Different aviation headsets are made for different types of pilots. Casual fliers may not need to invest in something that’s comfortable enough to sleep in. People who are flying single-engine planes will need different levels of hearing protection than those flying in a jet. Finding a great aviation headset isn’t simply about throwing money at the problem, or finding a product that’s the best in some universal sense. It’s a process of matching your individual needs with the unique features of the many aviation headsets on the market.
Great aviation headsets are about noise isolation, comfort, microphone quality, and added features. Noise isolation needs to be appropriate to the craft you’re flying. Comfort should reflect the time you spend in the craft, and how often you fly. Microphone quality is an essential that’s not just a matter of convenience, but safety. And then there are added features, like being able to enjoy music without losing touch with your coms.
Bose ProFlight Aviation Headset
Within the space of audio equipment, Bose needs little introduction. Although audiophiles tend to dislike Bose equipment, Bose has a sterling reputation amongst pilots. Many aviators consider the Bose A20 to be the golden standard amongst aviation headsets for many types of craft, and the peak of comfort and protection for casual pilots.
With that said, the ProFlight Aviation Headset wasn’t made with the intention of replacing the A20. It’s a totally different type of aviation headset, with a totally different type of pilot in mind. While the A20 uses the ordinary over-ear passive protection suitable for almost all types of aircraft, the ProFlight is far lighter in-ear alternative. It’s intended for pilots flying jets and similar moderately loud aircraft.
Build & Design
The ProFlight weighs 4.9 ounces, which is stunningly lightweight for a headset of any type, let alone a protective aviation headset. It even compares favorably with the weight of most sports headphones. In spite of that incredibly small weight, you’ll still find the same signature active noise cancellation as within the A20. Without exaggeration, the result is a level of comfort that may have been totally unavailable to many pilots before now.
As a brand, one of the defining features of Bose is their approach to ease of use. They want everything to be as simple as pressing one button, or plugging in a single cable. In that spirit, the ProFlight Aviation Headset uses an attached control terminal that allows you to toggle through the active noise cancellation settings. You can switch between three ANC settings, to find the protection most appropriate to your environment.
Seasoned aviators won’t be surprised to hear that Bose used an electret noise cancelling mic for the ProFlight. It’s ideal for dealing with the exceptionally high levels of background noise you’ll experience in an aircraft, even with a hot mic aircraft.
From a glance, it looks like the ProFlight are in-ear headphones, but they’re not. The ProFlight are actually earbuds which rest in the bowl of the ear, similar to sports earbuds. They don’t press deep into the ear canal, which allows them to produce less pressure on the ear. The result is a much greater degree of comfort, especially for longer flights.
The leading causes of discomfort for aviation headsets is weight and pressure. The ProFlight weighs about 70% less than a traditional aviation headset. And while the side cushions are present there is virtually no squeeze against your head.
Another key point for comfort is the size of each earbud. Each earbud is composed of a soft silicone material, which fairly durable given its smooth texture. It also includes earbuds in three separate sizes for you to find the best possible fit. You will want to take the time to experiment, even if the first pair fit well. Achieving a proper fit is critical to protecting your ears and getting the ProFlight to perform its best.
One more thing to notice is how the ProFlight Aviation Headset uses side-pad cushions. These cushions help rest just above your ears, distributing the weight of the headset evenly, and helping stabilize the earbuds. As a result, they don’t feel jerked-around when you move your head. And it may be worth noting how the way the headset rests on your head doesn’t interfere with comfortably wearing glasses.
Bose is known for helping the first active noise reduction on the market. And the latest addition they’ve been putting on all their best audio equipment is headphones with multiple levels of ANC. That allows you to toggle between higher and lower ANC depending on the craft you’re using. The lowest setting is basic background ANR, while the medium is appropriate for jet conditions, and the highest setting is more appropriate for a turboprop.
Compared to passive hearing protection, ANC is effective for very specific frequencies. It’s not great for removing mid-tones, like those of the human voice. But it’s fairly excellent for taking on droning bass tones, like those you experience within a most types of aircraft. ANC is often capable of providing adequate standalone protection, but for some types of particularly loud aircraft, you’re going to want to pair passive and active protection.
