Headset Sound-off! Bose A20 vs. Faro Stealth 2 ANR


Filing Flight Plan
Dec 10, 2019
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(In short, get a Bose/Lightspeed/David Clark. No question).

[Unsure if this post belongs here, in "Technical", or elsewhere. Is there a "Gear" channel?]

Pilots and sound junkies, let's have a sound-off! Bose A20 vs the Faro Stealth 2 ANR.
(Note: The Stealth 2 ANR is the new Oct 2019 model sold exclusively by Sporty's, not the older v1).

Keeping in mind...
Faro Stealth 2 ANR = $450
Bose A20 = $1000

Why is the Bose A20 worth $500 more? Or, why is it not? I'm very interested to know where they overlap and where they diverge in terms of quality and performance. Both feature active noise reduction (ANR) and Bluetooth (BT) wireless for mobile / music / alerts. The A20's are great, no doubt, but... is it possible [yes] we're paying $500 more for the Bose name?

Item suggestions to compare and comment about:
  • Intercom & mic sound quality:
  • Passive noise reduction quality (aircraft type?):
  • Active noise reduction quality (aircraft type?):
  • Battery life (AAx2) (aircraft type?):
  • Construction quality / materials / durability:
  • Reliability:
  • BT/Aux sound quality (for an aviation headset):
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Between the Faro and A20, there is no contest for quality and results, the Bose A20 is a clear winner. Many consider it the best overall headset, though many will swear by the LIghtspeed 3's. I own both the A20 and the LightSpeed. Everyone in I've flown with prefers the Bose A20 for being slightly lighter weight and sound quality. I have to say the LightSpeed is a very close 2nd and the one person I've flown with preferred the LIghtSpeed was for head fit.

Fully realize this post will drive the Bose haters and LightSpeed religion crowd to get vocal.
Between the Faro and A20, there is no contest for quality and results, the Bose A20 is a clear winner.

I have no doubt you are correct, but the question I find myself asking is "Since they are 2x the price, are the Bose A20 2x as good?"

I have considered going for something like the Faro ANR, with the intent to pass them to my passenger when I upgrade to the A20, or just buy another Faro if it is good enough (granted, all airplane spending has been temporarily suspended as I purchase my plane, work out the issues I find and prep it for 2020).
Hi NordicDave and Mark, thanks for replying.

Since you both don't have experience with (specifically) the Faro Stealth 2 ANR, can you comment on how your specific headset sounds in comparison to others, as well as in comparison to an at-home pair of (good) headphones (e.g. Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Bose, etc.). Does your $1000 Bose A20 / Lightspeed av radio headSET provide the same/similar audio quality via BT/aux (think music) as your $100 home Sennheisers? Or, does the music sound like it's playing through a flat OEM stereo with no punchy bass or crisp highs?
I have a Crazedpilot In Hear headset that I replaced the ear tips with "Comply Smartcore" ear tips. They are good for ATC, but not so much for music. I like them for the $190 I spent (after upgrading the ear tips), I don't think I would replace them with anything less than an ANR headset.
Wasn't Faro the card game they were playing in the Tombstone movie?

Never heard of the headset version.
Hi NordicDave and Mark, thanks for replying.

Since you both don't have experience with (specifically) the Faro Stealth 2 ANR, can you comment on how your specific headset sounds in comparison to others, as well as in comparison to an at-home pair of (good) headphones (e.g. Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Bose, etc.). Does your $1000 Bose A20 / Lightspeed av radio headSET provide the same/similar audio quality via BT/aux (think music) as your $100 home Sennheisers? Or, does the music sound like it's playing through a flat OEM stereo with no punchy bass or crisp highs?

I’m an audiophile and when listening with headphones use Sennheiser HD-850’s. The high end aviation headsets reproduce music with half the fidelity. The aviation noise canceling headsets are optimized for the speech range of frequencies.

Aviation headsets are expensive for what they are sonically. The music from both Parrot and Bose QC II noise canceling headsets we all commonly use for airline travel reproduce music better than the A20 or LightSpeed III.

