Review: Bose A20 vs Lightspeed Zulu 3

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by Sinistar, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    TLDR: Unexpected - Bose A20 are comfortable with great features. But their ANR effectiveness makes them a pass for me.

    Ratings 0...10

    Category.....A20....Zulu 3
    Price...........3.......8
    ANR............5.......9
    Comfort.......8.......7
    Controller.....8.......7
    Music..........9.......7
    Phone.........9.......7
    Cable..........7......9
    Mic............9.......8
    Sidetone......9......8
    Isolate........8.......9

    Totals........75......79

    A while back I purchased a set of Lightspeed Zulu 3's from @pigpenracing. Yes its a plug for him because they were in fantastic shape, he shipped right away with tracking and was great to do business with. I had never tried a pair of Bose A20's and I really wanted to understand the differences. So I finally found a used Bose A20 on craigslist.

    First things first - this is a used Bose A20. It is the first generation of bluetooth so you can make calls but not stream bluetooth music. I'm guessing it to be about 5yrs old. The telltale difference is that the bluetooth button's icon is a handset where as the new ones have the actual bluetooth symbol. So there is the possibility that this older generation was not as good as the new ones today? With Bose you can swap out the entire plugs, controller, mic assembly with a new setup that does bluetooth phone + music but that is close to $300. Also, it is not clear if that updated module also updates the ANR capabilities.

    The tests during purchase went just fine. You click on the ANR you can immediately tell its doing something. We met at an airport so listened to the AWOS and did a radio check with the control tower. The last step was pairing with bluetooth and trying a call. That worked great. So I handed him the cash. Now starts the Minnesota winter flying wait for decent flying days.

    Meanwhile at home, while waiting for flying days I tried out both. I was quickly liking the A20's because they don't clamp as hard, weight less and I like the long mic boom.

    I also like the controller a bit better. Seems a bit more compact, not as easy to bump the volume buttons, etc. However, when flying the Zulu 3 controller lays in the armrest better and is less likely to flop out.

    There is a lot of talk about cords. The kevlar cords on the Zulu 3's make then light and way more flexible. I would say the Bose A20 cords did seem pretty solid to me too. I probably don't fly enough to warrant the advantage of the kevlar cords but when paying these prices I think the kevlar version should be the standard. Perhaps the only weird part of the Zulu3's is that the controller is longer / heavier and the kevlar is so thin. I makes we wonder if they might be more prone to being easily yanked out.

    Trying out streamed or wired audio (music) I think the Bose A20 is a winner. It does sound a bit nicer. I am guessing a bluetooth audio stream on a newer A20 would still be the winner.

    Finally some flight time!

    As of this review I have made (3) flights with the Bose A20's. On the first flight when I switched on the ANR after the plane was started and idling it definitely got quieter. Good...so I thought.

    While taxiing I tested a bluetooth call to the wifey. My first thought was that the call quality is easily better than the Zulu 3's. On the Zulu 3's there a bit of a delay or something that the A20's did not have. Kari said both sounded the same on her end regarding any delays, background noise, etc.

    But it was the actual flight time that was the big letdown. They are loud! The ANR off the Zulu 3's is definitely more aggressive. With the Zulu 3's I barely hear the Continental 0470 in the 182. But for all 3 flights with the A20s I was continuously wondering why it was so loud. It was almost like I was using a decent passive set. So I would click the power off and WHAMMM!! Now it was mega loud in the cabin. So the ANR is working but just not like the Zulu 3's.

    On my latest flight a friend rode with. One hour each way. When we landed I said "Greg - what do you think?" He said "They are comfortable but I'd rather wear my nice passive set over these A20's, especially given the huge cost difference." So that makes two of us.

    Another thing I learned during the comparison is that the Zulu's for some reason seem quieter w/r to sidetone. In the A20's the sidetone was obvious and sounded good. When I went back to the Zulu's I was immediately fiddling with the intercom volume as the side tone almost seemed missing.

