In our view, Lightspeed’s recently introduced third-generation Zulu3 ANR headset is a nicely executed improvement to a product that already works well. Its predecessor—the Zulu2—excelled in a crowded market of high-end ANR models because it was simple, comfortable and had the modern features buyers want, but at a price that’s substantially cheaper than a Bose A20.
Better yet is Lightspeed’s commitment to its loyal customer base. Recently bought a now discontinued Zulu2? Lightspeed founder and president Allan Schrader understands your pain, so he’s put into place a reasonable Zulu3 upgrade program.
Is that worth the $150 upgrade, or for new buyers, $850 for a new set? We tried the new Zulu3 to find out.
Some PFX, All ZULU
The Zulu3 is far from a complete redesign and the company resisted dragging in the complex feature set that it packed in the flagship PFX model. We think that’s a good thing. While we were impressed with the overall performance of the PFX when we put it head-to-head with other flagship models in the October 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer, we’re not so sure all buyers are wowed by its bold design, or tolerant of its huge control module.
But by fitting some of the PFX’s (and the wireless Tango’s) smartly constructed hardware to the Zulu3, including the Kevlar braided audio cable, plus the performance earseals, the set takes on a new level of quality and durability, with a higher-end feel than the Zulu2.
The most common component to fail in virtually any headset is the audio cabling, but you would have to try pretty hard to trash the Zulu3’s Kevlar-wrapped cabling. Pull on the them hard as you like—they won’t break. Lightspeed is so confident in the Zulu3’s build quality it sends a new set out with a seven-year warranty, and a two-year warranty for an upgraded Zulu2. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Compared to the Zulu2 (which was plenty comfy, in our view), the 14.6-ounce Zulu3 has an edge, at least on our heads. Part of the improvement is courtesy of new earseals that Lightspeed says have 20 percent more surface area than the leading competing headset—which we assume is the Bose A20. The extra surface area helps to accommodate eyeglass temples, it better distributes side pressure and simply provides a better seal around the ear. Unless you’re Dumbo, the wide cavity of the earcup fits over the entire ear. That eliminates a painful pressure point.
The Zulu3 retains an all-metal construction and the headband is unchanged from the Zulu2. It’s rugged and easy to fine-tune. If your ears aren’t centered in the cup, Lightspeed offers taller complimentary headpads.
Just Enough Features
This includes Bluetooth circuitry that’s easy to pair, plus a reasonably sized and utilitarian-designed control module with auto shutoff that houses two AA batteries (40 hours endurance, but less with Bluetooth) and simple sliding volume controls. There’s also volume controls for Bluetooth audio.
To our ears, stereo music quality in the Zulu3 is better than it ever was. We suspect this has a lot to do with the efficient fit of the earpads and reworked speakers. There’s also Lightspeed’s Front Row Center built-in cross-feed stereo enhancement, which creates a theater-like effect. In our view, the quality is on par with that of the AKG AV100 headset—which we declared a music-quality leader in our last roundup.
The Zulu3’s ComPriority feature automatically reduces the music and audio level from connected auxiliary devices (wired and Bluetooth) when a radio breaks squelch. Activate it with a single button on the control module.
We didn’t need to mess with it, but the set has a microphone gain adjustment pot accessed by removing the windscreen. This can be helpful for boosting sidetone.
Flightlink App, Upkeep
Like the Zulu2 and PFX, the Zulu3 works with Lightspeed’s free Flightlink app, which has a wireless audio playback recorder and playback for comm and intercom activity. The app can be used while toggling other apps on Apple devices.
Worth mentioning is that Lightspeed suggests replacing earseals, headpads and mic muffs every 18 months. Plan on $50 for all of them.
The Zulu3 can be ordered with standard (“GA”) audio plugs or with a Lemo panel power cable. The set comes with a high-quality storage case and two AA batteries. List price is $850, and as we noted, you can upgrade a Zulu2 for $150.
As with any headset, we suggest trying the set for 30 days. Based on our trials, we suspect you’ll like it enough to keep.