Bose has introduced its latest aviation headset, the A30. It will take the place of the current headset, the A20, in Bose’s legendary one-model lineup of full-coverage aviation headsets, representing the fourth product in the company’s evolutionary march of headset preeminence. It’s fair to expect the A30 to slide right into the market leadership position that until today was occupied by the A20. After using the A30 for the past couple of weeks, I have nothing but good things to say about it, too, though it won’t be what you expect.
The A30 launch was a hard secret to keep. It wasn’t the first new product announcement the company has made in 13 years, and even before I got the inside scoop from Bose, I’d predicted that we’d see a successor to the A20 at Sun ‘n Fun. (It was an impressive prediction; just don’t ask to see my March Madness debacle of a bracket.)
It seems that the A20 was around forever, and 13 years is a good stretch in an aviation marketplace where new headsets appeared from Bose’s competitors far more frequently. The extended reign of the A20 made sense, though. When it hit the airways in 2010, it immediately displaced the company’s Aviation Headset X as the headset to have in your flight bag. Rightly so. The A20 was a far better headset than the X in just about every way. It was more comfortable, had better passive and active noise reduction, and added features like Bluetooth wireless connectivity. If you were flying with Bose Aviation Headset X’s, you just had to get the A20s. And while Bose improved the A20 incrementally over that time, the bones of the product were great from the get-go. I have worn the A20 for around 1,000 hours in loud single-engine airplanes. It’s a great product.
I know that one big criticism we’ll hear early and often on the A30 is that it’s just a warmed-over A20, and I get it. It looks very similar, it does the same kinds of things, there are no fancy features, just the usual ones, beautifully implemented as they are on the A20. So, should you replace your A20s with A30s? I don’t think anyone needs to. But believe me, people will want to. And once they slide one on, they’ll really want to.
What is the killer feature on the A30? Nothing. But at the same time, everything. And Bose knew it would be a challenge to update the A20, and to its everlasting credit, it didn’t try to make a whole new headset but, wisely, a whole better headset.
This they did not by focusing on one feature but on all of them, seriously. When you look at the A30, even when you put your hands on one, you’ll wonder how it’s different from the A20 at all. The answer is, it’s different in just about every conceivable way. And better, too.
That said, some of the improvements are specific to certain needs that not everyone will have. The top feature, though—improved comfort over an already supremely comfortable headset—will be one that just about every pilot will love. This they accomplished while still keeping the A30 very slightly lighter than the A20. At the same time, they somehow managed to make it feel, well, not heavier, but more secure. One of the most important tests of any aviation headset is comfort, and for those of us who have been flying small planes for a while have had the unpleasant pain of wearing early-tech noise cancelling headsets on a long day’s flight. The A20s are the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn for multiple-leg cross countries, and so far, the A30 feels even better. Beta testers tell Bose that they are having the same early impression.
Noise-wise, the A30 is different, and in ways that might or might not benefit you directly. There are three levels of noise cancelling in the new digital chipset that Bose uses—low, medium and high—though pilots of small, single-engine planes will most likely keep it parked on the high setting, which is even more effective than its impressive predecessor at blocking unwanted audio intrusions through the magic of active noise reduction. Unlike the A20, for which Bose’s senior product manager Matt Ruhe used analog circuitry, the A30 is a digital headset, which allowed Bose to target noise more specifically than the A20 can.
The A30’s mic is totally different than the A20’s, and it, too, is an improvement, with better intelligibility and ease of use. Despite the move to a digital design, the A30 keeps the warmth of the sound of the A20, which also helps with fatigue. Another quality-of-life improvement is the new cord, which is better, lighter, more flexible and less noticeable.
Other features that you might or might not use are tool-less interchangeable cord attachment, so you can mount it on the side closest to the jack, and a tap-to-talk feature that lets you make the noise cancelling transparent for easier conversations inside or outside of the cockpit.
The bottom line is, the $1,295 Bose A30 aviation headset is a step up in comfort, utility and features, and while it lacks the bells and whistles of some of its competitors’ premium headsets, it is everything, at least in our book, that a headset should be and nothing that it shouldn’t. The A30 is available now from your favorite pilot supply outlet.