Tools & Toys – Bose A20 headset

Accessorise! While that mantra may be an excuse for the fashion-conscious, pilots will find that equipping themselves with the latest gadgets or software is a life-enhancing, if not life-saving, affair.

A Bose that boosts your options

Bose A20 headset

The Bose A20 headset is a successor to its acclaimed Headset X. Photo copyright: Bose.

By David Tan
Merawan Contributor

I first used a Bose Active Noise Reduction (ANR) headset in 1992 when I flew as backup pilot in a Bell 206 for 11 Alive pilot Bruce Erion.

These were Series 1 models, the first Bose made. It was a life-changing experience – it was so quiet in the 206, the engine and rotor noise reduced to a background hum.

The series 1 also had silicone ear cushions like breast implants; they caressed your cranium like putting your head…er, well, you know.

I had to get myself a set, and after a few months to sort out bugs, it arrived.

I used the Series 1 until 1998, when I was flying Shorts 330s in Hawaii. When Bose introduced the X, I got a pair. The X had very little passive noise attenuation and depended on electronics for almost all of its total noise attenuation. It was a lot lighter than the 1 and had better active attenuation especially in the mid frequencies where engine noise lives.

I was flying a Bell 206 giving tours around Oahu one day when the 9V battery quit. It was a near emergency – the background noise was so loud and I almost could not communicate with Air Traffic Control.

When I bought “Gina”, my SIAI Marchetti SF.260C, in 2005, she came equipped with installed Lemo connectors that, thankfully, allowed aircraft power to run the ANR on the X.

David Tan's SIAI Marchetti SF260 was a good testbed for the Bose headset X and A20.

David Tan's "Gina", an SIAI Marchetti SF260, was a good testbed for the Bose headset X and A20. Picture courtesy of reviewer David Tan. Copyright: Ryan Sundheimer.

Last year, I was in Oshkosh (OSH), Wisconsin, for AirVenture 2010, the greatest show for General Aviation, when Bose introduced the A20. I was anticipating this as I knew that it was only a matter of time before the company replaced the X with something that had Bluetooth capability to compete with the likes of the Lightspeed Zulu headset.

A pretty girl from the Netherlands did the demo for me and my friends Zawi Zawitz and Bob Parks. I sat in on the theater presentation as well, and at the end of it, some indigent flight instructor type, looking for a freebie, no doubt, asked the presenter whether Bose offered a “training discount”. “No,” replied the presenter, “but we are offering a $300 credit toward the purchase of an A20 for Series 1 owners.”

Bose no longer supports the Series 1 so if it breaks, tough. Apparently, when some VP introduced the A20 at OSH, an irate Series 1 owner tore him a new one. So, to placate the guy, the VP said that Series 1 owners would be offered the US$300 rebate when they traded in their Series 1s for A20s (Apparently a Bose finance guy found out about the scheme and said to the VP: “You did WHAT and for HOW MUCH?”).

Obviously, Bose doesn’t advertise this upgrade scheme widely. I just happened to be in the right place and time to overhear it.*

Well, I still had my old Series 1 in storage, unuseable unless I replaced the NiCd battery. All of a sudden, this paperweight was worth US$300. This, and the 0% 12 month financing, clinched it.

I traded in my old Series 1 on the Thursday of the show. In a way, I was sorry to see it go: I had flown with it from the time I was a part-time flight instructor to the Shorts job that gave me the multi-time to land the NetJets job. I thought it fitting that the first flight with my new A20 should be in the afternoon Warbirds of America show.

Bose A20 headset side view.The A20 attenuates mid frequencies better than the X, but the result of it seems to be a perception of a higher level of wind noise. If you have an X and you want to replace it with an A20 to get better noise attenuation, it probably isn’t worth doing: there is no improvement per se, just a DIFFERENT attenuation profile between the two.

I had them both connected in Gina and tried them out side by side in flight. The A20’s advantages are in ergonomics and functionality: the earcups are larger than the X and it’s more comfortable that way. Bose has made the magnesium headband smaller so it’s marginally lighter.

What really makes the A20 shine is the Bluetooth capability: it pairs effortlessly with my iPhone. The ability to make phone calls is essential for me since homeplate is an uncontrolled field, C29, and I have to call Madison Radar West to get an IFR clearance out on IMC days.

I had to do that on the Saturday of the show with low ceilings at both C29 and OSH. I got an IFR reservation to OSH, picked up my clearance with my iPhone Bluetoothed to my A20 and did my first instrument arrival to AirVenture. The big advantage is that besides effortless pairing, the A20 Bluetooth gives you sidetone through the headset. I was using a Pilot Bluelink with my X but the combination was nowhere as good as the A20, and had no sidetone.

Bose A20 headset controller

The Bose A20 headset controller is easy to operate.

I bought the installed Lemo model of the A20; this also allows you to use the headset in a conventional 2 plug setup with a Bose adapter. Before the A20 I had to use 2 Xs: one with the Lemo to use in Gina, and my original 2 plug unit from 1998 to use in rentals and other aircraft. Now I can use just one A20 for ALL my airplanes and helicopters (with an existing adapter, 2 plug to single U-174/U).

To sum up, I have all the capabilities I need for my various missions in one headset.

Let’s see how long I will use the A20. I flew with the Series 1 for six years, the X for 12. Unless there are any radical new technologies out there that can be useful in aviation headsets, it is difficult to see me replacing it until that happens, or Bose relegates it to paperweight status.

David Tan is a former Republic of Singapore Air Force rotary wing pilot who now flies business jets with NetJets, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

* The rebate may no longer be available. Please check with your dealer or Bose.

2 Responses to Tools & Toys – Bose A20 headset

  1. Pierre Vallelian says:

    Dear Sir,
    Where to buy bose A20 in Singapore?
    Any place for avionics supply?

    Thanks
    Pierre

    • The Editor says:

      Hi Pierre,

      Because the General Aviation community is so small, there are no retail stores here which cater to our needs. I order my supplies from reputable organisations like Sporty’s (www.sportys.com) or directly from the manufacturers like Bose (www.bose.com). I am in the process of evaluating local suppliers to determine their service quality and will post these when ready.

      Cheers.
      Paul Jansen

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