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Zulu vs. Bose

Posted by on June 9, 2009 23 Comments Category : Aviation Headsets &Flight Instructor Blog Tags : , , , ,

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy my Bose X headset. How I think that it is the quietest, most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn.  But I’m here to say that Bose better look out, because Lightspeed Aviation is giving Bose a serious high-noon headset showdown with it’s latest entry, the Zulu.  I’ve had the opportunity to try out both headsets extensively and here is my Lightspeed Zulu vs Bose X comparison, review and final verdict:

Lightspeed Zulu

This was the underdog product that had the most to prove in my battle of-the-headsets.  I’ve heard some glowing reviews about them from my pilot friends and wanted to see…I’m sorry, hear the proof for myself.  I decided to purchase a pair from MyPilotStore.com for$850 with free shipping.  I couldn’t wait to try them out.

Lightspeed Aviation Zulu from MyPilotStore.com

Lightspeed Aviation Zulu from MyPilotStore.com

The Zulu’s arrived a couple days later and the first thing I noticed about them was the weight (13.9 oz.) They seemed very light and well made; not flimsy, just solidly built. Turns out the reason for the light weight is the  construction from stainless steel and 4 different type of composite plastics.  Take the ear cups for example, which I learned later are made from magnesium.  The magnesium gives the Zulu’s earcups plenty of rigidity and makes for an excellent sound barrier which means even when moving around the cockpit or turning your head, your going to keep the noise out.  The other thing I noticed about the headset when it arrived was  Zulu’s controller.  I noticed the controller had some extra buttons that I wasn’t familiar with, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The Zulu trial:

My first flight using them was in the Beechcraft Premier, which has quite a bit of blower noise in the cockpit.  I typically put on my headsets right after the engine start and I noticed almost immediately (very comfortable by the way) that the passive noise reduction was very impressive.  Even with no ANR (active noise reduction) turned on, the headsets were very very quiet. I did turn the ANR on (the light (A) starts blinking green) and it suddenly got VERY quiet up front.  I could tell it was noticeably quieter than the Bose. Almost too quiet (I kind of like a little engine noise…I get a little nervous when I think the engines have stopped).

zulu-controllerI was told by another Zulu owner that one feature I had to try out was the bluetooth connectivity feature.  Bluetooth is a type of short-range wireless network that allows other Bluetooth equipped devices to share information and data.  For example, my phone (the Blackberry Storm) is a bluetooth enabled cell phone.  I can actually link the Lightspeed Zulu’s to my Blackberry Storm and use the Lightspeed Zulu as a handsfree device! It didn’t take me too long to figure out this feature either.  You simply hold down the bluetooth button (F) on the Zulu’s controller for 5 secs (it will flash blue /red) and then set-up your phone to connect  (or “pair”).  It takes a couple seconds to find your phone and you might have to click “allow” on your BB Storm to confirm the bluetooth connection.  But once connected, there are a couple of neat things you can do, like:

  • Press the Bluetooth button (F) on the Lightspeed’s controller once for voice dialing (if supported by your phone).
  • Press the Bluetooth button once to answer the phone when it rings.
  • Press the Bluetooth button once to disconnect from a call.
  • Press and hold the Bluetooth button for 2 seconds to redial the last number called. Use the Bluetooth volume buttons (Zulu’s + and – buttons {H}) to adjust volume.

Once I tried out these features, I had an idea:  What would the Zulu’s controller do if I put my Storm in media player mode? Turns out, now Zulu’s controller acts as a music player remote control!  I can play, stop and adjust the volume on the Storm’s media player.  And as I was listening to the music, I pushed another button (D) on the Lightspeed’s controller, “FRC”.  FRC stands for Front Rear Channel and it is simply an amazing audio feature.  Headsets are notoriously awful for recreating true stereo.  Stereo music is designed to be listened through stereo speakers not headsets.  I’m not an audiophile, but apparently it has to do with the way that music is mixed in the studio, it is not designed for headsets.  All I know, is that when I pushed the “FRC” button on the Lightspeed controller, I thought I had suddenly slipped on a pair of audiophile quality headphones, not a pair of aviation headsets.  The sound quality was absolutely stunning.  In fact, I called up one of my passengers to try it out for himself.  I had him put on the headsets while it was not in FRC mode and then I pushed the FRC button while some music was playing (streaming via bluetooth from my Storm) and he was quite impressed.  He said, “Sounds like a pair of expensive home audio headsets”.   The other neat thing about listening to music while flying was the Auto MusicMute feature which dims the music volume by 80% when radio communications come in from the panel.  That way you don’t miss any important radio calls, but the music stays low enough to hear it in the background.

