25/07/2011 Oshkosh

Pilots love the quiet revolution in aviation: Some impressions from the Sennheiser S1 Digital field tests

At the EAA AirVenture 2011 in Oshkosh, audio specialist Sennheiser is launching the S1 Digital, a General Aviation headset with a host of groundbreaking features. The headset provides pilots with fully adaptive digital noise cancellation, user-optimizable wearing comfort and in-built safety features such as a customizable treble boost. In February, four experienced pilots took the opportunity and field-tested the headset in Phoenix, Arizona.

George McNeil is the Chairman and CEO of Universal Helicopters, Scottsdale (AZ) as well as a passionate helicopter flight instructor and check pilot, flying around 300 hours a year. He has used noise-canceling headsets since they first appeared on the market. – 24-year-old Audra Alseike has been fascinated by flying ever since she was a little girl. She received a degree in aviation, and today works as a professional pilot and flight instructor for Southwest Flight Center in Scottsdale (AZ). She flies about 700 hours a year. – Miguel Velez is a colleague of Audra’s and also works as a flight instructor. Flying is his passion and his relaxation. He has been flying for 25 years, achieving between 800 and 1,200 hours per year. – Wayne Pratt is an engineer by trade and has been flying for more than 50 years, passing his flight instructor certificate in 1962.

What is most important for you about a headset?

George McNeil: What I’m interested in in a headset is that it gives me clarity. Especially in a helicopter, it can sometimes be quite noisy. What I want from my headset is that it always works, that it gives me good noise attenuation, so that I’m not getting a lot of background noise in it. I need a headset that I can rely on and that can take abuse. Pilots abuse their headsets, they get thrown under the seat, they get dropped... a headset has to withstand the rigors of being used multiple times a day and perhaps not treated as well and as carefully as it should be.

What were your experiences with the adaptive NoiseGard™ / digital noise cancellation?

Wayne Pratt: Audio was extremely clear. I tried the adaptive ANR several times during our test. The first time I tried it was on the ground, with the engine idling, and there was a big difference between punching the ANR function, you could hear it doing the searching and then it got very quiet. It became very clear and very quiet. So it was very obvious that it did a very good job on the ground. In flight I tried it several times and it made a small difference but never a huge difference like on the ground.

Miguel Velez: There is a big difference between passive and active noise reduction. When I used the digital active noise reduction, the clarity improved dramatically.

What about the audio transmission in general and features such as the adjustable treble boost in particular?

George McNeil: The headset sounded pretty good. I was able to hear without any difficulty, didn’t have to stress or strain. I was very comfortable with being able to listen to air traffic control. I was listening to a couple of different frequencies. One of them was very busy, the other one was just normal, and I had no difficulty with any of it. So I was quite impressed.

Audra Alseike: I thought that the clarity was good, it was just fine. We tried the treble boost function at different levels – the lower one which they thought was gonna be me because I’m younger, and I could hear just fine. We turned it to the highest level, and it was too loud for me, too high-pitched but I liked the middle grade the best because I could hear my voice very well along with hearing other people.

What are your comments regarding the wearing comfort of the S1 Digital – the glasses zone in the earpads, the adjustable contact pressure…?

Miguel Velez: The Sennheiser S 1 model headset was perfect on the flight. The clamping force was perfect, we could adjust it to my desired level. And even wearing my sunglasses throughout the flight was excellent.

George McNeil: It was generally pretty comfortable. In fact, maybe the easiest way to say it is: once I had it on for five minutes, I hardly noticed I had it on.

Wayne Pratt: I liked the adjustable pressure. You see when you wear your headset very long, your ears start to hurt especially with sunglasses and I found the medium pressure very, very comfortable.

Audra Alseike: I wear earrings, and the headset was able to cover my entire ear so it didn’t hurt my ears. And then with my sunglasses, I didn’t notice a difference when I had my sunglasses on or off, which is really important to me. I thought it was comfortable. I had to have the adjustable contact pressure on the tightest setting. I tried the 1N and it was too loose for me, so I put it on the tightest setting. But it was never too tight. So I thought it was comfortable.

What else did you like about the S1 Digital?

Audra Alseike: One of the features that I liked best about the headset was that I was able to make a phone call. I was at 5,000 feet and my friend heard me just fine. It was kind of fun to be able to make a phone call and hear him just fine.

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Stephanie Schmidt

Tel: +49 5130 600 1275