Recently I’ve been searching for a ham radio headset. One which would be rugged enough for field radio and preparedness. Here’s what I came up with.
The desktop ham radio world has a good number of excellent headsets to choose from. Amongst the top tier of ham radio headsets is Heil, which I have used for a couple of decades. For the field radio operator deploying in harsh conditions, rugged headset options are few and far between (This is what I thought anyway). As usual in the ham radio community, accessory manufacturers have left ruggedness to a near afterthought. This is because they either don’t understand the convergence of amateur radio, field radio & preparedness, or R&D is confined to the mild climates and sunshine. Whatever the reason, we need to think outside the box.
The defense industry has had a plethora of quality noise-canceling headsets available for more than two decades. Brands like Peltor & Sordin provide lightweight, waterproof & noise-canceling headsets to the military, law enforcement and the shooting communities. The aviation industry has options to consider as well! Many of us already have these headsets in our gear or have used them in our past military lives. Those familiar with them will already have had the light bulb go off in their heads. Those who aren’t, may still not understand why we would use them, or how to justify the cost. Let’s explain.
My headset requirements
Unlike casual activities like Parks on the Air, field deployment in potentially harsh conditions requires something which will survive getting there and staying there without failure. It should protect the users hearing, allow a user-selectable level of isolation from ambient noise, and should be comfortable enough to wear for long periods, without giving the user headaches or neckaches. Normally, ham radio headsets are designed to isolate the wearer from ambient noise. The operator is effectively in a bubble. For EMCOMM & Preparedness, I would argue that the radio operator is not only listening to the radio, but he/she should also be able to “mix in” the environment around them as well. Here at 65N, the deafening wind noise can be a problem, whether or not we are operating with or without a shelter. A headset should protect us from harsh sounds while still allowing normal radio operations and speech with the person standing next to you. As far as I know, there are no ham radio headsets allowing this functionality.
The following are some of my basic requirements:
- Monitor both radio & ambient sounds
- Attenuates and isolates dangerous sounds while allowing in everything else
- Extremely lightweight
- Long battery life
- Folds down small
- Won’t break when thrown in a pack
EarPro is a term used to describe hearing protection for shooters. There are lots of brands, but my experience is with Sordin from Sweden. Sordins were originally developed for military and industrial applications. For these customers, robustness was not an option, it was a strict requirement! Sordin was able to balance excellent audio reproduction, with durability and longevity requred in the field. Sordin earpro attenuates loud noise, amplifies ambient noise, and allows audio from an auxiliary source to be piped in.
Currently I have two pairs. The one I want to discuss is the Sordin Supreme Pro X neckstrap model.
The Supreme Pro-X earmuff provides excellent hearing protection and high directional amplification. It has AUX audio input and waterproof battery compartment.
Here are some of its features:
- Waterproof microphones (IP67 tested)
- Two separate, well shielded microphones for optimum sound direction location
- High amplification and natural sound reproduction without chopping and cutting out
- Audio input (AUX) for connecting external audio sources, such as radio Lead with 3.5 mm mono jack plug included
The last feature on the list is perhaps the most important to ham radio operators.
“Audio input (AUX) for connecting external audio sources, such as radio Lead with 3.5 mm mono jack plug included”.
The Sordin Supreme Pro X has a built-in auxilary audio jack. This jack allows us to plug in any audio source for monotoring directly in the earpro. Rigs like the Lab599 TX500 & Icom IC-705 can drive these headphones comfortably, with lots of headroom to spare.
*Using the AUX audio on the Sordin Supreme Pro X, we can route the audio from the audio output on the radio, in through the AUX audio input on the headset. This works extremely well on the Icom IC-705 and the Lab599 TX500. Both of these radios can drive the the Sordin speaker elements to a loud, distortion-free level without breaking a sweat.
At the moment, I use the standard handheld microphones from the Icom IC-705 and Lab599 TX500 when transmitting on phone modes. Sordin does make a version of the headsets which has a built-in microphone element for intergration with rigs. However, this requires an expensive PTT (which is ok for some). The PTT can come in either single radio or setup for dual PTT allowing for example, a VHF rig on one side and HF rig on the other. This while being able to monitor audio from both rigs simultaneously. This is a nice feature, but with the added cost of the TX/RX headset and PTT, I find it out of the scope of my requirements ATM. Instead, the testing of electret boom microphones we tradionaly find in ham radio, may be a better technical solution, and more cost effective. Part 2 of this blog with address my solution for transmit audio and manual or vox PTT.
One of my viewers turned me on to the 1Mii bluetooth receiver. With this receiver, I was able to add BT functionality to the Sordin headset for less than 20 bucks. The 1Mii pairs with the IC-705 as if they were made for each other. Oddly, both stereo audio into the Sordin and mono microphone audio from the 1Mii are functional. There was no indication the 1Mii had an internal microphone. Nevertheless, it works perfectly with the IC-705 paired over Bluetooth. BTW, if you’re still undecided about the IC-705, take a look at what how I am using this rig, on my IC-705 Playlist.
I’ll be doing a video on using the tactical hearing protection for field radio work in the coming weeks. I do have my own earpro goals but assure you, they will be very interesting to the portable ham radio operator.
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