A poor man’s ANR

There are some common denominators among pilots of all skills and ranks. For instance, while the student pilot may carry some form of the E6-B or a sectional, when I am performing my job as an airline captain, I do not. Nor for that matter do I carry my plotter or a copy of the FARs, though I do have some FARs that I can reference. But one thing that nary a student nor a professional pilot—from the smallest LSA to the space shuttle—can avoid is a good headset. For many pilots, this is the first big purchase or investment made once the actual commitment to flying itself is made, and for good reason. Headsets perform three major functions, all of which contribute to safety: they reduce noise-related fatigue, ease communications (both within the airplane and with ATC); and they protect your hearing.

For the first twenty years of my aviation career, my headset of choice was David Clark. And to this day, I love ‘em. They are dependable, rugged, easy to fix and find parts for, and simple to use. But lately, I made a change to a different model, and not because I wanted to. Starting in the last year or so, I began to get some arthritis in my neck. Also, as one who has worn hearing aids for all but three years of my life, I knew that my hearing in one ear had ever so slightly declined, and I want to maintain the balance of what I have for as long as I can.

A few years ago, several pilots at my airline began showing up with Bose headsets, but not your typical aviation headset. Instead, they had stumbled on what might be called the poor man’s ANR. The headset itself is the Bose QC-15, the same product you see people use on airline flights to block out noise so they can sleep. The QC-15 runs $300 plus shipping. The boom microphone attachment is manufactured by UFlyMike, LLC of Colorado, and is priced at $225, plus shipping. The mic plugs into the same hole used for MP-3 players, iPods and cell phones, and when disconnected, fits neatly into the headset case. I tried a couple of the units when I flew with people that had them, and I was stunned at how quiet, light, and comfortable they were. This year, between the pain in my neck, the occasional headache from wearing the David Clark’s for 8 or 9 hours a day, and the need for a tax deduction, I bit the bullet and ordered the headset and the mic.

The only regret I have is not doing it sooner. Not only do my neck and head feel better, but the noise levels that I used to hear are essentially gone. Radio and intercom transmissions are crystal clear, the volume is turned down, and airflow noise, which can be a major distraction in the RJ at high speeds, have ceased to exist. In fact, the strangest thing for me to get used to was the almost total lack of noise from the wheels accelerating on the runway during takeoff.

The mic adapter plugs into standard intercom/radio plugs (an adapter for Airbus plugs is also available), and also has a plug for an iPod or cell phone. One of the best features is that the unit does not have a battery pack: it uses a single AAA battery that lasts forty to fifty hours. When the battery begins to run low, the green power light starts to blink, which makes it a good time to replace the battery.

There is, apparently, quite a bit of bad blood between UFM and Bose. Bose, after all, has a universal pricing policy and does not offer sales, and the company wants you to spend $1,095.95 to get their new aviation ANR headset. UFM has also been in several battles with various airlines about the use of the UFM/Bose setup. But for my money, the UFM/QC-15 combination is the way to go, especially when it is just more than half the price, only requires one battery, and is usable for more than just flying the airplane. I was so impressed that I will be buying them for my kids.

–Chip Wright

12 Responses to “A poor man’s ANR”

  1. Ryan S says:

    That’s pretty interesting. I’ll have to pass it along to my students.

  2. Sam Snow says:

    We own two of the Bose QuietComfort/UFly combos as well as an older Bose other two other brands of ANR headsets. The “baby-bose” as we call it is a great combination of value, comfort and functionality.

    The only downside is what happens when the battery runs down. On my other headsets, the battery failure mode is a non-anr (but functional) headset. On the QuietComfort/UFly combo you can no longer hear radio communications when the battery is totally run down.

    Thankfully the battery is easy to change and gives both an indicator light and gradually fading/clicking radio transmissions as it runs out of battery. If you use this combo be sure to have spare AAAs available and know the indications of battery depletion so that you are not surprised.

  3. A. Turner says:

    Chip,

    I tried this exact same headset combination and returned both items. Bose and UFlyMike do make quality products. However, I was not able to adjust the headset short enough to fit my head. The bottom of the ear cup was pushing in on my neck just below my ear and I got a severe headache. I spoke with another female pilot and she also could not adjust the headset to fit and found it extremely uncomfortable.

