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.
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 $850. 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.
I am looking at a Zulu 3 purchase. Do all Zulu 3’s have the new materials to prevent the controller going gooey? Or do some older Zulu 3’s have the crappy materials? If so, at what serial number did the changes take effect?
Here in Australia, stock turnover would be much slower than in the US, so dealers would likely have older Zulu 3’s in stock.
Hello Grant, thank you for your question. The materials used with all of the Zulu 3 ANR headset controllers were updated from the Zulu 2 model to alleviate the issue caused by the soft touch coating. The serial numbers of the Zulu 3s will not play a part in that issue. Thank you for your interest in Zulu 3 and please let us know what you think after you start flying with it!
For me Lightspeed was an easy choice. Having bad experience with Bose HiFi products, it is a never again Bose for me, but Lightspeed is also a better engineered product, Kevlar cable and fits perfectly. I think Bose cost more due to expensive organization, not for a better product. Before I used Sennheiser, but they understood they couldn’t compete and stopped their aviation engineered products. I’ll buy a second pair Zulu 3 when I visit US next time, but it might take some time.
I fly a Cirrus SR 22. Recently it was time to pimp up my plane and upgrade the headests. My flying buddy swears by his Bose A 20 where as I have always used my Zulu 2s.
Recently I bought a Bose A20 and at the same time I had my Zulu 2 upgraded to the Zulu 3.
I have been using both headsets, and I am now reaching for my Zulu 3s as my preferred heaset.
I do not seem to find any difference between the sound quality and ANR. For me the Zulu 3 sit better and are not as tight.
Lightspeed have an upgrade program from Zulu 2 to the Zulu 3 – it was like getting a new headset. I have always had great customer service from Lightspeed over the last 10 years.
Another thing to consider about Lightspeed vs. brand ‘B’: customer support.
True story: I owned a Lightspeed 20XL headset back in 2001. I had a a VFR into IMC incident on the way to Airventure that destroyed the aircraft and sent the headset out the windshield and onto the ground after a 100′ fall. Not surprisingly, it was badly broken when the NTSB investigators found it and returned it to me.
Once I got out of the hospital I contacted Lightspeed, told them my sad story and asked for an estimate of what it would cost to repair. “Send it to us”, they said. About a week later, the headset came back in the mail looking brand new. The bill said “No charge”. Now, that’s what I call customer service!
Why pay more for the Bose name? My headset is almost perfect. The one thing that happens is that the windscreen keeps falling off. I was gigged 5.00 for a new one at a pilot shop, not the right one and probably for a Bose anyway. It is clear and attenuate the lows really well. I have 2.
You also have to take into account the planned obsolescence which sets you back a few hundred dollars over the lifetime of Lightspeed headsets.
The ear seals can cost you a quick $50 every few months.
The cables and control part become goey and sticky and you have to send the whole headset in for repair.
Even my $100 headsets look much better even though being older than my Zulu.
How can I recommend Zulus to my students if they look like that?
Tino, we are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this with your headset. We do encourage users to replace their soft goods every 18-24 months with regular use, but we now offer a special deal to our customers via the recently launched Lightspeed Wingman Club. Instead of $35 for ear seals you can get a complete refresher kit (that also includes 2 mic muffs and a fresh head pad) for $50. We also have heard from customers like you that the controller becoming sticky and gooey has been an issue, so we addressed this particular issue with new materials in the Zulu 3 headset. We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this now and would love the opportunity to give you more confidence in your Zulu. Please reach out to our Customer Support team with your headset serial number and we can discuss how to help!
I have been flying with lightspeed headsets for my personal use for the past 15 years. As a flight instructor I have the opportunity to fly many different air planes with various headsets. While some of the other manufactures may come close in performance none can match the quality and comfort of a lightspeed headset. This is a company that promotes general aviation and is unmatched in customer service. I purchased another Zulu headset for my wife so that she can enjoy the same comfort level on some of our long trips.
I just got my 2nd Zulu headset and I love it. The 1st was purchased in 2006 as an upgrade present when I flew the dash 8.
The low frequency noise cancelling was the most important feature to me as the Dash 8 props cruise up at 900 RPM causing hearing damage to the frequencies most needed for hearing speech. When I transitioned to an Airbus, Lightspeed was kind enough to modify my 1st set to an Airbus 5 pin connector and it came back with new wires and ear and mike covers, I was delighted. Recently, Lightspeed offered a trade up offer to a brand new set with a $300 rebate which I took advantage of. The new set came within a few days with a more compact case and a $50 Sirus XM card. I love having the ability to make a phone calI using the blue tooth feature as it cancels out the flight deck noises. I fly approx 800 hours per year and with a 7 year warranty, whats not to like?
