Frugal Flier: New life for old headsets

Simple update competes with ANR

January 1, 2013

CEP headset

In noisy cockpits, I’ve long preferred the belt-and-suspenders method of wearing foam earplugs under an aviation headset. Sure, it’s a passive, low-tech, non-ANR approach to hearing protection, but it just seems to work best, especially in open-cockpit aircraft where wind noise tends to overwhelm even the most modern ANR units. But my method is far from perfect as it requires turning the radio and intercom volume all the way up—and sometimes even that isn’t enough to be heard over engine and wind noise.

Now, a small Alabama company has developed a far better solution that is quickly being adopted by military as well as civilian pilots, and particularly those who fly open-cockpit and sport airplanes or helicopters.

Communications and Ear Protection, Inc. (CEP) of Enterprise, Alabama, attaches a miniature transducer to one of the ear cups on a typical aviation headset with two wires inserted into foam earplugs. The wearer simply puts in the earplugs and wears the headset over them.

“The combination of a high-quality transducer and extremely effective earplugs is the secret,” said Ben Mozo, a former researcher at a U.S. Army research lab at Fort Rucker who developed the in-ear technology for military helmets 13 years ago and more recently has been applying it to civilian aviation headsets. “In extremely loud environments like the cockpit of a Pitts or a Stearman, it far outperforms ANR systems.”

A typical headset upgrade costs $95.

I sent a three-year-old David Clark H10-13X headset to Mozo’s company, CEP-USA, and it returned five business days later with a small, gold plug-in on the right ear cup. I attached the transducer, put the foam earplugs in my ears, wore the headset normally, and went flying—and the results were impressive.

Radio and intercom transmissions are crystal clear with or without the headset’s battery powered electronic noise cancelling turned on. The in-ear foam plugs are quite comfortable, and it’s easy to forget they’re even there. In fact, on my fourth flight with the CEP system, I took off the headset without thinking about the earplugs and yanked them out rather indelicately.

During several local flights in a Vans RV–4 (which has straight exhaust stacks and virtually no noise-deadening insulation) and one long cross-country in an A36 Bonanza during the review period, I found the CEP system tremendously helpful.

The multi-hour flight was far less fatiguing with the upgraded headset than it otherwise would have been, and it’s beyond dispute that effective hearing protection has huge benefits for pilots over the long term.

Mozo said the CEP system works well in both new and old headsets, passive and active, of virtually any brand. It doesn’t require batteries, or ongoing maintenance.

“As long as you take normal care of the equipment, this system will last forever,” he said. “The technology is much simpler than ANR and it’s at least as effective.”

Email dave.hirschman@aopa.org.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.