Compared to the A20
It’s hard not to notice that the ProFlight is at the same price point as the Bose A20, which makes it sensible to make a close comparison. Both the ProFlight and A20 are good for canceling low frequency bass sounds and especially wind noise. However, the A20 will perform slightly better noise cancelling under some circumstances because it provides more physical protection from sound waves. If you’re in an extremely loud aircraft, you’ll probably want the added passive protection available with the A20.
Beyond simple noise cancellation, there are many great ease of use features which make the ProFlight a bit easier to get used to. For example, there’s a talk-through-tap feature that lets you chat with those who aren’t wearing a headset without removing your own headset. That means you don’t have to remove one ear cup to hear what someone next to you may be saying.
Bose also includes Bluetooth support, allowing easy connectivity to tablets, smartphones, and similar devices. Playing music off your phone, or through an Internet radio service, takes only a matter of seconds. And using free Bose Connect app, it’s possible for two headsets to share the same audio source. That’s a very useful feature for sharing audio with a copilot.
Speaking of copilots, another neat thing to note is the swappable microphone. Without the use of special tools, you can easily pop-off and swap the microphone from left to right side. It can be a small convenience when it comes to storage, or an invaluable tool for pilots who are swapping seats. Making all these kind of subtle details work is what defines Bose as a brand.
The only thing aviation headsets need as much as hearing protection is sound clarity. Intelligible communication is the bare minimum you can accept, and that clear communication needs to go both ways. The ProFlight achieves that in much the same way as the A20, with the use of active equalization. Incoming sound signals are actively improved for the sake of clarity. In poor weather conditions, or when other people are using inadequate equipment, you also may find the clarity increased.
For listening to music, the ProFlight is about what you would expect. Provided that you’re in an environment where the ProFlight ANC provides enough protection, the ProFlight offers sound quality that’s fairly excellent. Bose primarily creates sound quality through proprietary software techniques. Hands-on equalization is what allows Bose to create provide their signature sound on all of their equipment from the $200 computer speakers to $1200 home entertainment systems.
And it’s what allows them to pack that sound into seemingly small headsets like the ProFlight. To Bose, sound quality is less about hardware engineering and more about psychoacoustics. Their approach to quality audio is about trying to trick the brain into hearing things in a particular way. And they manage to do this even though the underlying physical equipment composing their products can seem unremarkable.
The ProFlight is powered by two AA batteries. With Bluetooth turned on, those batteries provide about 25 hours of protection. With Bluetooth toggled off, you can get an incredible 45 hours of ANC protection. Provided you’re not circling the globe twice; you should have plenty of time to recharge or swap batteries between flights. Even lengthy flights don’t present a challenge to the battery.
If you’re not familiar with ANC technology, you should know you won’t get adequate hearing protection without batteries. Active noise cancellation requires the headset to use a microphone to listen to your environment, and then create soundwaves to nullify environmental soundwaves in your ear canal. When you run out of battery power, your protection drops to zero. You’ll want to make sure you have a replacement pair and keep tabs on the battery.
Who Should Choose the Bose ProFlight Aviation Headset?
Whether or not you should choose the ProFlight is largely a matter of what kind of flying you do. The ProFlight is Bose’s smallest and lightest headset. Its lightweight design is comfortable in a level that bulkier clamp-force headsets can’t hope to achieve. Weighing only 4.9 ounces makes the ProFlight less than half the weight of the A20. For longer flights, the difference in comfort can be phenomenal.
But the Bose ProFlight probably isn’t the right choice for an especially noisy turboprop or piston plane. When the only thing standing between your ear canal and a roaring engine are a few thin sheets of metal, the A20 is probably still your best bet. The A20 uses clamping force to help create a physical barrier around your ear. It’s arguably the most comfortable clamping force you’ll find on an aviation headset, but it is nevertheless a clamping force.
The absence of that kind of passive protection on the ProFlight is precisely what makes it so comfortable, and precisely what makes it inadequate for exceptionally loud aircraft. Of course, not everyone is flying a military aircraft. If you’re behind the wings of a quieter jet, the ProFlight is great. It offers unmatched comfort while still delivering on the essential hearing protection every pilot is looking for.