ANR Headsets – Bose or Lightspeed

John HurlbutUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Thinking ahead again to WHEN I have my 3rd class medical certificate, I’m going to reward myself with a new headset.  General Aviation planes are loud.  Well all planes are loud, but GA planes don’t come with any noise dampening at all to save precious pounds.  You’re literally flying around in a soda can with an engine. A very loud engine.  So a quality headset is a must.

Currently I’m flying with a nice David Clark H10-13.4 headset that I bought off a professional pilot on eBay.  David Clark makes some of the finest aviation headsets around and they’re virtually indestructible.  They have a great reputation and their customer service is second to none.  Even after buying new ear cups and a microphone windscreen, I saved about $100 on a new headset of the same model.   This headset is destined to be my passenger’s headset once I have my license.  The only two things I don’t like about the headset, is the green color (Classic David Clark, just not my speed) and it does not have ANR (Active Noise Reduction).  ANR uses electronics to sample the ambient noise and creates a waveform directly opposite, effectively canceling out the noise.  I own two pairs of Bose noise canceling headphones for traveling, the QC-3 and the QC-15.  They’re amazing to fly with commercially.  You can pretty much tune out the noise of the engines, most of the people around you and to some degree the crying baby in 15C.

So when I learned that Bose also made aviation headsets, my mind was made up, I was going to get the Bose A20 aviation headset.  It comes with Bluetooth to pair your phone, and with Bose’s reputation for ANR how could I go wrong?  Until I heard about the Lightspeed Zulu PFX.  Lightspeed Aviation is another well respected name in the aviation world.  They make outstanding headsets by all accounts.  I’ve not had the pleasure of flying with one as of yet, but their reviews are fantastic.  Up until now their top of the line ANR headset was the Zulu 2.  The Zulu 2 has many of the same features as Bose, but adds Bluetooth audio in addition to Bluetooth phone connectivity.  (Bose only allows for Bluetooth phone and adds a 3.5mm jack for connection of an external audio source). Even knowing that, I was still pretty deadset on the A20.

Until I went to the northwest aviation conference and expo and talked to the Lightspeed salesperson.  I had heard about the Zulu PFX, but hadn’t done much research.  So I asked the guy “Why Lightspeed over Bose?”  He went on to explain that while Bose was a highly respected audio company, Lightspeed’s only focus is creating aviation products.  Fine, but why?  He then told me about the forthcoming PFX, at that time he said “Wait until May”.  The PFX (stands for personal flying experience) takes the already successful Zulu 2 and adds upgradable firmware, and their flightlink application.

OK, it’s no secret, I’m a geek at heart.  One of the reasons I’m pursuing my pilots license in the first place is all the cool gadgets I get to buy.  Headsets, flight computers, apps, GPS Accessories, camera gear, etc. etc.  So I’m not going to lie, the extra geeky features of the PFX ARE tempting.  

For headsets though, you want them to be comfortable because you will be wearing them for hours at a time.  The A20 is 2 full ounces lighter than the PFX (12 versus 14).  When you’re talking about hauling around nearly a pound of headset on your noggin, those two ounces can be a lot.  No fun grabbing the excedrin bottle after a flight.  You also don’t want them squeezing your head too much.

You also want the ANR quality to be top notch.  Based on all the reviews I can find the A20 has a slight edge over the Zulu 2. (The PFX has not officially shipped yet so I can’t comment on it). But both are regarded as the top two, which is number one depends on which review you read.  I can only guess the PFX will improve ANR slightly over the Zulu 2, making the two headsets a tossup for ANR.  

In general the Zulu 2 is regarded as having better audio fidelity than the Bose.  Which when you think about a longish 2+ hour flight alone or with a passenger, you’ll probably want some tunes… Plus the ability to stream music over Bluetooth is another plus for the PFX, one less cable to worry about.

Upgradable firmware and Flightlink may JUST be the two things that push me from Bose to Lightspeed.  Now when the engineers at Lightspeed improve upon ANR, or other features, you needn’t buy a new headset, just plug yours into your Mac or PC and voila! New Headset.  Flightlink allows you to record cockpit audio for playback at a later time, OR in real time.  Miss that last ATC instruction or ATIS briefing, no problem, just rewind the audio on your iPhone or iPad.  Flightlink also has a scratchpad built in so you can write down tose clearances too. 

So by this point you may be thinking that I’m sold on the Lightspeed Zulu PFX, you would think wrong.  Here’s the one thing that has me hung up.  Lightspeed originally shipped the first batch of Zulu PFX’s in the fall of 2013.  Then they immediately pulled them from the shelves and haven’t shipped any since.  When I met the rep at the NW Aviation Conference, he said wait until May.  Then the sites posted a letter from their CEO saying they didn’t want to ship it until it was perfect, but they’d be out in the spring.  By my count we have less than a week of spring left.  The only thing I can find that points to a release date now is Sporty’s website lists the item saying it will ship on July 15th, but I cannot find that date anywhere on Lightspeed’s site and a post to their Facebook Page has yet to be answered.

So I’m a bit nervous that it’s taken them 8 ish months to figure out whatever it was that caused them to pull the headsets in the first place.  It makes me wonder, once these are available to the general public, what other flaws or bugs will be found?  So as it’ll be after the 1st of July for me to get my 3rd class medical ANYWAY, I may as well wait until the 15th to make a decision.  But if the ship date goes beyond the 15th of July 2014, Lightspeed may make up my mind for me.  And I think they’ll have to change their name.  Tortoise Cans has a nice ring to it dontcha think?

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