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Bose Unveils A30 Digital ANR Aviation Headset

 - March 28, 2023, 8:01 AM
Clean lines, lighter weight, lower clamping pressure, and digital noise reduction are all features of the new Bose A30 aviation headset. (Photo: Bose)

After four years of development, Bose today has begun selling its latest active noise-reduction (ANR) aviation headset, the A30. Bose will no longer sell the A20, except to fulfill some customer commitments during the coming year, and the A30 will be its top-of-the-line, around-ear headset.

Retailing for $1,249, the A30 is slightly lighter than the $1,195 A20 and offers lower clamping pressure while incorporating digital ANR features similar to those in the ProFlight 2 in-ear headset. Like the A20 and ProFlight 2, the A30 is FAA technical standard order (TSO) approved—a feature that some airlines and operators require for headsets used by their pilots.

“The A20 has been such a great headset, it’s really been hard to make something better,” said Bose senior product manager Matt Ruwe. “Our engineers have shed a lot of tears trying to do just that.”

The A20 has been in production since 2010 and features analog ANR technology, which typically requires less battery power, according to Ruwe. The new digital chipset powering the A30 ANR is designed to optimize power consumption, he explained, “and requires significantly less power, providing at least 45 hours of battery life.” The A30 with non-panel-power plugs uses two AA batteries.

“There were no tradeoffs,” he said. The ProFlight series was the first to get the digital chipset, and on the A30 that chipset is more advanced. “After our initial learning on the ProFlight, this takes that to the next level.”

For pilots who fly with the ProFlight, the A30’s control module will look familiar as it has the same “high-medium-low” settings for adjusting the level of noise cancelation as the ProFlight, although it is modified and updated. The high mode gives the most noise cancelation, Ruwe explained, and should be optimal for noisy aircraft, typically piston-powered and unpressurized types. Pilots flying quieter aircraft such as pressurized pistons and turboprops might find the medium setting more suitable. And in a super-quiet jet flight deck where being able to hear outside the headset is important for crew communication, the low setting allows the wearer to hear crew and passenger voices. The low setting is also accessible by double-tapping one of the ear cups.

In designing the A30, Ruwe said Bose engineers targeted the three elements that customer surveys indicated are most important: comfort, noise reduction, and audio clarity.

To meet these goals, the A30’s updated digital circuitry addressed the noise-reduction and clarity needs, while changes in the headset itself focused on the comfort aspect. Two key changes were made, to clamping pressure and weight. Clamping pressure for the A30 (at 360 grams) is 20 percent less than the A20 (at 450 grams), which makes wearing the headset comfortable for longer periods.

Both the A20 and A30 weigh nearly the same, with the latter lighter by 6 grams (including the headset and the upper half of the down cable). But the combination of a change in the A30’s balance (center of gravity and where it touches the wearer), the lighter clamping force, and the lower weight all contribute to the improved feel of the A30. The down cable was also redesigned and is about 20 percent thinner and lighter than the A20’s cable, resulting in a more “supple” movement.

“Comfort was a huge goal without sacrificing performance,” Ruwe said. “[The A30] feels so much lighter. Virtually everybody out of the box, that’s what they say.”

Moving the mic and down cable from one side to the other is now easier on the A30, with no tools needed—just toggle two clamps on the mic side and one clamp on the other side, and swap the two pieces. The A20 requires the use of a small Phillips screwdriver. Another new feature for the A30 is the USB (micro B) port in the control module, which can be used to add new features via firmware updates to keep the headset current with the latest technology.

The A30 has multiple equalization circuits that automatically optimize audio, depending on whether it’s radio or intercom communications or music. “The Bluetooth circuit shapes whatever is coming through that circuit automatically, independent of what’s coming through the intercom,” he said. The microphone rejects far-field noise to improve voice input and transmission.

Users can access switches in the control module to change some functions, including selecting reversionary mode in case of an ANR mode failure and an auto-off function to save battery power.

The LED lights on the control module can now be switched off, relieving pilots flying with night-vision goggles from having to tape over the lights. Just push the power button three times quickly to switch off the lights. “There are niches of the market where they’ve got a unique need,” Ruwe said, “and we’ve been able to incorporate those.”

Flying with the A30

Compared to the A20, the A30 looks more sophisticated, with cleaner lines, no wires showing on the headband, and smoother-looking ear cups. The headband uses a similar center-pivot spring, but the A30 has longer protective pads that are built-in compared to the shorter, fluffy, hook-and-loop-attached pads on the A20. The headband on the A30 is made of sintered aluminum instead of the magnesium on the A20; the aluminum is more durable and requires less material, according to Ruwe.

Even though the A30 weighs only slightly less than the A20, I immediately noticed the lower clamping pressure the first time I tried it on. I brought both the A30 and A20 with me on two flights in a Cessna 172 to compare them.

Matt Thurber in flight in a Cessna 172 wearing Bose A30 aviation headset
The author testing the Bose A30 headset in a Cessna 172

It’s very difficult to perceive any difference in audio quality between the two headsets. I like having the option of selecting the noise-cancelation level on the A30, but I found the most comfortable setting for that airplane is the high option. I haven’t yet had an opportunity to try the A30 in a turboprop or jet. The high setting on the A30 seems to correspond with the noise cancelation of the A20.

With the lower clamping pressure, I found that the A30 needed a little more adjusting on my head to make sure I had the best noise cancelation results; it doesn’t just mold onto my head the same as the A20. But my head did appreciate the lower pressure and I found wearing the A30 during the test flight, which lasted two hours, quite comfortable.

The A30 is available with most plug types, including dual GA, panel power (Lemo,) Airbus XLR5, and U-174 (helicopter). Other more specialized plug types will be added later, Bose said.