Note: This is the first five star rating I've given any product in a very long time.
Since becoming a private pilot 12 years ago, I've been pretty sensitive to cockpit noise. I didn't damage my hearing with loud music or machines through the years and I wasn't about to do it in a single engine airplane. So I bought the best, the Bose X ANR headphones. But, while clearly better at noise reduction than the rest (I tried several other brands) at the time, I was never completely satisfied with them. They felt awkward on my head, heavier then they should have. The clam shell design didn't fit quite right and while they were the best at the time, as far as I was concerned, they weren't the final state of the art. I always felt someone could do better, (maybe even Bose, but they never did). It was sort of like waiting for the Ford Excursion to come along while driving a GMC Suburban. Suburban was good.....Excursion is a lot better.
I was delighted when also ran maker Lightspeed upped its game and introduced the Zulu's in 2009. It was with high hope that I bought a pair and tried them out. BINGO! The Zulu's were so comfortable I forgot I had them on. Audio quality was demonstrably better than Bose (in my opinion)....and the features (including bluetooth technology) were well ahead of the never improved upon Bose X series. And, the Zulu's were a couple of hundred dollars less expensive to boot. In every comparison but one (see below), the Zulu headset was between a bit better and blow 'em away better than the Bose. The result was that one of my two pair of Bose units went to the co-pilot's seat and the other replaced an old David Clark pair for pax in the back of the plane. I happily made Zulu my personal headset.
Flash forward to 2011 and the new Zulu.2. My co-pilot Bose had lost the right side earpiece audio and I had just sent it to Bose for a $185.00 (an outrageous price) re-manufacture when the cabling on my Zulu developed an intermittent short in the mic cable at the control unit. Off it went to Lightspeed to be fixed so now I'm down to one pair of Bose. I was concerned the Zulu repair would take a couple of weeks and, spoiled to the Zulu, I looked for options. I discovered the Zulu.2's where shipping so I decided to add a new Zulu.2 to my flight deck. It was sold as having studio quality mic sound and even better noise canceling so how could I go wrong?
Having had the new Zulu.2's for a couple of weeks, now, here are my personal opinions:
Compared to the original Zulu (which beat Bose handily), the mic quality of the Z.2 is not noticeably better, at least not inside my hearing. But look out for the noise canceling! That's where everything changed.....again. These phones are spooky quiet(!) to the point of dramatically changing the engine audio signature from inside the pilot's seat. I actually had to reacquaint myself with the sound signature of the engine with these headphones on. If I can't hear the engine running, is it running? It is truly amazing how quiet these phones are in the ANR mode. And with the wraparound sound feature....ATC (or anything else you're hearing with them) is literally inside your head. The sound doesn't seem to be coming from the phones, it seems to just occur inside your head, not an external sound. Comparing the three: the Bose X, the original Zulu and the new Zulu.2, the Zulu.2 is easily the clear cut winner. I couldn't ask for better.
A decade ago, Bose reinvented the game when they built a wonderful headset with the Series X. But then they sat on an unchallenged lead for years. Their customer service is rude and demanding (getting them to accept my bad pair for repair required me doing a series of tests to prove to them my diagnosis of the problem was correct before they would accept them for a retrofit that cost nearly 20% of the retail price of a new set) and by comparison to the Zulu's, the X's are overpriced by about 25% from the jump. Sorry, even at this level, game over in my opinion.
I love to see smug leaders knocked off their perches and that's exactly what Lightspeed has done to Bose with the Zulu/Zulu.2. When you Google "best selling ANR headset" now, the response is: "Lightspeed Zulu." It's just a better product.
The ONLY complaint I have with the Zulu is that the cabling is lighter weight compared to that of the Bose. As a result, it often wraps around itself (which doesn't happen with the Bose) and obviously does not hold up as well under daily use. The mic short in my two year old pair was a direct result of the light weight cabling becoming tangled with itself through daily use (I commute 50 miles daily to my office in my Saratoga, so they get used just about every day).
The good news here is that Lightspeed was very friendly and easily arranged an RA for a fix of the problem. They turned the unit around in less than three days and paid for overnight shipping back to me. They even threw in a new pair of ear pads at no extra cost. Couldn't have been happier with their customer service. The Bose guys where jerks by comparison (Lightspeed: laid back dudes versus smug "it's your problem yankees" at Bose)....just my experience in having the opportunity to compare Bose customer service with Lightspeed at the same time.
Incidentally, even with the audio improvements, the original Zulu is a superb choice, especially in light of the fact that with the new Zulu.2 on the market, I see that the original Zulu's are now selling in lots of places for $740.00, a $160.00 (27%) discount from its original price. If price is a very important consideration, spring for the original Zulu (the Zulu.2 has assumed the $900 price point of the originals). The original Zulu is a wonderful headset....and a real bargain at the price.
In fact, with a pair of out-of-the-factory re-manufactured BOSE headsets, I thought I might throw them on e-Bay and get enough for them to make buying another set of original Zulu's a super bargain. No dice. Bids on the Bose units on e-Bay were all around $450 bucks for even re-manufactured units (thus, the market works). Oh well...I just threw the "new" BOSE unit in the back with the other pair. So now my passengers have BOSE quality at their disposal. The repaired original Zulu's are now reserved for the co-pilot side up front. The Z.2's (you saw use of that term here first) are mine.
And for those who might think it....no, I don't work for Lightspeed.
I wouldn't give up my Garmin 496 for just any old pretender and now I feel the same way about my Zulu.2's.
New flexible cord works as well as the Noise Reduction - Very Effective. The Bluetooth/Cell phone connection is amazing and should please my wife next time she flies with me.
Ear cups fit over my hearing aids and glasses comfortably.