    The last comment is the isolate feature. Both pretty much do the same thing. When you are streaming audio (bluetooth or wired). The normal behaviour is for all ATC and passenger intercom audio to suppress the audio stream. For passengers, especially kids that mode quickly goes from nuisance to downright frustrating. So there is a isolate option where the audio stream and the ATC/Intercom stream retain their current levels. This would also be bothersome except you can then turn down the main headset volume so that the music or movie can be louder. The key difference between these units is that the minimum volume on the Zulu 3's goes lower than the minimum volume of the A20's. So although the A20's would be lighter on the passengers head and perhaps a bit less clamp/pressure - I think they would prefer the Zulu 3's for overall enjoyment of their media. Obviously a modern audio panel is a even better choice but this review is about the headsets and not panel upgrades.

    Unfortantely the A20's slightly better comfort, better fidelity and slightly better bluetooth implementation are not enough to overcome the key requirement for the headset - great ANR in loud GA planes.

    As a owner and user of QT Halos I will always use the Halo's for longer trips. For shorter flights (less than 90min) I will happily use the Zulu 3's. For passengers I believe they would enjoy the Zulu 3's over the A20's unless its a short flight like 30min where it probably won't matter either way.
     
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  2. kgruber

    kgruber En-Route

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    Lightspeed is a no go right out of the gate. Mike ONLY on the left side.
     
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  3. SoonerAviator

    SoonerAviator Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    When/how does that present itself as a problem?!
     
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  4. idahoflier

    idahoflier Line Up and Wait

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    Thanks for the pirep! I have been looking at both and this helps!
     
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  5. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    Yes, good catch and thanks for calling it out @kgruber! The beauty of the A20 design is that it can easily be moved to either side. That same feature lets you fully swap out the entire plugs/controller/mic assembly. I even noted that I think they have a longer mic boom and it sure sounds nice. Unforturnately - for me - the ANR is a bigger factor.

    I could see this driving CFI's nuts always being on the right. So maybe the Zulu's are never gonna be CFI/CFII favorites.
     
  6. pigpenracing

    pigpenracing En-Route

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    you can put mic left or right with the Sierra
     
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  7. pigpenracing

    pigpenracing En-Route

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    The mic on the Lightspeed is better with wind and loud planes. It has a adjustable gain and mine stays all the way down. The Bose does not. The Bose suck in extremely loud planes.
     
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  8. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    Interestingly, if you take out the price difference then the A20 comes out ahead according to your score chart.
     
  9. kgruber

    kgruber En-Route

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    I have a Sierra. Won it in a contest. I prefer my David Clark H10-13.4

    DC has better noise cancelling, and it is just a passive headset.
     
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  10. Let'sgoflying!

    Let'sgoflying! Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    and the total before any such change is not statistically significant.
    Buy the ones you like best. Enjoy.
     
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  11. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    I guess so. However the ANR just didn't cut it. Maybe it should have been weighted with NR first, comfort second, etc.

    I would guess if the A20's where cheaper so that prices matched then construction would be lesser as well and even more categories would probably drop such as fidelity, replaceable plugs/mic/controller, sidetone and possibly even comfort.

    I think if Lightspeed could eliminate about 10% of the clamping force, cut just 1oz, allow the mic to rotate 180 deg vs 90deg and allow the main volume to go down to zero when in isolate they would be perfect. And maybe offer a few more interesting colors. Also, if they are looking to offset costs, the case for the Zulu's doesn't have to be so heavy duty.
     
  12. NordicDave

    NordicDave Cleared for Takeoff

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    For price a 3 for A20 is pretty steep. It’s $1100 vs $875. More like 6 verses 8. The Lightspeed is 20.5 less expensive.

    Noise cancelling is better with the Bose, no way a margin of 5 verses 9. More like 9 verses 7.
    Pilots get whatever their headsets for whatever ANR religious sect they belong too.
     
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  13. BrianNC

    BrianNC En-Route

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    I have a fairly new A20, probably about a year and a half old. I like them, but the thing that surprised me was, at least for me, how the ear covers start hurting my ears after an hour or two. I really expected them to be comfortable longer than that. Especially at that price point.
     
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  14. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    Sorry Dave if my scores don't work or add up. Probably not the best way to present the comparison.

    However, at least I tried them both and on the same exact flight. Even had a unbiased pilot (doesn't wear any ANR) tried them and didn't like them. The A20's were just too loud to warrant the price difference or even wanting to wear them for an extended period of time compared to the Zulu's. Perhaps others have done this same comparison in actual flight with one of each headset. Obviously I found it surprising. I thought the ANR would be roughly the same and thus the Bose would clean house with the added fidelity and comfort.

