REVIEW OF PILOT BLULINK BLUETOOTH AVIATION HEADSET ADAPTER

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SUMMARY

CUSTOMER SERVICE DETAILS

TEST DETAILS OF FIRST BLULINK

VIDEOS FROM TESTING FIRST BLULINK

BOTTOM LINE RESULTS OF TESTING

TEST DETAILS OF SECOND REPLACEMENT BLULINK

VIDEOS FROM TESTING SECOND REPLACEMENT BLULINK

OTHER CUSTOMERS WITH BLULINK PROBLEMS

 

 

This product review is of the Pilot BluLink, made by Pilot Communications USA in Irvine, CA.  It purports to enable a pilot to use a Bluetooth cellphone and any music source wirelessly in the cockpit.

 

Note the green light and the blue light - you'll be hearing about them in this review

 

SUMMARY:

The Pilot BluLink does not work as advertised. 

At best, it is very finicky about what headphones, aircraft, and radios it will work with.  In extensive testing, with multiple copies of the product, I found that, in a majority of combinations of headphones, radios, and aircraft, it did not work at all.  The Pilot Communications USA owner has assured me, in the most vehement terms imaginable, as described below, that the unit I have is in perfect working order.  Therefore, I can only assume that all examples of this product work the same, and that those reading this review will experience similar difficulties with this product. 

In addition, the customer service attitude of this company, in the form of the owner and what appears to be the sole employee, Abram Akradi, is stunningly poor and quite belligerent.  He seems to have some personal "issues", anger management problems, and is unable to acknowledge problems with his product or behave rationally about simple product problems.

 

CUSTOMER "SERVICE" DETAILS:

I ordered my Pilot BluLink from mypilotstore.com on 2/15/2012.  I used it when I flew to Sun N Fun 2012.  It worked fine.  Other than the initial success with using it, it never worked correctly after that.   I didn't use it when I flew to AirVenture 2012 - by then it had been so flakey I didn't bother taking it along.  I had assumed, from my limited troubleshooting of the problems in the air, that it seemed to have a battery life problem.  Being non-essential equipment, I would try to use it on a flight, it wouldn't work or I couldn't get a green power light, or it would control the iPhone, but no music sound, so I'd just give up on it, shut it off, and concentrate on flying the plane.  After the flight, I'd forget about it until the next flight.  Because I wasn't getting the green power light when I turned it on, I assumed it was a battery problem.  I tried new alkaline batteries, NiMh batteries, lithium batteries.  Sometimes it would work a little bit, then soon quit working.

Around the end of March, 2013, I decided that I had paid a lot of money for this device, and I really needed to get serious on making it work.  Because my limited, mostly-in-the-air troubleshooting of it seemed to indicate a problem with battery life, I emailed Pilot Communications USA and asked about recommended batteries and expected battery life.  I was told that battery life was not a problem with this product, and that I should try rechargeable NiMh batteries.

On May 6, 2013, I again emailed the company and said this:

The problem has been that I’ve done very limited troubleshooting of the problems with, it in the air, due to higher priority being to fly the plane, then I forget about it when I’m on the ground.
 
I tried the BluLink again over the weekend.  I haven’t even tried to use it for about a year, because it works so poorly.  I had previously thought that it seemed to be very battery sensitive, as it wouldn’t work at all with lithium batteries, and it would only work for a few minutes with new batteries.  I put in new fresh batteries this weekend, and it wouldn’t work at all.  It turns on and connects to my iPhone OK and I can control start/stop/skip on the iPhone with the buttons on the BluLink, but I get no sound or very poor sound.  It’s clear to me now that the unit is defective, rather than it being a battery life problem.  I’d like to get it fixed, preferably under warranty, as it hasn’t worked since I got it, other than a couple times when it was new.  
Do I need a RMA to send it back?  Where do I send it?
Serial number is 3007    11/11

Even though the unit had not worked properly since shortly after I got it and it was only about 13 months since I'd purchased it, the person responding to my emails, Abram Akradi, was quite adamant that they would not cover it under warranty because I was too late.  I packaged it up and sent it back to Pilot Communications USA.

