Contest Headphones and glorious HF SSB

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by VK6FLAB, Dec 14, 2018.

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  1. VK6FLAB

    VK6FLAB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    Contest Headphones and glorious HF SSB

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    Recently I managed to get some quality on-air time when I participated in a contest. This isn't about contesting. Although I suppose tangentially it is. It was a most enjoyable experience shared with some friends and because we did it at a local radio club, Sunday morning had all manner of visitors joining us for a little social chat, just the ticket for breaking the monotony of calling CQ.

    Normally when I do a contest I wear headphones, actually it's a headset, that is something over my ears with an attached microphone to capture my contacts without me having to use my hands or move my head towards a fixed location while I'm making the contact.

    One hour in my trusty headset broke clean in half. They've been with me since 2012 so I was a little disappointed. They weren't cheap. I'm not going to tell you what brand it is, but they're very popular in the contesting community and I bought them based on those recommendations.

    Given that I now had no headset I immediately went to the nearest social media outlet to ask for recommendations on what to do next and the typical responses included different brands, ways of repairing, better models, those kinds of things. Everything you'd expect from a community which has some experience in creating a headset that actually works within the context of amateur radio.

    Don't get me wrong some of these suggestions were great but I don't particularly fancy spending $500 on a headset that is suited to listen to glorious HF SSB. If you're not familiar, think long distance AM radio playing music you can barely hear hosted by a DJ you can almost make out. Making a contact using HF SSB is really an exercise in deciphering really bad audio, often with lots of people on the same frequency at the same time, all vying for your attention. Making a contact, a QSO, in that kind of pile-up can be a challenge.

    The contest ran for 48 hours so in my down time I had to come up with a solution since making a repair within the time available seemed unrealistic, even though I happened to have spare parts somewhere in my shack. As an emergency standby I brought along my mobile phone in-ear headphones.

    They're lightweight, cheap, and they block out the audio from nearby conversations in the shack. Everything you want in a contesting headphone. I used a microphone on a boom, attached to the desk, but that wasn't ideal, moving your head, looking at the logging screen, operating the radio, from a user interface perspective, it left me wanting.

    I should add that I prefer to operate a contest using Voice Operated Control, or VOX, that is, setting up your radio in such a way that you don't need to push any buttons to talk, you open your mouth and the radio automatically starts transmitting. Very helpful when you have your hands on the keyboard and the foot-pedal is just out of reach or making your leg tired because you have to hold it up so you don't accidentally key up the transmitter.

    It occurred to me that I'd never seen this particular use of a headphone in the context of amateur radio. After the contest I went out to find a similarly spartan microphone. I'm still weighing up the options but I think I might have settled on the idea of pursuing headphones and microphones intended for use on a mobile phone, precisely because they are designed to deal with blocking out surrounding audio from both the earpiece and the microphone.

    As I'm describing this to you it occurs to me that it doesn't even need to be wired, a simple Bluetooth audio module plugged into the radio with wireless mobile phone headsets might just be the ticket.

    What has been your recipe for success in creating an environment where you can hear a HF SSB QSO in a contest environment without spending half the value of the radio?

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

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  2. KA2K

    KA2K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have experienced audio delays in some Bluetooth transmitters. Could cost points in a pileup. Test the Bluetooth device for delay using the monitor and a wired microphone. Oh and if you do have a delay in your device and like to use the monitor - it makes it nearly impossible to use.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2018
    SA6CKE likes this.
  3. SA6CKE

    SA6CKE Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

  4. VE7DQ

    VE7DQ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I concur with the observations of K2SDS.

    aptX is a newer standard for Bluetooth that apparently has reduced latency. I have no experience with an aptX headset yet so cannot add further comment. I believe that an aptX transmitter must also be used in conjunction to achieve the reduced latency.

    The Peltor headset is quite attractive... if you can live with the latency. What's the list price?

    For my own SSB operation I use VOX (along with optional PTT) and a Peavey semi-pro PV-1 wireless over-ear microphone combined with an ancient pair of Sennheiser 900MHz analogue cordless headphones. No latency in this stuff. Not terribly expensive, either.

    I'm always on the hunt for something better.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2018
  5. VK6APZ

    VK6APZ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    The Peltor WS Protac XP only 972 bucks Australian, i was using Altronics C9070 only 200 bucks.
    The last 10 years i have been using Yamaha CM500, only 50 bucks American, i get good reports on my audio.
    I have used Vox from day one, they work great for me.

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    K4RKY, N1UB, K5JEF and 2 others like this.
  6. WN1MB

    WN1MB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Why not?
    W5MIL and K9GLS like this.
  7. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I've used Koss PRO-4AA's for 40+ years. They never break, although I have three sets just so I can leave them plugged into different rigs without having to unplug and swap.

    Not expensive, but sound great, are very comfortable, and you can drop them on the floor a thousand times without damaging them.:p I also like the coiled cord, which extends to ten feet so I can walk around, but once seated, retracts to occupy almost no space. I'd never want headphones that don't have a coiled cord.

    $99 everywhere.
    WA7PRC likes this.
  8. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    I like my Heil ProSet Plus headset. After several years of abuse, they're still in one piece. It has a LONG cord, that seems to reache nearly everywhere in my modest shack. The dual dynamic microphone elements have response suited to ragchewing or DXing/contesting. I like that, no matter which way I turn my noggin, the microphone is ALWAYS in the correct location. The earphones are also very good and, it has a phase reversal switch. Sometimes, that makes the difference between copying a weak station, and not.
    W5MIL, VK4SP and K5JEF like this.
  9. K8ZW

    K8ZW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Tell me about this "simple Bluetooth audio module plugged into the radio" you mention. I've been looking for something that will do it but all I've found are either one way or something designed to make standard stereo headphones bluetoothable (if that's a word).
  10. WN1MB

    WN1MB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Great headphones, though a little heavy for my liking. Had mine for a good many years - awesome isolation with those gel filled cups and very nice sounding. Had to fight off a few attacks by a couple of friends who were Sennheiser electro-static snobs - they were self-proclaimed golden ear boys and said the Koss weren't accurate enough for them. heh.

    Have you tried the newer triple As?

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