I have owned a Zulu 1 and upgraded it to the Zulu PFX. Unfortunately, it did not work for me or the noisy plane. I own a Super Cub and I got constant wave-like noise with the ANR. I sold it to an Ecolight pilot (higher frequencies due to the Rotax engine) and he was very happy with it.
I want to mention a few differences I found. While customer service is excellent, I did need to send in both headsets for service in Germany, both times the main controller needed to be exchanged. I was probably just unlucky. But as mentioned, customer service was prompt and nice.
I now own a Bose A20. The main reason is I find the ANR slightly superior for wind noise and low frequencies of my fixed pitch propeller / engine combination. I think one of the reason can be I have a small head (54 cm circumfence). While the Lightspeed offers stronger head padding, which I applied, it still felt slightly big for me head.
I think both headsets are excellent. Lightspeed has better looks and is the better bargain. For me and my small head, the A20 was more convincing. Without direct comparison, everyone will be happy with either headset, I am sure.
Music is better with the Zulu. Hands down, and also side tone (to hear one‘s own voice) is more natural in the Zulu.
Have fun flying with either one!!
Maurice, thank you for your thoughts and feedback! The PFX headset offered a great deal of technology, including microphones placed on the ear cups to help attenuate to the environment you were in. With some environments, the PFX headset may not work as optimally. However, the Zulu 3 offers a great value and would be more on par with the Bose A20 when it comes to function and feature for your environment. Should you have any further questions or concerns that we can address, please reach out to Customer Service.
As a Bose A20 owner and a Zulu3 owner my go head set is the Zulu3 hands down due to ear comfort and better ANR . I wear glasses and the Zulu3 does a better job blocking the noise that gets around the Bose! My long time flying buddy has made the conversion for the same reason after flying with my Lightspeed headset.
And how would this comparison be against the DC OneX?
Thank you for asking about that comparison. We have just launched a blog post to help answer that for you and others who have also had this question. You can find it here: https://www.lightspeedaviation.com/blog-posts/how-does-the-lightspeed-zulu-3-compare-to-the-dc-one-x/
I agree with the comments in the article but would add one important difference – battery life.
I had to buy Bose A20s as my Zulu 3 just seemed to eat batteries.
It is a real shame that both companies seem totally disinterested in having a power in socket for this vital equipment.
Hey Tom, we really appreciate your feedback. Our Zulu 3 headset gets 40 hours worth of flight time on one set of AA batteries. Should you find that you are getting a drastic reduction beyond that time frame, we can surely help you out with additional trouble shooting or service options if you want to reach out to our Customer Support team.
Fantastic headset and much more pleasant to ware for
long periods , I have done 500hrs in two years in mine
and love them , The only problem I had was the ear seals
wore out very badly and had to be replaced which never
happened on my Bose headset .They unfortunately are not covered under the 7 year warranty and they are expensive to replace
Hi Chris, thank you for your comment. Per the User Guide, we encourage users to replace their soft goods every 18-24 months with regular use. As a wear-and-tear item, it is beneficial to get those replaced as needed. A new set of ear seals retails for $35, which equates to less than $1.50 per day for 2 years. We also now offer a special deal to our customers via the recently launched Lightspeed Wingman Club. If you buy a complete refresher kit, your membership will give you access to all accessories on our site at 30% off for five years.
Well put. Having owned both these headsets in a professional environment, I prefer the Zulu 3. It’s always in my ‘Go’ bag.
I have my 2nd Zulu. You forgot to tell about the inferior materials you use for the Zulu ear muffs (pads), the head band pad, and the cables. The pads are covered with a synthetic rubber that breaks down and begins crumbling after a several months (but few hours of wear), and black ‘crumbs’ fall all over the aircraft and my white leather sectional. The cable Insulation uses synthetic rubber which breaks down, becoming extremely sticky, and is impossible to clean. My wife’s David Clark ANR headset is 25 years old, with original ear and headband cushions, and original UNSTICKY CABLES.
