Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Best Pilot Headset = Lightspeed Zulu

Lightspeed Zulu Aviation Headset
That is like a Microsoft fan claiming that Windows is a superior operating system than Mac OSX, or the Holden HSV GTS is a direct comparison to a BMW M5 (Mr Clarkson), or that Airbus is better than Boeing, these are just not true...  But in the case of the Lightspeed Zulu's I have settled on this position, they are the best...

The major competition, according to untold Google searches, is that the BOSE A20 is now the king of the hill.  I tell you what, I almost agreed and got drawn into the mega marketing that is BOSE.  However being one of those types that has to research and research until finally the point comes where you try yourself then research again, I made a different decision.  The Lightspeed Zulu across the broader criteria suited me the best.

To qualify my position, I'm a huge BOSE fan.  I have a BOSE Acoustimas 15 surround sound system in the living room, a pair of BOSE 251 SE outdoor speakers by the pool and my iMac lets itself be heard through a set of BOSE Companion 5 multimedia speakers.  So the BOSE headsets were almost a given.  My cousin, a commercial pilot who transverses the pacific at least weekly (in Boeings) even said, you gotta get BOSE.

So my evaluation was literally based on the fact that the headset should not consume any conscious thought when in the air.  They should just be there, like your jocks, perform their function really well and you should not have to compensate or suffer any level of discomfort as a result of their close proximity with your body.  This translated to these high level criteria:

  • light and comfortable (I'm easily distracted)
  • strong noise cancelling capability (still easily distracted)
  • great mic capability (I don't want to have to swallow the mic)
  • mobile phone integration (gadget freak)
  • great sound (your dealing with an audiophile here)

Having spent the first few hours of my somewhat short flying career wearing flight school David Clark's, I knew exactly what I didn't want.  They were inverse to the above criteria.

When you cut through what the large community of evaluations say (consider only those that are not flanked by BOSE advertisements), you get a picture than these Lightspeed Zulus have the overall edge of the Bose A20s.  There are tonnes of real pilots who have used and tested both.  Me, I can't argue with those using them hour in and hour out, but I can form my view.

They are very close when it comes down to it.  The BOSE A20 look better, have a better brand cred, but suffer on price.  The price no doubt comes from brand cred, the huge marketing expenses and the market position of BOSE in aviation.  The price for me wasn't a decider.  This is overcome by convincing oneself that, "you'll have them for life"...

On the lightness and comfort, noise cancelling and mic, it was near impossible to differentiate.   The test I used was to validate these criteria was to put on the headset, make a phone call while the kids argued and look to "dad" for mediation, then assess the ability to conduct the call.   Well the noise cancelling ability removed their pleas for intervention and I could conduct the phone call in peace.  Actually the Lightspeeds Zulu had better sound cancelling than the Bose A20 with this test.

The deciders was the sound quality and the gadget integration.  Both the Bose A20 and Lightspeed Zulu did connect to my iPhone 4 easily.  They both were able to initiate voice control and I could issue voice commands.  The problem I found here though was that when I issued the voice commands with the Bose A20, I would get the wrong action.  When I did the same test with the Lightspeed Zulu, I didn't have a problem.  For example, I would issue the voice command "Play Jay-Z and Alicia Keys".  With the Lightspeed, "Empire State of Mind" started and played beautifully in my ears.  The same test on the Bose A20 had my phone say, "Calling Jean-Michel Charette".  What the?  But I could repeat the test consistently and had both myself and the shop assistant confused...

Lightspeed Zulu gets the thumbs up
Then the sound quality, you have to hear the Lightspeeds in action, they are just amazing.  Music playback is just fantastic.  Over bluetooth its pretty good, but if you plugin the extenal input adaptor, wow!  With my new "Flight Sound X" usb adaptor, music playback from the computer was exceptional.  These things would rival my Sennheiser HD600 headphones for sound quality, just incredible.   So on that cross country flight, long hall trip or the drone of your Lycoming power plant, fire up some music in your Lightspeeds and you'll be amazed.  When Perth Radar decides to interupt, the music drops away and you hear the full radio transmission.  Sweet!

So, a few points to finish up.  Since having the Lightspeeds, I can't recall them even featuring entering my conscious thought while in the plane.  My flying instructor now has ordered a pair.  When he went to the aviation shop onsite at Jandakot, there were none left as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) had bought them all up as the preferred headsets by their flight crews.

Do yourself a favour, look more broadly than strong marketing opinion and consider giving up where  history mis-guide your choices, buy the Mac...  I did and have never looked back!


  1. Beautifully written article. Keep on going.......


  2. Sound quality over everything else IMHO. Great article!