3 Way Headset Battle – Bose A20 vs. Lightspeed Zulu.2 vs. Zulu PFX

by Brandon Ray · June 27, 2015

3 Way Headset Battle – Bose A20 vs. Lightspeed Zulu.2 vs. Lightspeed Zulu PFX

by Brandon Ray

Long time readers may remember my review of the Bose A20 Aviation Headset in August of 2010. In it, I lauded the progress the company had made since releasing the Aviation X. The A20 brought numerous improvements to the Aviation X and became my headset of choice to replace my Sennheiser HMEC 400 headset when I compared it to Lightspeed’s offering of the then-current Zulu model.

Bose A20

Lightspeed Zulu 2

Lightspeed Zulu PFX

5 Years Later – The Bose A20

Built-in Bluetooth made cell phone connectivity a breeze, although it lacked the ability to stream music over Bluetooth. A separate, corded auxiliary audio input jack was available, however, to pick up the slack.

Noise cancellation was great and powered for an impressive 40 hours on 2 AA batteries; a significant improvement over the 15 hours with 4 AA’s offered by my outgoing Sennheiser set.

Bose A20 Headset and Accessories

After 5 years and nearly 2500 hours of using my Bose A20 headset, I am pleased with my purchase. I have used it for flight instruction, corporate, charter, and airline flying. Overall, it has served me well. At $1095 with Bluetooth or $995 without it, the headset was far from the least expensive option on the market at the time. However, the feature set, the improved battery life, and the comfort made it an easily-justified purchase.

Fast forward a few years and much has happened in the headset space since then. I thought it was time to take a look at what Lightspeed had been doing since I passed up the Zulu for the Bose A20.

They certainly have not been sitting idle. With two releases in the years since, the Zulu line has become a serious contender in the aviation headset space.

Lightspeed Zulu.2

Lightspeed Zulu 2 Headset Profile View

2011 saw the release of the Lightspeed Zulu.2. The headset was outfitted with new earcups and seals that were designed to work well, even with sunglasses. To add even more comfort, the headband was re-engineered to create less pressure and squeeze on the sides of the head.

New technologies were developed to add to the headset’s noise reduction capabilities. “Microport Vent” technology was developed which enhanced the headset’s ability to cancel noise at both high and low frequencies simultaneously.

2 channel Bluetooth was added in order to provide for both phone calls and audio from a connected device. An auxiliary cord and port was available, but only necessary if your device did not support Bluetooth.

While noise cancellation, music, and the ability to stay connected while in the air are all great features, the main purpose of an aviation headset is to provide a channel of communication with those in your aircraft, as well as air traffic control and other aircraft. To that end, Lightspeed made several improvements, not only to the sound coming to the pilot but also to the pilot’s transmissions to others.

The first is ComPriority. ComPriority is a system which automatically lowers any auxiliary audio input, like music or a phone call, in the event of a radio or aircraft intercom communication. Once that communication has finished, ComPriority returns the audio to its normal level.

At the same time, a directional microphone with noise cancellation was developed to ensure that words spoken by wearers of the headset would arrive clearly and without interference from other ambient cockpit sounds.

FlightLink AppAll of this communication can be recorded, stored, and played back on demand using Lightspeed’s proprietary Apple-based application, FlightLink. FlightLink connects any portable Apple device (like your iPad) to your Zulu.2 headset and records any inbound or outbound communication. That communication can then be played back in order to ensure that no critical information is missed. FlightLink also includes a scratch pad function so that quick notes can be jotted down using only your finger.

2 AA batteries power the entire system for up to 40 hours, although heavy Bluetooth usage can have a significant impact on battery life. The whole setup comes in at a comfortable 15.7 ounces and is covered by a 5 year warranty. Purchase price is $900.

Lightspeed Zulu PFX

Lightspeed Zulu PFX Headset Side2013 would have seen another release from Lightspeed, but the much anticipated Zulu PFX, or Personal Flying Experience, was delayed until mid-to-late 2014. By most accounts, the delay was well worth it.

Coming in at a mere 14 ounces and touted as the world’s quietest headset, the Zulu PFX takes headset technology to a whole new level. Sturdier and lighter than the Zulu.2, the PFX is the kind of headset that you forget that you’re wearing until you hear a sound start to come through its soft, plush, and deep ear cups. Kevlar cords with stainless steel components round out a package that is as solid as it is comfortable.

The use of technology on the Zulu PFX is very impressive. Before noise reduction even enters the scenario, the headset, to use the manufacturer’s words, actively measures your “unique auditory landscape.” It makes note of the shape of your ear and what kind of seal it has with the rest of your head. Once that notation is complete, it uses this information to tune its noise reduction to these specifications. Put on a pair of sunglasses, take them off, or adjust the headset on your head, and the changes are detected and automatically accounted for.

The noise reduction itself is regarded as better than that of the Zulu.2 and some of the best ever encountered. “Streaming Quiet” technology constantly monitors the sounds happening around you and changes its modulation based on your environment.

2-channel Bluetooth connectivity is included for cell phone and audio connectivity, as is ComPriority. However, Bluetooth connectivity on the Zulu PFX allows FlightLink to be taken to entirely new levels. Custom user profiles can be built in FlightLink which allow for user-specific bass and treble levels, voice clarity augmentation, and, of course, the in-flight recording available with FlightLink as seen in the Zulu.2.

Lightspeed Zulu PFXAll of this comes at a price, however. The CPU of the Zulu PFX is significantly larger than other headsets and requires twice the power. 4 AA batteries only power it for up to 20 hours, assuming light Bluetooth usage. The firmware is upgradeable via FlightLink and the unit comes with a user-attachable clip which allows attachment to various points in the cockpit and frees up space in pockets and other stashable areas.

The other impact of the Zulu PFX is to the wallet. At $1175 it is a significant increase, in both price and features, from the Zulu.2. It is, however, covered by the same 5 year warranty.

TSO’d?

For most GA pilots, you can disregard this section, but if you are an airline pilot you may be required to use a headset which is “certified” by technical standard order (TSO). It is important to note that none of the Lightspeed Zulu models are TSO certified. If you require a TSO certified headset, I would go with the Bose A20.

Conclusion

Lightspeed has made significant moves in the headset space since the release of the original Zulu model. Improved noise reduction, reduced weight, enhanced Bluetooth functionality and connectivity, and better construction make both of these headsets serious contenders for those in the market for a new unit. But, if the extra $275 doesn’t break the bank, the Zulu PFX looks like the current headset to beat.


Buy Online

If you decide to purchase a new aviation headset, feel free to use our affiliate links below:

Lightspeed Zulu.2

Lightspeed Zulu PFX

Bose A20


Update to Bose A20 Features (July 21, 2015)

https://www.flyhpa.com/2015/07/bose-a20-aviation-headset-4-new-enhancements-for-2015/

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

2022.06.09 11.19 Flyhpa 62a27fea7716a

Flying

The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).

Learning

At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/

 

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