Sunday, June 11, 2006
LightSpeed Mach1, Five Months Later
Back in December of 2005, I wrote about my then new LightSpeed Mach1 headset. I have now flown several hundred hours with this headset and I have some observations to offer to those considering a new headset.
Overall, I think this headset is excellent for me. The headset is an in-ear, passive noise reduction design that can be used with a variety of ear tips. Initially, I found the blue foam tips to be the best and most comfortable fit. Yet when you wear the headset for a while, the blue foam tips absorb oil from your ears and begin to lose their shape. This reduces the noise blocking ability and, even worse, the ear piece that has the microphone boom, while very light weight, will begin to sag and the mic won't stay put. I found that after two weeks of daily use, I had to replace a pair of the blue tips.
The folks at LightSpeed were very helpful in providing more of the blue ear tips, but they also offer a custom ear mold option. For an additional $140, you can purchase a Sensaphonics custom ear mold kit. Sensaphonics is a well-known name to musicians and stage performers for their line of custom in-ear monitors and sound-dampening ear plugs, but they also provide custom ear products for NASA. The data on the LightSpeed web site claims a significant increase in noise reduction with the custom inserts, which I found appealing. But I also wanted better, longer-lasting support for the boom mic, so I decided to go for it.
After you purchase the Sensaphonics kit from LightSpeed, you'll be referred to an audiologist in your area who will make custom impressions of your ear canals. The audiologist will charge you an additional, separate fee, but I found the cost quite reasonable. I was referred to Musician's Hearing Service and the impression process took only a few minutes. The impressions are sent to Sensaphonics and within a couple of weeks, the custom tips are sent back to the audiologist.
I went back for the fitting appointment last Friday and flew with the custom ear tips for the first time yesterday. After two instructional flights lasting a total of 3.6 hours, I can say without a doubt that this is probably the quietest headset I've ever used. The custom tips extend quite far into your ear and since the ear canal bends, you have to kind of screw the plugs into your ear. It's not hard to do, but it takes a bit of practice. I was curious how comfortable the custom tips would be. I found I forgot I was wearing them. The custom tips definitely provide adequate support for the boom mic and the sound quality is even clearer than with the blue foam tips.
Another concern was that the tight fit of the custom tips would trap air in my ears and cause discomfort during changes in altitude. I didn't really notice any pressure build-up, except during rapid descents. But simply yawning like I normally would to clear my ears during changes in altitude was all I needed to do to equalize the pressure.
This headset has a host of hard-to-beat features: Very light weight, comfortable, cell-phone or MP3 interface, and excellent passive noise reduction. The MP3 & cellphone interfaces does require the use of an internal battery, but I incorrectly reported in my original review of this headset that there was no auto-shutoff feature. I was incorrect. There is an auto-shutoff feature that saves the battery when no external device is connected. The original lapel clip for the cords was a bit fragile, but LightSpeed recognized this early on and now provide a clip with a more sturdy design.
One drawback with the custom tips is that with them installed, the unit no longer fits into the foam cut-outs in the headset carrying case. LightSpeed recognized this shortcoming and has begun offering a leather carrying case. They even offered to provide one to me at no charge.
Is this headset for everyone? Perhaps not. I suspect that some people will find the idea of having something stuck in their ears to be unappealing. Just remember that even the best external, noise-canceling headset will put pressure on your head and around your ears. I find the in-ear design is much more comfortable when flying in hot weather in aircraft that aren't air-conditioned. And for those of us who like to wear a hat to protect their face (or in my case, scalp) from the sun, this headset is perfect. Combine all this with the top-notch customer support for which LightSpeed is known and you have a product that is hard to beat.