Here is some general advice regarding radio headsets for freeflight from Flybubble, which we hope you’ll find useful – even if some of it might not be what you want to read!
Flybubble’s experience with radio headsets for freeflight
We – the Flybubble crew – have extensive experience with radio headsets with Push To Talk (PTT) button for freeflight, both from a user’s and a seller’s point of view. This means that, as well as having extensive hands-on experience at using headsets ourselves in real-life situations, often more intensively than most ‘normal’ users, we have also benefitted from a lot of feedback from our customers.
Having tried many different types of headset for freeflight over the past 25+ years, we have come to the conclusion that a) no headset is totally reliable and b) they are all fairly fragile things which need to be used with appropriate care. Headsets can be easily broken, especially on launch, particularly if poorly set up by the pilot (so the cables can get yanked) or the pilot gets dragged. This does not mean the headsets are faulty or unfit for purpose; it just means that they have limitations, as everything does, which need to be taken into account when you use them, and their users should have realistic expectations.
If you expect headsets to be totally reliable and indestructible, that you should not have to take care to set it up properly such that the cables don’t get yanked on launch, and that you should be able to treat it roughly, stuff it away so the cables and parts can be squashed, and expect them not to break, then our advice is that either you adjust your expectations and your way of using headsets, or simply don’t use them at all.
In search of the perfect headset…
We (and many pilots we know) have tried the cheapest radio headsets and generally found the sound quality and reliability to be unacceptably poor. Cheap headsets seem to break more quickly and easily, and suffer more from poor quality: poor audio clarity; audio volume too low or high (compared to other headsets); speaker and/or microphone distortion; terrible wind noise; interference (both receiving and causing); etc. Hence why we don’t sell them.
Some of the worst audio we’ve ever heard was from throat-mike type headsets, which tend to make the user sound like an unintelligible underwater Dalek, being strangled. Very amusing, but about as useful as a chocolate teapot! Hence why we don’t sell them.
We tried using handheld mics (microphones), which some pilots seem to lie, however we find that they aren’t as convenient to use as good headsets with PTT, plus they seem to suffer a lot from wind noise, such that you often can’t understand what’s being said. Hence why we don’t sell them.
We tried some expensive top quality radio headsets too, and have even had some bespoke ones made: some of these were very good; some were disappointingly rubbish too! In the end they still broke eventually anyway and then were rather expensive, often even uneconomical, to repair due to their expensive components. Hence why we don’t sell them.
So we’ve settled on the ‘middle ground’ with good value radio headsets which are good enough quality to use and relatively inexpensive to purchase and repair (or replace).
One of the main reasons we’ve come back to using – and selling – Sandpiper headsets is because we feel that they are good value, good quality headsets and WHEN you break them (as all headsets will be broken sooner or later) you can send them back to Sandpiper (in the UK) to be repaired. We have found Sandpiper to give our customers good service and good value repairs. Sometimes they will even repair or replace the headset free of charge, if they deem it to be a genuine manufacturing issue.
The Flybubble team use Sandpiper headsets for our pilot coaching sessions and thermaling and cross country flying courses, and they have lasted us years. To reduce wind noise, we use a Microphone Windstopper Foam Cover. If we find better a better all-round option (we keep searching!) then we will of course gladly change to it; we are always searching for the best equipment and best solutions – both for us and our customers!
Radio / Headset Compatability
Different radios and headsets have different types of jack e.g. Alinco/Icom two pin, Kenwood two pin, Yaesu single-pin, to name but a few!
Make sure you order the correct headset for your radio i.e. that they are compatible. For some models of radio you may need to buy an adaptor to connect the headset to.
Helmet or Finger Mounted PTT?
Helmet Mounted PTT for simplest design with minimum wiring. Less complicated to set up, less wires to get caught (on launch and in flight) and less to go wrong. Our recommended option for most pilots.
Finger Mounted PTT makes in-flight transmission easier but adds more loose cable. More complicated to set up, more wires to get caught (on launch and in flight) and more to go wrong. Only recommened if you really need to speak a lot in flight.
For setup tips and advice see Basic Setup & Usage Notes below.
Basic Setup & Usage Notes
Speaker pad. The speaker pad should be positioned close to the ear for best audability. Do not press hard on face of speaker as this will damage it.
Integrated speaker pad and microphone. The speaker pad should be positioned close to the ear for best audability. The microphone is best positioned close to the ear or the side of your cheek.
Helmet PTT. The PTT button should be fastened onto the outside of the helmet where easily reached. Around eye level seems to be the best place, but test to see what works best for you and your helmet before fixing the hook and loop fastener.
Finger PTT. The PTT button needs to be run down your sleeve and attached to your finger or glove, on thumb side of forefinger, usually using a touch fastener loop, but you may need to adapt the headset to suit your particular helmet and needs.
Full Face and Semi-Open Face helmets. The speaker pad goes into the recess close to the ear.
Open Face helmets. A headset with a boom mic works well with open-faced helmets as you can position the mike close to your mouth. You can use a headset without a boom mic by adding some loop fastener for attaching the speaker pad to on the helmet Y strap by the ear.
Please bear in mind that no headset is indestructible! In fact, from our experience, all headsets are quite fragile and need to be handled with reasonable care to ensure prolonged usage. If misused, or handled roughly, any headset can be damaged (and so stop working) even on the very first usage.
Before each flight all headsets should be carefully attached and set up, taking care to ensure that the headset (or any of the wires) will not get snagged or yanked at any point during take-off, flight or landing.
At the end of every flight the headset should be carefully removed from the helmet (being very careful not to pull the wires, or put any undue strain on the wires or any part of the headset). The headset should not be left attached to the helmet, nor the wires left attached to either the harness, flying suit or any part of the flying equipment. The headset should then always be carefully stowed away somewhere where it will be totally protected from being squashed or have any undue strain put upon it.
PTT: Push To Talk (button)