Technical Articles

HAM Radio Tech: How Headphones and Headsets Can Improve Your Copy

Are you tired of spending time on the air struggling to copy the person on the other end of the conversation? Do barking dogs and noisy kids distract you from your QSO? Why not put the audio where it belongs—directly in your ears.

Hear Here

Headphones and headsets have been around since the earliest days of radio. They were widely used with crystal sets in the 1920s and 1930s and again in World War II, enabling radio operators to concentrate better on the signals being received. After all, there are some significant distractions on the battlefield.

Nowadays there’s a huge choice of headphones and headsets for a variety of applications and environments. There are even specialty headphones for music, gaming, and, of course, ham radio. Which do you choose?

The problem with premium audio and gaming headphones is their low-frequency and high-frequency response is often too good, so you could end up hearing hum or hiss from your transceiver. Remember, you have nothing above 3kHz from an SSB transmission, and very little below 300 Hz.

Headphones and headsets designed for ham radio often narrow the response at the extreme high and low ends, making them more useful for receiving SSB and CW signals. For example, the speakers in the Heil Pro Set 6 headsets are 200-ohm nominal devices, with a -3 dB point at 8,000 Hz. This combination reduces hiss found in receiver audio stages. 

Heil PRO 7 headsets respond from 100 Hz through 12,000 Hz before attenuating at the lower and higher ends of the audio spectrum. This is a suitable range for amateur radio use. Both the PRO 7 and Pro Set 6 include Heil Sound’s phase reversal technology, which allows the user to “move” the incoming signal by utilizing the phase-reversal switch. This creates a unique spatial widening sound that can, in some situations, improve copy in a tough DX pileup.

Comfort and Fit

How do they feel on your head? Do they pinch your ears or squeeze your skull? These are crucial factors that you should consider when shopping for amateur radio headphones. If you use your radio for long stretches—especially for contests—headphones that sit perfectly on your head with comfortable earpieces are important. You should also ensure that the headphones will sit firmly on your head. If not, check to see if they are adjustable for a better fit. The INRAD W1 has pull-out headband length adjustments and can be tipped back as far as 30 degrees off vertical without moving the earpieces.

Consider the type of ear covers. Supra-aural headphones, sometimes referred to as on-earheadphones, have smaller ear pads that sit on the ear rather than larger ear pads that enclose the ear. They do not completely cancel external noise/sound and are best suited for scenarios where you need to be aware of noises and sounds around you. The Heil BM-10 is an example.

Circumaural headphones are worn around the ear. They completely block the ears from the external environment and provide passive attenuation of noise. Also known as full-sized headphones, they eliminate external noise and prevent sound from escaping the headset. The Heil Pro 7 has specially designed foam-gel ear pads that provide 26 dB outside noise reduction.

You’ll also want to make sure that the cord has the proper jack or adapter for your radio. Most radios use either a 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch stereo jack for receive audio. If you use a headset, you’ll need to have the proper microphone adapter for your rig.

Headset or Headphones?

The difference between ham radio headphones and headsets is the microphone. Ham radio headset microphones are usually attached to a flexible boom on one side of the headset. Headphones, on the other hand, do not come with a boom microphone. If you prefer to use your rig’s hand mic or a desk microphone, headphones are all you’ll need.

If you choose to get a headset, you also need to determine which kind of microphone element works best with your radio. Brands like Yaesu, Kenwood, and Flex use dynamic elements; Icom and Elecraft use condenser elements. Many modern transceivers have a built-in equalizer so you can adjust the audio parameters of the microphone for best sound or to give your voice more “punch” when working pileups.

Clearly Better

So next time your radio’s sound quality is poor or you can’t hear anything because of the background noise, try one of the many ham radio headphones or headsets. They will help you copy exactly what was said.

Four Benefits of Using Radio Headsets

1.  More Private—When you use a radio headset, you have the ability to communicate privately while minimizing eavesdropping on received signals.

2.  Lightweight and Comfortable—Many people have a misconception that using radio headsets is a pain. In reality, radio headsets are lightweight and generally very comfortable when properly adjusted.

3. Better Sound Quality and Word Recognition—Using a radio headset allows you to have audio that goes straight to your ears, helping you to recognize words more easily. If you have hearing problems or are working in a potentially loud environment, having a headset can make it much easier to listen to and comprehend messages. 4.  More Consistent Mic Audio Levels—With headsets, the boom and microphone stay in the same place, even when you turn your head.

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