My only complaint about the Lightspeed Zulus (and it’s kind of a big one) was the clamping force.  After a couple other flights, I determined that with my big head, I can only wear the Zulu’s for 3 hours max and then my head needs a break.  I don’t know if this is due to my hat size or the headsets and since I can’t use another head other than my own for a test control, I’m going to have to come to the verdict that they clamp just a little too tight for me (they might be fine for you).

Bose X

Since 1989 Bose has literally had a patent on ANC or active noise canceling headsets.  I can actually remember the first time someone told me about the Bose X.  How they are the best headset out there but cost almost $1000.  I remember thinking, a $1000? That’s crazy.  There is no way a pair of headsets could possibly be worth $1000.  Then I tried a pair on.  Wow.  I had to have one.  It took me a little while, but I did finally get a pair and I’ve never looked back.

Bose X from Amazon.com

Bose X from Amazon.com

Why I like them so much:

When you are a professional pilot it is not uncommon to spend 6+ hours a day in an airplane.  That is a LONG time to have a small vice-like-device strapped to your head. Even the slightest amount of pressure can grow to be a pain worse than death after 6 hours.   If you are wearing an uncomfortable pair of headsets for that long, you can go home with an absolute pounding headache.   That’s simply why, I like the Bose X.  Yeah they are quiet, yeah they are expensive but flat out they are the most comfortable aviation headset, period. They are ultra light and they are quiet.

My Verdict

Ok, so here is my summary.  If I have to sit in a piston engine airplane for less than 3 hours, the Lightspeed Zulus, I think, are quieter than the Bose and are my personal preferred choice.  In any jet aircraft, I prefer the Bose X because they are more comfortable for longer stretches of flying or for long duty days.  I actually prefer to use the Bose X in jet aircraft with the ANC feature turned off so that I can hear the aircraft and engine noises.  Even the passive reduction alone in Bose X is enough to block out the sounds you don’t want to hear (like environmental blowers and avionic fans).

So:

Piston Aircraft – Short Flights:  Lightspeed Zulu

Lightspeed Zulu

Lightspeed Zulu

4stars

Purchase the Lightspeed Zulu’s from MyPilotStore.com

Jet Aircraft – Long Flights:  Bose X

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Bose X Aviation Headset

5stars
Purchase the Bose X Headset from Amazon.com

23 Comments



  1. Zulu vs. Bose « Make Your Life Easier on Jun 09, 2009

    [...] See more here: Zulu vs. Bose [...]



  2. Lightspeed Zulu vs Bose X headset | Golf Hotel Whiskey on Jun 11, 2009

    [...] professional pilots who can easily spend several hours a day in an aircraft cockpit. Hence, Paul of Ask A CFI.com has written an extremely detailed review comparing his favorite headset, the Bose X, with the new [...]



  3. Jason Schappert on Jun 11, 2009

    Great post paul! I’m personally a zulu fan, love the aux in and bluetooth!

    -Jason



  4. Paul on Jun 11, 2009

    The Zulus are a great pair of headsets and I was really quite impressed when using them.

    Pretty handy too.

    I left my phone on by accident the other day and on base leg to final my headsets rang. It was a considerate passenger calling me asking what kind of sandwich I wanted from the deli! Pretty cool. By the time I pulled up to the FBO my sandwich was waiting. Yum!



  5. KLNR Ben on Jul 07, 2009

    I used to own Lightspeed headsets. The quality was HORRIBLE and they fell apart after only about 75 hours.

    I bought a set of the Bose X and they have worked out great and the build quality is MUCH better.

    I would go with Bose over the Zulu due to the higher quality construction. Lightspeed are just cheap.



  6. Paul on Jul 07, 2009

    I had to wear them again today and was thinking about my review the whole time. Yep, after 3 hours they start hurting. They sound great and I have no other complaints but man, they really start feeling like a vice on my head after a few hours! (but I think it might be just my head)



  7. Markus on Jul 20, 2009

    Paul’s post is a good one…and detailed. Thanks. I have a Bose X and Lightspeed 3G and Zulu. My passengers wear the first two. I wear the Zulu. All in all the Bose X and Zulu stack up the same except the Zulu has bluetooth and is $150 cheaper. I’m not sure which part makes the choice difficult.



  8. Trevor Smith on Nov 13, 2010

    Have tried both I now own a Zulu so you know my pick.

    I’ve had the over 100 hours now not even a hint of a problem. The bose clamping spring on the top of my head just made my head feel unbalanced.



