The A20 established the bar for high-end, noise-canceling headsets 13 years ago and remains the industry leader. Why would Bose replace it with a similar model?
The new A30 is 100% digital, has a better microphone, cancels more noise, operates 45 hours on two AA batteries, and is more comfortable (less clamping force).
“We concentrated on comfort,” says Bose aviation and military headsets senior manager Matt Ruwe. “New technologies were needed.”
The A30 is built of diverse materials and has no interchangeable components.
Ruwe asserted the A20 had no components. “The A20 headband is aluminum alloy instead of magnesium.”
AOPA torture-tested the demo Bose A30.
First, a four-hour cross-country adventure in the AOPA Extra 300L, then a two-hour ferry in a stranded Bonanza, then a five-hour marathon in a Beechcraft B55 Baron to return home. The Extra’s unmuffled noise, the Bonanza’s Bluetooth testing, and the Baron’s 1,000-mile ride between two 285-horsepower engines tested the headset.
Aerobatic aircraft have noisy engines and pounding propellers, so I seldom use noise-canceling earplugs. This drive was fairly straight-and-level and a nice chance to get to know the Bose.
I put the two-prong headset jacks into the Extra’s ratcheting seatbelt harness, clicked the power button to switch on the active-noise-canceling, and started the engine.
I double-checked the headset to assure the power was on as the Lycoming IO-540 growled in my lap. The flashing LED light showed normal operation, however the battery pack slider for high/medium/low noise canceling was set to low. Clicking high silenced Lycoming.
I anticipate GA pilots to always use high noise-canceling because the medium and low levels appear incompatible with piston engines.
An Extra takes off like the percussion section of a symphony orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The A30 tamed it.
Hats and sunglasses can block the A30’s ear seal.
Aerobatic flight requires a canvas helmet or chin strap to secure the A30’s modest clamping force. Hanging from the straps at one negative G removes the A30 from a pilot’s head (as I found out somewhere over South Carolina).
The modest A36 Bonanza is elegant and sophisticated. SiriusXM radio makes connecting the A30 headset easy.
I contemplated an IFR flight plan or flight following despite clear skies. I didn’t mind air traffic control because the A30’s music sounded great.
I connected the A30 to my iPhone and sounded like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Bonanza’s right seat was Linda Ronstadt. Perhaps Sheryl Crow hid in the backseat.
I entered the Bonanza hungry and exhausted after a hard day. The stirring sounds, beautiful environment, and quiet air refreshed me.
Once ATC called, I kept the music on. Even so, the A30 lets you mute, blend, or turn off the audio during airplane radio communications.
Since engine noise and prop pulses are so near to the pilot, Beechcraft Baron headsets are difficult to evaluate.
An A30 full-power takeoff and ascent to 11,500 feet went smoothly.
I brought Kyle Campbell, a fellow pilot, on this flight to see if he noticed any differences between the A30 and the A20 in the Baron.
Even though the A30 weights only a paper clip or two (six grams), he felt the decreased clamping force immediately, making the headset seem lighter.
In crowded airspace on the Baron flight, I sometimes pressed the ear cup against my head to get the speaker closer to my ear. The habit was self-destructive.
Squeezing the ear cup makes the headset screech or sound like the ocean. Just ignore it.
Double-tapping an ear cup turns off noise cancellation on the A30. It allows cross-cockpit conversations outside the intercom, although it wasn’t effective in my planes.
Six user-customizable switches are within the A30 battery box. Mono/stereo intercom, auto-on/auto-off for activating the battery when it senses ship power or preserving the AA’s while inactive, tap function, and a mystery “reversionary” option that suggests future software improvements.
Left and right ear cups and a switchable microphone boom.
The Bose A30 succeeds by blending in.
It’s easy to operate without a handbook. It’s light and comfy. Radio calls are so clear that controllers don’t have to ask you to repeat.
The Bose A30 and A20 were similar on short flights. Long excursions highlighted the A30’s advantages in comfort and sound.
Price last. An A30 costs $1,249 after the fastest inflation year in 40 years. That’s $54—4.5 percent—more than its predecessor and half last year’s inflation rate. Bose noise-canceling headsets remain expensive. The price scarcely moved in these periods, which is surprising.