Known among aviators for its quality headsets, exemplified by the classic A20, and among audiophiles for its high-end audio systems, headphones and speakers, including the remarkable SoundWear Companion wearable speaker, Bose released its new-technology ProFlight aviation headset in April 2018.
A headset designed for professional pilots, Bose confirms ProFlight as: “…the industry’s smallest, quietest and most comfortable active noise cancelling communication headset,” pitching it at operators working in the quieter cockpit environments typified by business jets.
That the ProFlight headset represents advanced technology is evident in the more than 30 US design and utility patents it attracted, while Bose notes that it features: “…a lightweight and comfortable in-ear configuration, user-selectable levels of active noise cancellation and a Tap Control for Talk-Through communication function.” The ProFlight Aviation Headset is also FAA TSO-C139a and EASA E/TSO-C139a certified.
With an on-head weight of just 139g, the ProFlight headset offers proven comfort over long missions, while its in-ear configuration employs the company’s soft StayHear+ tips, which sit in the ear’s outer ‘bowl’ rather than needing to be pushed deeper inside, where they might quickly become uncomfortable; the headset is shipped with StayHear+ tips in small, medium and large sizes.
Pilots working in noisy cockpits will want to consider the A20 headset, but for those working in moderately noisy to quiet environments, the ProFlight headset offers considerable advantages. It includes three levels of active noise cancellation, while noise-cancelling technology also provides improved clarity when the microphone is used. The tap control for talk-through communication is designed so that a double tap on either earbud activates an external microphone, allowing the user to better hear non-intercom conversation.
In a nutshell, Bose says the ProFlight headset is light, comfortable and makes the most of its technological know-how to deliver a ground-breaking product; but then the manufacturer would say that.
ProFlight in the Cockpit
Looking for a user opinion, EVA spoke to Petter Hörnfeldt, an experienced Boeing 737 training captain whose regular aircraft is, of course, the basis of the majority of BBJs. First off, the ProFlight headset looks very different and, quite frankly, decidedly uncomfortable. So, what’s it really like to wear?
“It looks very different, but it’s actually really comfortable! A traditional headset is considerably heavier and the ProFlight is designed so there are no pressure points – you forget you’re wearing it. I wear spectacles and the ProFlight’s lack of traditional ear cups and, therefore, clamping pressure, was a primary reason why I wanted to try it.
“At the beginning I was a little sceptical, because I’m not used to having things in my ears – that’s why I’ve never tried consumer in-ear headphones. It took me a few weeks to become properly used to it, but the earpieces are really well designed and after a while I came to realise it’s the most comfortable headset I’ve ever used.
“I’ve needed to use the A20 on occasions since then – I think I left my ProFlight headset at home – and it’s only when you go back to what you had before that you realise the difference with the ProFlight.”
So, the headset is comfortable, but it’s also high-tech. How well does the noise cancellation work in the real world? “It works really well on the high level, at least sufficient for the 737, which is quite noisy. I only use the high level because of that; the middle level is too low for me – I think it would be fine for a quieter cockpit though. I don’t find the low level useful in the 737.”
And the tap control for talk-through communication? “I don’t feel it works particularly well at the moment – I think Bose is working on improving the sensitivity. I don’t use it right now, but the ProFlight design means you can remove one earpiece without pulling the whole headset to one side, an action which would create additional pressure points with a traditional headset.”
Bose has equipped the ProFlight headset with its Electret noise-cancelling microphone technology and although Hörnfeldt has no direct evidence of the quality of its transmissions, he says: “No one has complained, so it must be good. The intercom system on the 737 isn’t fantastic, so I judge it on my own and my co-pilot’s volume, which is usually set to mid-levels, indicating that the microphone works well.”
A handheld controller, mounted along the unit’s cable between the headset and aircraft interface, enables access to the ProFlight headset’s functions. “We don’t have an electrical source in the jacks of our 737s, so we have to put the two AA batteries in the controller. I hang it up so that the cable won’t get in the way. In fact, the only thing I’d say is less than ideal with the ProFlight headset for me is that the cable is slightly thick and a little heavy, so that it can get in the way. But I think that’s always been the case with headset cables, it’s just more noticeable with the ProFlight because it’s so much lighter.”
The hand controller also allows access to the headset’s Bluetooth connectivity, which Bose suggests is ideal for mobile devices and electronic flight bags. It’s not something Hörnfeldt has tried in the cockpit since his company doesn’t allow Bluetooth on the flight deck, but: “I flew as a passenger recently and wanted to listen to a podcast. I didn’t have my regular headphones with me, so I used the ProFlight headset and it worked really well.”
Petter Hörnfeldt’s real-world experience with the ProFlight headset speaks volumes. He doesn’t claim it to be perfect, but the combination of fine qualities it does offer easily outweighs the minor niggles. He’s happily certain that it’s the most comfortable headset he’s used in a long career. n