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Review: Flying with the Bose A30 aviation headset for 100 hours

By Adam Fuller

Published on: June 25, 2024
Estimated reading time 13 minutes, 41 seconds.

Skies contributor Adam Fuller, who is also the chief pilot at a Canadian aircraft charter and management company, provides an honest review of Bose's newest headset offering, the A30.

Since the advent of radio communications in aviation, the industry’s headset manufacturers have continued to push out improved products to make pilots’ lives better. Until 1989, aviation headsets were only available with minimal or passive noise cancelling. What began with a simple sketch by Dr. Amar Bose, followed by 11 years of development, the very first commercially available Active Noise Reduction (ANR) aviation headset entered the market with the Bose Series 1.   

In the 35 years since this monumental achievement, dozens of manufacturers have tried to match the quality, clarity, and comfort for which Bose has become synonymous. Throughout the last 25 years of my aviation career, I have worn many different headsets while sitting at the controls of various airplanes, from my first flight in a Cessna 172 trainer to my current seat in a Challenger 605. I have owned several headsets in that time, including three different sets of Bose models.  

In the April/May 2021 issue of Skies magazine, in my review of the latest aviation headsets available at the time, I wrote: “Always buy the best headset you can afford.” After flying a DHC-2 Beaver with a passive noise reduction headset, I learned this lesson intimately. As I age further, I’ve realized just how important and fragile your hearing can be. If you want the best, the new Bose A30 just might be it.   

In the years since my first ANR headset, I have continuously upgraded to new technology to protect myself from irreversible damage to my hearing; there is no substitute for quality.   

I was first introduced to Bose’s aviation products just over 14 years ago (with a Series 1), and I have worn many different Bose products since: Headset X, QC25, QC35, ProFlight Series 2, A20 and, now, the A30 — the newest product on the market from Bose.  

Unboxing the Bose A30 aviation headset. Adam Fuller Photo

In early March, I unboxed the beautifully and carefully designed A30. In typical Bose fashion, the headset arrived perfectly packaged in a simple, unpretentious marked white box with a small pamphlet on top — intended to make your product registration, setup, and support simple. Inside the box, the padded, nylon-covered headset carrying bag is very understated, light, and functional.  It has a wide opening for ease of access.  

After a couple of minor setup steps and adjustments, I installed the two AA batteries and set off to the skies. 

Through March, April, and May 2024, I completed many flights ranging from one-hour to nearly eight-hour legs all around Canada, the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe. I flew just over 100 hours in that time frame, all while wearing the Bose A30.  

There are a couple of notable differences from the A20 to the A30. First, the headband feels lighter and thinner. After showing the A30 to a few colleagues and asking for their first impressions, they thought it felt “cheaper.”  I, however, disagreed with their assessment. The headband is now a single piece of lightweight aluminum, where the previous model was made from magnesium and had gaps in it to maintain a weight expectation. To me, the A30’s headband design makes the overall headset appear more sturdy, solid, and lighter. And, in fact, it is.  

Another notable difference between the A20 and the A30 is the user’s ability to quickly change the microphone from one side to the other. For those flying in the general aviation (GA) sector, where your headset stays in the same spot all the time, this may not be significant. But for a those of us who change airplanes and/or seats regularly, this is a huge benefit. In previous models, it was possible to switch the mic to the other side, but this required tools and was cumbersome — not to mention the risk of losing the tiny screw! In the A30, it’s as easy as opening a couple of small plastic flaps, sliding the mic unit out and back in, and closing the flaps again.  

Adam Fuller Photo

This is a very understated change, which I had noted as necessary in my 2021 headset review that included the A20. Part of the clamp pressure, sound “leak,” and overall comfort of the A30 is predicated on the ear cups fitting over the correct ear.  

The ear cups themselves required some getting used to. The foam seal on the cups was a little stiffer than I was used to. I attributed this to Bose working to lock the sound in tighter to allow for longer wear and tear cycles. In reality, the headset was just new and needed some ‘breaking in.’ The earpads themselves have not been changed from the A20 model.  

What really sets Bose apart from the others is — and always has been — the sound quality! The clarity and active noise cancellation is spectacular, to say the least. You only need to remove one ear cup to understand just how incredible this technology is. Previous models used analog-based noise reduction, but the A30’s noise cancellation technology is now entirely digital. I have worn ANR headsets from multiple other manufacturers, and the sound reduction is simply not comparable.    

The microphone now has a white dot just outside the protective foam muff to ensure the mic is positioned correctly at your mouth. This has never been quite as critical as it is with this headset.  You really need to find the sweet spot of the mic, but the crisp clarity of transmission and intercom is abundantly clear.  

For me, the sweet spot is essentially having the top of the muff straight out about one to two centimetres from my upper lip. On a long overseas flight, I asked my co-captain to rate the sound on a scale of one to five as I moved the boom mic up, down, in, and out from this position. Any more than about three cm became a two on the scale, as it sounded very far away. However, there wasn’t any distortion or ambient sound. Ultimately, I don’t view this as a negative. The directionally capped technology in the microphone is vastly superior to anything I’ve ever worn. Background noise like blowing air, wind noise, etc. is virtually non-existent through the mic. 

The author wore the headset through March, April, and May 2024, during flights all around Canada, the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe. Adam Fuller Photo

There is, however, one feature in this headset that I am not particularly fond of, and that is the tap of the ear cup to reduce the ANR to hear normal conversation or outside sounds. Although some pilots I have talked to and flown with really like it, it’s not for me. Every time I needed to adjust the headset on my head, it seemed to deactivate the ANR on one side. This was quickly countered by a double tap of that ear cup to restore the ANR. Further, when I wanted to deactivate the ANR and double tap the correct ear cup, it took multiple attempts to tap just the right spot. It is an interesting development and has some potential, but for me it was more of an inconvenience.  

As expected, the cords and controller on the A30 are “Bose Quality,” meaning they are sturdy and easy to use. The controller has a micro-USB port under the batteries for future software upgrades. These will be provided by Bose after you register the product, but no updates had been released at the time of writing. The cords are constructed with Kevlar stranding to lighten the downward pull on the headset and strengthen the cord itself — which has been lengthened to a total of two metres. This is a noticeable, positive difference in the Challenger cockpit due to where the jack plugs are located. I found there was less downward pull on the headset.  

During almost all of my 100-plus hours wearing the A30 (outside sterile cockpit times), I had music playing in the background via Bluetooth. On first use, the Bluetooth connected to my phone easily with a couple of quick taps, and it connected every time I turned the headset on afterwards. I had zero issues with the Bluetooth; it functioned exactly as it should, every single time!   

Regarding battery life, even with the Bluetooth playing almost the entire time, I was still able to get about 45 hours out of each pair of AA Duracell batteries. I think this is an improvement over previous models, as I got an average of 30 to 35 hours per set of batteries with the Bluetooth being used almost constantly. 

The Bose A30 in the cockpit of the Challenger 605. Adam Fuller Photo

Current pricing for the Bose A30 in the United States is $1,299; in Canada it’s $1,699. This is at the higher end of the market in terms of price. However, overall, this headset is the best headset I’ve worn in my flying career. There are some things to get used to — things that are different — but the progress and the technology cannot be denied. Bose puts so much effort, time, and money into research and development, and they simply refuse to accept an inferior product.   

In discussion with Bose’s product manager, Jason Brisbois, and engineering project/program manager, Anthony Mangiameli, the company’s future development is to be predicated on the feedback it receives from consumers. So, don’t be afraid to tell Bose what you love or dislike about their current headset products, or even what you hope may be included in future models!  

Chart created by Adam Fuller

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