By Ryan Ferguson
||Flimsy construction, quality control problems|
||Performance comes at too high an all-around price|
One star (out of five)|
$599 MSRP for the Lightspeed 25XLs - is a serious amount of dough to blow on an aviation headset. There's only one pair that I know of that sells for more. That's the Bose X ANR headset, which goes for $999 or thereabouts. (The Bose X is an excellent headset, incidentally -- but I had a hard time swallowing the price. $1k buys a lot of avgas. I elected to go for the Lightspeed 25XLs because they seemed to be the best bang for the buck.)
"I wasn't too sure about the ungainly appearance of the headset. It's a tall and wide fit, enough so that it might actually be an issue in some extremely tight cockpits. But, I had to admit the ultra-soft earcups were a big plus."
I wasn't too sure about the ungainly appearance of the headset. It's a tall and wide fit, enough so that it might actually be an issue in some extremely tight cockpits. But, I had to admit the ultra-soft earcups were a big plus. I'm susceptible to pressure-induced headaches, and most headsets cause me pain after an hour or two of continuous use. So, I forked over my money and bought not one, but two pair of the Lightspeed 25XLs one for me, and one for my lovely wife.
The Lightspeed 25XL comes with a nice carrying case and has a high-tech look. I suppose it isn't altogether unattractive, at least insofar as the dark grey color isn't the standard ugly David Clark green. The headset is comfortable. Lightspeed went to great lengths in the comfort and fit department, paying careful attention to the headband. It's soft enough that you can barely tell that you're wearing the headset in most instances. It's also quite light, which is another important consideration for comfort's sake.
Of course, the ANR (active noise reduction) is probably the main reason you're interested in this headset. Yes, it works, and it works well most of the time. The soft earcups are shaped in such a way as to make as tight a seal around the pilot's head as possible, while still being cushy enough not to make a dent in your skull. If noise reduction were the only consideration, the headsets would feature firmer earcups and be made to clamp tightly around the head. That'd make for great noise reduction, but it'd be murder on your bone-dome. Lightspeed made a good compromise with this headset.
"The 25XLs feature an auto-shutoff feature that truly works 99% of the time. I also like the 'push to test' button on the battery dongle. Red/yellow/green tells you what your battery life status is. Unfortunately, that's where my complimentary review ends, and things get bad, then ugly."
The 25XLs feature an auto-shutoff feature that truly works 99% of the time. I also like the 'push to test' button on the battery dongle. Red/yellow/green tells you what your battery life status is. In my experience, a 'yellow' indication means that your headset is about to start intermittently cutting out on you. It's time to replace the batteries. Incidentally, the headset will still work fine if the batteries go dead, so it's not exactly a crucial pre-flight item. Categorize it under 'comfort.'
And, unfortunately, that's where my complimentary review ends, and things get bad, then ugly.
This PIREP is based on more than 1.5 years of use. I already mentioned that I purchased not one, but two pair of 25XLs so I am inclined to think my review carries more weight as a practical measure of how these headsets perform. Keep that in mind as you read the remainder of my review.
I used my pair of 25XLs in a fairly industrial-strength environment, a Pitts S-2C, for the first 3-6 months of its life. The Pitts is very loud in the cockpit, and of course since it's an aerobatic airplane, the headset endured more than its fair share of Gs. However, the headset was never dropped, crunched, or subjected to shock impact. The small remote battery box is always secured in the cockpit prior to maneuvers, and the cord runs underneath my harness so it doesn't fly all over the cockpit.
Despite this, the headset gave me troubles nearly from day one. When I fired up the ANR with the engine running, I'd get a low, rumbling feedback loop in the right earcup. I experimented with many different microphone positions in an attempt to eliminate this noise, but was never sucessful. Lightspeed's website features an ANR tutorial, which I read in an attempt to cure the problem. At higher engine RPMs the feedback would go away (or perhaps it was simply inaudible at those sound pressure levels), but whenever I was on the ground I had to leave the ANR off. Annoying.