On May 14, 2013, I received an angry voice mail from Abram, claiming that he'd been trying to call me, and that he had already left one voice mail for me.  I had not gotten any other vmails from him.  I called him back May 16.  Throughout the conversation with him, he kept insisting that there was no problem with the product.  He had quite a condescending manner, and seemed much more focused on the fact that I was not as smart as him or as perfect as his product, rather than on simply solving the problem.  I even wrote in my notes of our conversation that "this guy seems to have quite an ATTITUDE". 

Everything he said was focused on telling me how much he knew about Bluetooth and how there could not be a problem with the product.  He also seemed quite personally offended by the fact that I'd initially contacted him regarding what I perceived as a battery life issue, then I'd decided, after a bit more troubleshooting on the ground, that it must be some other problem with the product.  He acted like he thought I was making all this up just to bother him.  The general gist of the conversation was that his product was not faulty, and therefore there could be no problem, and that I was annoying him and wasting his time with my problem and the impossible symptoms that I surely must be making up just to annoy him.

One thing he said about Bluetooth made me think that that perhaps the linking between the BluLink and my iPhone had gotten partially bad, so I decided that, when I got it back, I would delete and remake the Bluetooth pairing.  He said he'd further prove the device was working 100% correctly by calling me back with it that day or the next day.  He did not call back.

By June 7, I still had not received the promised call, nor had I received my BluLink back.  I emailed Abram again about it, and received my BluLink back on June 13, just in time for my next trip to the hangar on Jun 14 (the weather has been awful here and I've had a lot of distractions, so I haven't been flying much at all this year).  I took the BluLink out of the box, put new batteries in it, and remade the Bluetooth connection with my iPhone.  I plugged it into my Challenger, hooked up my David Clark headsets to it, and played some music from my iPhone.  It worked perfectly.  At that point, I thought the only problem with the BlueLink must have been something wrong with the Bluetooth pairing with my iPhone, and that it was now OK.

I fueled the plane and pushed it out for a flight.  After the engine was running and the radio turned on, I noticed that the radio sound was extremely faint and scratchy - very similar to how my iPhone music sounded when I described this problem to Abram in my May 6 email and May 16 phone conversation.  I tried switching the BlueLink Switch A from position 2 (mono) to position 1 (stereo).  The radio immediately sounded normal when I did that.  Every time I set Switch A to position 2, the radio was very faint and scratchy.  In position 1, it sounded normal.   I repeated this test several times, all with the same results.  However, the old problem with the iPhone connection had returned.  I couldn't get a green power light when I switched the BluLink on, so I just turned it off and went flying.

When I got back from my flight, I called Pilot Communications USA to see if we could solve this together while I was right there at the hangar.  I got Abram again.  After my previous conversation with Abram, I was hoping to reach someone more helpful.  It turns out that Abram is the receptionist, customer service rep, company owner, etc, so apparently it's a one-man shop.  Anyway, I explained to Abram what had transpired since I got the BluLink back.  Abram's "somewhat disguised, but quite apparent" hostile attitude and angry demeanor from my previous call was still there, only much more so this time.  He made it clear I was annoying him with my problems with this product.  He said that what I had experienced with Switch A was impossible - that the BluLink simply acted as an extension cord for the headsets, and that it didn't matter what positions the switches were in or if the BluLink was on or off or if it even had batteries in it.  He went on and on about how it was impossible that I could have the problems I was seeing.  He acted like I was making all this up just to annoy him.  The general gist of the conversation was that he felt the device was working properly, and that any problems I had with it were my own problem to resolve on my own.  I told him it would be a lot more productive if he worked with me to help solve the problems and didn't act like I was such an annoyance to him.  He screamed "You ARE an annoyance, motherf***er!

He then launched into an incredible angry diatribe about how I had originally approached him about a battery problem and now I kept telling him of different problems.  I tried to explain to him that part of the problem was my initial, and apparently mistaken, impression that it was a battery life problem, and the other part of the problem was that the symptoms kept changing for me. 

