I still remember the first time I wore an active noise reduction (ANR) headset—I had thousands of hours underneath a pair of 1980s-era David Clarks—when I hit the power on button, there was a noticeable reduction in noise, and transmissions became more clear. I understood why the Bose A20s were so popular with pilots. That was back in 2010. The latest generation of Bose headset, the A30, was released Tuesday, and although it may be hard to believe, it is an improvement on the A20 in several ways.
Right out of the bag, the A30 is slightly lighter than the A20. How much? According to Bose, the A30 tips the scale at 14.2 ounces, and the A20 is 14.46. While that’s not much of a difference according to Bose, you will note that the A30 has less clamping force. That’s because the weight of the A30 is distributed differently along the headband.
The headband of the A30 is a different style than in the A20. The A30 has a pivot spring rather than a hinge like the A20. Also, the headband padding on the A30 is more streamlined and effective than the faux fur-like band of the A20. Both result in less clamp force, which tends to give the impression that the A30 is significantly and noticeably lighter than the A20.The cups on the A30 sit lower on the ears, giving the wearer a feeling of stability.
The battery compartment for the A30, like the A20, is easily accessible without the need for tools.
On the exterior of the battery compartment, there is a switch to adjust the sensitivity of the headset using a scale of high, medium, and low modes.
High mode is recommended for louder cockpit environments such as the propeller-driven aircraft that dominate the training fleet.
The medium mode, designed for business jets, wasn’t quite enough for the situation.
There is also a low mode, recommended for commercial airliners and jets, or when a pilot needs to engage in interpersonal communication outside the intercom.
When the high and medium modes are engaged, the A30 has tap control for talk-through communication. Tapping an ear cup twice reduces the noise canceling in that ear to the low setting so you can hear your copilot without having to remove the ear cup altogether.
The operation switch functions are located inside the battery compartment. The switches vary from model to model. There are Tap Control, Priority, Intercom, Auto Off, and Auto On switches. You need a small tool to press these switches, like a pen or tiny screwdriver.
The headset cable can be mounted on either side of the headset without using tools. It can be reset to dress left or right by unplugging and plugging it in on the other side, similar to unplugging or plugging in a smartphone on a charger. For pilots who don’t like cables all over the cockpit, this is a bonus. The cable has two clips to secure it in place no matter which side of the cockpit you want it on.
The carrying case for the A30 is designed for maximum protection and minimal space disruption in your flight bag. It is smaller than that of the A20 and has a zipper pouch for extra batteries. The zippers move easily, and you do not have to wrestle the headset into the bag.
Headset plugs and cables take a beating, especially at the flight school level. Bose recognized this and, during a press conference at Sun ‘n Fun, assured members of the press that the headset went through no fewer than 145 tests to determine its durability during the five years it was under development.
FLYING had the opportunity to test the headset before release. It started with a few laps in the pattern focusing on the volume and clarity of the transmission. There were no issues, so it was time for the more advanced test.
For the first test, I flew a 1976 Cessna 172 from the left seat. The aircraft, known as “Babe,” belongs to Jack, one of my learners. It is loud inside the cockpit as it has minimal interior soundproofing. Jack did the flying while I focused on communications. We went out for a scenic flight on a chamber of commerce blue sky day—it was the first one we had in Seattle in a long time, so everyone, it seemed, was taking advantage of the good weather. Everybody and their dog and their dog’s dog was up. This was not a day to miss or drop a transmission.
The first task was to launch out of Pierce County Thun Field, a non-towered airport, and head west toward Tacoma Narrows Airport, a Class D facility. It is a short flight; ergo it is radio intensive. I wanted the experience of tower communications. The airport is a busy reliever for Sea-Tac and has several flight schools, and they all seemed to have people in the air that day. I had no issues hearing the tower, and they did not have issues hearing me at either the towered or pilot-controlled airport.
I experimented with the high, medium, and low modes en route. My copilot could hear me on all three modes, but I heard him best on high.
The next day I took the A30 into the ‘family’ Cessna 182. Justin, one of my airport sons who is a CFI, assisted. The C182 is a more powerful and louder airplane than the 172, but I am pleased to note I did not have to make significant adjustments to the A30. We headed to the south practice area and pulled up Seattle approach to keep an ear on traffic. Although we did not obtain flight following, we listened for ATC clearing aircraft to the IFR fixes in our vicinity. I experimented with the tap controls and found them most effective.
The Devil in the Details
We take headset testing very seriously here at FLYING, so I put the headset in every possible configuration I could think of. I started with the A30 wearing a baseball cap with one of those annoying buttons on the top—and then flying with a cap sans the button. On some headsets, the headband catches on the button, and this makes the ear cups fit poorly. The A30 did not have an issue when worn with either cap style.
You can get the hood-style view limiting device over the A30 with minimal effort, or wear the foggle style devices.
The sunglasses test was next. I have sunglasses with around-the-ear wires and bayonet-style earpieces. Both styles interfaced nicely with the A30.
Because of the reduced clamp force, I was concerned that the headset would take leave from my ears in turbulence—some vigorous side-to-side head movement as if searching anxiously for traffic did not dislodge the headset in any cap/sunglasses combo.
There is a Bluetooth option to allow wireless connection to mobile devices, audio systems, and electronic flight bags. Users can configure it to audio with intercom audio or have intercom transmission muted. Users can mix Bluetooth audio with intercom audio or have intercom transmissions mute Bluetooth temporarily.
The A30 retails for $1,249, approximately $50 more than the A20.
Bose officials note the A20 will not be available after current stock in the hands of distributors is exhausted; however, the company will continue to support the headset.