I finally sent the headset in for repair. Lightspeed found that the ANR circuit was bad and sent the headset back to me. Sure enough, the feedback loop was gone. Kudos to Lightspeed for fixing the problem promptly. But that was just the first of many such repairs.
"... the headset snapped and literally fell off of my head as I was taxiing in to the ramp. Had that happened on final approach, I would have had to fly the missed, get the speaker/microphone set up, and get vectored around embedded CB for a second approach."
The headset went back two more times for problems related to ANR. Once, one side of the headset simply failed altogether. Another, ANR was intermittent despite fresh batteries. This was over the course of about 3 months. Each time, Lightspeed promptly identified a new problem and returned the headset to me.
During this time I needed another headset for use when the Lightspeeds were down. I fly 3-4 times per week, so I purchased a cheap $100 non-ANR headset to keep in the airplane. (I needed a dedicated passenger headset anyway.) Sure, it wasn't nearly as comfortable, and the lack of ANR didn't help matters, but it was reliable.
After the third repair, I was able to use the headset for its longest single sustained period, about 2 months. I noticed that the light plastic construction was not taking well to the abuses of riding around in my flight bag, although I took care never to slam it around. The ear cup stirrups started separating from their connecting points. The detents which held the sliding portion of the headband in place were starting to wear down. In another couple of weeks, one of the stirrups cracked. I was tired of sending the unit back to Lightspeed so I unsuccessfully attempted to superglue it back together. (Bad idea, by the way.) I ended up dealing with it for another few months until the other stirrup cracked and the screw which held the stirrup together broke free of its plastic eyehole. This headset is simply not built for constant, everyday flying.
There is a final ignomy to this story. After a flight in IMC, in which I was fighting to keep the mic near my mouth due to the broken stirrups, the headset snapped and literally fell off of my head as I was taxiing in to the ramp. Had that happened on final approach, I would have had to fly the missed, get the speaker/microphone set up, and get vectored around embedded CB for a second approach. That's the kind of thing you train for, but to pay $599 for the privilege of a catastrophic headset failure is not acceptable. After I shut down I had to comb through the plane to find all the parts that were flung like shrapnel from the shattered headset when it 'exploded.' Jeez!
Well, that's one down, and that's enough to sour my opinion of the Lightspeed 25XLs. But don't forget my poor wife, a student pilot and frequent copilot on our cross-country journeys. Her headset has never fallen off her head due to broken stirrups, but it has also been sent in to Lightspeed for numerous repairs. The problem? A gimpy connection between the main cord and the ANR box. I know what's causing it, and the FBO from which I purchased the headset opened it up once to check it out. They found that the headset had been miswired from the factory so that the mono and stereo positions were reversed. Well, that's an indication of somewhat sloppy workmanship to begin with, but I could live with reversed switch settings.
"The Lightspeeds are 'inop' so often that my wife also purchased a 'cheap' sub-$100 headset. She doesn't even carry her Lightspeeds any more; they're too much of a hassle to deal with."
The maddening issue here was that the bad connection was very intermittent. We sent the headset in, Lightspeed couldn't find any problem, and they returned it to us. Very next flight, still intermittent audio and microphone. It went back no fewer than three times trying to fix this problem. It's still not fixed. I don't want the headset anymore I'd rather they just give me a refund, but of course that's not going to happen.
The Lightspeeds are 'inop' so often that my wife also purchased a 'cheap' sub-$100 headset. She doesn't even carry her Lightspeeds any more; they're too much of a hassle to deal with.
Clearly, this is not a very favorable review for the Lightspeed 25XLs. However, a pilot friend of mine has the 20K model and loves them. He's not the only one there are definitely people out there who like this headset. I racked up about 300 hours on my pair in 12 months not exactly line pilot hours, but not unsubstantial, either. Perhaps I'm simply too hard on my headsets. Then again, my wife isn't. She only flew about 60 hours with hers.
As I mentioned, Lightspeed is pretty good about prompt service
I'm just annoyed that they can't fix my particular problem. My 'exploding' headset is currently being overhauled I hope not to get a bill for it, but the unit is now out of warranty, so I wouldn't be surprised.
