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Comparing our headsets: recreational headsets vs 'single purpose' pilot headsets

For a long period of time, we have had the idea to do a test of the state-of-the-art ANR (acoustic noise cancellation) headsets we are supporting, and finally, we have found the time to do this.

At the moment, we have Avee aviation microphones fitting a relatively large range of high-end Bose® and Sony® recreational headsets.

Development from these two manufacturers is not standing still: new headsets are added regularly, and we do our best to support their new products as fast as we can.

Customer questions
Many customers ask the following questions: 

  • how do the recreational headsets perform compared with the ‘pilots headsets’? 
  • which recreational headset is the best for aircraft use – and how can I choose the right one? 
  • And last but absolutely not least: how do the recreational headsets compare with ‘the industry standard’: the Bose® A20 ?
    .

In this article, we will give you the answers – and you might be surpriced!

What we are testing
The purposes of the aviation headset are to reduce cockpit noise as much as possible to create a comfortable working environment and to give you quality radio and intercom capabilities.

In this test, we are checking out the following parameters on the headsets:

Passive noise cancellation
The passive noise reduction is the reduction of noise the headset itselves provides with no headset electronics switched on.
Sound level is measured in decibels (dB) and you can read more about it here https://soundear.com/decibel-scale/.

    • How much reduction in noise level is the headset giving when the ANR is switched off?
      In a normal situation, the ANR is switched on when the headset is used.
      However; passive noise cancellation is important in case the ANR stops working due to for example a low battery.
      .

Active noise cancellation
The active noise reduction or ANR, is the redution in noise the electronics built into the headset gives.

    • How much reduction in noise level is the headset giving when the ANR is switched on?
      For many pilots, the reduction in the noise level / ANR effectiveness is the most important feature of the headset.
      .

Weight and ear squeeze force
Providing a reasonable amount of comfort, it is essential that the weight of the headset is as low as possible.

The squeeze or clamp force should also be as low as possible.

    • What is the weight of the headset? 
    • Clearly, a light headset will feel more comfortable to wear after some hours of use. 
    • And a headset with low ear squeeze force will feel more comfortable to wear than a headset with high squeeze force.

.

How we have tested
When setting up a test like this to get reliable results, it is crucial to test the headsets under precisely the same conditions:

  • To get these reliable results, we have set up the tests in lab conditions and not in a real aircraft. 
  • The test is based on audio stereo recordings in a DA40-D (diesel piston engine) and in a B737 jet during cruise.
  • The sound level is measured at 95dB for the DA40 and 85dB for the B737.
    Sound levels (or noise level) will of course vary with power setting and which phase of the flight we are in (takeoff, cruise, descend etc).
  • The audio is played back to the headset in a lab environment creating ‘an artificial cocpit’ at a sound level of 90dB. 
  • On the tested headset, we have installed noise measurement microphones in both left and right earcup. 
  • The measurements from these microphones are the base for the headset noise tests.
    .
Headset type
Headset weight with microphone
Headset weight with microphone and cable
Complete headset with cable & BlueLink / Bluetooth
Clamp force
Passive noise cancelling (90db initally)
ANR noise cancelling (90db initally)
Bose® QC35
259 grams
308 grams
353 grams
265 grams
86 dB
67 dB
Bose® QC45
258 grams
307 grams
352 grams
260 grams
86 dB
65 dB
Bose® 700
282 grams
331 grams
376 grams
275 grams
85 dB
64 dB
Sony® XM3
278 grams
327 grams
372 grams
260 grams
87 dB
69 dB
Sony® XM4
276 grams
325 grams
370 grams
255 grams
87 dB
69 dB
Sony® XM5
273 grams
322 grams
367 grams
255 grams
87 dB
66 dB
Bose® A20
382 grams
(not applicable)
789 grams
586 grams
86 dB
67 dB

How to read the test results
Read the table according to the following:

  • In the first column we have the headset type being tested.
    .
  • The second column shows the headset’s weight (including the microphone) on your head. We aim for less weight.
    .
  • Column three shows the headset’s weight, including the (Avee) microphone and a 165cm cable with GA connectors.
    For the Avee solution (without the BlueLink), this represent the weight you have to carry in your bag.
    This column is not applicable to the A20.
    .
  • Column four shows the total weight of the headset product; what you have to carry in your bag.
    For the Avee solution this column also include the BlueLink.
    The Avee aviation microphones can be delivered without the BlueLink controller; the Bose® A20 is delivered with the handheld controller always present.
    .
  • The Clamping force column shows the combined force from the headset pressing on your ears.
    .
  • The Passive noise canceling column shows how much the headset is reducing cockpit noise when the ANR is switched off.
    The lower the value – the better the headset protects your ears.
    .
  • The ANR noise canceling column shows the measured noise level in the headset when the ANR is switched on.
    Again; the lower the value – the better the headset protects your ears
    .
    .

ANR conclusion – Bose®
We see from these measurements that the ANR/noise cancellation in the Bose® headsets are fairly stable: they are all at almost the same level.

The Bose® 700 has excellent noise reduction capabilities, while the QC35 is at a slightly higher level (64 dB for the B700 vs 67 dB for the QC35).

The A20 has OK ANR capabilities but is not as good as the QC45 and B700.

The A20 does have good passive noise reduction capabilities, but even here, the B700 and the QCx5 are at the same level or better.
Somewhat surpricing.

ANR conclusion – Sony®
The Sony® XM headsets are somewhat in the same range as the Bose®  when it comes to the ANR.

