Everyone talks about active noise canceling (ANR) when it comes to aviation headsets, but what I've learned over 34 years of flying is that not every airplane demands a $500, or $700 (or more) headset to protect your hearing and enhance your ability to communicate while the engine is running. My Kitfox 4, with its Jabiru 2200 engine, for example, really doesn't make the same noise as the RV10, with its IO-540 Lycoming roaring at 2700 rpm on takeoff.
I've been using an ancient David Clark with a carbon mic, but Sennheiser's newest product, the S-1 Passive headset, offers 22 decibels of noise reduction without requiring power in a modern, extremely comfortable form. It weighs less than 14 ounces, is shaped more like a human ear than other headsets, and has reduced compression areas for the ear lobe, as well as an "eyeglass zone" to relieve the typical pressure caused by eyeglass temples pressed into the skull. The S-1's unique adjustable clamping mechanism is just one more comfort feature you won't find on any other headset at this price point. Beyond these key features, the headset offers a battery powered component that offers volume control, auto-shutoff and auto-muting for external devices plumbed into the headset (muting music, for example, when ATC calls). This little box, which hardly taxes the batteries, also provides peak hearing protection, dulling the volume if the decibel level in the speakers reaches 110 decibels.
So, what does all this protection and comfort cost? You can find the passive S-1 for $369 at vendors all over the AirVenture 2012 grounds or online at www.sennheiser.com.