Bose introduced its long-awaited A20 noise-canceling headset at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh in July and attendees immediately began snapping up the $1,095 (retail) headset. The A20 launch comes 12 years after Bose introduced the Aviation Headset X, spawning keen competition in the headset market and convincing pilots that noise-canceling plus passive sound deadening is the way to fly.
The major improvements on the A20 are not just built-in Bluetooth and auxiliary input but greatly enhanced noise reduction. Whereas the Headset X has one internal microphone inside each ear cup to identify the anti-noise signal required to cancel sound waves, the A20 has microphones inside and outside the ear cup.
These cancel noise in a wider range of frequencies and help cancel ambient noise that the Headset X couldn’t sense.
Bose engineers redesigned the center torsion spring and reduced the A20’s clamping pressure by one-third (compared with most headsets, according to the company). New cushions made from a memory-type foam have leatherette covering that dries out quickly. The ear cups are smaller overall but have a larger interior volume to accommodate people with bigger ears. The microphone can be attached to either ear cup.
The aux audio input is handy for connecting GPS units and audio devices such as MP3 players directly to the headset (standard 3.5-mm adapter). The Bluetooth is only for cellphones, however, and won’t work with wireless MP3 players. For safety, the multifunction/audio priority switch allows pilots to select from three choices: intercom prioritized over aux input; intercom mixed with aux; or intercom only.
The A20 headset control module is battery powered, but the A20 can also run on aircraft power using a six-pin connector. A welcome feature is the smart shutoff, which turns off the battery automatically when the headset isn’t being used.
The A20 comes with a five-year warranty and is FAA/JAA TSO approved and meets RTCA/DO-160D and DO-214 environmental requirements. A non-Bluetooth A20 retails for $995.
Corporate pilot Troy Wilburn, who has flown with the Aviation X headset since it was introduced, likes the improved comfort and quiet of the A20, but is worried that it is too quiet. “I may change my mind on this issue after I’ve flown with them for a longer period of time, but they are drastically different in the noise canceling,” he said. “They have taken away a large portion of the sounds I am used to hearing in the cockpit.”
Wilburn isn’t sold on the panel-powered design, however. “I bought the panel-powered version again, since the A20 uses the same [six-pin] connector as the Series X, but they put the battery pack back in the system with two AA batteries. Now we have to find the battery pack and turn them on to get the noise canceling to work again, like the old Series X that was battery powered. Also, that means we’re back to replacing batteries again. I think this was a dumb thing for Bose to do. They explained to me that it was so you can use the Bluetooth capability when the ship’s power is not on if you want to make a call. Personally, I’d rather do away with that battery pack again and not have that capability. If I don’t have the ship’s power on, I can just use my cellphone to make a call. Then the headsets come on automatically with the ship’s power.”
Retired corporate pilot Bill Pearson is now flying a Mooney 201 with his new A20 headset, which he said “is much improved over the X model, with better noise cancellation and much better comfort. Although smaller, it fits the ears much better.
I don’t know how Bose did it, but it actually made a big improvement with the new A20 model. I just returned from a seven-hour trip using the A20. So quiet and not any discomfort the entire time. Listening to stereo XM Radio with minimal environmental noise is an additional treat.”