Low Cost Headsets For Field Day

 

Background

The annual Field Day event in my little radio club here in Livingston County, Michigan has always been full of challenges, but thanks to a dedicated team of folks who really want to make it happen, we pull off some sort of an event every year.

For several years now, we’ve chosen to activate the Emergency Operations Center in our county Central Dispatch facility.  At our location, the EOC area doubles as a large meeting room and classroom area.  In times of an emergency, there are copiuos  power, video, and networking options.  Magically, pushing a few tables around, and adding computers and phones turns this into a command center.

The 3 F’s Of Our Field Day

In retrospect, you should never turn over the operation and logistics of Field Day to folks who are not rabid contest types.  However, we have very few contesters who actually want to be involved in the planning and setup of this annual event.  Excuses run the gambit – you’ll just need to trust me that I’ve heard everything imaginable.

We’ve chosen, therefore, to focus on 3 wider appealing areas for our annual  operations:

  • FUN (If we don’t have some level of fun, why do this?)
  • FELLOWSHIP (We’ve tried to extend an invitation to hams and non hams alike to “come and play”.  We’ve managed to gather a nice collection of equipment for the activity, and for some, a chance to operate gear they’ve only read about is compelling.
  • FOOD (Hey, you gotta eat.  Even simple fare done well can be yummy)

Change Is A Four Letter Word?

It has been said that people don’t like change.  I would actually submit that people do not like change that they didn’t create.  Additionally, I would add that in general, some folks just tolerate change in any way, shape, or form better than others.  I’ve heard a wide range of excuses about all of this as well.  We’ve got some members who stopped coming to our event because it wasn’t “outside in tents”, others because “it’s not in a field”, and still others who claim fear of the large people carrying balloons that are launched just 1/2 mile from our location at the annual Hot Air Balloon Challenge going on during the same weekend.  This year was a collection of a huge number of changes (like 3 of them).

Computer Logging

For many many years, we simply did things the old fashioned way – operators scribbled contacts and info on scraps of paper.  At the end of the contest, someone would attempt to translate and search for duplications before submitting our results. At the end of Field Day last year, the person who handled this for years drew a line in the sand – no more paper logs!

We were fortunate to latch onto many older Panasonic CF29 “tough books” for use within the county as emergency communications computers.  These units even came with mobile docking stations, supporting the notion of running the computers on the same 12 volt sources as the radios.  I’ll save more of the details for a future post.

The DX enthusiasts in our club swear by N1MM software for contest logging and rig control, so right or wrong, good or bad, that’s what we installed.  Heck, I could write two blog entries on this topic alone!

Station Equipment

In the past, we operated 3 or 4 stations, most of them Elecraft radios of some sort.  There have been 3 amateurs who bring their K3 stations out to the event.  At least two of them commented that bringing their gear out to Field Day gave them the opportunity to dust things off!  This year, we supported bring whatever you felt like.  As a result, we had more gear than operators.

Headsets

We’re operating in the same large room, and although we try and separate folks into different spots, headphones are a must.  Add to this that in most cases, we were hopeful that there would be a logger as well as an operator, which means at least two sets of headphones per operating position.

We’ve used headsets in the past, but there have been issues, especially with volume level.  We just don’t have the budget to buy a bunch of Heil headsets, so we started to look for alternatives.

Computer Gaming To The Rescue

I’ve used computer gaming headsets on amateur transceivers before, as many others have, so that part isn’t all that unique.  While wandering through the local Microcenter store gathering supplies for our computer login project, I stumbled into this:

IMG_0779
Pro HT Headset Distributed By Inland Products

 

Outside the plastic, the unit looks like this:

IMG_0780

IMG_0781

This is a great little headset for $7.99 plus tax.  There is an inline volume control, to support the need for two or more users needing to adjust the audio level for their comfort, and a great little microphone.

You need to support 3.5mm connectors, as shown in this picture:

IMG_0784

 

We ran into only one complication, in that some radios or microphone cables we connected to didn’t like the stereo microphone plug.  The construction of those jacks was found to be such that the sleeve contact was actually touching the ring of the stereo connector, and as such was not completing the connection from the radio to the microphone element.  Fortunately, the fix was a little adapter connector, like the image below:

IMG_0777

The only complaint we couldn’t address was that the microphone boom articulation is only supported on the left side of the wearer.  The cost was worth dealing with this minor inconvenience.

Audio performance was outstanding, both on transmit and receive.  We were able to support logging and operator requirements in a very cost effective manner.  Users were surprised at how comfortable and light the headset were to use.

Future Plans

We’re already discussing a mechanism to allow the logger to talk to the operator by way of the headset, much like an intercom environment.  We’d like to do this because there were several times that the logger caught all the information, but the operator didn’t.

Conclusion

A really useful low cost headset that you don’t mind getting accidentally immersed in coffee or coke.  Low cost enough to buy everyone their own personal headset as a take home souvenir!

 

 

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