The subject of this headset review was brought up on an internet aviation newsgroup. Several other Lightspeed 20 and 25XL owners chimed in and here's what a few of them had to say. I've highlighted user problems in red.
J.H.: "We've used LightSpeeds for four years. Started with one pair of 15s, and
then added another pair a year later.
In the first three years, both pair were returned for repairs, one pair
twice. All three times the repairs were done quickly, and without question
or charge. Yes, I was disappointed that they broke, but their superb
customer service made up for it.
So, this year we purchased a pair of 20 XLs at OSH 2001. Sadly, I must
report that the left ear is already acting up -- the ANR seems strangely
unbalanced from right to left, which makes for a strange sensation, to say
the least. They work very well if you listen with first one ear, and then
the other -- but together there is something not quite right. We're gonna
play with it a while longer, but I suspect I'll be returning them for repair
Which will make three out of three pair -- NOT a good quality control
record, especially when you consider how we 'baby' them. (They're
permanently in our plane, are never moved or unplugged.)
This is VERY disappointing, because when LightSpeeds work correctly, no
other head set even comes CLOSE to their quality fit and ANR performance."
S.R., Aerocanard Builder: "I've always wondered about what tradeoffs the Lightspeed designers made
when they came up with higher active noise reduction on the 25XL vs. the
20K/XL headsets. Basically they are playing with the amount of
feedback/gain the circuit has in order to increase/decrease the ANR value.
More gain increases ANR but causes other problems like possible instability
under certain conditions. This is why I chose the 20K first and then the
20XL over the 25XL. I figured that they were good enough for me and my
wife, and they seemed to serve that function well -- except for my wife.
She started complaining about the audio quality of the 20K/XL. I
finally broke down and bought the Sennheiser HMEC-300s, which solved the
problem; however, a problem with them is that the clamping pressure on her
head is too much. I have heard that this pressure can be adjusted by
someone that knows what they're doing, and I will get to that soon.
The Sennheisers aren't about to fly apart any time soon. He got the
Bose XLs but missed the Sennheisers on his review. Maybe he will shop
around more next time and discover them."
H.A.: "I've had my 25XL for almost a year now, and to give it 1 star is totally
ridiculous. The comfort, spending 3 hours on a cross country trip, only
to be suprised at the end that you have to take off your headset, cause
you haven't noticed it being on.. Comfort like that doesn't come along
that often. :)
Couple that with good audio quality, nice ANR functionality, and I was
happy to pay the buck. I would give it 4 out of 5."
M.M.: "While I don't hate my 20XL I don't use it anymore. It is ***bulky
bulky bulky*** and fragile. My mic stop transmitting a few times and I had to go back using the hand held mic. The ear cup also fell a few
times but luckily not in-flight. Yes, it is definitely comfortable,
but it seems sloppily manufactured and designed. I mainly use it for
my passenger nowadays."
K.B.: "I've had problems, but LightSpeed service was absolutely fantastic. Problems
included loss of complete ANR, left side ANR loss and chewing batteries
every 5 days (when not using the headset). Could you say the requirement
for fantastic service would be mitigated by better Quality Control, possibly. I really
like the headset for comfort and for performance, I'm not a great lover of
their chintzy mic boom though."
'Acrophile': "I've had great luck with my 25XLs. No problems ever. Great battery life.
Still look and work like new after 1.5 years and about 200 hours. Guess
mine weren't made on a Monday morning, huh?"
N.Y.: "My experience with Lightspeed and the 20XLs [ed. note: the 20XL has a similar featureset to the 25XL, and looks nearly identical.] has been great. I've
flown 300 hours with them, including several 8 hour plus days in the
cabin. They are comfortable, and the noise cancelling works well. My
DC13.4 has permanently become the backseat passenger headset.
Lightspeed customer service is great. I lost the foam covers to the
microphone, called Lightspeed and they sent a few out for free.
Recently, the audio cable to one of the headsets went bad. One phone
call produced an RMA number (no haggling about warranties, etc...) and
one week later the headset was back and working.
I'd buy another Lightspeed headset. My one complaint is the headsets
are big, so you'll hit your head in the cabin a few times until
getting used to them."