Friday, September 02, 2011

Advantage Cancelling

I should report in on my new headset. It is a fine thing. It is comfortable. I even find myself looking forward to putting it on in the morning, reminding myself of a horse I encountered once that was so eager to get out of the paddock for a ride that it walked right up and dropped its head in the halter I was carrying1. I can hear ATC clearly, and adjust the volume per ear, and there's a jack for me to connect my MP3 player. (It also accepts Bluetooth, but I don't own any Bluetooth devices to test it with). The MP3 jack is interesting because there's a three-position switch controlling how it behaves. Off doesn't allow you to hear the music at all. The middle position allows you to hear the MP3 player and ATC both at once. And the top position automatically mutes the music when there is any activity on the intercom (i.e. from another crewmember speaking or an transmission on an ATC frequency being monitored. I use the top position and it's remarkable effective.

I have some notes here that I didn't post earlier on the research I did before I realized that I would have to buy whatever headset was available. I could have ordered a headset directly from the LightSPEED website. They have international shipping, but they irritatingly only listed American units for the specifications. I wish Americans would learn that only they and the Liberians know what sixteen ounces is, and list things in grams. Also they're one of the sellers that require me to create an account in order to buy something. Hey, I want to click on the item and give you my credit card number. I could have traded in my old headset for a LightSPEED Zulu for $587 with trade-in and shipping, but the new Zulu isn't available through the trade-in plan yet.

I found this video while comparison shopping the Bose and LightSPPED. It's a little out of date, because it's the Bose A20 now, not the X and the new Zulu not the original Zulu, but it's a good discussion of the issues to consider when buying any headset.

Sennheiser lists international units on its website, but it doesn't sell headsets from the website and won't show me the location of a dealer. Their dealer-finder app maxes out at 300 nm, and finds zero that distance from where I was when I needed one. I would have loved to try one as they are known for good technology, but they don't seem to be in the 21st century. I think the headset is heavier, though, too. And then there's this, not so much about the headset as about the very attractive young lady who is wearing it.

I have to wonder about "Certified for commercial duty" though. Is there any country in which functional headsets have to be separately certified for pilots to use them while being paid? Throw one piece of balderdash like that into your marketing statement and I suspect that everything else you have to say is a deceiving distortion, too. Dumb sort of advertising to use on a very informed group. Or so we think.

Q: What do you get when you cross an ape with a pilot?
A: An ape with a big watch.

I was musing though, that my new headset isn't as good as my first ANR headset, even though the technology is better. Back then I was the only one in the company with ANR and I had superhuman abilities. Now everyone has them, so ANR is no longer an advantage over others. It's pretty much essential. I have a coworker who doesn't use ANR, just an old fashioned bulletproof set of David Clarks, and I wonder how he does it. I couldn't go back to a passive headset. I met someone recently whose first boss discouraged his employees from wearing headsets at all, because he said you can't hear the engine properly with it on. His employees weren't bold enough to tell him the reason he couldn't hear the engine, or much else for that matter, was that he had been flying for forty years without a headset.

Also, I wrote down this quotation from someone because it made me laugh, and have now completely forgotten the context: "It was so quiet it was like wearing a Bose noise cancelling headset, but without the noise cancellation, and without the headset.

1. Unfortunately for eager-horse, I was there to catch a different horse. A horse sufficiently less eager to be ridden that it bit me, if I recall correctly.

Meanwhile a reader in the USA writes:

I am wrapping up my dispatch training and am looking to talk to an active dispatcher. Do you know of anyone that might be able to answer a few questions for me?
If you can help, please drop me a line and I'll connect you two.


Anonymous said...

So, which headset did you end up buying? I can't recall if you said earlier.

Aviatrix said...

The new Bose, for more money than I should have spent.

A Squared said...

I can't comment on Sennheiser's claimes or even what they mean by Commercial duty. It may just be meaningless marketing gibberish.

However, a very strict reading of the US regulations could lead to the conclusion that flight crew headsets used on commercial flights would be required to meet the requirements of a TSO (technical standard order) Not sure I agree with that, but neither am I sure I could prove that it's not true.

An example of the principle is the venerable old Kx170B nav-com receiver, which could not be used in Part 135 operated aircraft because it didn't comply with the applicable TSO, and the very similar KX175B, which couuld, becaue it did.

nicnacjak said...