    Plus its complicated. Both ANR implementation and Comfort are both subjective.
     
  15. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    I found the same thing when I first got the Zulu 3's. Then I learned to every so slightly rock the ear cup just a bit more outward towards the front of the ear. For me that relieves most of the pinch/discomfort. Its actually the same for the A20's. And for both if you rotate outwards to much the ear seal breaks and the ANR goes nutso.

    One cool thing about the A20 is how small the ear cup looks vs how well the ear actually fits inside. More sleek! But I think this is why the Zulu ANR is better. It surrounds a slightly larger area so probably a bit less noise makes it in. And ear cups seem heavier. But that means a heavier headset and maybe a bit more pinch too.
     
  16. BrianNC

    BrianNC En-Route

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    I've wondered about the top of the line Zulus. The cups look bigger and more comfortable.
     
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  17. Grum.Man

    Grum.Man En-Route

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    My opinion when I made my shopping decision..

    Lightspeed are built so much better for less money plus I got a pretty big discount on top of that so mine came out to almost half as much as Bose.
    I can't tell a difference in the ANR performance between the two.
    The sound quality is better on the Bose
    Mic quality is essentially the same.
    I also like the bose controller better.
    Mike boom doesn't make a hill of beans to me.
    Lightspeed fits my head and ear shape better thus making them more comfortable.
    I like the weight and slim profile of the Bose better.

    In the end, with performance being similar I could not come up with a reason to spend more money on the cheaper built Bose headsets.
     
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  18. NordicDave

    NordicDave Cleared for Takeoff

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    Actually thought your ratings were all within a subjective 1-2 points, except for the 2 mentioned. The volume is adjustable on the A20’s. I own both and have hundreds of hours using both models. Flying many passengers both pilots and non-pilots, nearly everyone preferred the A20 in side by side use. Usual feedback was A20’s we’re more comfortable due to their lighter weight and smaller size. The ANR and fidelity as a lesser second point. Only 2 people preferred the Lightspeed’s and that was due to head fit. Everyone liked the Lightspeed’s over the Dave Clark’s for comfort.

    The A20’s are less then 21% more expensive and maybe 10% better overall. The longer a person flies the larger the gap of one over the other. A handful of flights over 8 hours with a fuel stop, the extra margin in comfort and and fidelity compounds. I appreciated your rating table, just took exception with cost ratio and ANR rating.

    Most important that pilots buy the most they can afford and works for them. Both companies had a 30 day return policy. Get both on a credit card and go fly. Return the other before the bill is due.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
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  19. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    Remember the old quote: "Quality will remain long after the price is forgotten."
     
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  20. kgruber

    kgruber En-Route

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    Oregon Aero makes comfort kits for all popular headsets.
    https://www.oregonaero.com/headset-kits/headset-upgrade-kit-83006bx
     
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  21. Jamie Kirk

    Jamie Kirk Line Up and Wait

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    I've bought both the A20 and Zulu 3 within the past 60 days and the prices new are comparative:
    A20: $999
    Zulu 3: $849

    Bose A20, FAR better ANR.
    Zulu 3, their larger ear pads make the headset M<UCH more comfortable for me. Also the longer cord is a plus as I use mounts.

    Overall I like the quietness if the A20 but the Zulu 3 are more comfortable on my head. I wish the A20 had the larger ear pads.
     
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  22. NordicDave

    NordicDave Cleared for Takeoff

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    Of the 2 people who preferred the Zulu Lightspeed’s one had a large head and the other large ears. Personal fit is likely the most important. All others liked the lighter weight of the A20’s, especially over longer periods of time. As mentioned earlier, buy both and return the one that doesn’t meet your objectives.
     
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  23. Sinistar

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    Thanks @NordicDave - Great follow up! I am guessing there is a fair number of people who have only ever tried one of the two or at best tried on both but didn't actually log a bunch of flight time with both. So your response is great with lots of time to back it up.

