Nick Hoffman is a man of many talents. Millions of Outdoor Channel viewers know him as an outdoorsman, pilot, and host of the series Nick’s Wild Ride. To millions of country music fans, he’s a professional musician who’s spent decades performing with the greatest names in the business and is a top-selling recording artist with his band, The Farm. He seems to balance his passions for adventure, flying, and music effortlessly, with one exception. Twenty-five years in the music industry has taken a toll on his hearing. So, just as in his music career, he uses the sound technology to help deliver the best experience in the air.
Hoffman hails from a very musical Minnesota family and started playing the fiddle at age 4. He says there was a jam session every Saturday night at the Hoffman house, and one of his earliest memories is of falling asleep under his grandma’s piano bench while the adults were still playing. He started playing in bands by age 13. When he was barely 17, he ran away from home to Branson, Missouri, sleeping on park benches for a few weeks and eventually finding a job in a show that Dolly Parton owns. From there he moved to Nashville, played in bars, then landed a 12-year gig with Kenny Chesney that lasted from Chesney’s early years in small clubs to his superstardom, with the #1 selling show in the world. Since then, Hoffman has played as a side guy for many other country legends, including Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Brookes & Dunn, Trace Adkins, Sarah Evans, Charlie Daniels, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and more. In 2010, he was signed by Warner Bros with his band, The Farm. They’ve had two top 40 songs, and he has a new solo album coming out in early 2023.
While music is Hoffman’s first and deepest passion, he acknowledges that it has taken a toll on his hearing. Of course, hearing protection was the last thing on the minds of his teen band mates. And he says, “Especially in the early days of my career, I played every night in smoky bars and clubs with no protection and the amplifiers cranked up. It’s like being next to a jet engine for 4 hours straight. And my hearing paid for it.” The outdoor side of his life added to the problem: years of shooting firearms for trap, skeet, and hunting. In early days, he didn’t use any hearing protection for that either. He says, “Now I have constant tinnitus—my ears ring loudly 24/7—and I have probably 30–40% loss in my mid to high range hearing. That affects my daily life now, including my work as a pilot. So, any time I can do anything that helps protect my hearing now or to enhance my hearing with the loss that I have, I jump at those opportunities.”
Hoffman says that having an ANR headset makes all the difference to his safety and comfort in the cockpit. “ANR has been a game-changer because background noise is the enemy. With that, especially on top of my hearing loss, everything gets muddy. When you can use ANR to eliminate background noise, it allows me to hear any kind of communication—with both passengers and ATC—more accurately and at a quieter level that doesn’t damage my hearing. It’s also just so much more pleasurable.”
And he says ANR doesn’t interfere with his ability to hear how the engine is doing. “Your ears are not designed to operate at high volume. So, when you can bring ambient levels down, you can hear more subtleties. You hear all the same things, but slightly differently and, in my opinion, actually better.” And he especially loves the HearingEQity feature in the new Lightspeed Delta Zulu headset, which optimizes sound to the user’s hearing profile. “This is big for a guy like me who has a lot of high-end hearing loss, because I can shape the sound to my needs.” (As an artist, Hoffman also appreciates the aesthetics of the Delta Zulu. He says with a smile, “It’s ridiculously sexy. It’s the Scarlet Johansson of headsets.”)
Hoffman thinks we all need to be protecting our hearing better. “We often think that hearing loss only happens to older people. At 20 you don’t think about going bald, and at 30 you’re bald. Every young kid thinks they’re indestructible. My early days in bands were the start of my hearing loss, and I’m sure that my early days in aviation didn’t help. My hearing loss showed up already in my early 30s.” He says an ANR headset can be a lifesaver in a lot of ways, and not just in the cockpit: in a pinch, he’s used his Delta Zulu headset for hearing protection while cutting wood out in the barn.
The bottom line, for Hoffman, is that his life and livelihood depend on the ability to hear. “Both of my passions need hearing, but both can also take away hearing if you’re not careful. And you can’t pass the medical and you can’t go flying if you can’t hear. A good ANR headset from day 1 of flying is one of the best investments you can make. They might be a little more expensive, but they protect your long-term ability to fly.”