  9. Dave Kirsten on Nov 22, 2010

    I contacted BOSE to purchase a small plastic swivel (non electronic) for my $1,000 dollar aviation X headset. The part looks like it would cost $2.00 to produce but it wouldn’t have surprised me if they wanted $20 for it (which I was willing to pay). To my astonishment they would neither sell the part or repair it. Apparently the only option is a full priced “refurbishment” of the headset. Some over officious suit started telling me it was a not as easy as it looked and that I couldn’t repair it myself. He then went on to claim that because the product is TSO’d it cannot be repaired by anyone but the manufacturer. Amazingly that isn’t true in the rest of the aviation community. Even if that was true I wasn’t prepared for their solution. They demanded a one time “flat fee” of $175.00 to “refurbish” the headset. Their canned description includes a litany of sugar coated (unnecessary) services apparently hoping to baffle the listener with BS. The whole story was predictably transparent, childish, and completely offensive. After spending $1,000 on a headset I think it is arrogant to gouge customers another $175 for a $20 part. As a gesture of cooperation they should have either sent me a new one or at least offered to replace it at reasonable cost. I didn’t need or want a bunch of vapor-services, I just needed the plastic swivel replaced. Hey BOSE, let’s call it what it is… a complete gouge and rip-off. Needless to say I will not buy Bose products again.



  10. Nathanael Everson on Dec 07, 2010

    It must just be me, but I have a slight problem. the zulu doesnt quite clamp hard enough for me, if I add just a tad more pressure it would be perfect, extremely quiet and comfortable, but it feels a little too loose to me. Quality and technical support are very nice though.



  11. Stuart Ostlund on Jan 22, 2011

    I purchased the Zulu over the Bose due to the bluetooth (which is now available in the Bose). The Zulu ANR is very good for general use, but for aerobatics it is a poor choice. Unlike Bose and David Clark there is no option for a chin strap or cloth helmet to keep the headset on your head. The Zulu is actually dangerous and will fly off your head during aerobatics. If you are not quick it will end up in the backseat (Decathlon) and will smack your passenger if you have one in the back. I guarantee that it will fly off your head “every time” on an inverted spin. Several of the promotional videos show aerobatic pilots recommending the Zulu. A closer look will show those same pilots wearing David Clarks in their aircraft when performing aerobatics!! I have called the company 3 times to suggest they come up with a fix for this, but they appear indifferent. If you fly aerobatics, buy a Bose which can be fitted with a cloth helmet. Check out this video for an example of the headset on a passenger doing basic aerobatics. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUzjHgqVEMA



  12. Pete on Oct 23, 2011

    I’ve used the Lightspeed Zulu headset for about 15 months in Afghanistan. I fly as a crew chief on the old Russian Mi-8s over here. If you think you’ve heard cabin noise before, come ride along on a 10 hour mission in the back of one of these suckers.

    On a typical day we’ll hit 8-10 different LZs doing hot off/on-loads and I keep my headset on the whole time and it works wonderfully, even outside the chopper as I’m yelling at pax or throwing rocks at people getting too close to the bird.

    Some people have complained about the clamping force of the headset but I haven’t found it to be a problem. As someone who has a very generous cranial endowment, I find these to be pretty comfortable. Now granted I’m not a delicate type of fellow making simple cross-country flights with nothing else to focus on but my own comfort, but I haven’t had a problem with these.

    The ANR really is quite impressive as is the battery life on the headset. I connect the bluetooth to my sat phone which I can then duct-tape to the window to make sure that it maintains a signal. It’s saved us a lot of hassle quite a few times, including in several IFE situations out over the middle of nowhere out of radio range of anyone.

    And these headsets are tough! I’ve beaten the crap outta mine and it’s still working perfectly. They’ve been stepped on, squished between my body armor and cargo, dropped, rained on (both fuel and water lol), just generally abused pretty bad. Covered in scratches and gouges, it has now taken on the much gnarlier appearance of a workin’ man’s headset.

    I have 2 complaints about it though.

    1)If your ear isn’t seated in the earcup correctly, whenever you turn your head you’ll hear a “brrrrppppppppp” sound until you adjust it. Not really a big deal but it gets annoying if you have to stick your head out the window and the earcups slide out of position.

    2)When you’re using the mic to make phone calls and stuff, you don’t hear your own voice in the headset. In a super-noisy aircraft like mine, sometimes it feels like I’m just mouthing the words into the mic. People do tell me that they can only tell when I’m calling them from the air because I tend to talk to loud even though they can hear me just fine. That’s both a complaint about the headset and a testament to the quality of the mic.

    In short, awesome headset. I dunno about the Bose, some of my guys have them and swear by them but it’s impossible to get an impartial opinion. Besides, the Bose guys fly on UH-1s and those are little hummers sound-wise compared to my beastly stallion of the sky.



