Headset Roundup

Earily Quiet

December 1, 1998

AOPA Pilot editors test the latest in headsets

While the efforts taken to quiet the cabins of light general aviation airplanes have not progressed far in the last few decades, the leaps made in headset and intercom technology in just the past five years have been huge. Today, pilots are inundated with new headset offerings. Companies that may have carried only one or two headsets in their product line five years ago are now offering a dozen different models ranging in price from less than $100 to $1,000. Likewise, active noise reduction (ANR) headsets, which utilize electronic gadgetry to effectively cancel low-frequency noise, have emerged from nearly every manufacturer. (Bose introduced the first ANR headset in 1989.) Five years ago, there were only three or four ANR headsets on the market; today, it's rare to see a company that doesn't make at least one model.

Newer companies such as LightSpeed and Pilot Avionics have taken the industry by storm with headsets providing innovative technology and clever functions at reasonable prices. Meanwhile, stalwarts like David Clark maintain a cult-like following stemming from years of building quality headsets backed by an unparalleled warranty. In this roundup we'll introduce you to the latest in headset wares from most of the major manufacturers in an effort to minimize the angst of choosing a headset that's right for you. - The Editors

Aearo Peltor

Aearo Peltor jumped on the ANR bandwagon and came out with the Model 7104 Stratosphere last spring (see " Pilot Products," July Pilot). Rather than just introducing another ANR headset with a control box, Peltor engineers crammed all of the noise-canceling hardware and a 9-volt battery into the ear cups. Although one would think this would make the headset heavy, it weighs in at a relatively svelte 15.5 ounces not including the detachable cord.

The Stratosphere, which has a minimum advertised price (MAP) of $594, shares the same ear cups, liquid/air ear cushions, mic, and mic boom with Peltor's top-of-the-line passive headset, the 7005 (see " Pilot Products," September 1997 Pilot). The detachable cord allows the headset to be used in other high-noise applications without the nuisance (and danger) of a dangling cord. On the cord, Peltor engineers have placed the individual volume controls and a selectable mono/stereo switch.

In the ANR mode, Peltor claims that the Stratosphere reduces noise by 18 to 20 dB. As with all ANR headsets, we noticed a big difference in the headset's reduction of low-frequency noise like that created by large-displacement engines turning big two-blade props. With its roots in a passive headset, the 7104 clamps a little tighter than headsets specifically designed to use ANR technology. This is by no means a gripe because the Stratosphere is one of the quietest headsets we've tested - a combination of the passive-attenuating clamping and active noise reduction. Even on a six-hour nonstop flight we found the Stratosphere comfortable.

Since our last review, the company has incorporated a switch guard that all but eliminates accidental switch activation. For more information contact Aearo Company, 90 Mechanic Street, Southbridge, Massachusetts 01550; telephone 800/327-6833 or 508/764-5871. - Peter A. Bedell


Aviation Communications Inc., has a growing line of aviation headsets ranging in price from $99.95 to $229.95. An active noise canceling version is reportedly being developed.

Avcomm's AC-200, the lowest-cost model, is targeted at student pilots who need a headset but aren't sure that they want to spend hundreds of dollars on a hobby they may not stick with.

If the student does become hooked, Avcomm hopes the new pilot will upgrade, perhaps to its AC-400 or AC-450. At that point the AC-200 could be relegated to a standby unit or one for passenger use. The 400-series headsets add stereo capability to the basic AC-200 and list for $139.95 to $159.95. The -450 is essentially a -400 with a number of comfort-enhancing features. The operation of the stereo/mono selector can be awkward at first since its knob is the same as the volume knob. Many first-time users thought that one speaker was dead, only to realize later that the unit was in stereo mode while plugged into a mono intercom.

