A couple days ago I reviewed the QT Halo aviation headset, which is currently the top recommendation from aviators I know when it comes to in-ear headsets. That said it doesn’t exist in a vacuum — there are competitors for the crown. One of the prime candidates to unseat the QT Halos comes from a company called Clarity Aloft, and their consumer level offering is the “Classic” headset. While MSRP is about twice the price as the QT Halo it does have one very important advantage . . .
It actually is in stock.
A couple months back I was getting ready for my annual multi-day long cross country flight to Massachusetts. Last time I did the flight solo, but this time I was bringing my girlfriend with me. She hadn’t had much time in the airplane but something she made a requirement for even considering the trip was that she would have her very own in-ear headset. I watched the QT website for days waiting for them to come back in stock to no avail. With time running out I decided to bite the bullet and buy one of the Clarity Aloft sets which were actually in stock. Looking at the headset over the last few months I get the feeling that she might have gotten the better end of the deal.
The concept behind an in-ear headset is appealing for anyone who has had to wear the old David Clark earmuffs for more than two hours. With the over-ear headsets they don’t breathe very well, meaning that your ears will become sweaty almost immediately. They also place a large amount of pressure on your head squeezing your ears together in an attempt to block out as much sound as possible. Finally, for those with glasses (or sunglasses) it makes wearing them extremely uncomfortable and defeats some of the sound blocking qualities. In short, while they might be cheap they definitely aren’t ideal for long cross country flights.
In-ear headsets like the Clarity Aloft reduce the size of the headset to a more compact form factor, aren’t as heavy as their counterparts, and might actually be better at blocking out sound than the over the ear version.
Inside the case the headset comes nicely coiled, with a pouch full of goodies on the other side. There’s an instruction manual, a set of “small” and “large” earplugs, and a blister pack containing twelve standard size earplugs. That comes in handy if you want to had off the headset to someone else without also sharing earwax. It also makes replacing the earplugs a snap when you lose one.
Not if — when.
In practice, those earplugs tend to fall off the headset quite a bit more frequently than I would like. They are held in place on the end of the cable by an auger-like fixture, meaning you screw the earplugs onto the headset for use. One would think that this might better keep them in place but the plain old friction-based mechanism used on the QT Halo seems to do a better job. Just about every time we took the headset off we lost one or both of the earplugs. When you’re constantly searching for lost earplugs those twelve plugs can dwindle down pretty quickly.
The headset itself feels very well made. There’s a rigid metal loop that slots over the wearer’s ears to secure it to their head. One side extends into a boom microphone that can be adjusted for perfect positioning in front of your mouth, the other is bent into a form that allows it to grab onto your ear and keep things from sliding around. Earbud cables descend from either end of the metal loop minimizing the length of cable floating around your head, a definite improvement over the QT HAlo design.
Something I really enjoy about this design is that the cable which connects the headset to the airplane is much chunkier than the QT Halo equivalent. It also connects into a strengthened box on the back of the metal loop which seems much more secure than the alternative. I like it.
Halfway down the cable to the standard GA plugs is the volume control knob. The box is much better constructed than the QT Halo version and also much simpler — instead of two controls, one for each ear, there’s just a single knob.
Just like on other similarly priced headsets there’s an auxiliary audio port in the control box which allows the wearer to pipe whatever music into the headset that they would like. This is ideal for long cross country flights, since having a little bit of music on tap makes the long hours of nothingness pass a little quicker. The downside to this implementation is the same as other similar headsets, meaning that the only person who hears the audio in this port is the person wearing the headset. Music isn’t piped to any of the other occupants.
The real question here is whether they work, and the answer is pretty damn well. The earplugs do a fantastic job blocking out the engine noise while allowing the wearer to clearly hear the radio and other passengers. It definitely sounds better than the old David Clark headset, but still isn’t quite as good as true blue active noise cancellation. The boom microphone sounds great both on the intercom and on the radio allowing for the wearer to be clearly heard and understood.
In terms of comfort the headset definitely hits the mark. In a side by side comparison, all things being equal, I think I’d take the Clarity Aloft set any day. The metal loop which wraps around the wearer’s head is a little more snug than on the QT Halo headset yet still is nowhere near as bad as the David Clark head clamp.
That’s the value proposition of the Clarity Aloft “Classic” headset: build quality and availability. It feels much better constructed and better thought out than the QT Halo headset, and it definitely seems like Clarity Aloft can keep them in stock much easier than the competition. That said, there are areas I’d like to see improved. The earplugs have a terrible tendency to fall off and get lost, which becomes annoying very quickly. And the price tag is still remarkably high. Then again, this is the aviation industry and you do tend to get what you pay for.
Clarity Aloft “Classic” Aviation Headset
MSRP: $525 (Amazon)
Overall (out of five): * * *
Great build quality for the majority of the headset, but the earbuds falling off when taking the headset off can be a bummer. It’s a solid product that is worth the money but in my mind it doesn’t go the extra mile needed to hit that four and five star territory.