    For now I’m still wearing David Clark but shopping around.

  4. MK says:

    Wow, I didn’t know this conversion was out there. I happen to have a Bose QC2 lying around and now I can put it to good use! I happened to be in the market for a new headset anyway and tried on the new Bose A20 at Oshkosh last week. When they told me it was $1100 I nearly choked. I think I’ll be trying this one instead!
    Thanks.

  5. Cary Alburn says:

    I’d like to hear the experience of those who have modified their existing passive headsets with the Headsets Inc. ANR electronics. Even with upgrades (auto shut off, AMP cable), it’s $200 to modify most brands, which would be less expensive and more reliable than the Bose/Ufly combo–and it will continue to provide passive performance if the battery dies. For $50 more, they’ll install it into your headset at their factory and extend the warranty from 1 year to 3 years. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me–but I’d like to hear from others who’ve done it before spending the bucks.

    Cary

  6. Jonathan says:

    I’ve had the UFM and QC-2, now QC-15 going on 2 years now and the battery issue is nonsense. When the battery is dying, communication through the headset will drop in and out that provide an annoying cut-off. When this happens, change the battery – it’s as simple as that.

  7. Asghar Shah says:

    being a student pilot, I tried both the Uflymike with a QC-15 set-up in several different 172′s and a PA-28. and then purchased a Bose X on the Bose installment plan. 5 months ago. In all honesty I think the QC 15/uflymike worked great but I sent back the uflymike , (I still have my Qc15 which I use for my audio listening ), for what ever emotional reasons I don’t know . But I am happy with Bose X and still paying $ 68.00 a month for the next 7 months. although sometimes I wish I had kept the Uflymike

  8. Gene says:

    I’ve converted 2 David Clark 13S models with the Headsets, Inc replacement speakers. They work fantastic and I have no regrets about the cost or performance. The directions on the kits are thorough and if you run into any issues the tech support was great. I had a bad solder joint and the tech helped me troubleshoot the problem by phone in no time. If you don’t know how to solder the $50 that Headsets Inc. charges for the labor is quite fair.The batteries last a reasonable time and the difference in hearing quality was phenomenal. I’ve compared these kits swapping out with Bose X and LightSpeed headsets and actually believe mine sounds better. Two of my hangarmates agreed with my assessment but one of the Bose owners didn’t want to admit that it might be better… That notwithstanding I think that music does sound a little better with the Bose X but my main concern was comms first music a distant second. The only downside is the clamping force of the David Clarks does get a little uncomfortable on 3 hour trips. My next plan is to convert one or two of my old headsets into the in-ear homemade headset like a lot of the kit plane builders have done. one site with some links is here if you’re handy. http://www.vansairforce.com/community/showpost.php?p=146229&postcount=12 Another is here. These guys really like them and they sure beat the price of the commercial ones like Clarity Aloft and LightSpeed.

  9. IanH says:

    I have an older Bose X and just got a QC-15/UFLYMIKE combo. The Bose X was about 4 years old when it started to fail – with only about 50 hours of actual use. At first I thought it was my radio in the A/C (also an issue). By the time I figured out that it was the headset the warranty ( 5yr) had expired. I did get it fixed ($300+) and it turned out to be the battery holder and cable. It may still be useable with a dead battery but with mine, the noise (and not AC noise) was so loud with a loud clicking sound that I could not communicate with anyone – even the person beside me. I needed an extra headset and tried a friends QC15/ULYMIKE combo and was impressed. Frankly, if I had known this was available, I would not have bought the Bose-X (model previous to the 20)

    Considering it had

  10. Nice comments…..

  11. Desmond says:

    Interesting comments. I’m not a pilot, but a frequent flier and I’ve had the QC-15′s for about 2 years. I love them. They take care of a lot of my anxiety issues.

    I am actually pondering buying the A20 aviation headset for the additional noise cancellation, as compared to the QC-15 “civilian” outfit. lol…Seriously, though, as good as the QC-15′s are, do the A20′s have stronger noise cancellation, or are they about the same? Frankly, these headphones have been a life saver for me, which is why I wouldn’t even mind paying for the A20′s.

    Best regards,

    Jack

Leave a Reply

*