We're familiar with Sennheiser's high-end headphones when it comes to enjoying music, but the company also has a history in specialist aviation audio gear that stretches back over two decades. One of the latest additions to this range is the 26 series – headsets aimed at commercial pilots which are notable not only for some clever design elements that protect hearing whilst ensuring that the person in charge of getting you back on the ground safely can hear everything clearly.
The 26 range is aimed at professional pilots flying Boeing and Airbus commercial planes as well as larger turboprops, so they are tailored to this environment and not as bulky as the headsets required for smaller aircraft.
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There are two variants in the 26 range – the active HMEC 26 or passive HME 26. Both weigh 7.4 ounces (210g) and include a passive noise attenuation ear-cup which Sennheiser says rivals the total attenuation of other lightweight active noise reduction (ANR) headsets, reducing the loudest noises driven by engines, fans and turbulence.
“Without that low frequency attenuation, the pilot’s hearing suffers a ‘threshold shift,’ which drives the intercom volume higher and induces fatigue over even moderately long flights," says David Dunlap, of Sennheiser’s aerospace division. "The passive HME 26 can provide this minimal level of noise attenuation without the complication or expense of any circuitry whatsoever.”
Both variants also include the company's peak level protection system which automatically reduces volume peaks above 110 dB.
In the active HMEC 26 series, Sennheiser’s NoiseGard technology actively reduces low-frequency continuous noise by up to 18 dB. This model also has a variant (HMEC 26-T) with a push button "talk-through" function. This opens up a speaker inside the ear-cup to transmit voices from within the cockpit without removing the headset. Interestingly, a study of commercial pilots by British Airways has shown that the common practice of flying with one cup flicked back can cause pilots to lose hearing in their inboard ear faster.
Situations where pilots do want to lift one ear-cup are also catered for by the clever swiveling “flip-away” design.
The headsets also feature modular cables so that they can be switched between, for example, Boeing and Airbus plugs without having to buy a whole new headset when a pilot changes planes, reducing inventory for the company.
On the voice transmission side, both headsets feature a noise-compensating condenser microphone with adjustable sensitivity and a flexible boom.
The Sennheiser HME 26 costs US$424, while the HMEC 26 costs $731. The HMEC 26-T “Talk-Through” variant will be available this month.