    For @NordicDave and @Jamie Kirk - you guys are both in the camp that the A20 ANR is superior. Would you mind listing the types of planes you were mainly flying? All of my data is in a old 182. In in very cold wx with last comparison done at -4F. I've been in a Cherokee 180 and a Dakota, but not to do any of these tests. I though the Cherokee 180 was a bit quieter inside at cruise than the 182. I think the Dakota was closer in overall cruise cabin noise, but maybe also a bit quieter. I was starting to wonder...and to track what @pigpenracing has been saying regarding the Zulu 3 ANR being better in louder planes. Perhaps that is more due to the larger earcups and cushions providing a bit better passive NR before the ANR is added.

    Otherwise time and again, it will come down to comfort and ANR as you have said. Throw in some irony - if I am going on a trip the QT Halo's are coming out. I've done 3hr legs and don't even know they are there. But a bit too much fidgeting for short hops.
     
  24. N1120A

    N1120A Cleared for Takeoff

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    I have a large head and found the Zulus uncomfortable compared to the A20s.
     
  25. kgruber

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    Especially when forced to wear them backwards, since unlike any GOOD headset they can only be worn on one side.
     
  26. Timeout

    Timeout Filing Flight Plan

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    I too have the Bose A20's, and the new Lightspeeds as well as the Halos I use in my 79' C414A and 79' C310R. However my buddy just bought his wife Sporty's new ANR's for around $500 and she loves them for their 78' Baron 58. She'd tried both my expensive sets of Bose and 2 different styles of BT lightspeeds. She owned a set of Halos but felt the Baron was too noisy for the Halos, plus she liked BT which her Halos didn't have.
    I was certainly surprised! I haven't seen nor tried the Sporty's brand but I understood they have a money back guarantee from what he told me.
    Just another datapoint.
     
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  27. Ryan F.

    Ryan F. Line Up and Wait

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    Having owned many Lightspeed and Bose headsets it is surprising to me that anyone could find Lightspeed's ANR to be superior. Bose pays the price for a superior ANR with more clamping action.

    Lightspeed has a nice product, but in my experience Bose has always owned the best of class category. Reliability, sound quality, ANR, unbeatable.

    Everyone's noggin is different so comfort is highly subjective. I find them equally comfortable, although the large size of the Zulu earcups was always annoying to me.

    At my place of employ, 24 pilots, including me, were given the option of their headset of choice from management. The choices included the Zulu 3 and Bose A20 among others. Literally zero pilots selected the Lightspeed option. (One did select Clarity Aloft; another David Clark.) But no takers for the Lightspeeds.
     
  28. Jeff767

    Jeff767 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I own two Zulu headsets and one Bose A20. I use the Bose almost daily. The Zulu’s are used by passengers and despite far less use are not holding up as well.
     
  29. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    I like my Lightspeeds but I’ve always said they have the best repair/return system in the headset biz because they need it.

    They stop doing that, they go under.

    With it, they have a model that works.
     
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  30. Warmi

    Warmi Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I had my Sierra repaired twice in about 24 months - both time it was some kind of issue with cable connectivity.
     
  31. schmookeeg

    schmookeeg Pattern Altitude

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    I thought that was a feature (drawback in your case since you seem to have a left-handed mouth :D ) of ANR? -- the speaker sending the "anti-noise" needs to be aimed at your ear to work.

    I'm kinda curious now what my A20s sound like put on backwards. I suspect it's strange and hissy.
     
  32. Scrabo

    Scrabo Pattern Altitude

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    Zulu has specials like $250 off on passive trade in, then the price is way more competitive , we got 2 sets for $600 each.

    Does Bose offer trade-ins?
     
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  33. JOhnH

    JOhnH Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I bought a set of Tangos from Pigpenracing a while back and I really like them. They sound as good as my Zulus and no damn wires.
    I also agree that Pigpen is great to do business with. They are prompt, honest and and offer good prices.

    (will that get me a discount on my next purchase?) ;)
     
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  34. WDD

    WDD Pre-takeoff checklist

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    So many choices.........

    All of these subjective evaluations are very helpful. But objectively, I still see that every CFI I've seen and worked with has a Bose. Given these guys don't make a lot of money at this point in their lives, they certainly saw something in the Bose that caused them to pay the premium price. It could be that Bose just has a better CFI marketing program with discounts. If so, well done - a good marketing move.
     
