Monday, February 11, 2008
Expensive Desktop Mic Get Pwned By $12 VOIP Headset
A while back I purchased an entire amateur radio set from a ham who was getting out of the hobby. A rare occurrence, mind you. I really only wanted the radio (a Yaesu FT-1000D) but the guy sold me everything except the feedlines and antennas for less than I'd expected to pay for the radio. Everything worked as expected. In the plethora of boxes I lugged home were a lot of accessories; among them a West Mountain Radio RigBlaster Pro.
The RigBlaster sat in storage for almost a year, until recently when I watched K7AGE on YouTube talking about his homebrew Bluetooth headset interface. One of the accessories which came with the FT-1000D was a Yaesu MD-100A8X desk mic. I've frankly been less than pleased with performance of that mic; it's very sensitive to any change in sound level due to distance from my mouth which means that keeping the FT-1000D's ALC from kicking requires that I constantly ride the PA drive control--and that's tough to do when I'm focused on maintaining a constant mouth-to-mic distance. So I started thinking about getting a headset. Of course, you can spend a ton of money on a "good" headset; e.g. Heil Sound is the name in radio mics and headgear and their stuff starts over $100 and goes up from there. Being the cheapskate I am I decided to experiment with a $12 General Electric VOIP headset I got from Target to do Skype while I was traveling through Asia in 2006.
Interface to Yaesu was a snap using the RigBlaster. As with most amateur radio accessory companies, West Mountain Radio's website and manuals are poorly written but I was able to decipher them enough to set the jumpers properly for the Yaesu. Most computer headsets are have electret voice elements which require a 5 VDC bias on the ring terminal; the RigBlaster can provide bias on the MIC2 jack which also happens to be the perfect size for a PC headset plug. I didn't bother to route any of the receive audio paths; for now I just have the receive side plugged into the headphone jack. I have the MD-100 plugged into the RigBlaster--just in case--but its primary function now is to act as a PTT switch.
The results were impressive. I checked in to the 75M late night net and got an unsolicited report of "great sounding audio" from W6EZV. A flattering report, considering that the 75M late night guys are used to hearing perfectly processed and equalized audio from people like W6OBB aka Art Bell. I'm now able to operate with both hands free, and the headphone has an added benefit of making sure the receive audio is not bothering my family after they've gone to bed. My audio settings are a lot more consistent and don't require constant fussing with the PA drive and speech processor levels. Best of all I'm no longer inclined to go out and spent hundreds of dollars to get a high-end Heil headset. I'm now curious to find out if my successful experiment is unique to this particular VOIP headset or if I can get the same results with other brands.