If you’re shopping for a really nice headset, chances are you’ve narrowed your choices down to the Lightspeed Zulu 3 headset or the Bose A20.
Lots of pilots eye these two high-end headsets. Both are big-ticket purchases, but neither headset will disappoint. What makes them different from one another—and which headset is best for you? Let’s take a closer look.
Lightspeed Zulu 3 Introduction
Lightspeed introduced its first product at EAA AirVenture in 1996 and has grown to become one of the leaders in pilot headset technology. They pioneered and embraced the use of active noise reduction (ANR) technology at a time when it was rare to find in pilot headsets.
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Today, that technology is more or less ubiquitous.
The company’s present lineup includes only two models of headsets, their flagship Zulu 3 and the slightly less expensive Sierra. Both feature ANR, Bluetooth, and sleek styling for all-day comfort.
The Zulu 3 is an excellent, high-quality choice for pilots of all skill levels. It does everything well, is built to last, and is exceptionally comfortable.
So naturally, it draws comparisons with the other “Cadillac” of the headset world—the Bose A20. So how does it stack up?
Why Having a Great Headset is Important
Headsets are more important and more complicated than many pilots give them credit for. Everyone knows that headsets make communicating easier—both inside the cockpit and over the radios. But they also improve safety and reduce pilot fatigue.
Airplanes are noisy places, especially light singles and twins. Students often can get by with a pair of inexpensive passive noise reduction headsets to get started.
By the time they are in the cross country phase, they’ll often notice that their headset’s noise or fit is bothering them.
Full-time professionals, especially flight instructors, know the benefits of good headsets. Being able to wear a pair all day long, five or six days a week, is a big deal.
Anything you can do to remain alert in the cockpit and reduce your tiredness is worth its weight in gold.
Lightspeed Zulu 3 vs. Bose A20 Comparison
The Bose is often considered the flagship headset to have among GA pilots. But its price is above the $1,000 mark, making a few hundred dollars of savings an important factor in your decision.
There are plenty of reasons to pick the Lightspeed beyond just saving a few bucks, but let’s not kid around—most people buy it because the Bose seems a little too expensive.
Once you pick up a Zulu 3, one thing becomes apparent—it’s robustly built of all metal parts. This contrasts with the A20, which is mostly made of plastic.
That’s not to say that the A20 can’t take a beating or isn’t well designed. All of that plastic keeps the weight down and makes a comfortable headset.
Metal parts make a lot of sense for pilots looking to use their headset for years down the road.
Another sign of Lightspeed’s excellent build quality is the Kevlar-wrapped cord that won’t kink or chafe.
Weight and Comfort
So, being made of metal, how does the Lightspeed compare once it’s mounted on top of your noggin’? Most pilots agree–it’s pretty close to the experience that the Bose provides.
The Zulu 3 is made to be lightweight, coming in at only 14.6 ounces. For reference, the Bose A20s weigh 12 ounces, so the Bose wins—but the numbers are very close. In the end, the only real way to tell which will be more comfortable for your head is to try each one on.
One interesting note is that the fit of the Zulu 3’s earpieces is more molded to the side of your head than the A20s. The A20 features flat seals, whereas the Zulu 3 has a curved surface for a better fit.
A unique feature of the Bluetooth-enabled Lightspeed headsets is their proprietary FlightLink app for Apple or Android devices. So if you fly with an iPad, you’ll definitely want to check this app out before making your headset decision.
The app combines two unique features that are great for every pilot, from student to professional. The first component is a full-time flight recorder. You can playback intercom and radio transmissions from your entire flight. You’ll never need to ask to repeat a clearance again, and students will love the ability to replay what they learned during the flight.
The app also provides a scratchpad for jotting down clearances and notes.
Active noise reduction (ANR) uses an active system inside the headset to eliminate more noise. This enables headset makers to make their sets lighter and have less clamping pressure. Headsets without ANR are said to be “passive.” As a result, they are typically much heavier and much more uncomfortable to wear for any lengthy period of time.
Lightspeed has mastered its ANR technology, but it’s nearly impossible to say how it stacks up directly compared to the Bose. Since they are different technologies, they add a different quality to the sound you do hear. As you might expect, some people prefer the Bose, and others prefer the Lightspeed.
Lightspeed offers an industry-leading seven-year warranty on the Zulu 3. It’s just one sign of how seriously the company takes the task of building a hearty headset that will stand the test of time.
In the end, the Lightspeed Zulu 3 has more in common with other high-end headset options than different. They aren’t the most expensive, but they aren’t cheap, either. They’re very well built and durable, with excellent ANR. Some pilots find them more comfortable than the Bose A20s or the David Clark One-X.
Like all headset options, the only way to really know a pair of Lightspeed Zulu 3s is by trying them on for a test. If there’s a big pilot shop near you, you might be able to try their fit on your head. If not, see if any of your pilot buddies or instructors have a set they’ll loan you for a test flight.
No matter which headset you choose, the improvement over entry-level loaner headsets is nothing short of astounding. These are headsets that you can wear all day long, flight after flight. They’re comfortable for most people, and the ANR reduces fatigue and makes cockpit noise tolerable.