Clarks design was so good, in fact, that many manufacturers have simply copied its principle features, sometimes improving them, sometimes not. Generically, we refer to these headsets as Clark clones in that theyre based on the Clark idea, if not direct copies.
With their oval plastic earcups and steel yokes, the SoftComm and Flightcom are Clark-style headsets. However, the LightSPEEDs are made almost entirely of plastic and have earcups and earseals of an entirely different design. These we consider to be clean sheet ANRs, not Clark-type designs with ANR added.
One complaint users have about Clark-type headsets is high clamping pressure. In a passive-only headset, higher clamping pressure is necessary to obtain a good seal between the users head and the earcup. Without it, passive noise attenuation is less effective. With active noise cancelation, high clamping pressure isnt as important but any ANR designed in the Clark style may have it. Weve found that this, more than any other factor, impacts headset comfort.
Flightcom Classic ANR
As the name implies, this is a Clark-style platform thats stoutly built, with heavy earcups and a unique mic boom that has both a wire frame and universially adjustable rubber boom. For earseals, it uses thick Confor pads-perhaps a little too thick, in our view-and it comes standard with a headpad and volume control on each earcup.
At 18.5 ounces, this was among the heaviest of the ANRs we tried but, as noted, were not convinced that weight is much of a determinant for comfort; clamping pressure is. The Classic ANR is powered by a single 9-volt battery housed in a smallish and unobtrusive case with low battery warning and on/off LEDs, a feature with think is a must. The battery case has a clip that can be attached to a belt or to an aircraft side pocket. Of all the battery cases, the Classic ANRs was the smallest. It doesnt, however, have provisions for ships power.
As far as performance, our testers rated the Flightcom as fair to good in ANR and fair in passive attuention when the ANR was switched off. The earseals have an overstuffed feel which, while creating a good seal, also yields fairly high clamping pressure. But in our view, this is about as comfortable as a Clark-style headset gets. Overall, our test panel liked the Classic ANR a bit better than the higher-priced Denali. The Classic ANR comes with a carrying case and has a three-year warranty and a 30-day fly em and try em guarantee.
At $299 and 19.4 ounces, this is one of the least expensive but also one of the heaviest ANRs in this group. Overall, we thought it delivered remarkable quality and performance for the price. Like the Classic ANR, its a Clark-style design with a continuously adjustable mic boom and a padded headband. Curiously, at this price, it has no case but it was the only headset in the bargain group to have the cellphone interface. Given the choice, we can do without the case.
On the other hand, we found that the 9-volt battery box could use some work. In our view, its generally not up to the quality of the rest of the headset; it had no power-on LEDs and the switch is easy to accidentally bump on. Since it has no auto shutoff feature, a dead battery will be the result.
Comfort and performance wise, it runs in the middle, in our estimation. We found that perceived active and passive noise attenuation were in the fair to good range while comfort was fair. But if the cellphone interface is important and youre on a budget, this one is a winner.
LightSPEED has made quite a name for itself in the aviation world with moderately priced headsets that perform well while also remaining comfortable for long periods. In our view, the QFR continues that tradition, although this headset represents a point of departure from previous designs. LightSPEED has traditionally used plastic throughout its headsets-there is a metal headband for tension inside the plastic, however-but the QFR is different. It has a pair of wire yokes to support the earcups and our guess is that these contribute to the headsets light 15-ounce weight.
For batteries, the QFR uses the LightSPEED standard: two AA cells in a well-designed in-line battery case having separate volume and LEDs for power and low battery warning. It also has auto power shutoff.
LightSPEED is well known for having large, deep earseals and the QFR follows this tradition with close cell acoustic foam for the pads. We found these to be comfortable and, just as important, dry when the weather gets warm. Sweaty earseals contribute to discomfort, in our view. Perceived noise cancellation of the QFR is excellent, according to our test panel. Overall, for comfort, construction and performance, this one earned a top rating.
Worth noting here is that although we didnt test it with this group, LightSPEED offers the 20XL/2, an improved variant of the orginal LightSPEED models we last examined. The 20XL/2 uses what can be considered LightSPEEDs standard construction, a heavily padded plastic-covered headband and beefy plastic yokes for the earcups. At $399, this headset is also a contender.
But the 15XL one isnt a contender, in our view. Unlike the other model LightSPEEDs, we think this unit doesnt stand out in either the passive-we rated it poor-or the ANR mode. Despite its low price of $339 and light weight, we were somewhat disappointed in the perceived performance of this product. The ANR just didnt seem as effective, in our view, letting in more extraneous noise than did its stablemate QFR and the other ANRs in this group.
The 15XL is, however, quite comfortable, thanks to the earcup and seal design. Excluding the comfort factor, however, LightSPEEDs own QFR, the Flightcom, Headsets EM-1 and the SoftComm performed significantly better, in our estimation. We liked the 15XLs compact battery box and auto shutoff but it has no bells and whistles, such as cellphone interface, case or dual power. We dont see anything special to recommend the 15XL.
Headsets Inc. EM-1
Headsets, Inc. is an Amarillo, Texas-based company best known for manufacturing ad-on ANR kits that convert passive headsets to ANR. Theyve sold a number of kits and weve tried them twice, with good results. The EM-1 marks the companys first foray into purpose-built headsets with a Clark-style design retailing for $399. We were impressed with the attention to detail on this headset; it has a beefy, well-made feel and look. But at 20 ounces, its slightly heavier than the competition and we thought it had noticeabley heavier clamping pressure than the LightSPEED models.
Of course, that also gives it good passive attenuation if the ANR circuitry goes west or the battery dies. Speaking of which, it uses a single 9-volt battery in a simple battery box but with automatic shut off.
Unique among headsets in this price range, you can hardwire the EM-1 to ships power using an optional panel-mount power supply suitable for either 12- or 24-volt systems. The power supply has its own inline fuse protection. Theres no cellphone or music interface but we found the ANR performance to be on par with any of the others and comfort was fair.
Our top rating for this round goes to the LightSPEED QFR. Its light, performs well and the price is right. We dont find much fault with it, other than the lack of cellphone interface. As noted, the LightSPEED 20XL/2 is also a good choice, based on previous experience with this product.
Second choice? A tough call. We would say its a toss-up between the Headsets, Inc. EM-1 and the SoftComm. We like the EM-1 construction and ANR performance but the SoftComm has that cellphone feature, which we think is a terrific feature. Its also $100 cheaper.
• Flightcom Corporation, 503-684-8229, www.flightcom.net
• Headsets, Inc., 806-358-6336, www.headsetsinc.com
• LightSPEED Aviation, Inc., 503-968-3113, www.anrheadsets.com
• Softcomm Products, Inc., 480-917-2328, www.softcommheadsets.com
• Telex Communications Inc., 952-884-4051, www.telex.com
-Coy Jacob is an Aviation Consumer contributing editor.