PIREP: Telex Stratus 30XT headset

Back in the spring, I bought a Telex Stratus 30XT aviation headset from these guys. Not because they’d been offering the world’s greatest price or anything, but because they had the best shipping plan I could find (to Hawaii). Owing to scheduling issues, it has only been in the past couple of weeks that I’ve actually manged to fly with it very much, and I can now report back on what it’s like. I offer this PIREP mostly because when I was shopping for the thing, I found very little by way of reviews to work off of — people seem to like talking about the Stratus 50D or the Bose X, or the Lightspeed Zulus; the mid-tier headsets seem to be neglected.

So: the headset. It is very comfortable — much more comfortable than the David Clarks I used to fly with, and more comfortable to my head than the Bose X that everyone else seems to like, though I admit I don`t have a lot of time with a Bose on my head. The clamping pressure is adjustable through a couple of cams on each earcup, and the seals are sufficiently padded to spread the pressure out over your skull. It can get hot: while doing crosswind landing practice in the middle of the summer, it was awfully sweaty under the headset. But the overlarge earcups make it tolerable.

Noise isolation is excellent. I’ve managed to forget to turn the noise cancelling on a couple of times now and it wasn’t until I was in the climb that I noticed the plane was a lot louder than normal. This is actually a good thing, in that you don’t have to carry a charging cable and/or spare batteries if you’re willing to “tolerate” some time in the air with “only” 26dB of noise reduction. You probably learned to fly with less noise reduction, so I can’t think this is going to be a deal-breaker for anyone. Turn the ANC on and discover that it is, in fact, a lot quieter in the cabin. I don’t have numbers readily to hand, but it’s more than quiet enough to help combat some of the fatigue.

The sound quality is excellent. I’ve piped my iPod directly into the headset and it sounds as good as my Audio-Technica headphones. Yeah, I know it’s an iPod, but it’s good enough. Whatever readability problems I’ve had so far have been aircraft-specific; in our fleet there are a few planes that have wonky intercoms or balky radios built by people wielding rocks, but with a good avionics panel it sounds great. With bad avionics it sounds OK (the plane I’m thinking about in particular is damn near intolerable with passive David Clarks).

The phone adapter works. I know because I’ve been using it as my hands-free device at home (yes, I am a loser, there’s no need to send e-mail on this) when waiting on hold with call centers and such. I have not been able to get it to work with my iPhone, because the iPhone uses a 3.5mm TRS connector and the Stratus takes a 2.5mm. I need a wiring diagram to get the appropriate cable (though I think a straight four-ring 2.5 to 3.5 would do the trick), and I’ve been too lazy to do that so far, though I probably should since it’s cheaper than buying a handheld radio and the light gun is hard to see at CYYJ.

The microphone’s windscreen stays on. The boom stays where you put it. It does an acceptable job at dealing with the wind noise when the eyeball vents are open and blasting straight at you (an issue when flying in the middle of summer). Sound quality (for other people) is great; people say I sound perfectly normal, and I guess that’s a good thing.

So there you have it: $500-ish for a reasonably good-quality noise cancelling headset. Not as flashy as a Bose, but also not as expensive. Recommended.

Edit: As I was shutting down from today’s adventures in the air I was reminded of the one minor nit I have with this headset — Telex ships a set of Energizer rechargeable batteries in the box. These are shit batteries, especially if you’re not flying every day; the self-discharge rate is atrocious (like, they last about two weeks flying 4-ish hours in that interval). I’m probably going to replace them with NiMH Eneloops, but I’m not sure how the charging circuitry will hold up. Anyway, just be aware this is a bit of a problem if you don’t feel like plugging your headset in every couple of weeks.