Avcomm's top-of-the-line model is the stereo-capable AC-900, which features a flex boom like that of David Clark's popular H10-13.4 and lists for $219.95. The boom can be spun around to operate on either the left or right ear cup, a plus for flight instructors who may often switch between flying in the left or right seat. We found the right ear cup-mounted push-to-talk (PTT) transmit button a little strange at first but quickly realized the benefits that it has for flight instructors who may be instructing in airplanes without a PTT installed on the copilot's side. Owners of airplanes without a copilot PTT, as well, will find the AC-900 particularly intriguing since you'll no longer have to grab a hand mic to jabber on the radio from the copilot's seat. It's also handy when the primary PTT fails.

Avcomm also offers headsets for children. For more information, contact Avcomm, 1025 West San Bernardino Road, Covina, California 91722; telephone 800/845-7541 or 626/967-4183. - PAB

Bose Aviation

Bose introduced its new Aviation Headset X (pronounced ten) at EAA's AirVenture '98 in Oshkosh where it was met with a positive response.

The $995 Headset X continues the Bose tradition of nearly flawless sound quality, excellent comfort, and good noise-reduction characteristics. Bose has managed to trim away much of the bulk of the company's previous-generation headsets, cutting the weight of the headset to a lightweight 12 ounces, not including the cord. The old Series II headset was a hefty 22 ounces. A new magnesium headband houses a torsion spring at the apex to provide a light clamping effect. One staffer reported that the spring caused some discomfort on the top of her head. Bose is taking care of this with a mod.

At the heart of its latest noise-reduction system, the X uses what Bose calls TriPort technology. Three holes in each ear cup open the speaker to ambient air, effectively eliminating the need to leave space behind the speaker as all other ANRs must do for effective active noise cancellation. This allows Bose to use more passive attenuating materials in its active headset than others and also reduces the need for high clamping forces.

Like previous Bose headsets, the X can be powered by a battery pack containing one 9-volt battery or it can be wired directly into the airplane. Installed plugs for the X are compatible with the Series II Bose headsets but not the Series I. Bose claims a 9-volt alkaline battery will power the headset for 20 hours. For more information contact Bose Corporation, The Mountain, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701-9168; telephone 800/242-9008 or 508/879-7330; or visit the Web site ( www.bose.com). - PAB

David Clark

David Clark has made thousands of aviation headsets over the past few decades, and many pilots consider them the gold standard. The product line has swollen to 25 different headsets, and there are mix-and-match models and features designed for just about every application - kids' headsets, coiled cords or straight, stereo or monaural, electret or dynamic microphones, helicopter headsets, and even helmet models meant for open-cockpit airplanes.

All David Clark headsets are noise-attenuating. The passive noise-attenuating headsets have noise reduction ratios (NRRs) of anywhere from 23 to 27 dB, which makes for a fairly quiet ride. On the other hand, high NRRs can mean high clamping and headband forces on the pilot's skull. David Clark's newer models have designs that minimize these clamping forces and are lighter, too. The H10-13.4 (suggested retail price: $310), for example, weighs just 13.4 ounces, and has a well-padded headband. Other popular models are the H10-20 ($295) and H10-60 ($350, advertised as the top of the standard noise-attenuating line). Prices charged by dealers will be less.

The newest headsets in the David Clark line are of the active noise-canceling design. Here you have a choice of a headset with either a portable, modular battery power pack, or the type that uses power from the airplane's electrical system. Either way, you enjoy 12 to 17 dB worth of extra low-frequency noise attenuation when you switch on the noise-canceling feature. The switch is located in a recessed portion of the battery pack; there's a light that advises when the system's on, and the company says that the module's six AA batteries will last up to 60 hours.

The two most popular electronic noise-cancelling headsets are the battery-powered H10-13XL ($695), and the H20-10XL ($715). The -13XL has rounded ear cups and the traditional David Clark chrome headband with foam padding. The -10XL has new, squarish ear cups; a composite headband; and a super-wide headpad for maximum comfort. The H10-13XP and H20-10XP models are powered by the aircraft's electrical system.

We tried out the -XL models and found them exemplary in all respects.