He continued his rant with a tirade about how I was trying to get warranty service on a device that was "two and a half years old".  I knew the device was a bit over a year old - ordered 2/15/2012 and probably received about a week after that, so it was barely over a year old when I first contacted him about the problems, and the problems had begun long before it was a year old.  Any "good customer service" company would have taken care of it, but this side issue seemed to particularly inflame Abram.

His tirade continued with some especially crazed claim that he had tried to call me and I had answered the phone and then immediately hung it up without saying anything.  Maybe Abram doesn't get out of Orange County very often, but there are many people in the US, like here in NH and VT, that are barely able to get 1 bar of cellphone reception, if at all.  So for us, dropping cellphone calls is a routine occurrence, not a personal affront to fly into a rage about.  We just call back when a call drops or doesn't go through.  It happens all the time here.

By this time, it was apparent that there would be no support for this product, so I gave up trying to talk to Abram, who seems to have some quite significant anger management problems.

Later, after I had created and posted this review page, Abram sent me a raging, ranting email, including calling me a "right wing nut".  Maybe I would have gotten more rational support if I'd been a left-wing nut?

 

DETAILS OF TESTING:

After my last conversation with Abram, I could see that I'd have to solve the problem entirely on my own or else just throw the BluLink in the trash.  So that began with thorough testing, and logging the results.  I tested the BluLink with 3 top brands of headsets, on 2 planes.  The results follow:

RV-6A

David Clark headphones

    Switch A position #2 - radio faint but clear - about 1/2 volume

    Switch A position #1 - radio much louder and clear

    can't get green power-on light to come on - with alternate press-and-holds of power button I do get red light, indicating it was on, but no green light (subsequent testing revealed that I do in fact get a green light, as well as a blue light when Bluetooth activated, but they are very faint, even in a hangar - hence my initial impressions that these symptoms are a battery life problem, when in fact they appear now to be some sort of loading problem.)

    Radio volume decreases about 10% when turning on BluLink

    BluLink buttons will control iPhone music (play, pause, FF, etc), but no sound

    same Bluetooth results if disconnected from plane

Clarity Aloft headphones

    radio sounds same with Switch A in position 1 or 2

    power button gets green light OK, then blue Bluetooth light OK, plays iPhone tunes OK.  I also noticed that with CA headsets in either plane I get a beep when turning on Bluetooth, which I did not get with other headsets

Telex headphones

    Switch A position #2 - radio faint but clear - about 1/2 volume

    Switch A position #1 - radio much louder and clear

    power on gets a very faint green light.  Radio volume decreases about 10% when turning on BluLink

    BluLink buttons will not control iPhone music and no sound

    same Bluetooth results if disconnected from plane

 

Quad City Challenger II

David Clark headphones

    Switch A position #2 - radio very faint and scratchy

    Switch A position #1 - radio sounds normal

    can't get green power-on light to come on - with alternate press-and-holds of power button I do get red light, indicating it was on, but no green light.    Subsequent tests revealed it gets green power light but very faint.  Also gets bluetooth blue light, but extremely faint and appears to not be on at all (in hangar - outside would appear to be no light at all)

    Radio volume decreases about 10% when turning on BluLink   

    BluLink buttons will control iPhone music (play, pause, FF, etc), but no sound

    same Blutooth results if disconnected from plane

Clarity Aloft headphones

    Switch A position #2 - radio faint and scratchy, but not as faint as with David Clark & Telex

    Switch A position #1 - radio sounds normal

    power button gets green power light OK, then gets blue Bluetooth light OK, plays iPhone tunes OK.  I also noticed that with CA headsets in either plane I get a beep when turning on Bluetooth, which I did not get with other headsets

Telex headphones

    Switch A position #2 - radio very faint and scratchy

    Switch A position #1 - radio sounds normal

    gets green power light but very faint.  Also gets bluetooth blue light, but again very faint (in hangar - outside would appear to be no light at all)

