Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lightspeed Zulu


So comfortable and quiet, you’ll want to experience it beyond the airplane


tech-talkI first learned about the Lightspeed Zulu from a friend at the Reno Air Races last September. He was as pleased as he could be, enough so that he seemed like a walking advertisement for the product. I was a little skeptical about the durability of a Lightspeed headset in my aerobatic Edge 540, but he insisted it was truly great and described a change that had occurred within the company. Lightspeed has always focused on providing a good value headset with great comfort and outstanding customer service, but now they have such a high-quality piece of equipment that there’s little need to use their world-class service department. The active noise-reduction (ANR) headset includes features such as Bluetooth wireless capability, an audio-in jack for MP3 players and leather ear seals.
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tech-talkLightspeed’s design engineers looked deeper than just providing the biggest decibel (dB) cut across the audible range for the Zulu ANR system; they also became students of how people perceive noise and focused the most attention to the parts of the spectrum that would offer the biggest improvements toward quiet comfort. These engineers determined that a 3 dB reduction in one portion of the spectrum can be much more important to a person’s perception of noise than a 10 dB cut at another frequency range. The result is an experience of quiet that goes beyond the cancellation numbers many manufacturers claim. Coupled with the passive noise-reduction (PNR) properties of the magnesium cups, the quietness is surreal.

With my Zulu headset, I quickly became aware of how much I rely on the way my engine sounds to gauge how the airplane is running. Even if it sounds too quiet on the run-up, I spend an extra amount of time checking the magneto drop and assessing why the airplane all of a sudden seems unusually smooth. (To find out how the Edge’s engine responds to tumbles and knife-edge spins, read the "Lycoming To The Max" sidebar in "Airplanes, Cars—What's The Difference?") For the first few flights with the Zulu, I found that it just didn’t seem like everything was quite the same. After a few checks of engine gauges, I relaxed and enjoyed my newly found quiet. As I pushed outside at -5 G’s, I was very glad to be wearing a mesh flying helmet from Perrone Leather (www.perroneleather.com), which fits the Zulu perfectly and keeps it firmly attached to my head.

tech-talkThe Zulu passes the test in noisy environments: I don’t want to fly my Edge without it; Kevin Eldredge races in Relentless with his; and Plane & Pilot’s editors wear theirs on air-to-air photo shoots. But the Zulu also outperforms on more standard cross-country flights, when pilots can take full advantage of all the features. In my Globe Swift, I used the Bluetooth capability to call my mom and check on her bridge game. It took a minute to get used to the lack of side-tone when talking, but it was the clearest connection I’ve ever had on a cell phone. (I wish I could use it legally in my car in California. Although the one time that I did wear it, I found myself driving about 20 mph faster than I usually do.) I also listened to music on my iPod. It’s apparent that Lightspeed wanted to set the standard for fidelity when designing the Zulu. And just like you would want it to, the music input has a selectable soft muting system with priority for radio transmissions and the intercom. When you hop out at a fuel stop, you can forget about having to hit the power-off button—it will perform an auto-shutdown after a couple minutes. The Zulu will actually sense your pulse to determine if it’s on your head or if you have taken it off. Also, they fold up flat and have an excellent case, making them the perfect headset to take on an airliner (the elegant styling fits well in the first-class section).

Since my initial flight training in the mid-’80s, the two biggest changes in flying for me have been the ubiquitous headset and the handheld GPS. For those who became pilots since then, it’s hard to imagine how much both of these have helped the person in the left seat. I’ve loved every headset that I’ve owned because each one has been an improvement over the previous, but my new Zulu leaves them all in the dust. Passengers will love it too.

After encouraging other pilots to try my Zulus on, I realized that I too had become a walking advertisement. How quiet is it? Lightspeed proudly states that it’s the world’s quietest ANR headset! How light is it? As light as anything on the market. How good is the Bluetooth? Clear and easy to use! How comfortable is it? You might wear it much more than just in the airplane—if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself in the living room listening to the stereo through your Zulu with the FRC button switched on. The headset is priced at only $850 and can be purchased from authorized dealers. Visit www.zuluseries.com.



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