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Feb/Mar 2000

The Pilot's Radio Communications Handbook

Fundamentals Of Hearing

Advanced Signal Processing and Digital Noise Reduction

(available at

Table of Contents
Phoenix, AZ
The $100 Hamburger
Hutchinson, Kansas
Back To Basics
Hangar Flying
Legal Perspective
Comm Radios
Pilot's Review -
SoftComm's C-90 BNE Headset
SWAV News Update
From the Publisher logo
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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172

Pilot's Review: SoftComm C-90 BNE
by Don Mickey

Recent trends in noise canceling technology have led the major headset manufacturers to introduce noise canceling headsets. Each has claimed to be better than the last, with the major deciding factor for many pilots coming down to cost. As with anything new, the prices have continued to drop, leaving one wondering how low the price can go without quality being compromised.

With the introduction of their new Model C-90 BNE, SoftComm, based in Chandler, Arizona, has been the latest to put the question to the test. The “Background Noise Equalization” headset applies traditional passive noise cancellation techniques to new noise absorbing materials, providing a passive mode that competes with the best. In active mode, the technology that SoftComm has employed is impressive in its noise canceling ability. The attention to both techniques sets the C-90 BNE apart from many of the headsets on the market. Most other headsets offer either effective passive noise cancellation through use of traditional materials, or active noise cancellation through the latest technological innovations. Very few provide both.

My first reaction when I took the C-90 BNE out of the box was the number of wires and gadgets included with an otherwise conventional looking headset. There is the traditional mic/earphone cable next to a power cable with a small plug on the end. In addition, not yet attached to the headset is a small black box with a short receptacle-tipped wire, and a coiled cable with small plugs on either end. Upon reading the instruction booklet, I discovered that the small black box was the detachable power unit and that the coiled cable is used to connect the headset to a cellular phone. Next, I checked to see if the battery was included. Happily I discovered that it was. To my dismay, however, I discovered that the only access to the battery is by unscrewing a small phillips head screw. Somewhat inconvenient, but effective in holding the battery in place. (How many times have you lost the small flat plastic clip-on covers that are more traditionally used?)

The next morning, I decided to try the new headset out. The seven hour round-trip flight I had planned for the day would be an excellent testing platform. The concern that I initially had with the set-up of the headset was quickly overcome as I began to understand the reasoning behind the design. The small black box fit perfectly into my shirt pocket; convenient when the time came to activate the headset. As I put the headset on, I was thankful for the cloth sleeves provided to cover the cold plastic pads surrounding my ears. The headset was very comfortable, even over my sunglasses. My previous active noise canceling headset, while extremely comfortable with additional padding and gel, had proven somewhat impractical given the low head clearance in my Mooney. The C-90 BNE was just the right size. I could actually sit straight up without rubbing the headset against the top of the cabin.

I kept the headset on its passive setting during run-up and takeoff so that I could better hear the engine. The passive quieting nature of the headset proved adequate, providing as much noise reduction as I am accustomed to in other active headsets used in the passive mode. After reaching cruise, I plugged the power cable into the little black power box and the headset came to life. The low droning frequencies of the engine and much of the wind noise disappeared, just as promised. Voice frequencies, on the other hand, were amplified; allowing me to hear the controllers better. As I passed the headset around the cabin for my passengers (other pilots) to try, some distention grew around the point of the clarity of voices while in active mode. While my opinion was that the headset dramatically increased both the volume and the clarity of voices, one of the other pilots remained adamant that the controllers sounded less sharp than in his old passive green David Clarks.

As I entered the pattern, I unplugged the power cord, returning the headset to the passive mode. Without the “Background Noise Equalization” active, I had to turn up the radios slightly to hear the tower controllers, but was satisfied with the clarity. After landing, I plugged in the power as well as my cellular phone. Like a kid at Christmas, I had to try it all. I called my wife and was excited to hear her voice coming clearly through one ear and the ground controller through the other–a very nice feature. After parking and shutting down, I took of the headset and leaned over to climb out of the plane. As I did so, I felt a jerk on my shirt. It was the power box still plugged in to the headset. This ingenious little invention would not allow me to leave the headset on and drain the battery. Now I fully understood SoftComm’s reasoning in the design of the C-90 BNE. SoftComm claims that their headsets are designed “by pilots for pilots.” Clearly a true statement.

The SoftComm C-90 BNE retails for $295.00 and comes with a battery, cloth covers for the ear cups, and a cable to attach a cellular phone. It may also be ordered with an amplified dynamic microphone for helicopter use.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.