No matter what headset you buy from David Clark, you'll have individually adjustable earphone volume controls, nice foam or gel earpads, and flexible microphone booms. Best of all, David Clark has an excellent reputation for standing behind its products and offers a wide range of accessories, such as a choice of ear seals and microphone windscreens. To top it all off, this holiday season the company is offering a $60 factory rebate on the electronic noise-canceling headsets, and a $25 rebate on the H10-13.4, H10-13S (stereo), H10-13Y (youth), and H10-13H (helicopter) standard headsets. For more information, contact David Clark Company, Incorporated, 360 Franklin Street, Box 15054, Worcester, Massachusetts 01615; telephone 508/751-5800; fax 508/753-5827; or visit the Web site ( www.davidclark.com). - Thomas A. Horne

DRE Communications

DRE Communications, maker of several fancy intercom systems, has introduced its first headset - an active noise canceling model called the 6000 ENR (Electronic Noise Reduction).

The headset has older David Clark-style ear cups and headband with thick foam ear seals. The mic boom is a combination of rigid and flexible sections with infinite adjustments and collar fasteners that look as if they came from a fighter pilot's closet. A mono/stereo selector switch is located on the single cord. With the cord but without the control box, the 6000 weighs 20.6 ounces.

The control box is large for a reason; it contains two 9-volt batteries that are claimed to last 40 to 50 hours if they're alkalines. The ENR will run on just one battery as well. Test lights illuminate to tell you how much life is left in one or both batteries.

One of several features we like about the new DRE headset is the Smart Power Management System that turns the electronics off in 10 minutes if no current is being sent to the mic cord. So if you forget to turn the headset off or it accidentally gets bumped on, it will not fry your batteries - a feature also found in the new LightSpeed 25K. Another nice feature is an adapter that allows the headset to be powered by the aircraft's cigarette lighter.

We first used the $450 DRE in an airplane with a panel-mount Sigtronics SPA-400 intercom. Sound quality is good in both receive and transmit modes. However, after 15 minutes of operation the headset's left speaker began squealing. After cycling the control unit on and off, the feedback-like noise disappeared. The problem reappeared on the next leg of the trip and was stopped the same way. Later, the headset did the same trick in another airplane with a portable Sigtronics intercom. The problem could not be duplicated in still another airplane with a PS Engineering intercom or when used with a portable DRE intercom. Aware that we had one of the very first headsets DRE has ever produced, we surmised that it could have been a fluke or that it simply had a problem with Sigtronics intercoms. Another headset sent to us by DRE worked fine, although we weren't able to test it in the airplanes with the Sigtronics intercom systems.

If the feedback problem that we experienced was just a one-headset fluke, we believe that DRE has made a good first effort in the area of lower-cost active headsets. For more information, contact DRE Communications, 1355 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, California 95131; telephone 408/437-3132; or visit the Web site ( www.drecomm.com) - PAB


Flightcom used October's AOPA Expo '98 as a venue to introduce a number of improvements to its line of competitively priced headsets. All members of Flightcom's "Classic Series" of passive noise-attenuating headsets now carry a three-year warranty, as does the 6ANX active noise-canceling model.

The bargain-priced Classic 4DX, which carries a minimum advertised price (MAP) of $95, now features a new wire articulated boom with fingertip-adjustable screws to go with its noise-canceling electret microphone.

The 4DLX, with a MAP of $139, now sports a new precision flex mic boom that is easily positioned and once positioned stays put. Instead of just one volume control, the 4DLX has two, to allow the pilot to set the volume in each ear.

Top-of-the-line in the Classic series is the 5DX, which carries a MAP of $179. It includes a new washable polar fleece headpad and comfortable silicone gel ear seals along with the other improvements made to the 4DLX.

