Hands-on with the Bose ProFlight Series 2 Headset

 - May 6, 2020, 11:36 AM

Bose introduced the ProFlight Series 2 digital active noise-canceling aviation headset in July last year, updating the original ProFlight with new comfort features based on customer requests. The ProFlight headsets are lightweight and feature in-ear tips, a departure from traditional over-the-ear aviation headsets.

When Bose engineers designed the ProFlight headset, released in 2018, they were responding to customer requests for Bose noise cancelation but in a product more suitable for quieter environments and without the bulky ear cups. The Bose A20 active noise-canceling headset has long been popular among pilots of piston- and turbine-powered light aircraft, but business jet pilots work in a much quieter environment and didn’t want to have to wear the bulkier headset.

“Customers flying jets or airliners were telling us that our headset was overkill, it was too big and bulky,” said Matt Ruwe, senior product manager. “They liked the benefits of the A20-style noise-canceling headset,” he said. “We heard that over and over again.” 

Bose had already designed in-ear headphone tips or buds for its QC20 consumer products, and this turned out to be ideal for an aviation application. “We had done a lot of work to get the in-ear buds to perform very well,” he said. “That was the starting point to research in this market, and we started experimenting; can it work in a commercial or TSO environment?”

Meeting FAA and EASA technical standard order (TSO) standards for headsets is critical for Bose as airlines generally are required to use TSO'd equipment, and without that the market for the ProFlight would be limited. Bose also saw a void in the headset market after Sennheiser stopped making aviation headsets, and its products such as the A20 didn’t appeal to airline pilots, similar to the situation with business jet pilots. “We never really targeted the airline market,” Ruwe said, “and it’s a fairly new market segment. Our timing couldn’t have been better.” 

Although Bose makes wireless active noise-canceling ear pods, they aren’t suitable for the aviation market. “We experimented with pods,” he said, “but to meet the TSO we had to have a [hard-wired] boom mic.” The problem with wireless microphones is that software runs the wireless activity and if there is a software problem, the mic can cut out. “The quality of the audio and reliability [of wired microphones] can’t be beat by new technology,” he said. “That’s what we’ve run into when designing TSO'd headsets.” 

The design challenge then becomes how to mount a boom mic on a lightweight headset without weighing down one side or the other. “So then you need a head-worn form factor to support the boom and make sure the boom weight and moment doesn’t disturb the earbuds. That’s how we arrived at the form factor, based on the needs of the pilot not to be disturbed by anything on their head and still be able to move the boom.”

The result is an ultra-light headset that is extremely comfortable to wear for long flights. The ProFlight Series 2 weighs just 4.5 ounces versus the A20 at 12 ounces. 

The changes to the Series 2 include a new, lighter down-cable that doesn’t disturb the headset when moved. The cable itself was a design challenge, containing more than a dozen connectors and shielding to provide the correct signal structure, according to Ruwe. “We worked hard to develop a cable that is substantially lighter and supple, and it results in better comfort and stability.”

Bose engineers designed subtle improvements to the mechanical aspects of the headband, and an improved boom mic stays solidly in place after positioning by the pilot. The mic can be easily swapped from side to side. 

Noise-canceling comes in three settings: maximum for the best signal-to-noise ratio and audio in loud aircraft; medium for consistent audio in quieter aircraft such as jets; and low for the best result when speaking to others nearby without the intercom. Double-tapping one earbud does the same as the low setting, just for that earbud, for a quick non-intercom discussion. 

There are three Bluetooth priority settings on the ProFlight’s control module: off, mix, and mute. Off eliminates Bluetooth audio and is recommended during sterile-cockpit flying. The mix setting allows mixing of Bluetooth and intercom/ATC audio but limited to one source each. In mute mode, an intercom signal will cause the Bluetooth audio to mute until the intercom audio is finished. The mix position is suitable for receiving Bluetooth audio advisories that some electronic flight bag (EFB) apps offer. Up to two Bluetooth devices can be connected at a time, such as a phone and a tablet.

It’s important to install the Bose Connect app on the tablet (available for Android or iOS) to get the maximum Bluetooth utility. This enables, for one example, the ability for two pilots to hear EFB advisories from one tablet. “There are a lot of hidden features” accessible from the Bose app, Ruwe said, and users can learn about these by going through the app’s tutorial.

I flew with the ProFlight 2 in both piston-engine airplanes and during a demo flight in an Embraer Phenom 300E twinjet. The headset definitely does shine in the jet. It is so light that I barely noticed it was on my head, and I could hear ATC audio and the aircraft’s aural warnings perfectly. Intercom communications with my fellow pilot was perfectly clear.

In piston airplanes, which included a Piper Cherokee 180 and a Cessna 172S, the noise-canceling worked pretty well, but the ProFlight isn’t really designed for that application, so the engine noise did get through more and it was more fatiguing. In the piston aircraft, I found that I was spending a lot of time trying to get the earbuds fitted inside my ears, and if the buds aren’t perfectly sealed, extraneous noise does come through. “The leak path is much more noticeable [in piston aircraft],” Ruwe confirmed. “You lose sensitivity and noise rejection, and the signal-to-noise ratio is much worse.”

I also tested the ProFlight Series 2 on my desktop flight simulator, by connecting the X-Plane simulator to the PilotEdge real-time live ATC network. The ProFlight connects to the simulator computer via a USB device developed by New Zealand-based Flight Sounds. The ProFlight headset worked perfectly with the Flight SoundsX adapter as both an aviation headset when connected to PilotEdge and as an audio device using Skype.

If the three sizes of earbuds that come with the ProFlight don’t fit perfectly, custom-made buds are available from third-party providers such as Avery Sound.

The ProFlight with two plugs starts at $996 without Bluetooth or $1,046 with Bluetooth and is powered by two AA batteries that provide more than 45 hours of use without Bluetooth and at least 25 hours with Bluetooth. Aircraft-powered variants of the headset are also available, and optional configurations include twin plug, five-pin XLR, seven-pin XLR, or six-pin Lemo plug. The down-cable and microphone can easily be swapped to either side without tools. The ProFlight is FAA TSO and EASA E/TSO C139A certified.