I would go with Bose as well by the sound of it.

Thanks for the help.

coreydotcom said...

Doesn't even sound like her own voice!

And she seems way too "all over the controls" to not be an actress.

My 2 cents.

rw2 said...

squared nails it. There is a TSO on headsets and, in fact, not all meet the bar. The FAA apparently cares and certainly many airlines care (I learned about this from another pilot blog where the author was unable to use the headset he wanted due to this issue). So, you don't have to think the whole video is garbage. :-)

I just got a zulu2 and have a zulu as the passenger headset. I've flown some with the bose also. Functionally you can buy either of these fine products and be very happy. All I'd suggest to folks is don't buy them based on photos or reviews. Find a way to try them both. Since they both do the job they are supposed to, it's going to come down to subjective metrics. e.g. my head prefers the fit of the zulu, my buddy prefers the bose. there isn't really a way to determine that without putting them on your head and, ideally, flying around some.

Anonymous said...

I've always preferred In-Ear monitors instead of active headsets. A quality molded set can be worn for hours without discomfort. Smaller, lighter and require no power. Since they have any where from 25 to 29 Db of attenuation you can walk the ramp with them in and not worry about noise and they have a much more natural sound to them. Can be just as expensive (or more) but for me at least, a better fit.

Anonymous said...


I wonder: Are you allowed to wear just any headset you want? If you buy an a/c from my employer, you get a list of 10 approved boomsets. Bose is not on the list.

Thanks for all the wonderful articles. I love to read your blog.

Aviatrix said...

Hell, my employer would let me use a tin can on a string if I got the clearances we needed. Is the list of headsets supposed to represent a uniform standard, avionics compatibility issues, or the personal preferences of a control freak?

Sarah said...

As far as I know there is no FAA regulation anywhere requiring part 91, 135 or 121 pilots to use one a TSO'd headset... but some employers do insist ( so I've heard. )

I'm a Zulu user myself, and couldn't live without ANR either. I tried using my cheap Bose qc-15 anr music headphones ( says on the box "not for use by pilots" D'oh! Gotta protect their market. ) They don't quite cut it except as backup or passenger use.

nicnacjak said...

Could it be somewhere in the op specs for these specific companies?

Aviatrix said...

Sure, nicnacjak, but the management control freak writes the op specs, so that forgives nothing.

A Squared said...

As far as I know there is no FAA regulation anywhere requiring part 91, 135 or 121 pilots to use one a TSO'd headset... but some employers do insist ( so I've heard. )

Well, here's the issue:

It's not a myth that equipment in commercially operated aircraft have to be meet the applicable. The Kx170 vs Kx175 issue isn't something I imagined. It's real, and unless I am misinformed the only difference between the two is that King has stated that the Kx175 meets the TSO.

The only question in the issue is whether this requirement extends to something which is not permanently installed, yet is connected into the aircraft avionics system. There are differing opinions on this point, and I don't know of any official guidance on the subject.

It is not, however, something that someone somewhere just imagined.

A Squared said...

Could it be somewhere in the op specs for these specific companies?


Operations Specifications do not address this type of subject. Ops Specs are a collection of specific, numbered, authorizations to conduct certain operations, which, which issued to a certificate holder, and drawn from a pre-existing specifications.

There is no Ops spec for tso'd headsets

A Squared said...

Sure, nicnacjak, but the management control freak writes the op specs, so that forgives nothing.

Management, control freaks or no, don't write ops specs. If you are applying for an operating certificate, you request a selection of preexisting operations specifications, depending on what operations you wish to conduct.

If you wish to conduct scheduled passenger operations under part 121, you request that authorization, that already exists as a specific numbered authorization. You will probably also request the ops specs authorizing conducting IFR enroute operations, and the ones authorizing precision and non precision instrument approach procedures. Those will likely be useful. You may choose not to request the operations specification for conducting air ambulance operations under part 135, or the one for single pilot IFR operations. So those will be listed in your Ops specs and "not authorized"

You can't however say, hey, I'd like to be issued the ops spec requireing tso'd heasets, as it simply doesn't exist.

Aviatrix said...