We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing a challenge with your headset. Per the User Guide, we encourage users to replace their soft goods every 18-24 months with regular use. As a wear-and-tear item, it is beneficial to get those replaced as needed. We now offer a special deal to our customers via the recently launched Lightspeed Wingman Club. If you buy a complete refresher kit, your membership will give you access to all accessories on our site at 30% off for five years. We also have heard from customers like you that the controller becoming sticky and gooey has been an issue, so we addressed this particular issue with new materials in the Zulu 3 headset by changing out the materials used in the controller. We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this now and would love the opportunity to assist you with a full range of options. Please reach out to our Customer Support team with your headset serial number and we can discuss how to help!
In fairness to Lightspeed, the ear seals do a far better job of sealing around the earpieces of sunglasses, as compared to the Bose A20 and the DC. With the Bose A20, I have to use glasses with very flat/small earpieces or I get huge sound leakage. Not a problem at all with the Zulu. I have several pairs with thick and/or contoured earpieces and the Zulu seals around them just fine. As for longevity, I haven’t owned the Zulu long enough to judge that.
I have a Zulu 2, which I love and was going to trade up to the Zulu 3 until I discovered that the LEMO Zulu controller won’t accommodate AA batteries like the LEMO Bose A20 does. I fly aircraft with and without panel powered LEMO connectors in them, and would like to be able to use a simple non-powered Y-adaptor when flying something that only has dual GA jacks. The A20 will do that since the controller will still utilize batteries in its LEMO version.
Thank you for your feedback! We designed the LEMO configuration on the Zulu 3 to offer a more compact controller that does not require batteries. But should you still need the versatility of style, you’re right, it would require an adaptor and one that offers a power source. There are several dealers who offer these adaptors, should you decide you want to go that route at some point in the future. Should you have any further questions, please reach out to our Customer Support team.
I have been somewhat disappointed by my Lightspeed Zulu headsets. Whilst the quality of sound attenuation and quality is excellent, and the units appear to be well made, they fall down badly in the mike boom department. On warm days with the sun shining through the perspex and onto the boom side ear cup, the boom tends to sag constantly because the friction device within the ear cup will not support the weight of the boom, and it continuously has to be lifted up.
This has happened on every unit we have purchased and I believe we have about 6. On checking with Lightspeed about this they offered to repair at my expense, but residing in Australia made that impractical. My son has a set of Bose and a passenger hooked his leg in the leads when exiting the aircraft and ripped the wiring and broke the plugs. Bose fixed it at no cost and included an upgrade at the same time.
Hi Kevin, thank you for reaching out. We offer a generous 5 year warranty service on our older Zulu models, and the Zulu 3 comes with a 7 year warranty. Our service allows us to tackle all parts, labor, and return shipping costs – beyond a single repair item. Additionally, Lightspeed Aviation still offers one of the lowest repair fees in the industry. We would love the opportunity to assist you with this issue, so please reach out to our Customer Support team to discuss options.
For my wife and I, it came down to fit. I love my Zulu 3…my wife found A20 felt better on her head. So, we found what works for us. Going forward, I’m probably going to get the Zulu helmet version.
We own 7 Lightspeed headsets currently. 1 Zulu2, 2 Zulu3s and 4 ZuluPFXs. Aviation is all these guys do and the service over the past 10 years we’ve been running LS headsets has been nothing short of amazing. 10 years ago we tried both Lightspeed and Bose headsets of the day and hands down and the reason we picked the Lightspeed was for one reason…..comfort. Hat’s off to the continued innovation and leadership in the space!
I use and endorse both headsets to my customers, and Ipersonally don’t really notice that much difference in the comfort.
A lot of the decision to purchase Bose is psychological because people think it is perceived as a higher quality product. It is however more expensive and the differences just don’t make up for the added cost to purchase Bose.
Now for the really important thing which must be considered, customer service.
For some reason the control panel on my headsets started to become really sticky like the plastic was somehow breaking down, I am guessing it had been affected by sunscreen or fly spray on my hands.
I asked for it to be replaced at Oshkosh and to my surprise the cables to the headset cup and the controller were replaced with a new one, AT NO COST !
The headsets were very old, maybe six or seven years old or probably older and way out of warranty.
To provide this type of customer service is the single biggest endorsement I can give Lightspeed, they are a great headset, and if the company continues to support even the old models at low cost or in my case free of charge then you have double thumbs up from me.
It is all about customer support and lightspeed are certainly lightyears ahead in this regard (pun intended) I now recommend them to all of our customers. Michael Coates Pipistrel USA
I have had Zulu’s for many years. The problem I have had is the controller material is breaking down and is sticky and gooey. I have contacted support and do not seem to get an answer as to how to fix (I would like to replace the controller). That is my primary complaint. Now the good stuff, love the ANR and ZULU was first off the rank for providing BT music.