We recently had the opportunity to fly with the 5DX. The new headband, ear seals, and mic boom do make a significant difference. The soft headband provides plenty of comfort on top. The ear seals do a good job of blocking noise without clamping. The ear cups are shallow, but the insides are laced with soft fabric, which makes them very comfortable. The 5DX did a commendable job of quieting the airplane noise, on par with some of the less-expensive active headsets.

Flightcom's player in the active market is the 6ANX, which we reviewed in the February issue. The 6ANX claims a 21-decibel noise reduction beyond that provided by its passive cousins. Like many other active headsets, the 6ANX houses its battery and controls in a small control box in the cord. A nine-volt battery will power it for at least 20 hours and as many as 40, depending on ambient noise conditions. MAP is $399.

Flightcom, which has been in business since 1983, also makes a lightweight headset for jet cockpits, a host of panel-mount and portable intercoms, and a digital clearance recorder/clock combination.

For more information, contact Flightcom at 7340 S.W. Durham Road, Portland, Oregon 97224; telephone 503/684-8229; fax 503/620-2943. Or visit their Web site ( www.flightcom.com). - Thomas B. Haines

Joyce Telectronics

Although Joyce Telectronics Corporation is new to the general aviation marketplace with its Type 4 Thunder 29 headset, the company is no stranger to aviation. It has been manufacturing headsets, helmets, microphones, and related equipment for the U.S. government and other customers since 1950.

Local pilots found the company, near Florida's Clearwater Air Park, and began stopping by in search of headset repairs. That led to requests to purchase headsets, said company President Peter Joyce. An all-black headset manufactured to military specifications and, except for the color, appearing identical to David Clark products has been popular. General aviation now accounts for about 20 percent of the company's business, Joyce said.

The military heritage is evident in the new Type 4 Thunder 29 headset, with its rugged construction and heavy mil-spec wiring. The unit's 18-ounce weight is slightly above average for passive headsets, but the headband's nontraditional design allows ear cup adjustments over a greater range than is possible with most GA headsets and the padded, fur-lined head pad wins high marks for comfort. The headset's design provides the ear cups with a perceptible clamping action, but because the pressure is distributed evenly around the ear cup, we didn't it find it to be fatiguing - even after a period of extended use.

More pliable foam in the ear seals would greatly benefit the Type 4 Thunder 29; the headset's usually excellent noise attenuation is reduced considerably when the user wears eyeglasses. The ear cup foam is so stiff that it cannot adequately fill the gaps between the glasses' sidepieces and the pilot's temples. Joyce provided optional plush ear cushions that were noticably better.

The headset is available directly from Joyce for $150. A pair of the plush ear cushions is $5.95 when ordered with a headset. For another $140, the Type 4 Thunder 29 is available with the Headsets Inc. active noise reduction kit already installed.

"At the request of the Coast Guard, we did away with the battery box" that accompanies the Headsets Inc. conversion, Joyce explained. "We remoted the 9-volt battery to the top of the head band and put the on/off switch on the ear cup." He said that the modification adds only the weight of the battery.

The company offers a limited lifetime warranty and a 90-day money-back guarantee. For more information, contact Joyce Telectronics at 2049 Range Road, Clearwater, Florida 33765; telephone 813/461-3525. - Michael P. Collins


While some older headset companies steeped in tradition stick to their classic colors and ear cup designs even in their latest products, LightSpeed Technology carried no such baggage when it leaped into the headset market a couple of years ago. In the early 1990s the company started building wireless audio systems for studios, theaters, and auditoriums. It still is a major player in that business, but now also builds a line of unique active noise-reducing headsets.

LightSpeed's first products were the 15K and the 20K models, which took the market by storm with their Buck Rogers looks and excellent performance at a reasonable price. Now, LightSpeed has upped the ante again with the 25K, which debuts in December. The 25K incorporates many features that buyers have asked for, including an auto-off switch for those of us who are memory challenged - no more forgetting to turn it off and coming back to dead batteries. When you remove the headset from your head, the system senses the "acoustic instability" between the ear cups and shuts down the system. Cycling the on/off button turns the electronics back on.

