The first surprise about the new Bose A30 headset is that it looks almost identical to its predecessor, the Bose A20, and weighs about as much, too.
Photography by Chris Rose
The A20 set the standard for high-end, noise-canceling headsets when it was introduced 13 years ago, and it’s still the market leader. So why would Bose replace it with something that looks essentially the same?
Even though the appearance is similar, the company says the new A30 is more comfortable (less clamping force), has a better microphone, cancels more noise, is 100 percent digital, and runs an astounding 45 hours on two AA batteries.
“We focused on comfort,” said Matt Ruwe, senior manager for Bose aviation and military headsets. “To do that, we had to bring new technologies to bear.”
The A30 is made from different materials, and none of the parts in the two models are interchangeable.
“There are no pieces in common with the A20,” Ruwe said. “Even the headband is made from an aluminum alloy instead of magnesium in the A20.”
The demo Bose A30 arrived at AOPA headquarters just in time for a torture test. A four-hour cross-country trek in the AOPA Extra 300L; then a two-hour ferry in a Bonanza, and finally a five-hour marathon in an E55 Baron. The unmufflered Extra exposed the headset to extreme noise, the Bonanza tested its ability to link via Bluetooth to multiple devices, and the Baron placed it between a pair of roaring 285-horsepower engines for 1,000 miles.
Taking off in an Extra is a like sitting in the percussion section of a symphony orchestra playing the 1812 Overture, yet the A30 tamed it. At first the growling Lycoming IO-540 sounded as though it was sitting in my lap, and I doublechecked the headset to confirm the power was on. The blinking LED light indicated it was, but the slider on the battery pack that selects High/Medium/Low noise cancellation was set to Low. Clicking it to High instantly shushed the Lycoming.
The civilized and highly refined Bonanza A36 is relatively quiet inside. This one is equipped with SiriusXM radio and pairing the A30 headset to it was a simple matter. I paired the A30 to the iPhone in my pocket, and it sounded like Linda Ronstadt was in the right seat, or Sheryl Crow had stowed away in back.
A Beech Baron presents a tough test for any headset because the engine noise and propeller pulses are so physically close to the pilot. The A30 had no difficulty during a full-power takeoff and climb to 11,500 feet. The Baron trip involved flying through busy airspace, and I found myself pressing the earcup against the side of my head to get the speaker closer to my ear. But that was self-defeating. Effective noise-canceling requires an amount of air in the earcup, so squeezing confounds it.
Deep inside the A30 battery box are a half-dozen switches that allow for user customization. Mono/stereo; auto-on/auto-off for activating the battery when it senses ship’s power or saving the AAs when inactive, as well as a “reversionary” mode that hints of future upgrades. The earcups are labeled left and right, and the microphone boom can be switched from one side to the other.
It’s so simple to use that you don’t have to spend much time reading a manual. It’s so light and comfortable you forget you’re wearing it. Communications are so crystal clear that you don’t miss radio calls, and controllers don’t have to ask you to repeat. The improvements in the A30 only became obvious on long trips where physical comfort and audio clarity mattered most.
Finally, the price. After a year in which inflation rose faster than any other in the past four decades, the retail price of an A30 is $1,249. That’s $54—or 4.5 percent—more than its predecessor, and about half last year’s inflation rate.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.