I tried the competitors “B” Proflite and after one flight, I could not use them as the ANR was not suitable for my platform. It took 3 months, yes 3 months for B to refund my purchase even though I had returned the unit after 1 use and within a week of purchasing. I will never purchase another “B” product again and have returned to the Lightspeed fold.
Now back to what I can do with my old Lightspeed Zulu’s…
I agree with you Neil. The controller material breaking down…it becomes sticky and gooey. That is a real concern. I planned on bringing my headset(I have two and they both have the problem)to Sun N Fun…well, that didn’t happen. Obviously, Lightspeed has a materials problem here…I hope they correct it. I may not purchase another headset if they don’t. I may go to Bose…maybe that is where the extra money goes…better material engineering with the Bose!
Hi Jim, we have heard from customers like you that the controller becoming sticky and gooey has been an issue, so we addressed this particular issue with new materials in the Zulu 3 headset by changing out the materials used in the controller. We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this now and would love the opportunity to assist you with a full range of options. Please reach out to our Customer Support team with your headset serial number and we can discuss how to help!
The Zulu3 DOES NOT have all the features of the Bose A20…. two very obvious differences which are of great importance to me are: 1) the Zulu3 can only connect to one Bluetooth device at a time, and doesn’t automatically switch between devices (the Bose A20 does do this). I’d love to be able to call for an IFR clearance on my iPhone, then get ForeFlight audible alerts on my iPad without having to manually toggle Bluetooth pairing every time; and 2) the LEMO-powered Zulu3 cannot be used in an airplane with dual GA plugs, because the powered Zulu3 can’t run on batteries (the Bose A20 can do this with the LEMO-GA adapter). These two shortcomings were enough for me to stop using my Zulu3, and return to my Bose A20.
Stefan, thank you for your feedback and thoughts on the Zulu 3. While the Zulu 3 offers a single Bluetooth connection, there is also the option to utilize the auxiliary input jack as well, which provides access to a secondary device. Additionally, there are adaptors available with Lightspeed Aviation dealers that can assist with using the Zulu 3 LEMO plug in a Dual GA configuration. We welcome the opportunity to address any further questions or concerns that you may have, so please feel free to contact our Customer Support team.
Nice side-by-side comparison without unnecessary product bashing, thank you for the civility. I own and am happy with the Zulu 3 which replaced a budget ANR headset and the performance difference is stark. But not so stark when compared to Bose. However, I determined that the additional dollars for Bose bought me nothing so I went with Lightspeed. I do have one complaint that has not been addressed, the headset is not ambidextrous, it has to be worn with the wire on the left! It was explained that this is due to the ear cup shape which I understand. But why not give the purchaser the option to select which side the mic and wire are on? Or place a Lemo connector on both ends of the cable and each side of the headset allowing for swapping sides? Your engineers have proven their skill, please take it a step further and address this issue. It matters to those of us who have tight cockpits. Thank you.
Thank you for your feedback on the Zulu 3! We recently addressed the concern for an ambidextrous mic boom in a blog post here. We also greatly appreciate hearing from our valued customers and will pass along your request to our design team.
This is an honest and comprehensive summary.
No sugar coating and just the facts.
Yes I own a Lightspeed Zulu 3. I love it!
I have used the Bose A20 and found it squeezing my head even after an hour.
I have used earlier Models of Bose and respect their innovations.
The price difference ( lower cost for the Lightspeed vs Bose)
The Seven Year Warranty for the Lightspeed.
The comfort of the Lightspeed as compared to the Bose.
The wire is strong and does not kink.
The above reasons are why I prefer the Lightspeed Zulu 3 over the Bose A20.
I have one if each and they are both very good. To simplify it, the Bose is lighter and slightly more comfortable and the lightspeed has a little better noise reduction (possibly passive noise reduction from the bigger ear seals and tighter squeeze. My son and I both slightly favor the lightspeed and it is cheaper. I even got my Zulu 3 during a promotion ($250 trade in for my old passive Dave Clark!). The Bose is very good too, but more expensive.
Great write up. I just had to purchase a 2nd headset for my wife. I already own Zulu 3’s for myself. Everyone was telling me to try the Bose A20s. At the end of the day, I agree with your assessment above – didnt make sense to spend that much more and not get any additional value. Needless to say, I purchased a 2nd set of Zulu’s. I love the product!
All the above AND Lightspeed stands behind their products with a warranty can’t be beat. I Love mine!