Types of headsets (PNR vs ANR) and Renting vs Buying (Part 2 of 3)

As mentioned previously in Part 1, the noise in the flight deck can range from 80 db to 120 db. The more common planes (C172, PA44, A320, B737, etc) have cockpits that measure 90-110 db of noise. Hearing damage can occur at 85 db. Depending on the aircraft that you fly, you’ll need to get a headset that can attenuate 20-30 db. Fortunately, most aviation headsets do that just fine.

Renting vs Owning

So you decide that you will wear a headset, excellent decision, and you notice that your school allows you to rent. Should you rent instead of purchasing your own? Similar to renting vs owning a home, there are a few variables for you to consider. It’ll depend on what type of headsets they’re renting out, inventory, costs, and time of year.

An obvious safety related consideration is sharing of sweat when you rent. It’s not so much of an issue during cold months, but it could get disgusting during hot and humid days.

From a communications perspective, the school’s headset might not be that effective depending on their quality and maintenance. Their mic and/or speakers could simply be ineffective or it doesn’t attenuate sufficient noise to protect your hearing.

Another point to consider is the school may not have enough headsets to rent out depending on the situation. If there are multiple flights at the same time, there may be insufficient headsets to rent out. It’s rare, but it could happen during days with good flying conditions and everyone wants to bring their friends along.

Normally it would be financially better to have a headset to call your own, but depending on the objective of your flight training, it might be cheaper to rent. Renting usually range from $2-5. It could be per hour or per flight depending on the school. The least expensive headset is roughly $150 after tax. You’ll have to do the math based on the amount of hours/flights left to complete your training.

If you plan to simply get your RPP or PPL (with no ratings), it might be cheaper to simply rent. But don’t forget that after you get your licence/permit, you’ll still need to rent the headset when you fly as PIC. If you plan to get CPL/ATPL or any ratings, owning will most likely cost less.

PNR vs ANR

You might’ve already heard of passive noise reduction (PNR) and active noise reduction (ANR) or active noise cancellation (ANC). They each reduce the amplitude of the noise in different ways, and each has their pros and cons.

The less complicated one, PNR, simply blocks sound from entering your ears. They have a circular pad that forms a seal around your ears. PNR works on all frequencies and requires no power source (batteries or from the aircraft) to function properly. Due to their simplicity, it also costs less ($150-700). However, in order to maintain a good seal to block sound, the clamping force of the two ear cups is noticeably higher compared to ANR. One might feel like it’s progressively increasing from a minor nuisance to a full headache the longer the flight gets. This drawback is amplified if you wear glasses and produces pressure points on your temples. The head clamping issue can be mitigated somewhat by upgrading the ring seals to gel or higher-quality foam.

Another PNR type of headset is the in-ear type. The issue of high clamping force can be completely avoided. These headsets block sound with a foam or plastic earplug inside the ear canal similar to earbuds for music. They are the lightest, smallest, and one of the more comfortable types. It also allows you to maintain your hairstyle or wear a hat/tuque effortlessly. The downsides are the higher initial costs ($500-900) and minor on-going costs for replacement earplugs due to earwax dirtying the earplugs (25-50¢ each). For some, having earplugs inside their ears is uncomfortable.

ANR works by producing an equal but opposite sound wave to cancel the loud noises. It’s similar to dropping pebbles a couple of feet apart in the water. The resulting waves of each pebble will interact with each other. There’ll be places where the waves add onto each other to create a higher wave, and places where the waves cancel each other so the height of the water is the same as if there are no waves. ANR are great at cancelling low frequency sounds from the engine, propeller, and exhaust noises. This allows ANR headsets to reduce the ear cup’s clamping force, which makes it much more comfortable. They work best on constant noises such as engine or wind noise, but aren’t that great for abrupt noises like cockpit warnings and speech. Due to the higher complexity of ANR headsets, they range from $700-1500. Also, there’s the on-going cost of batteries to power the electronics to generate the cancelling sound waves. Since ANR requires batteries to work, some aren’t that great once the batteries die. They weren’t designed to be used passively so their noise attenuation are generally sub-par. However, some brands and models of ANR still do a decent job passively. Alternatively, just make sure you have spare batteries within reach. Another minor issue inherently associated with ANR is the clarity of engine sound. Because of ANR, the engine noise is distorted somewhat compared to PNR, which makes listening to engine performance a bit more difficult.

So that’s PNR vs ANR, but why the huge difference in prices even within the same method of noise reduction? Generally, it’s because of the materials, features, weight, size, and comfort. Higher quality foam, plastics, metals, leather will have an effect on the weight and comfort of the headset. Additional features that will increase the cost of the headset includes: individual volume control separate from the aircraft’s avionics, mono/stereo speaker settings, Bluetooth sync to devices (for phone calls or music) with incoming transmission prioritization, TSO certification, etc.

With all these choices and features, it’s quite difficult to come to a firm conclusion just by reading and researching. You’ll have to do additional research by reading reviews online and making a short list of headsets that’ll fit your budget, style, tastes, on-going costs, etc. Then, most importantly, find a store that allows a trial period of those headsets so that you can test them out. Most brands offer a trial period and warranty, but their duration may differ.

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