We included the new XM5 in this test, and we can see a clear improvement to 24dB (90dB – 66dB) on this new model compared to the older XM4 & XM3.

We will support the XM5 in a couple of months.

Comfort conclusions
It is challenging to say which recreational headset is more comfortable – simply because they all give excellent comfort and
the sound quality in all of them is simply incredible.

All headsets we support come with super comfortable earcup ‘pads’ – and the clamping force is almost similar on all ‘our’ headsets.

The weight is also in the same range for these headsets.

The Sony® earcups are a bit bigger than the Bose® earcups (10mm in length and some 2-4 mm sideways), leaving more room for the complete ear to go inside the earcup.

This detail easily compensates for the bit lower efficiency on the ANR on the Sony®.

Durability
The recreational headsets are made to be used – and to be used rough!
We have to this date, never seen a headset have mechanical failures. We have experienced connector failures on the Bose®QC35, but this is really rare.

We feel that the mechanical design of the Bose® 700 could have been better, but when that is said: we have never seen or even heard about mechanical failures on this headset.

We are also happy to see that the new Sony® WH1000XM5 has a very good mechanical design, so we are looking forward to supporting this headset.
The only real issue we have with the recreational headset is wear and tear on the earcup pads: after a few years of extensive use, the earpads simply need to be exchanged.

You can purchase ear pads for all recreational headsets on line, and we are also planning to sell earpads from our store in the very near future.

The earpads can be exchanged in a few minutes by a handywoman – or in many cases, even by a handyman.

Technical data
In the table below, we have added some important technical data for the headsets we support (the XM5 is coming fall 2022).

Common features for all these headsets are as follows:

  • They continue to work even when the internal battery is flat.
    The ANR will stop working when this happens.
  • The sound level on the headset will be a little lower when the battery goes dead, so an adjustment might on the aircraft avionics volume.
  • All these headsets have rechargeable (non replaceable) batteries.
    .
Headset version
Charge port type
Operational when charge
Charge time full
Estimated battery time
Spoken battery indicator
Silence time when switching ON
Silence time when switching OFF
Volume adjustment
Bose QC35
Micro USB
Yes - ANR off
3 hrs
20 hrs
Without Avee
2 secs
2 secs
On Avee
Bose 700
USB C
No
3 hrs
20 hrs
On startup
10 secs
4 secs
On headset
QC45
USB C
No
2.5 hrs
20 hrs
On startup
7 secs
4 secs
On headset
Sony WH1000XM3
USB C
Yes - ANR off
3 hrs
20 hrs
On request w/o Avee
Sw blocked
Sw blocked
On Avee
Sony WH1000XM4
USB C
Yes - ANR off
3 hrs
20 hrs
On request w/o Avee
Sw blocked
Sw blocked
On Avee
Sony WH1000XM4
USB C
Yes - ANR off
3 hrs
20 hrs
On request
2 secs
2 secs
On Avee

User interface
For us at Avee, the real difference between the recreational headsets is how easy they are to use.

  • We love the QC35 for the mechanical on/off switchon the right earcup.
    It is so easy to use that it is almost impossible to do it wrong.
  • If you have forgotten to switch the ANR on, you switch it on without taking the headset off: you can feel the switch without any problems.
  • Bose® has kept this feature on the QC45, so this is also one of our favorites.
  • On the Bose ® 700 and Sony® XM3,XM4,XM5 the on & off switch is implemented as a pushbutton switch.
  • This makes the user interface more complicated, and you need to know where the button is.
  • These headsets do also have some features that we simply never use: like a dishwasher with 46 programs. We merely want to turn the thing on & off – and forget about features like ‘Speak to Chat’ and the possibility for different ANR level settings.
    .

When that is said: you can get used to all the headsets – and learn how to use the features they have – and even like them when you are in seat 4C (upgraded from tourist – to business class) transporting yourself to a long vacation in Thailand.

Final words
The quality of the headset is much more than the bare ANR numbers beacuse most of us will have problems hearing the difference between a noise level of 67dB and a noise level of 65 dB. 
The Avee solution using recreational headsets might not be the thing for all pilots.
These headsets are often a bit more complicated to use simply because they offer more selections –  and they are much lighter and delicate than then the sturdy ‘single purpose built’ pilot headsets.

When deciding on a headset, go to a headset store and test them out; the one you like to wear is the one you choose!

All the headsets we are supporting have their specialties, and we have added some words on these specialties for each headset we support.
Find them in the Shop -> Avee aviation microphone kits -> More information on this product (several tabs) (https://www.avee.no/product/avee-combination-kit/).

We have never been in doubt to which headsets are more comfortable – the recreational versus the ‘single purpose built’ pilots headset.

What truly came as a surprice to us  – is that the recreational headsets are as good – and in some cases even better than the state-of-the-art ‘single purpose built’ pilots headsets when it comes to active and passiver noise cancelling.

We are flabbergasted…

Good luck choosing !

The Avee Team

 
 
Updated: Comparing our headsets: recreational headsets vs ‘single purpose’ pilot headsets

One Response

  1. Thanks very much for doing this research guys. I’ve been using my Avee NG kit with Sony XM4 for a while now, and I still love it. I’ve flown with pilots using various kits over the years, including other add-on mic kits, David Clarke headseats, Bose An-20, etc. Your study confirms what I’ve experienced. I’m still of the opinion that your solution is the way to go. I get the same quality comms in the flt deck (737 Max) with a lighter, smaller headset which I can use as a normal entertainment headphones while commuting, deadheading, hotels, etc, at half the price of an An-20….. Cheers!

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