    Radio volume decreases about 10% when turning on BluLink   

    BluLink buttons will control iPhone music (play, pause, FF, etc), but no sound

    same Bluetooth results if disconnected from plane

 

With the above results, you can see why I'd get very different symptoms, depending on which headphones I am using in which plane, and especially if testing it in the air.   Most of my previous attempts had been with the David Clark headphones in the Challenger, which testing proved to be the worst possible combination of headphones and airplane/radio.  My previously successful flights in early 2012 had been with the Clarity Aloft headsets in the RV, the best possible combination of headphones and airplane/radio.  Apparently both the David Clark and the Telex headphones somehow load down the device, and the Challenger radio is more sensitive to the BluLink.  It appears that, due to this loading I experienced, when batteries are brand new, they are strong enough to overcome this loading, but as soon as they are a few minutes old, they no longer have the power to overcome the loading.

After doing all this testing, I took the Challenger out for another flight, using Clarity Aloft headsets this time.  The BluLink worked fine.  Radio reception from other planes seemed scratchy and hard to understand, but there was very little traffic, so I can't say if that was normal or caused by the BluLink.

 

VIDEOS:

I made videos showing all these problems and uploaded them to YouTube.  See them here:

Video 1 - shows how the Pilot BluLink is NOT a pass-thru for the headsets, as claimed by the manufacturer, and how it gets very faint, scratchy sound when Switch A is set to position 2.

Video 2 - shows how the BluLink loads down the radio about 10% in volume when turned on, as well as how poorly it operates with headsets plugged into it.

Video 3 - shows how, even with the BluLink not connected to any plane at all, it gets loaded down by most headsets, and makes it appear that the batteries are nearly dead, with very dim indicator lights and very poor operation.  Two out of three top brands of headsets load down the BluLink so much I get either no sound or very faint & scratchy sound from music streaming from my iPhone.

 

BOTTOM LINE:

At best, product is very finicky about what headsets and radios it will work with.  Although claimed to be a simple pass-through device regarding aircraft radios, my testing with multiple planes/radios proved this is not the case.  Headsets seem to load down the BluLink, and the BluLink seems to load down radios. 

If there a problem with a product, most companies want to make it right - but not this company.  The company owner, Abram Akradi, clearly seems to have some personal "issues", anger management problems, and is unable to acknowledge problems with his product or behave rationally about simple product problems.  I experienced shockingly belligerent, hostile, and irrational customer service:  as with Eggenfellner products, any problems with the product MUST SURELY be the fault of the stupid & nefarious customers.  This is probably the worst customer service I have ever encountered at any company.

Rather than buying this product, you'd be a lot better off putting the money toward Bluetooth aviation headphones such as Bose A20.  They cost more, but they WORK, and any company's customer service is better than that of Pilot Communications USA.

 

UPDATES:

July 1, 2013 update - On June 19, I received a call from Corbin Glowacki, founder of mypilotstore.com.  He had read about the problems I was having with with the Pilot BluLink and with Pilot Communications USA.  Even though I hadn't contacted him or felt that this was his problem to help solve, he jumped in and offered to send me a refund or a new unit.  I said I really wanted the device to work, so I'd like to get a new one.  I greatly appreciate the excellent customer service he and his company provide; a sharp contrast to my experiences with Abram Akradi and Pilot Communications USA.  I got the new BluLink today.  It worked fine standalone with the David Clark headsets.  We'll see how it works in the planes, next time I get out to the hangar - if it ever quits raining.  It's rained nearly every day in May and June. 

Further testing revealed some odd symptoms, different from the previous BluLink, and I suppose easier to live with and work around. 

I always power the BluLink down before switching any cables.  I remembered that the original BluLink worked with the David Clark headsets for a few minutes when the I got the original BluLink back from Pilot Communications USA, so I wanted to load it down for awhile and see if it continued to work normally,

I listened to music through my David Clark headsets for about 1/2 hour, then I decided to switch to the Telex headsets.  After powering the BluLink down and switching the headsets, I could not get the BluLink to come on at all.  No green light, no dim light as with the original BluLink, no red light on alternate push-and holds as with the original BluLink, nothing but a click in the headsets every time I pressed the power button.  Then I tried it with no headsets plugged in.  Same results.  It would not come on at all.  I removed one of the batteries, then tried it again.  It went back to powering up normally.  

