On-Ear, In-Ear and Over-Ear Pilot Headsets: Which is Right for You?

Posted by Marv Golden on Aug 15th 2023

Every pilot understands the direct role that their headset plays in their safety and communication abilities. Given this importance, finding the right pilot headset can be a big task that you don’t want to take lightly.

Some of the main types of pilot headsets you may consider are in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear headsets. There are a number of factors to compare between these types of headsets, and whether you’re flying commercial or general aviation will play a big role in how your headset fits over your ears.

Finding A Comfortable Headset

It should come as no surprise that pilots want to use a headset that is comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time, especially commercial pilots who tend to take longer flights.

Headset comfort isn’t just a luxury, it’s necessary for high performance while flying. Thus, determining which type of headset offers more comfort can be a major factor that helps point pilots in the right direction.

When choosing a comfortable headset, consider:

  • Headset weight
  • Headband hinge placement
  • Over-ear vs. in-ear vs. on-ear headsets

Most pilots find that over-ear headsets are more comfortable when worn for many hours at a time. This is primarily because the design of the ear cups helps distribute the weight and pressure of the headset more evenly.

However, on-ear headsets may offer more comfort for commercial pilots since they are more lightweight and put less pressure on the ear than over-ear headsets. But these are only appropriate for low-noise environments, such as turbine cockpits.

There are additional factors that can affect the comfort of headsets, so each pilot will have their own preferences. For instance, if a pilot wears glasses, in-ear headphones may offer a more sleek and comfortable design that keeps less pressure off the backs of their ears. These types of headsets also tend to be lighter by design, which some pilots prefer.


Noise Reduction/Cancellation

The cockpit can be a pretty noisy place given the sound of the engine(s), particularly if you’re flying general aviation. So, finding a pilot headset that has effective noise-reducing or cancellation abilities is a big deal. This helps pilots improve their focus, hear ground control more clearly, and communicate better with their co-pilot or passengers.

In-ear, over-ear, and on-ear aviation headsets can each provide excellent noise reduction. But, full dome over-ear headsets like the Bose A30 act as a sort of earmuff, making them better at blocking out background and ambient noise that can interfere with their communication abilities.

For pilots flying light aircraft or piston-engine planes, over-ear headsets are usually the best option.


In regards to noise cancellation technology, understanding the difference between ANR vs. PNR can help pilots choose the proper headset. Every aviation headset will provide Passive Noise Reduction (PNR) by physically blocking the cockpit noise from entering the ear canal, but some headsets offer more advanced noise cancellation.

You can find Active Noise Reduction (ANR) in certain headsets, which is additional electronic noise canceling. ANR can help pilots feel less fatigue and offers better hearing protection than a headset with just PNR. All in all, ANR headsets are of better quality but usually come at a higher price point.

There are certain in-ear headsets, like Clarity Aloft headsets, which block the entire ear canal – so additional noise reduction features aren’t necessary. They offer a few different models, some of which are better suited for general aviation or commercial flying, so pilots can choose the right one according to their needs if they want to go with an in-ear headset.


Cockpit Noise Levels In Different Types Of Aircraft

As we previously mentioned, cockpits in different types of aircraft have different noise levels, which greatly affects the amount of noise cancellation necessary in order to effectively communicate.

Generally speaking, commercial cockpits tend to be much, much quieter than general aviation cockpits. In most smaller aircraft, even talking to another person sitting next to you in the cockpit can be next to impossible without headsets.

To put it simply: Pilots flying in commercial aircraft usually don’t have to worry about extra noise canceling, whereas pilots flying smaller aircraft with louder cockpits should consider sticking to over-ear headsets with ANR.

Final Thoughts

There is no right or wrong choice between in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear aviation headsets. Each pilot will need to choose the right option for them based on their own personal preferences and flight circumstances. Weighing the different variables like comfort, noise reduction features, communication capabilities, and price will all help pilots determine the right fit for their needs.

But, finding the perfect headset is often a trial and error process until you land on the perfect one. Talk to fellow pilots or ask your flight instructor for their perspective. Or better yet - call us at 800-348-0014 and we can guide you through your options!