Also new is improved active performance with a claimed 28- to 30-dB reduction. Audio fidelity is also improved on the 25K.

Like the other LightSpeed models, the 25K gets its power from a pair of AA batteries housed in a small plastic box built into the cord near the jacks. In addition to the on/off switch, it includes two slider volume controls, one for each ear, and LEDs that show power on and battery strength. The company claims a pair of batteries will last more than 50 hours, thanks to improved circuitry.

All of the LightSpeed models have proven to be comfortable. The 15Ks come with a soft headband and very soft 1.5-inch thick foam ear seals. The 20Ks come with slightly stiffer ear pads. The 25K ships with both types of seals, giving the buyer a choice. Like the earlier models, the 25K retains LightSpeed's unique elongated ear cups. The shape and the thick ear seals have proven to be particularly popular with women, who say they can comfortably wear earrings while flying with the LightSpeed headsets.

If you are one of the 7,000 pilots who recently purchased a 20K and would like to try out the latest and greatest, LightSpeed has a deal for you. Beginning in January, return your 20K with a check for $200 and the company will send you a new 25K. Otherwise, a new 25K has a MAP of $585.

For more information, contact LightSpeed Technologies at 15812 SW Upper Boones Ferry Road, Lake Oswego, Oregon 97035; telephone 503/684-5538; fax 503/ 684-3197; or visit the Web site ( www.teleport.com/~litspeed). - TBH

Pilot Avionics

Pilot Avionics' new Independence Series PA 17-79 DNC XL direct noise canceling headset is an enhanced follow-on to the company's PA 17-76, introduced in the fall of 1997. Passive noise attenuation is increased to 25 dB, and active noise reduction is 3 dB to 4 dB greater than that of its predecessor; total noise reduction is 43 to 47 dB, the company says. The endurance of the built-in, rechargeable nickel-metal hydride battery that powers the active noise canceling electronics has also been increased, to as long as 30 to 50 hours.

Like its predecessor, the PA 17-79 offers enhanced voice intelligibility (EVI). Pilot Avionics' proprietary digital signal processing circuit amplifies the speech frequencies of incoming audio signals by 3 to 4 dB. "We're seeing lots of older pilots really liking it because they've suffered hearing loss, and going to an active headset with voice enhancement makes the difference," said Lee Luzell, the company's president.

Luzell and his brother Leonard launched Pilot Avionics in 1988 when Luzell left his job as a manager at AT&T's Bell Labs. About that time, a trading partner in Hong Kong acquired an electronics factory in Korea, and Luzell and his brother showed sample headsets around pilot shops. "People said, ‘you should change this, you should change this, you should change this,'" Luzell recalled. The units were sent back to the factory, the changes were made, and soon the FBOs began placing orders. "We knew we had a product that dealers wanted, and started manufacturing," Luzell said. The company is now manufacturing in Sweden, Germany, the United States, and Korea, and it has entered nonaviation markets as well.

The PA 17-79's design is modular; both the mic boom and cord jack can be positioned on either ear cup. The cord, with a mono/stereo selector switch and individual volume controls, is detachable, so the headset can be worn during preflight on a noisy ramp - or while mowing the lawn at home. Because the electronics and battery are contained within the ear cups, active noise canceling is available outside of the cockpit. The headband is fitted with an Oregon Aero Sheepskin Soft Top head pad.

The minimum advertised price of $459 includes a cordura case and a five-year warranty. For more information, contact Pilot Avionics at 10015 Muirlands Boulevard, Unit G, Irvine, California 92618; telephone 888/467-4568 or 949/597-1012; fax 949/597-1049; or visit the Web site ( www.pilot-avionics.com). - MPC


The Sennheiser HMEC 200 III Noise-Gard is competitively priced against higher-end, high-performance noise-canceling headsets at $695 for mono and $780 for stereo. At those prices, you expect a lot of features and will not be disappointed with this German-built model. The company itself has a strong reputation for sound engineering for the movie industry and was the inventor of the boom microphone.