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  35. Sinistar

    Sinistar En-Route

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    Or could just be as simple as Bose let's you switch the mic to the right side. And a good product and great marketing.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2020
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  36. pigpenracing

    pigpenracing En-Route

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    So what do you fly? It must be quiet... The Bose work fine in the Cessna and Bonanza.
    Open the window in the Cessna and the Bose no longer work good...
    I fly lots of really loud aerobatic planes and open cockpit stuff.
    The Bose ANR will not keep up in the loud airplanes. They Buzz, Crackle and Pop because the ANR goes crazy.
    The Lightspeeds also have the adjustable mic gain.... I keep mine down all the way and it is perfect in loud planes.
    I called Bose a couple of years ago when I was doing lots of testing. I told them that the headset sucks in loud airplanes. The response was
    "Sir, Our headsets are not designed for noisy aircraft"
    On several occasions over the years I ordered new A20's on the 30 day trial to test. They got sent back every time.
    So if your flying a regular plane that isn't loud the Bose it fine. The Lightspeed shines in high noise applications like a Pitts.
     
  37. SoonerAviator

    SoonerAviator Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    Yeah, and those same CFI’s walk around with $300 flight bags, aviator watches, and whatever latest gizmo they saw another CFI or friend who made it to the big iron own. I seriously doubt most wet behind the ears CFIs did an objective test on 3-4 ANR headsets. Hell, I doubt they even had access to more than 1 or 2 options at whatever FBO or flight school they were operating out of.
     
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  38. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    Interesting. I’ve not met a single local CFI who flies with Bose.

    Considering Bose’s “reputation” in the audio business, the CFIs in your area must not like music. Hahaha.

    Only kinda kidding.

    The vast majority around here are using Lightspeed but when asked how they like them, it ranges from “meh, it’s a headset” to “meh, it’s a headset that’s been back to the factory twice, but they upgraded the cable on mine to Kevlar or whatever”.

    Of course I’m mostly hanging around the older CFI crowd around here and all of us remember flying with nothing at all, and then with DC head clamps for a decade, so pretty much anything ANR at a non-stupid price rag, that’ll survive being thrown on the ground and possibly run over by a tug, like a DC will survive... is the gold standard. Because the extra headset usually lived behind the seat of the pickup truck for when that one student who can’t seem to keep a schedule calls on a Tuesday and you’re near the airport.

    That headset no longer exists. It was the DC head clamps but their ANR isn’t great in new stuff nor are they built anywhere near as tough.

    At the end of the day, the industry switched to Barbie’s First Headset, quality-wise... so pick whoever has the fastest return and repair policy. They’re $1000 foo foo headsets that’ll have to be sent in eventually.

    (Note: DCs repair system used to be as good as Lightspeed... they’re not interested in that much anymore. If you want it fixed and returned fast, only Lightspeed still plays that game because they know $1000 for something that’ll break if you drop it wrong on the ramp, is a mandatory part of their business model.)

    You know headsets went Barbie Playhouse when the Halos and such came out, so Ken wouldn’t muss up his pretty hair. LOL.
     
  39. WDD

    WDD Pre-takeoff checklist

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    And this is a great example of why I believe there is wide range of what works for each person. My first 20 hours of student was with a H10-13.4 End of each flight had that buzzy feeling, was always fighting nausea, was very tiring. I even tried wearing earplugs under the DC and turning the volume up. Helped a bit, but really didn't work for a number of reasons. Got the Clarity Aloft and it changed everything 100%. So much quieter, no nausea feeling, wasn't tiring anymore.

    Maybe I'm just wired to be more sensitive to a noisy environment. So maybe if the Light Speed offers just a bit more noise cancellation in some additional situations vs the Bose it would be worth it to me but not others. What a shame Light Speed dropped their uber 2 stage ANR PFX. But they probably split their sales between Zulu and PFX, and the extra reach in sales volume didn't cover the increased costs of running both products.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2020
  40. WDD

    WDD Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2019
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    Location:
    Atlanta / KRYY
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    Display name:
    WDD
    WHAT DID YOU SAY? EH? SPEAK UP :D
     
    denverpilot likes this.