Bose A30 vs. Lightspeed Delta Zulu—what’s the best ANR headset for pilots?

Bose A30 vs. Lightspeed Delta Zulu

The most common question we get about headsets is one of those classic “Coke or Pepsi” questions: should I buy the Bose A30 or Lightspeed Delta Zulu? It’s a natural comparison—both are the latest top-of-the-line headsets from leading aviation headset companies—but the good news is that there’s no wrong answer. Both headsets are outstanding, with impressive noise reduction, thoughtful comfort features, and full Bluetooth connectivity for iPads. Instead of Coke or Pepsi, this is really a choice between Ferrari or Lamborghini.

Having said that, there are some important differences between the A30 and the Delta Zulu. Whether these are important depends on your personal preferences and your typical flight. We’ll lay out all the details in this article and even offer some of our opinions, but the ultimate decision is yours.

Feature-by-feature

There are countless ways to compare headsets, but for the pilots at Sporty’s it comes down to eight different features. Let’s consider these two headsets on each one.

Bose A30 Aviation HeadsetComfort. This comes first for us, because the quietest headset in the world is no good if you can’t stand to wear it. Headset manufacturers got the message on this years ago, so the old “vice clamp” designs are mostly gone. Both the Bose A30 and the Lightspeed Delta Zulu use modern materials to reduce weight and clamping force, so they can be comfortably worn even on 4+ hour flights. Bose says the A30 has 20% less side pressure than the A20 (already a very comfortable headset), and we believe it—the A30 feels like it’s barely there. It’s also slightly lighter than the Delta Zulu, at 14.2 oz. compared to 14.9 oz. On the other hand, Lightspeed’s generously-sized ear seals are probably the best in the business. Comfort is a very personal choice, so it’s hard to pick a definitive winner here, but in polling six pilots at Sporty’s who had flown with both models, the A30 came out on top for comfort.

RESULT: Bose.

Quiet. This feature is a close second on our list of priorities because, after all, noise reduction is the whole purpose of a headset. Once again, both companies have pushed the boundaries of technology with these headsets and the active noise reduction (ANR) performance is excellent on both. They both use digital ANR to cancel noise across a wide spectrum, making them suitable for everything from Light Sport Aircraft to noisy piston twins and even jets. And far from simply muting the engine, the A30 and Delta Zulu gently reduce the most fatiguing noise and thus make it easier to detect any anomalies. And of course communicating with ATC is far easier. After many hours of flight testing, we can’t detect a major advantage one way or the other on this feature—the ANR sounds different but not substantially better on the Bose or Lightspeed.

RESULT: Tie.

Clarity. Often overlooked, the clarity of a headset’s speaker and microphone is actually pretty important. The more easily you can understand ATC (and vice versa), the lower your workload will be as a pilot. A lot of this is determined by the airplane’s radios, intercom, and audio panel, but there are some differences between the two headsets. Neither one struggles in this area, but some of our product testers thought the Delta Zulu had a bit of a muted or “fishbowl” sound (this seems to be a bit better after a recent firmware update). We also noted some trouble getting the Lightspeed’s microphone to open during intercom conversations (this can be improved by adjusting the mic gain on the front of the mic). The Bose won rave reviews for the clarity of incoming radio calls and its noise canceling microphone; it also “just worked” without requiring any adjustment.

RESULT: Bose.

Lightspeed Delta ZuluAudio features. This wasn’t a feature until about 15 years ago, when Bluetooth was added to aviation headsets. Now it’s a must-have, and not just for music: audio alerts from electronic flight bag apps like ForeFlight can be life-savers. In short, both have all the essentials, including Bluetooth phone and audio support with separate aux volume controls. The Delta Zulu has a unique Hearing Eqity feature that allows you to tune the headset’s speakers to your personal hearing profile. Some pilots with hearing loss thought this worked quite well and made communications easier to understand, although others couldn’t tell much of a difference. The A30 lacks this feature but it does boast three unique ANR modes to suit different environments (piston/turboprop, jet, and ground mode). It also has a “tap to talk through” feature that allows pilots of cabin class airplanes to talk to passengers without removing the headset.

RESULT: Tie.

Durability. Just because these are sophisticated ANR headsets doesn’t mean they are fragile. While neither would be our choice for an open cockpit seaplane, both the A30 and the Delta Zulu stand up well to daily abuse among pro pilots and flight instructors. Bose makes a solid product that meets FAA TSO and EASA E/TSO-C139a standards (not an easy thing to do), but Lightspeed gets the edge here. The Delta Zulu is constructed with a stainless steel headband and Kevlar core cable, and is backed by an unmatched 7-year warranty. It is rugged.

RESULT: Lightspeed

Battery life. ANR is only functional as long as you have a power source. Aircraft owners can solve this problem with a LEMO plug headset and a panel-installed jack, but most of us are dependent on the headset’s built-in battery pack. Bose has always been strong on this feature, and the A30 continues that tradition with over 40 hours of use in typical operation. While the Delta Zulu has a rechargeable battery pack (a feature we like a lot), this only delivers about 30 hours of battery life and when using AAs battery life is only 15-20 hours.

RESULT: Bose.

Lightspeed appExtras. Modern headsets can be more than just a communications tool, and Lightspeed has led the way in this area. The Delta Zulu includes a complete carbon monoxide sensor in the headset, so you have an always-on warning system. This can be a major safety enhancement, especially in piston aircraft with fickle heating systems. It turns on automatically with the ANR and self-calibrates; if you hear an alert in your ear you know it’s time to take action. Lightspeed’s headset also integrates seamlessly with the company’s free app, which allows pilots to track CO levels over time, adjust audio settings, and even record cockpit audio. Bose has a basic app, but it is only compatible with the company’s ProFlight Series 2 headset.

RESULT: Lightspeed.

Value. Neither one of these headsets could be considered inexpensive: the Bose A30 is $1299 and the Lightspeed Delta Zulu is $1199. However, value means more than just price and both headsets offer a lot of safety and comfort features for their elevated prices. A high quality headset can last for a decade, so it’s usually a wise investment to “buy the most headset you can afford,” as the saying goes. In the end, the Delta Zulu offers excellent noise reduction, rugged construction, and a carbon monoxide detector for $100 less than the Bose.

RESULT: Lightspeed.

Room for improvement

It’s not all roses, of course. Both headsets have some missed opportunities among the many great features. Here are a few weak points (and free advice for product designers!).

Bose A30 mic swapBose A30 cons:

  • No carbon monoxide detector
  • Does not work with Bose app
  • Highest priced aviation headset

Lightspeed Delta Zulu cons:

  • Shorter battery life than A30
  • Uses uncommon UAC plug for charging
  • Microphone cannot be moved like A30
  • Not TSO’d

Conclusion

So what’s the best aviation headset? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. While it might sound like we’re dodging the question, both headsets are truly exceptional products. These are comfortable, quiet headsets made with high quality materials. In our testing, the Bose A30 wins on comfort and clarity, while the Delta Zulu wins on extra features and value. Which of those is most important to you?

The truth is the best headset will vary from pilot to pilot. The only way to know for sure is to go flying—which is why Sporty’s offers a hassle-free Test Flight Guarantee. Take your new headset flying for 30 days and see what you think; if it’s not perfect, send it back to us for a refund or exchange.

  

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