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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A month with David

Last month, I switched from my old Bose X headset to the David Clark DC PRO-X. Now that I've had them for a month, how are they performing?

Outstanding, in short.

The active noise reduction (ANR) is superb. The first time I turned it on was a bit disconcerting, as the noise level with the engines running dropped to quieter than the noise level with the plane shut down without the headset on!

While that was impressive, I really gained an appreciation for just how well the ANR works when the batteries finally died in flight. The noise level shot up so much so quickly that I was startled for a second or two as the sudden noise of rushing air (the noise the headset had been canceling) made me initially think we had lost pressurization.

My eyes shot to the pressurization display and it was holding at 0 FPM (meaning no change in cabin pressure), so I pulled one of the sides of my headset off my ear. There was no change, which meant the batteries had finally worn out. (I knew it was going to happen sometime soon because the battery indicator on the headset control had been blinking red instead of the normal green, which is a warning that the battery is low.) I intentionally was letting the battery run all the way out to see how long it would last, and I got about 25% more life out of it than I did with the old Bose X: 4 weeks instead of 3.

Before, at the end of every flight, as soon as the shutdown checklist was over I used to rip the Bose X headset off right away. I've noticed that there have been a couple of times that I've forgotten to take the PRO-X off until it was time to leave the plane because they are so much more comfortable that they're not constantly reminding me that they're sitting on my head. I also don't tend to try to readjust it one or more times a flight like I did with the Bose X. Once it's on my head, it doesn't slide forward or backward or need readjusted.

Some of that has to do with how much lighter the PRO-X is and how its design does a better job distributing the clamping force that keeps the headset over the ears. Much of that, however, has to do with how much more comfortable the ear cushions are. Since the PRO-X cushions are much smaller and only cover the ear opening instead of the entire ear, my ears are much cooler than they used to be.

Another factor in that is how much more comfortable the material used for the cushions is. The Bose used a cheap-feeling, thin layer of soft material over a large spongy material. In the summer, this outer layer would absorb sweat, get soggy, and start flaking off in a couple of months. Once enough of that material flaked off, the sweat would then wick into the thin fabric material behind it and eventually into the spongy material underneath. After a while, this would start to cause the cushions to smell like unwashed gym socks. (Yes, it is as unpleasant as it sounds.) Trying to get rid of that smell with Lysol wouldn't do much but make the headset smell like Lysol + gym socks, and it would cause what was left of the cushion to dry out and peel apart even faster. Alcohol wipes had the same result.

And if that wasn't enough, if the Bose headset didn't fit exactly perfectly on the head, meaning absolutely no angular displacement, once the cushions got soggy they would start to warp at an angle and at the same time start to gradually lose their sponginess.

Although it's only been a month, the ear cushions for the PRO-X still look brand new and have no evidence whatsoever of wear or loss of support. The leatherette material also feels less cheap and more like real leather.

One of the knocks I've heard about the PRO-X from those who considered it was that it feels and/or looks like it's not very rugged. I've compared it with the Bose X by tapping on it, and the plastic parts actually feel more solid on the DC than the Bose. I think one reason it may look a little flimsier is the matte finish DC uses on the magnesium parts makes the metal look dull like plastic. And the way the PRO-X folds up (which the Bose didn't) makes it sit in my case in a way that makes it less likely to be damaged.

Nothing is perfect, though. However, the only thing I've found so far that I don't like about the PRO-X is one that is easily remedied: the light that flashes to tell you it is on is obnoxiously bright. At night in a dark cockpit, the power light reflecting in the side windscreen is annoying. I solved that by simply placing a piece of electrical tape that covers half of the light.

After I did that, I found out that the DC has a feature that the Bose didn't: you can actually turn the power LED off without turning off the headset! By holding the Power + Bluetooth buttons down, you can turn off the blinking altogether! And as another nice touch, if the battery gets low, the power light will start blinking red to let you know even if you turned it off.

See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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