Testing was done in a Cessna 172. It was as comfortable as wearing a pillow and provided crystal-clear intercom and radio reception. Its features include use of the Aearo Peltor 7004 ear cup with a passive noise reduction of 24 dB. Total noise reduction, balanced over the entire frequency range, is a claimed 40 dB. With that kind of reduction, the clamping forces so important to passive noise cancellation can be reduced.

It is lightweight at only 12.4 ounces and is designed for owners of airplanes with high cabin noise. Attention to detail includes sealing the wire entry points on the ear cup to block as much sound as possible. The ear cushions snap on and off, thus making them far easier to remove and install than those with the foldover plastic flap. A DC-to-DC converter in the power plug allows use of any 10-volt to 32-volt power source. A modular mic element is easily removed or installed, and the mic gain is adjustable.

One electronic supply house we called - that sells several brands - considers the Sennheiser the best among several $700 active noise reduction (ANR) headsets sold there. Perhaps the best testimonial comes from the selection of Sennheiser ANR models by British Airways, Lufthansa, and Alitalia, among other airlines. The model line of four headsets allows pilots to use the lightest one possible. Airliners have quiet cockpits, compared to those of piston-engine aircraft, and their pilots generally opt for the $715 HMEC 45 weighing only 4.9 ounces. Sennheiser also offers the $760 HMEC 25 weighing 6.7 ounces. A passive noise-reduction headset, the HME 25-KA, is also offered at $420, but most customers opt for an ANR model.

It comes with a padded carrying case and connectors for permanent installation in any aircraft. Those of us needing portability will need to buy an optional $132 nicad battery pack or a $43 alkaline battery pack. A cigarette adapter, used on our test, ranges in cost from $29 to $39, depending on the type needed.

For information, write Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, 1 Enterprise Drive, Post Office Box 987, Old Lyme, Connecticut 06371; telephone 860/434-9190; or see the Web site ( www.sennheiser.com). - Alton K. Marsh


Sigtronics made a name for itself back in the early 1970s when founder Frank Sigona pioneered the intercom system for light aircraft. Today, the company offers several intercom models, cables, switchers, accessories, and its own line of headsets.

The most recent addition to Sigtronic's headset line is the 8 series, which consists of the S-58 and S-68. These new models are lightweight, weighing in at 11.9 ounces (with foam ear seals and no cord). The difference between the two is color only. The S-58, which can be found for as little as $237, has Sigtronics' familiar sky-blue ear cups. The S-68, which can be found for as little as $267, features black domes and gold-plated hardware. Our test set weighed in at about 16 ounces, including the cord and gel ear seals.

In the cockpit, we liked the S-58's noticeably light overall weight, slim mic boom, and small electret mic covered with an equally unobtrusive wind muff that blocks unwanted wind noise while maintaining clear communications. Noise attenuation is good for a passive headset. Long-term comfort started out slightly vise-like, but as the unit was worn more, the clamping effect was reduced. We later made a 5.5-hour nonstop trip with no comfort problems. Sound quality of radio and intercom calls is good but not quite as crisp as that of the David Clark H10-40 that we tested side by side. One staffer also liked the low-profile, insert-molded headphone and mic plugs that did not stick out from his airplane's subpanel to contact his knees in flight. The 8 Series is backed by a five-year warranty that covers parts and labor.

We think buyers of the new 8 series will enjoy this comfortable, economical, and lightweight headset. Stereo and helicopter versions of the 8 series are available as well. For those who just have to have an ANR headset, rest assured that Sigtronics is working on one. For more information contact Sigtronics, 949 North Cataract #D, San Dimas, California 91773; telephone 909/305-9399. - PAB


SoftComm Products is a leader in the low-priced passive headset market but continues to offer the C-90 BNE (Background Noise Eliminating) electronic noise-canceling headset as well. It was used by another pilot and me during the 25-hour flight of the AOPA Timeless Tri-Pacer from Maryland to California, and it received good marks for comfort and performance.

