In-the-Ear Headsets: Dont Buy Yet

The market is in utter flux with at least three new products poised for introduction. Quiet Technologies and Lightspeed are the ones to watch.

by Lionel Lavenue

As an alternative to noggin-crushing conventional headsets, so-called in-the-ear designs offer blessed relief. Theyre light, cool in hot weather and the audio performance is excellent. After a so-so market response, interest in these products has picked up since we last reported on them in the February 2003 issue.

Since then, weve continued to flight test revisions and improvements of these products, including entries from Quiet Technologies, LightSPEED and a new company called Aloft Technologies. Heres a brief update on what weve learned.

AuriComm II
Over the last two years, Quiet Technologies has discontinued the UltraFlite and AuriComm and replaced them with a single unit, the AuriComm II. The AuriComm II is similar to the original AuriComm with the choice of an optional headband or an improved earpiece, which we strongly prefer over the headband.

The AuriComm II no longer uses the patented Comply foam ear inserts. Instead, unless you choose the custom earmolds, it has a new type of ear insert with a triple-flange rubber silicone eartip. Although we were dubious that this tip would work as well as the Comply tips, we were impressed with the comfort and performance.

As press time, the AuriComm II is still $365 retail ($325 discounted) with a 30-day money-back guarantee. In our view, the AuriComm series remains the benchmark in this class of product and, as noted in the sidebar, an improved version is in the works.

Panthers CAT
Panther has also improved the original CAT system. In contrast to Quiet Technologies, which offers both custom earmolds and standard eartips, CATs claim to fame is its custom earmolds made for just the person using the headset.

We liked the original CAT system, but had problems with the fact that the earpiece also included the mic, causing distracting noises while eating, talking or even breathing. Some users even reported problems talking with ATC. A new version addresses this problem with an improved boom mic, which we havent tested. Unfortunately, the price of the CAT system has risen from $495 to $650, twice as much as the AuriComm II. And theres no money-back guarantee.

Clarity Aloft
The new guy in town is the Clarity Aloft in-the-ear headset by Aloft Technologies. The Clarity is similar to the old UltraFlite by Quiet Technologies, consisting of a headband connected to two earpieces and a boom mic. The eartips are the same technology used in the original AuriComm-Comply foam ear inserts-which we like. Apparently, Aloft is now the exclusive licensee of the patented Comply technology and its the only company offering these eartips.

To don the headset, you place the headband around your head behind your ears, then pinch the inserts and stick them into your ear canal. Adjust the boom mic and youre all set. Its dirt simple and it works. But the headband is an acquired taste. My in-the-ear testing expert, my wife, Teresa, preferred the AuriComm over the Clarity simply because the AuriComm has no headband.

That said, there are advantages to the headband. It provides more support for the earpieces, so they wont pop out, and it also makes the boom mic more secure. However, for those attracted to in-the-ear technology for its utter lack of weight, the headband may be an issue.

One thing about the Aloft product surprised us. On its Website, Aloft recommends replacing the Comply eartips every four to five flights. Yet we have used the same eartips for 50 to 60 flights over two years and theyve only recently started to degrade. Replacement of the eartips is an expense and logistics consideration; they cost about $25 for a dozen.

If a headband doesnt trouble you, the Clarity Aloft is a good performer and we liked its attractive storage case. However, at $650 retail ($550 discounted), its $225 more than the equally capable AuriComm II. Aloft also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

L1 by LightSPEED
LightSPEED has heavily marketed its new lightweight headset, the L1, but when we asked for a demo unit, LightSPEED demurred for months. By the time we were sent an L1, LightSPEED was set to discontinue it and introduce a new product.We were surprised to note that the L1 is essentially the same product as the AuriComm II and, in fact, LightSPEED buys the headset from Quiet Technologies and repackages it, with some enhancements.

For one, the control box is unique. It has a dual volume control as well as something very useful: a cellphone and music interface. As far as we know, LightSPEED is the only company to offer an in-the-ear headset with these features. Unfortunately, the interface-but not the headset-requires batteries.

The L1 worked fine, as expected, given that its essentially an AuriComm unit. However, instead of a triple-flange eartip offered with the AuriComm II, the L1 comes with three types of eartips. One is similar to the triple-flange but there are also two other compressible foam eartips. LightSPEED says theyre the only company currently offering a variety of eartips for different sized ears. Lightspeed also offers custom earmolds by special order. As noted in the sidebar, LightSPEED is introducing a clean-sheet design and we recommend examining that product before buying.

Dont Buy Now
Two years ago, we declared the original AuriComm as the winner. For the time being, that conclusion stands. Given AuriComms expertise, we have confidence its new product will perform well, too. But with so many new products planned, our advice is dont buy now. Wait until later in the year when the market clarifies. If you simply cant wait, you wont go wrong with the AuriComm. The Clarity is a good second choice.

Also With This Article
“Way More in the Works”

Aloft Technologies, 612-747-3197,
LightSPEED Aviation, 800-332-2421,
Quiet Technologies, 866-784-3883,
Panther Electronics, 877-957-1600,