightspeed refers to as acoustic response mapping. According to information provided (I have never tried a PFX), this technology allows for variable noise cancelling which results in a quieter experience for the user… I don’t know enough about the PFX to form an opinion so I’ll leave that to you if you’re interested but for the money, the Zulu.2 is a great option, especially with more capabilities and a better design that more evenly distributed the weight of the headset (in this writer’s opinion).

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


3 thoughts on “3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Buying a Headset

  1. Pingback: 4 GREAT Gift Ideas for Your Pilot | Review Before Flight

  2. Pingback: Thinking About Becoming a Pilot? Here’s How Much it Will Cost – Inflight Pilot Training

  3. Pingback: Thinking About Becoming a Pilot? Here's How Much it Will Cost | Inflight Pilot Training

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s