November 2, 1997

Headsets Improve In-Flight Sound

New York Times
 

When the in-flight movie features Michelle Pfeiffer whispering softly into her co-star’s ear, most passengers strain to pick out the words from the rumble of the jet engines.

But starting soon, every subtle sound should be heard clearly by international passengers in the first- and business-class sections of United Airlines.

United is the first airline to buy headsets with anti-noise technology, which creates sound waves that cancel out the engines’ sound waves, making higher-pitched frequencies bright and clear.

Military pilots and owners of small planes have long used such headsets, paying up to $1,000 to block engine sounds.

Bose Corp., the audio-products company that produces such headsets for the military, says its research shows pilots stay more alert when engine noise is silenced.

The company’s chairman wears a headset when he flies, to reduce fatigue.

Noise Cancellation Technologies, the Stamford, Conn., company whose system United is installing, also sells a consumer version of its anti-noise headsets, which anyone can use by itself or as a filter to improve the sound of in-flight entertainment systems. It sells at electronics stores for about $60.

Irene Lebovics, president of Noise Cancellation, said she expected other carriers to install the technology for premium-fare customers and eventually in coach cabins.


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