I’ve worn and briefly tried the Faro, the other brands Bose & LightSpeed are more comfortable and sound better. It’s a get what you pay for proposition. BTW, LightSpeed made a model to directly compete with the A20 called the PFX. I believe it’s ceased production. It’s control unit was more bulky than the A20, but had sound quality greater then the LightSpeed Zulu III. My opinion, the PFX was close enough to the III and many couldn’t justify the extra ~$200 dollars. The bulkier control unit received a lot of complaints as compared to the A20 for the same price.

Most of the online retailers have a 30 return policy. if you side by side fly with them, it would be great to hear your opinions.
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Awesome, thanks again for the feedback!
I agree, it's apples to oranges when comparing aviation headset sound quality to anything else. Completely different purpose and priorities.
As with most things, the relationship between increased cost and increased quality is almost never arithmetic, i.e., a doubling in cost, once you get out of truly awful gear of any kind, rarely nets you a measurably quantifiable doubling in quality. Will a Mercedes AMG63 perform six times as well as a good used Toyota Land Cruiser? Absolutely not. Is a Neumann KM184 three times as useful and accurate in the studio as an Audio Technica 4041? No. However, given unlimited budget concerns, I'd rather have the KM184 in my mic locker than a 4041 (although I have pairs of both), and I'd rather drive the AMG63 to the studio. Once you get into decent quality gear, the upper strati of price points can rapidly become a great example of diminishing returns. For those that can afford, want, and truly appreciate the best, it's worth it. Sometimes, the most expensive simply is NOT the best.. just the most expensive. Sometimes it is, but the financial outlay required to purchase THE best simply isn't worth it when you can spend half as much and get something 90-95% as good and spend the saved money on something that WILL be more tangible and useful.

Personally? I will never own a Bose headset, but that has more to do with my experiences in the audio world and that charlatan of a company. Never tried their aviation headset... I could very well be missing out and freely admit that. The Faro (and other clones if memory serves) are at a price point attractive to me. Would be very interested in reading any comments by folks who have side-by-sided them w/ the Lightspeed offerings.
Off topic for a sec @MuseChaser have you seen this?

I have no damn application right now at all for a shotgun mic but I’ve always loved that Shure and always shied away from spending the cash on one, but it is one of those mics that my voice and it just get along...

And the copy cat absolutely nailed it.

Same guy has shown off a lot of mics head to head and I’ve never seen two so close. He has a video up I haven’t watched yet of a Neumann clone on the lower end that the title hints that it also matches performance.

Mic tech in the last few years has just been awesome. Copy cats or not, some of these new mic companies are just hitting it out of the park.

And no, I don’t count stuff like the Blue mics although I have one out of curiosity and also for junk recordings like podcasting that I needed an extra mic for... and the resulting MP3 isn’t going to have the fidelity to reproduce much more than that mic can do anyway... plus I’ll make it sound a bit better in post processing.

What I really wish I had known about when I was doing tons of recording work was Reaoer. Holy crap. Amazed. That software for next to nothing, price wise, compared to the “real” stuff. And so well written and small! It’ll run WELL on completely out of date hardware.

All this amazing new stuff and no recordings to make kills me. Ha. I try not to buy anything I don’t have a job for but man I’m sorely tempted to order that shotgun mic.
Bah! I said Shure instead of Sennheiser. I won’t edit. Just ... dumb. Hahaha. I had Shure on the brain.
I gave the faro a chance but I wasn't a huge fan. Sound and mic quality aren't as good, and they are definitely not as comfortable. Higher clamping gave me a bit of a headache over a long cross country.

I ended up returning the Faros and getting the Bose. When I bought my airplane I got a second set. Is it expensive? Absolutely, but in the grand scheme of the entire airplane budget it's not that bad. Feels worth it to me as they should last a long time. I also liked that bose offers the 6-pin lemo version that uses panel power. I've never had to worry about batteries.