I can consistently duplicate this symptom, even with no headsets plugged in, even with no cables at all plugged in to it; just the BluLink box.    Sometimes it will power up after a couple attempts, usually I have to remove and reinsert one of the batteries to get it to power up after I power it down.  Very strange and flakey device.

 

July 11, 2013 update:  Further testing on the replacement Pilot BluLink revealed that I can get it to power on by either removing a battery for a few seconds or by pressing the power button quickly 2-3 times.  So that was a pretty easy workaround, plus in normal use you aren't usually turning it on and off, as I was for testing. 

I made it out to the hangar over the weekend, and flew some Young Eagles on Saturday and flew to the Yankee Ultralight Flyers, EAA Chapter 67, ultralight fly-in on Sunday. 

Unfortunately, the BluLink did not fare well at all.  First of all, while it no longer has the loading problems and very dim power and Bluetooth lights, it still has that same problem that the old one did - when Switch A is in Position 2, you get very faint and scratchy sound from the aircraft radio.  When Switch A is in Position 1, the radio volume drops a bit more than it did with the old one as soon as the BluLink is powered up - about 10-15% 

It did, however, control the iPhone OK and play music OK using the David Clark or Telex headsets.   UNTIL SQUELCH IS BROKEN.  Then it makes this horrible noise in the headsets until I shut the BluLink off.  Then the noise goes away.  No kidding.  Just incredible.  See and hear for yourself in Video #5 below. 

 The other problems were easy workarounds, although I wasn't enthused about the reduction in radio volume.  But the induced noise as soon as squelch is broken on the radio is a real deal-killer.  This device is as poor as the manufacturer's support for it.

 

MORE SUPPORTING VIDEOS:

Here are 2 more videos I made, showing the NEW, ADDITIONAL problems with the new replacement Pilot BluLink. 

Video 4 - part A of how badly the new Pilot BluLink works

Video 5 - part B of how badly the new Pilot BluLink works, including the noise that it induces in the headsets as soon as the aircraft radio squelch is broken

 

OTHER CUSTOMERS WITH BLULINK PROBLEMS:

Tony Adams

Thanks for the video's on the BluLink Brian. I purchased this unit in May of this year and it hasn't worked right yet. I've run the darn thing with my Bose X, Lightspeed Solo's and Lightspeed XL's, in four different AC and all three headsets sound exactly the same. Too low to hear both ATC or cockpit audio. I think after watching your videos, I'm just going to send the darn thing back for a refund. With the cash, I'll invest in a pair of either Lightspeed Zulu's or Sierra's.

 

Luke Boswell

I have the same Blulink and the Clarity aloft. The issue I run into is that when it is plugged into our Learjet 31A I can't hear the radio or the other pilot. I can hear the music but that is it.

 

John Carlson

I've read your BluLink reviews, and have to agree with your conclusions.  Mine went back for a refund.

 

... there may be the occassional problem for some people with some radio setups ...  

 

Just read your BluLink issue.

I have had a Clarity Aloft Link for about a month and never could get it to connect at the same time with my iPad mini and iPhone 5. Par tried to help, but Abram was a condescending jerk. Blaming Apple for my issue. Going as far as to say they never claimed it would connect to two devices at once (which they do everywhere!) and telling me it technically did because it was connecting to the A2DP for music and HF for phone!

Complete jerk.

Jeff .

 

Hi, Read all your reviews on the Blulink device and could not agree with you more!!  Have you ever looked into this device http://www.comlinkpro.com/products/angel/

 

Thank you for posting your article on the Bluelink product. I have been using it with my Clarity Alofts for the better part of the last year and while I am a huge fan of the headset, I am not at all satisfied with the Bluelink device.

 

 

 

Feel free to contact me regarding your experiences with Pilot BluLink

 

 

 

 

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