  13. Liam Jones on Nov 03, 2011

    I’ve had a pair of Zulus for about 2 years now, my issues have been minor. They are very comfortable on the head, especially coming from vice grip David Clarks. The Bluetooth feature is great, on more than one occasion I have had a radio failure and been able to ring up the tower for a clearance with my phone.



  14. Alexandre Santos on Nov 17, 2011

    Hi,

    I tried a friend’s panel-powered Zulu headset and was able to connect both headsets at the same time to one celular phone to listen to a music.

    So I bought myself a Zulu headset , but the battery powered one and was not able to connect both headsets to listen the same music from the same cell, with mine headsets I can only connect one at a time to music or the other one to place calls.

    Anyone knows if am I doing something wrong or it is really a limitation of the battery-powered version? I asked Lightspeed Company about that and still had no replies….

    Thanks in advance



  15. Roger Baltus on Nov 22, 2011

    I will get lessons soon and I’m looking for a second hand headset. Also after I’ve read the storries on this site, i’m still not sure: will it be the Lightspeed Zulu (new 650 Euro’s) or a nice used Bose X (used 500 Euro’s).
    Is the Bose X really noisier than the Lightspeed Zulu in a piston aircraft like Cessna or Katana (Diamond)? Or is the difference not really that big..?

    Who can give me some advice?



  16. Peter I on Nov 29, 2011

    I’m a 100 hour private pilot who flies 172’s almost exclusively so that this for what it’s worth. I had cheaper AVCOMM headset during my training, which I never had any major problems with, but upgrading to the Zulu ANR is really like night and day. I have worn Bose X headsets in my boss’ Jetprop, which is a quieter cabin, and it still doesn’t sound as good as my Zulus. As anyone who is really into audio can tell you, Bose is great at marketing themselves as a premium product but a lot of their products just don’t stack up to their similarly priced competition. They’re comfortable and still offer great noise cancelling but they don’t sound as natural as the Zulus in my opinion. Given the audio compromises of a loud cockpit, I think most people will be happy with either and it probably comes down to comfort and what kind of flying you do.

    I’m definitely a very happy Zulu customer though.



  17. Kyle Mason on Apr 18, 2012

    I am a professional helicopter pilot by trade, and I have, at times spent 10 hours in the helicopter without getting out!!! Hot fuel, hot load, and a hot pilot. I use, and love my Zulus. I had a pair of Bose headsets, and they are good as well, but, for me, they are a bit fragile. I spend most of my time with my head stuck in and out of the door doing utility work, and sometimes I bang my head on the door frame. Now I know the headsets were never meant for this, but the Zulus have taken it quite well, my Bose I had to send them back 4 times for broken parts. Like I mentioned, this is not the normal for most users, but for me, the Zulus seem to be built more sturdier than the Bose. That’s just my .02 cents.



  18. Rick McWilliams on Jul 25, 2012

    Lightspeed refuses to repair the microphone on my wifes Zulu headset. It seems that the cat was playing in the helicopter and bit the microphone. Lightspeed uses the lame excuse of possible biohazard. She offered to send cat papers and transportation certificate as proof of good health.

    A few months ago Lightspeed did repair the fraying curly cord and the split leather pad under warranty. All of our Lightspeed curly cords failed.

    I think that the Zulu headset is quite good, not quite as good as the Bose A20. My wife will not consider Lightspeed in the future. Bad support = Bad product.



  19. NW instrument Pilot on Sep 20, 2012

    I took my 12 year old Lightspeed headset into Lightspeed store to get a bad cord replaced. They didn’t have parts because of the age of the headset, so they gave me $300 off a new set! Try that at Bose! I am a Lightspeed for life customer.



  20. baboon on Dec 13, 2012

    I went from Bose to Zulu, agreeing with the opinion of a friend in St Barth. Both headsets’ ANC work wonderfully, but the Bose ear cups are smaller and become painful after a while.
    While ferrying across the Atlantic, my Bose would hurt after 3 hours. On the way back after having purchased the Zulu in Oshkosh, i did not have the ear pain.



  21. John Bode on Feb 13, 2013

    I think most people agree that Bose and Zulu are good headsets, (although it sounds like Bose customer service is lacking), but $800 to $1,100? Are you kidding? How about high quality ANR headsets for $169. Now that’s more like it. Google search and you’ll find them.



  22. jeff zinn on May 26, 2013

    My Bose aviation X headsets just broke. The cheap plastic yoke that holds the ear cups snapped off on both sides. Bose won’t send parts or just repair the problem, you have to get them refurbished for nearly 200 bucks.

    Don’t buy Bose, they won’t stand behind their product.



  23. E Hug on Jul 12, 2013

    One thing to keep in mind, if you are a airline pilot and required to use a TSO’d headset, unfortunately the Zulus are not TSO’d and this point in time. Hopefully that changes in the near future.

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