Hearing is one of the senses that I don’t think people really pay attention to until they start to notice degradation and by that point its too late to really do much. I grew up shooting competitively and hearing protection was something drilled into me from a young age. I am so happy that it was because now many years later my hearing is still in top shape. I have been flying with my lightspeed zulu 3 headset for nearly a decade now and can’t imagine using something else much less something without ANR. The Ability to reduce the noise floor directly contributes to my comfort in the plane and ability to fly long cross country trips with my family. When my wife started to fly with me it only took 1-2 times of using my zulu headset to request she got one as well and now on a long trip she enjoys the quiet to take naps or watch movies.
I have also suffered some hearing loss as an Air Traffic Controller when I received a tone through my headset at work. I wish they used quality headsets like those from Lightspeed. Tinnitus is real and many people of many ages and effects all aspects of life.
My Lightspeed headset is great at reducing noise and helping me combat the effects of Tinnitus. I highly recommend every pilot give the Lightspeed headsets a try!
Hindsight… it’s a wonderful (and frustrating) thing, isn’t it! I can relate to this article to a great extent. I am 43 year old and flying planes is my greatest passion. But let’s rewind 15-20 years, and I was playing electronic music DJ sets at some very LOUD clubs and festivals down here in Melbourne, Australia. I would also spend countless hours writing music, often substituting studio speakers for loud headphones in order not to disturb people around me. Today I should probably consider myself quite lucky that I only have a relatively mild case of intermittent tinnitus that is manageable and sometimes not even noticed, good sleep and healthy lifestyle patterns always helping the cause. But I now live under that anxious little cloud of “will it get worse one day?” over my head.
Naturally we can’t undo our past and turn that volume knob down a notch or two, but we can hopefully learn from it. I fly small sports aircraft, many of which have very little sound insulation. I find my Zulu 2 headset to be a perfect partner in the cockpit for a number of reasons, its outstanding ANR performance being the most obvious one. But let’s not forget its passive noise control, which is well suited to my kind of environment. I have tried other brand headsets and have found that quality ANR alone may not reach its full potential if not matched by equally good passive noise control characteristics. On the flip side, some other brands had excellent passive noise reduction capabilities however at the same time they proved to be quite tight and uncomfortable on hot days and during longer flights. My Lightspeeds on the other hand are always very comfortable.
So a Lightspeed headset just ticks all the right boxes: amazing ANR, respectable PNR, great comfort and looks! And it gives me that extra peace of mind that I am doing all I can now to preserve my hearing well into the future.
I couldn’t agree more! I think a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to things that can have a lasting effect later on down the road. Being able to connect two types of people with this headset is amazing. On one hand it has the capability of enabling a pilot who has some hearing loss to still fly confidently. And on the other hand, it helps others protect against hearing loss in the first place. Of course it depends on what you are doing outside of flying that can drive hearing loss, but the point is that people are still able to enjoy doing things that give them great joys in life – flying!
Wonderful stuff Lightspeed is doing, and I have no doubt will continue to do! By pilots, for pilots!
I often think about how my life would be different if I lost my hearing. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to fly, but think about all the other things that I would lose as well. No more music, no more sounds of nature and no more being able to hear the voices of my friends and family. Your hearing is priceless and investing in a headset to help save my hearing is a no brainer! Every time I slip on my Delta Zulu I am confident that they will protect my hearing and also keep me (and my passengers) safe from carbon monoxide poisoning as well.
I have been using Lightspeed ANR headsets for over 20 years now. I am a professional pilot and use fly an average of 80 hours a month. They have saved my hearing for sure! The best part in this article is that it talks about the enjoyment of music and with the advent of Bluetooth I can fly AND enjoy the music I love! Best of both worlds…..
I have been a happy customer of Lightspeed for many years now and besides having the best product on the market at a value price, their service that comes with it has gone far beyond any expectations I ever had. Incredible ANR headsets with an even better service philosophy makes Lightspeed THE choice in ANR headsets!
Thank you Lightspeed!