As soon as I read your previous comment I realized I had treated "op specs" as "ops manual", and was about to come here to change it. The ops manual is of course the one written by the control freak ops manager and the place where you may find out what kind of headset you can have, what colour tie you can wear and what temperature you have to keep it on until. That's a weird error on my part, kind of like I didn't read the second word but copied it over anyway.

Operational specifications are the same sort of thing in Canada as the US ones A Squared describes.

Sarah said...

A^2, I didn't say anyone was making anything up. I said there was no clear FAA regulation requiring a TSO'd headset. I agree there certainly is a requirement for installed radio equipment.
For instance, the QC-15 "uflymike" aviation adaption is not TSO'd as is. One of the issues (kind of a big deal) is that it quits working if the battery fails. The solution the company has is to supply an earpiece you're supposed to insert under one earcup. I am not making this up.

A Squared said...

Turns out there *is* official guidance on this subject. The FAA's office of chief counsel has issued a letter of interpretation on the subject. FAA Chief Counsel interpretation

Cliff's notes:

If your airplane type design specifies headsets meeting a certain TSO, (as anonymous2's employer does) you use headsets meeting that TSO. End of discussion.

Aside from that, in the case of ANR headsets, headsets are required by regulation are required to provide uninterrupted function in the case of battery failure. One way of ensuring that requirement is met is to use headsets meeting the applicable TSO. While that is not an explicit regulatory requirement, One can certainly see that an airline with a large pilot group may choose ensure requirement by requiring tso'd headsets, rather than trying to figure out how to ensure that the non tso'd headsets do meet the requirement.

Sarah said...

Very good, A Squared. The subject is definitely and definitively settled ... for FAA/US operators anyway. Thanks for that, and now I've learned something from the conversation again.

Chad said...

I still use my trusty passive Davey, and a couple months ago I was about ready to spring for an A20, and then I got upgraded from the 206 to the Navajo, which is significantly quieter, so now I'm waffling again. I wore a Zulu for several hours but was not impressed enough to make a move. I found the sound quality on my DC to be much better. A grand is a lot of money to spend on replacing a headset that still works like its brand new (after 10 yrs and 2000 hrs). The dang DC won't break on me.

P.S. I agree Corydotcom, the Sennheiser ad is pretty cheesy, and she's definitely an actress.

Julian said...

I just bought and used for the first time today my new Zulu 2. I love it. i had an old lightspeed and it was pretty good and durable. I tried the bose A20 that a few of my copilots had and it was pretty impressive. I disliked the sound quality though. Music didn't have the clear bright sound you'd expect from Bose. The 4 guys here that all have the A20 have had to send them back to get fixed on more than one occasion (one guy has sent it in 4 times in the past year) even though they were all purchased last summer. to me, thats not very reassuring.

I also tried the sennheiser S1 for a few flights but it was even worse than my 6 year old lightspeed! so i opted for the zulu 2. so far so good :)

Mike said...

A-Squared referenced the correct FAA clarification. The letter is confusing unless you read carefully and remember that there is a differentiation between "installed" or "equipped" and "supplemental" equipment. Your personal headset is "supplemental" to the aircraft equipment. If you don't replace an "installed" mikes/speakers in the aircraft but only "supplement" them, there is no requirement it be TSO'd. Most aircraft were type certified with the handmikes and overhead speakers, not the headsets which may be located somewhere in the cockpit. If you don't remove a hand mike or speaker to plug in your personal headset, there is no requirement your headset be TSO'd.

TSO standards, by the way, are MINIMUM standards and are NOT standardized. Even the aircraft manufacturers don't know which TSO standards particular headsets have met. They only know they are "TSO'd." Unfortunately, there is NO standardization in the FAA to issue TSO's. Each FAA region does their own thing, each application is treated differently.

To make it worse, there are few required specifications for a TSO'd headset, AND there are even different levels of specifications for some standards. A headset may have been tested to 50,000 ft and -52 degrees, another to only 8,000 ft and 60 degrees. Both have "met" TSO test standards for "altitude & temperature." You will never know which category it was tested to unless you have access to RTCA/DO-214 (which you have to purchase) and the FAA TSO records on file for that particular TSO'd article.

Last but not least, if a headset has been modified without proper TSO Authorization, i.e., ANR earcups in David Clarks, custom earmolds on Plantronics MS50s or Telex 5x5s, the headset is no longer TSO'd. Likewise, a repair by a non-FAA certified repair station voids a TSO.