What do you do for an encore when you've already been making what many consider the best headset in the world? You build a better one. That's exactly what Bose has done with its A20 aviation headset, which the company introduced and began selling at AirVenture in July. The headset sells for $1,095 with Bluetooth connectivity and for $995 without. It's available immediately and will replace the popular Aviation Headset X.
The goal behind the A20 was an ambitious one: to make it a better headset than its predecessor in every way. The first order of business was passive noise canceling, the area where the Aviation Headset X was weakest. Bose engineers gave the A20 better materials (including improved foam) and better-fitting components, including the earcups, which are larger to fit the ears better while somehow still cutting more noise than the X for improved passive performance.
The A20 features more, better and tougher electronic components. Instead of one, there are now two microphones per earcup (one on the inside, one on the outside) to more accurately gauge the ambient noise signature. There are also more powerful drivers, without which the A20 couldn't work its magic.
The A20 also got new features. It is compatible with cell phones via the optional wireless Bluetooth connection and with audio devices though the mini jack on the control module. You can plug in any kind of audio device, like a GPS, portable traffic system or, most likely, a digital music player. The housing contains improved dual stereo (or mono) volume controls, the on/off switch, the audio input jacks and the phone connect button. Bose says that a pair of AA alkaline batteries can power the A20 for at least 45 hours in a typical, noisy airplane environment.
Flying With the A20
I had the perfect opportunity to test the A20 on my return flight to Austin, Texas, from AirVenture in my Cirrus G3 Turbo. Like most powerful singles, the G3 Turbo is a fairly loud airplane.
I've used the Aviation Headset X in the Cirrus for many years and love it, but the A20 blows it away. I found it to be substantially quieter than the X and at least as comfortable. Perhaps the nicest change is to the earcups, which are quite a bit larger and, unlike the earcups of the Aviation Headset X, easily accommodated my ears.
After about two hours of flying, I swapped the A20 I was wearing for my wife's Aviation Headset X. The differences were immediately apparent. As much as I've always loved the X, I immediately wanted the A20 back. My wife wasn't eager to switch back.
One arena where the A20 didn't shine in our testing was in windy cockpits. Our editor flew the A20 in his J-3 Cub with the door and window open and noticed that the unique microphone sensor openings in the A20 earcup allow noticeable wind noise to enter the otherwise quiet headset.
I especially liked the Bluetooth option, a feature the A20's competi-tors have had for years. With my cell phone connected, I can keep the IO-550 running, keep my headset on and be heard just fine. There's even built-in sidetone in the A20, so the pilot can hear his own voice when he speaks (a good thing) even when not connected to the airplane's intercom.
I'll be honest. When I heard that Bose was introducing a successor to the Aviation Headset X, I expected it to be good. I just didn't expect it to be this good. I think that those pilots who have been flying with the Aviation Headset X will, upon trying the A20, want to switch. To lessen the risk, Bose even offers a 30-day money back guarantee. My guess is that it won't be getting many A20s back.
For more information about the Bose A20 aviation headset, visit bose.com.