I always try to give the little guys a shot, but I just didn't think Faro was there yet. Hopefully they keep progressing. If you're unsure buy from somewhere that will let you try and return if you don't like it.
2021 (2022) Update:

I returned the Faro Stealth 2 ANR and got a Bose A20 instead. Couldn't have been a better decision. Yes it's $500 more, but everything about it is SIGNIFICANTLY better. If someone out there is deciding between a cheap ANR headset and a Bose or equivalent quality (e.g. Lightspeed), bite the bullet and get the Bose or just get a good passive David Clark headset. In hindsight, the Faro was garbage. No comparison between the two in any category other than price.

Sound quality:
- With the Faro, I had huge troubles hearing ATC and even my instructor next to me. Poor signal to noise. I remember this was a point of frustration for me (safety issue too -- DC SFRA flying). I hated the radio because I knew I wasn't going to hear clearly and correctly. I thought it was perhaps just the older intercom/audio system of the plane. Turns out it was the Faro headset all along. With the Bose, I enjoy working the radio. Huge radio confidence booster. Sounds lame, but it's true. A good quality passive like a David Clark would do about the same probably, but just STAY AWAY FROM CHEAP HEADSETS.
- BT music actually sounds REALLY good with the Bose, shockingly for an aviation headset but even besides that (no, does not compare with a studio music headset). There is actual clean bass, and the mids and highs are clean, whereas the Faro sounded like a tin can. I don't know how Bose did it, being an aviation headset as the priority, but intercom/ATC transmissions sound great and so does BT music!
- The old timer attitude about "ANR headsets are dangerous because you can't hear the engine, wind flow, etc. as well" is completely false. Yes, it will sound different than a passive, but you will soon get used to how everything sounds and queue to it just fine. If anything it's probably much safer -- much less fatiguing with ANR.

Mic quality:
- The Faro would pick up ambient noise easily and was troublesome at times even with the squelch adjusted. Made listening difficult.

ANR performance:
- No comparison. The Faro *did* reduce noise significantly as advertised, but then everything sounded like trash.

Comfort/clamp pressure/adjustments:
- No comparison. Not nearly as comfortable as the Bose. The Faro is huge and bulky. Cheap friction adjustment knobs. The Faro's higher clamping pressure and stiffer earcups could be an issue for some.

Build quality:
- No comparison. Parts of the Bose do feel cheap-ish for being $1,100, but hey. The control module feels solid.

Batteries / Battery Life:
- Manual says not to use rechargeable batts. A knock on Bose for this. However, there's no danger to the headset by using ONLY NiMH rechargeables (1.2V and different discharge curve than alkaline cells).
* CAUTION: DO NOT MIX BATTERY CHEMISTRY TYPES!!!!!!!!!!!!! This might be Bose's scapegoat reasoning for saying not to use NiMH rechargeables. In Bose's defense here, they're right -- NEVER mix battery chemistry types, as you could then possibly damage the headset / module under certain state-of-charge circumstances. But if you stick with IDENTICAL TYPE and EQUALLY CHARGED NiMH rechargeables, you're 100% OK. Just make sure your rechargeable NiMH batteries are brand/model-identical and equally charged. DO NOT MIX BATTERY CHEMISTRY TYPES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. (Disclosure: I'm an electrical engineer and work a lot with battery-powered digital embedded systems, and have used my A20 extensively with quality NiMH batteries with zero issues.)
- It's likely just that they only designed and tested for alkaline, so they can't say it's ok for NiMH rechargeables for liability reasons. I've only been using rechargeable batts (modern NiMH batts, e.g. Panasonic Eneloop) and everything works great. Essentially, the low and critical batt phases will likely happen faster with NiMH, as these stay at ~1.2V for most of their batt life right up until the remaining ~10% or so. The module is tuned for alkaline, so the low/critical phases will probably happen more gradual with alkaline. Point being -- just carry spares and a separate pair of alkalines for backup (DO NOT MIX), but batt life has never been an issue for me. I haven't tested NiMH batt life (I'm sure someone has), but I'm sure you can get 20-30 hours easily, if not 40 hours.

- Take care when packing the headset away and don't squish the cable strain-relief grommets on the headset or on the module. I store mine in the softcase upside down in my flight bag, so as not to put pressure on the strain relief grommet (push in the earcups all the way too, to make it as short as possible).
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