We are often asked by pilots, what is the difference between the Zulu 3 and the Bose A20. We know that this is an important choice to have to make, because both represent the very best in pilot headsets in the market at this time. They’re actually a lot more similar than they are not…so let’s start by going through the items where ‘parity’ is the rule.
Both headsets are very quiet and very clear. The Zulu 3 has better low frequency attenuation while the A20 has some advantage in the mid frequencies. In both headsets (and really ALL headsets), the audio frequency characteristics for voice are fixed by the electrical design. The fidelity of the communications is excellent in both headsets for ATC and both provide very high music fidelity. While the timbre may be slightly different between the two, they both deliver clear communication.
The microphone noise cancellation is very much industry standard on both headsets…actually ALL headsets now use electret noise canceling capability. For the noise levels that we’re working with in the GA market, the noise cancellation is excellent for both of them.
Controls and features are virtually identical in both functions and form. Whether it’s Bluetooth connectivity for voice or audio, auto shut off, or comm priority, they’re virtually identical. They both utilize 2 AA batteries with a useful life of 40+ hours. Both headsets offer a panel powered, “LEMO” single audio and power connection for planes equipped with a jack system.
So what ARE the differences?
There are specific design details that allow the Zulu to deliver greater comfort. With the Zulu, the ear seals have 30% more padding which provides a better seal and distributes side pressure more evenly. The ear opening has 50% more room in the cup for your ear. The stainless steel headband shape and head pad system are VERY different than the A20. The Zulu has a very low profile, designed to naturally contour to your head.
While comfort is subjective and ultimately a personal preference, Professional pilots who flew both products, side by side, for hundreds of hours, rated the Zulu more comfortable than the Bose A20 by a margin of 2 to 1.
Construction is another key difference. The Zulu has an elegant design with enduring materials. It has an all-metal construction with magnesium cups and sliders, with a stainless steel head band. It has the Kevlar reinforced cable – a braided and woven cable construction that reduces kinking, lies more naturally, and has a pull strength that’s easily three times higher than the conventional cable.
With nearly 13 years on the market and well over 150,000 headsets that have that look, we’ve learned a lot about this product to make it durable, beautiful and enduring. The Zulu 3 offers a seven year warranty, compared to the standard 5-year with Bose. UPDATE Spring of 2023: The Bose A20 has been discontinued and it being liquidated. Zulu 3 continues to be an important part of the Lightspeed lineup with predictable support for years to come.
Another key difference is simply the companies themselves. Lightspeed is much smaller and more nimble, with a caring team that focuses solely on general aviation. Our focus is on pilots…with products designed BY pilots. Because of that, we know more about what pilots need today and how to anticipate what pilots will need in the future. Our small size allows us to drive innovation years before Bose ultimately delivers a product that catches up.
How about TSO? The Bose headset is TSO certified. Lightspeed’s is not. But what does that actually mean? Fundamentally, TSO is not something relating to product quality, but rather a measure of required certification in certain FAA approved aircraft. It’s not required at all in general aviation. It is possibly required if you are flying in a career job for certain airlines in a commercial jet. We go into much more depth in our post Does TSO Really Matter for Headsets?
Finally, to address the elephant in the room: The Lightspeed Zulu 3 has all the features of a Bose A20 and more…for $899. The A20 retails at $1,095.
Does this post help clear things up for you? Let us know your thoughts and questions by commenting below.