Background: Active noise reduction (ANR) is an electronic system that works by continuous sampling of noise inside the earshell of the headset with a small microphone. This signal is inverted in phase through the headset speaker, thus reducing noise levels by destructive interference of the acoustic field. The system provides good low-frequency noise attenuation, but aircrew differ in their subjective opinion of ANR. The present study is an attempt to provide an objective assessment of the effect of ANR on noise levels at the tympanic membrane.
Methods: There were 7 subjects with normal ears who were placed in an environment of recorded noise from a BO-105 helicopter. A microphone probe was inserted to within 5 mm of the tympanic membrane of each subject's right ear. Noise levels in the ear were measured without a headset and with two different ANR headsets. Measurements were performed with and without the ANR system on, and with and without white noise through the headset communication system. The white noise was used to simulate aircraft communication noise.
Results: The two headsets tested had differing levels of passive and active attenuation. The ANR system produced a substantial low-frequency attenuation. However, noise levels in the mid frequencies increased somewhat when the ANR system was switched on. This effect was augmented when white noise in the communications system was introduced, particularly for one of the two headsets. Low-frequency noise attenuation of ANR systems is substantial, but an increased mid- and high-frequency noise level caused by the ANR may affect both communication and overall noise levels. Our data provide advice on what factors should be taken into account when ANR is evaluated for use in an aviation operational environment.