Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gear: Bose QC2/15 + uFlyMike

On the PFC member email list, there is occasional discussion about recommended headsets.  That is one piece of gear we all have, and have an opinion about.  There are those who swear by their Bose or Lightspeed ANR headsets. Others who would drop dead before donning headsets of any shade other than David-Clark-green. In one such thread, someone brought up the possibility of combining the Bose Quiet Comfort (QC) 2 or QC15 headphones with the uFlyMike attachment. You can read reviews of the other aviation headsets at the usual places, but the Bose+uFlyMike doesn't get nearly as much play, so here are some impressions.

First the basics.  In order to make this work, you need to have a pair of either the Bose QC2 (previous generation) or QC15 (current).  These are consumer music headphones with "noise canceling" (in Bose marketing speak) technology---active noise reduction in aviation terminology.  QC2s are no longer available new, and the uFlyMike does not work with QC1s or QC3s.  The QC15s are $300 direct from Bose.  The uFlyMike adds another $230 (with shipping) to the cost, for a total of $530. For that you get an ANR aviation headset that can double as headphones for your iPod when you have to fly commercial.

The uFlyMike is a simple piece of gear---basically an aviation noise canceling mic attached to the interface to the Bose headphones and a length of standard headset cable.

The adapter slides into the cable connection on the left ear cup of the Bose:
The fit is such that you could almost imagine that the Bose was actually designed for this purpose. It doesn't feel like an aftermarket kludge at all---the uFlyMike is solidly built, and attachs to the Bose with a reassuring click. And the combo makes for a nice, compact, lightweight headset. So, how does it perform?

(What follows below is based on experiences with the older QC2. I am told that the QC15 is similar to the QC2, but with slightly better ANR.)

The sound: Whatever you might think about Bose headphones for listening to music, the QC2 worked well for radio comms---the voice of ATC, as well as other pilots on the frequency, came in crisp and clear.  I also polled my CFI who sat right seat, as well as fellow pilots in the pattern who heard me over the radio, and all of them reported that the audio quality of the uFlyMike was good.

The ANR: Prior to trying the Bose QC2/uFlyMike combo, I had a pair of David Clark H10-20 headsets (which went missing from the back seat of my car). And I remember thinking back then that the Bose QC2/uFlyMike combo did quite well compared to the DC. Since the ANR in the QC2 seems to work better in the lower frequencies, the frequency energy balance of the sounds that you do hear shifts considerably towards the high end. Basically, it sounds like the engine drone has changed pitch, so it is a bit difficult to judge overall sound level impressions (especially in comparison to the DC headset I no longer have). But I would say that the QC2 is a bit quieter than the DC H10-20 that it replaced. And that for a headset that is significantly lighter and smaller, with less clamping force---overall a more comfortable experience. I have since moved to the Bose Aviation X headset. Compared to the Bose Aviation X, the QC2 is a bit louder---quieter than the Aviation X with the ANR turned off (basically used as a pair of passive noise reduction headsets), but not nearly as quiet as the Aviation X with the ANR turned on.

Other considerations: There are a few other considerations.  Dedicated Aviation ANR headsets will revert to passive mode when the batteries die---you will still be able to use them as regular headsets. The Quiet Comfort headphones, on the other hand, will go dead when the battery dies. Bose rated the battery life on the QC2 for something like 30 hours, and rates the battery life on the QC15 for 35. In my experience, that is pretty optimistic marketing speak. And the batteries seem to run down even faster in the cockpit, presumably from having to work to cancel the constant drone of the loud engine and wind noise.  Still a single battery was good for more than a few training flights. And if you remember to switch out the battery before each flight, the gas tanks will be dry long before the battery runs out. So this may not be an issue in practice.

(Would this be a deal breaker?  For day VFR flights or training flights with another pair of headsets/ears in the right seat, absolutely not.  For single pilot IFR, I don't know.  The likelihood the battery will die mid flight is miniscule.  On the other hand, I don't ever want to be caught in the soup fumbling around trying to change the batteries to my headset. And here, my paranoia wins out---YMMV.)

Another issue is weight and comfort.  The QC+uFlyMike is a truly compact combo.  Both fit into the Bose supplied case for the QC, with rooms for a couple of extra batteries. And the case is significantly smaller than a standard aviation headset case.
The QC2 with the uFlyMike attached weighs in at 12 ounces. The weight of the headset on your head (with the cable properly supported) is just 8 ounces. Compare that with 1 lb 4 ozs for the Bose Aviation X headset---take out the weight of the cable and the battery compartment, and it still weighs 14 ounces on your head. The clamping pressure of the QC2 is significantly lighter than the Aviation X as well---after all the Aviation X is designed to offer good noise isolation even when the ANR circuit is powered off, which is not the case with the QC2. So overall, the QC2/uFlyMike actually felt more comfortable for long flights.  The ear cups on the QC2, however, are also significantly smaller, which maybe uncomfortable for some.

The build quality is a quite different.  While the uFlyMike appears solidly built, the QC2 is definitely a consumer device---designed to be compact and light weight. I won't say cheap, but it feels pretty flimsy, especially when compared to the considerably more solid build of the Aviation X or aviation headsets from DC.

A design limitation of the QC2/uFlyMike combo is that the uFlyMike has to be attached to the left side of the headset, whereas most aviation headsets allow you to switch the side for your mic boom and cable. A minor detail, but it might bug some people.

Finally, aviation headsets are work tools for many, and come with warrantees reflecting that.  For example, the Bose Aviation X headset comes with a 5 year limited warranty, and when I had to send the headset in for service, the process was painless, and the turn around was quick.  The QC2/uFlyMike both come with 1 year limited warrantees.

So the verdict? If you already have a QC2 or QC15, spending another $225 to turn it into a credible ANR aviation headset is almost a no-brainer.  On the other hand, if you have to purchase the combo new, that will require some careful consideration for how you will use the headset.  If you are primarily a VFR pilot, or if you often fly with someone else (CFI, co-pilot, partner, even a kid) in the right seat, the QC/uFlyMike combo is pretty compelling. (Even more so with the improved ANR of the QC15.) The combo also makes for a great back up headset, or headset for passengers. (And in the latter capacity, the aux music input is particularly useful---something that is not available on most aviation headsets). As an added bonus, the headset will turn into a regular pair of music headphones when used outside of the cockpit---something that most aviation headsets cannot claim. This at a price roughly half that of the current Bose aviation ANR headset. The value proposition was even more compelling a couple years ago when the only ANR aviation product on the market was the Bose Aviation X. Now, with the Lightspeed Sierra ANR headset available for $650 list, it's not nearly as compelling. That said, this is a combo that is worth considering if you are in the market for a new headset.

Pluses:
  • Price
  • Good audio (both in and out)
  • Credible ANR, does better than most passive headsets
  • Very light weight, low clamp pressure
  • Doubles as regular music headsets
Minuses
  • ANR not as good as dedicated aviation headsets
  • Dead battery = dead headset
  • Build quality is consumer grade
  • Mic boom restricted to left side
  • Warranty is 1 year (vs 5 years for Bose X)

1 comment:

  1. Not sure the first "minus" is accurate. Are there data?

    ReplyDelete