When the power cord was first plugged in, the additional noise reduction seemed small within the Tri-Pacer's noisy cockpit, but that is because the headset already offers 24 dB of reduction in the passive mode. Active cancellation actually reduces the din another 13 dB. The additional noise cancellation was enough to quiet the worst of the low-frequency roar in the tube-and-fabric airplane. Audio quality came through with a bit of a bass echo.

The batteries could have lasted the entire trip, but it was decided to add fresh batteries in El Paso, Texas, just to be sure. That was when we discovered that four screws have to be removed to open the battery box and that the unit uses AAA batteries. Since our flight bags were loaded with AA cells, we were lucky to find that Cutter Aviation at El Paso International Airport just happens to stock that size. Officials at SoftComm Products in Chandler, Arizona, said that they are looking into the battery power situation in coming months. The power pack has to be unplugged to turn it off, and sometimes during the Tri-Pacer flight we simply forgot. It would be nice to have a switch.

Since our Pilot review six years ago (see "Pilot Products," May 1991 Pilot) the price of the 25.3-ounce C-90 BNE has dropped from $595 to $395.

SoftComm's passive noise attenuation headsets offer truly reasonable prices listing from $90 to $210. The best seller among the passive models is the $129 C-40-20 Silver Fox, a stereo/mono headset with liquid ear seals and a weight of just 12.2 ounces. Other models include the C-40 series with electret microphones and 23 dB of attenuation; the $99 C-45 "Prince" for students and $89 C-45 "Child Prince" for children; the $120 C-50 "Black Knight" with 22 dB of attenuation; and the C-60 series ($159 to $210) featuring RF-interference-immune microphones and 24 dB of attenuation. The company is reducing the prices to its dealers on several of the passive attenuation headsets for the Christmas season. Discounts offered by retailers may vary.

SoftComm headsets are generally sold through FBOs. To find a dealer, contact SoftComm Products, 2310 South Airport Boulevard, Chandler, Arizona 85429; telephone 602/917-2328. - AKM


Telex has revamped its line of active noise-reduction sets to position the new Echelon ANR as the entry-level model. Based on a design that has evolved from the original low-cost ANR 3100, the Echelon uses combination gel/foam ear seals, cushy head pad, and a clever clamping-force adjuster that uses an eccentric cam to provide three settings. For a street price of about $290, the Echelon is jam-packed with features - it has stereo capability (with a cord-mounted selector), external battery box housing a 9-volt cell, and a noise-canceling electret mic that swivels for use on either the left or right ear.

At the bottom of the price category, you'd expect subpar audio performance, but here the Telex surprises. The active noise reduction is solid, without clicks or pops or sensitivity to electrical interference. And even though the electronics do not discriminate between noise and intercom chatter inside the ear cup, the result is not the midrange-heavy mess that you'll find in other low-end ANRs.

On the comfort score, the Echelon compares well with other ANRs, even though it's noticeably heavier than some other low-end ANRs - it is, at least, significantly more feathery than the 3100. The ear seals fit well, and the large ear cups accommodate larger ears without a problem. The variable clamping is a feature worth having to fit a variety of users.

Supposedly, the 9-volt battery will power the Echelon for some 50 hours. We can't prove it, but after two occasions of leaving the unit turned on for 48 hours between flights - remember, though, that the electronics aren't consuming much power unless they're quelling noise - and flying for more than 15 additional hours, the original battery is still going strong.

Overall, the Echelon ANR is an excellent headset that's also a terrific value, with very good build quality, fine acoustics, and a top-rate microphone. Contact Telex Communications, 9600 Aldrich Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55420; telephone 612/884-4051; or visit the Web site ( www.telex.com). - Marc E. Cook

E-mail the authors at [email protected].