So, last time I 90% finished the headset I’m likely to use at horse endurance ride and other “quiet” emergency comms events in the near future. The audio quality (at least on receive) sounds great. From what I can tell between hand-helds, the transmit audio sounds good. It’s quite comfortable to wear for extended periods, and while my modifications do muffle sound slightly, it’s perfectly workable.
There are just a couple of niggles:
- the headset uses a dynamic microphone, thus is not compatible (microphone-wise) with the other radio interfaces I have
- I used solid-core CAT5 which is sure to develop a fault at some inconvenient moment
- the cable to the connector is way too short
CAT5 was fine for a proof-of-concept, but really, I want a stranded cable for this. Being a dynamic microphone, it’s not necessary for it to be screened, and in fact, we should not be using unbalanced coaxial-type cable like we’d use on an electret microphone. That brings up another problem: interfaces designed for an electret will not work with this microphone — the impedance is too low and they’ll supply a bias current which needs to be blocked for dynamic microphones.
Right now I use a DIN-5 connector, but this is misleading — it implies it’ll connect to any radio interface with a DIN-5, and that my electret headsets will plug into its interfaces. At most I can listen with such a set-up, but not talk. The real answer is to use a completely different connector to avoid getting them mixed up. I decided whatever I used, it should be relatively common: exotic connectors are a pain to replace when they break. My criteria is as follows:
- As discussed, common, readily available.
- Able to carry both speaker and microphone audio in a single connector so we don’t get speaker and microphone mixed up
- Polarised, so we can’t get a connector around the wrong way
- Panel and cable mount versions available
Contenders I was considering were the 240° DIN-5 (I bought some by mistake once), 5-pin XLR and mini-XLRs, and the humble “CB microphone” connector. Other options I’ve used in the past include the DIN-7/DIN-8 and DE15HD (aka “VGA” connectors). DIN-7/DIN-8s can be fiddly to solder, and are overkill for the number of contacts. Same with DE15HDs — and the DE15HDs do not like moisture!
In the end, I decided the CB microphone connector seemed like my best bet. Altronics and Jaycar both sell these. I don’t know what the official name of these things is. They were common on radio equipment made between the mid-70s through to the late 80s — my Yaesu FT-290R-II uses an 8-pin connector, my Kenwood TS-120S uses a 4-pin. They’re pretty rugged, feature a screwing locking ring, and have beefy contacts for passing current. Usually the socket is available as a panel-mount only, but I found Altronics sell a cable-mount version (and today I notice Jaycar do too). If someone knows a RS/Mouser/Element14/Digikey link for these, I’ll put it here.
The big decision was to also consider how to wire the connector up. As this is “my own” standard, I can use whatever I like, but for the sake of future-me, I’ll document what I decided as I’ve forgotten how I wired up DIN-5’s before. I did have it written down, but misplaced that scrap of paper. I ended up quickly opening up a connector and taking this photo to refresh my memory.
To wit, I therefore shall commit to public record, exactly how I wired this thing, and propose a standard for dynamic microphone headsets.
Some will point out that yes, I’m creating yet another standard. In my defence, mine is aimed at stereo headsets, which traditionally have been two separate 3.5mm phone jacks. Very easy to mix up. Some might argue that there exists a new standard in the form of the 4-pole TRRS connector, however not all interfaces are compatible — at the time when I devised the DIN-5 connector, I was using a Nokia 3310 which did not like having the microphone and speaker connected to a common pin.
Keeping them separate also allows me to do balanced audio tricks for interfacing electret microphones with radios like the Yaesu FT-857D which expect a dynamic microphone. For this; I need 5 contacts — left/right speaker, speaker common, and two for the microphone. There are 5-pole TRRRS connectors, the TP-105 is one such example — but they’re not common outside of the aviation industry where they are used.
For the cabling, I’ve cut the CAT5 cabling shorter, and spliced onto the end some 4-wire telephone ribbon onto each side. That makes the headset cable a comfortable length. I began by first soldering the “CB microphone” connector, choosing colours for the speaker and microphone connections and wiring it up in a “loop”, before cutting the far end of the loop, stripping back insulation and tinning the wires. I used a multimeter to decide which was the “left” and “right” connections — then these were spliced with some heat shrink.
After a quick test on the radio, I sealed it up using some hot-melt glue. This should prevent the solder joints from flexing and thus prolong the life of the connection.
I might look at a small J-FET or BJT adaptor cable that will allow me to use this headset in place of an electret microphone headset — as it’d be nice to be able to just plug this into the tablet to listen to music or use with VoIP. I’ve got extra line-mounted sockets for that. Not sure if it’s viable to go the other direction — I’d need a small battery to power the electret I think, that or a bypass switch on the PTT cable to allow me to power an electret microphone.
That though, is a project for another day.