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FireFox Throat Mic
By Bill Mills - July 2004

A long standing rule in tournament paintball has been the prohibition of radios or communication devices, but that only applies to tournaments.  In walk on play, and especially scenario paintball play where missions are coordinated across entire fields of play, the use of radios in paintball has flourished.

In the 1980s, the limited range of citizenís band and low power FM headset walkie-talkies kept their use pretty limited.  CB based headset radios could be bought for around $30, but had a usable range of only around 50 feet.  This limited them to small squad quiet communication.  FM based systems selling for $100 to $150 a set boosted this range up to 100 to 200 feet and added voice activation capability.  Beyond these systems, good communication required more expensive equipment which also required licensing to operate.

The big jump for radios in paintball came when the Federal Communications Commission opened up the Family Radio Service, or FRS bands for license free operation.  Motorola was one of the market leaders to jump into the game with their Talkabout radios that in good conditions have a usable range of over a mile, and 22 channels of operation.  With entry prices in 1995 of around $100 per handset, the mass appeal of these radios means volume production, and today, it is not uncommon to find low cost FRS radios selling at mass retailers as low as $30 per pair Ė or even a $15 single unit at the local grocery store electronics aisle with a $5 rebate.

Many FRS radios are equipped with earphone and microphone jacks.  For use in scenario paintball, or open woods play, the last thing a player wants after crawling to the perfect position to take out a group of players in ambush is to be given away by the sound of their radio as a team-mate calls them.  Headsets which combine an earpiece with a small boom to hold a microphone near the mouth allow players to use their radio with little body movement, and a quiet voice.  

The drawback to a handheld or boom-mic arrangement is that in addition to the voice of its user, it also picks up the sounds of paintguns being fired around it, wind blowing on a players mask, and even the sounds of breathing against a mask.  For players trying to use a voice activated mode radio (VOX), instead of a push-to-talk (PTT) system, they will be transmitting each time they fire their paintgun.  

Anyone who has seen a movie about World War II era fighter or bomber crews has undoubtedly had a glimpse at the T-30 or similar throat microphone used by the Army Air Corps.  The T-30 was developed by the Shure company to complete a very difficult task Ė pick up a personís voice in a very noisy environment.  Most microphones rely on sound waves coming through the air out of a personís mouth to vibrate the mic element which converts the sound into an electronic signal.  Throat mics get rid of the air in the middle by resting the microphone element on a personís throat and picking up vibrations from that location.  The result is that virtually all of the background noise is eliminated.

FireFox Technologies has taken this concept and updated it with modern components to produce the FireFox throat mic, which they market to enthusiasts of a variety of outdoor activities such as motorcycle riding, snowboarding, and of course paintball.

The basic FireFox mic consists of a steel spring neck piece lined with soft plastic coating.  At the two ends of the neck-piece are rectangular blocks.  One simply provides a rounded end (far more comfortable than a sharp bit of steel) while the other contains the microphone element.  Two wires exit from the neck-piece.  One is short and has an earpiece, and the other is longer, leading to a plug to connect to a radio.

The earpiece is an in-ear type, and is molded entirely from soft rubber.  While it is soft, it rests in the outer ear, placing pressure on the ear, and for some users can become uncomfortable with time.  FireFox offers an optional earpiece holder, which hooks over the ear and holds the earpiece onto the ear with only a very light pressure.

Included in the Paintball throat-mic package is a push to talk button.  The throat mic can be used as is with radios which offer voice activation.  For those that do not, or for players who donít want to broadcast their every word, the throat-mic can be plugged into the PTT adapter which plugs into the radio.  The PTT button is about a half an inch by an inch in size and has a hook and loop wrist band allowing it to be worn like a wristwatch while the radio is tucked away in a convenient pocket or pouch.

In testing, the FireFox system, the first challenge was getting it plugged into a radio.  FireFox their throat-mics with two types of connectors, a single 3/16 inch three conductor plug, or a dual plug version with a 1/8 inch two conductor plug for the earpiece and a 3/16 inch two conductor plug for the microphone.  The model reviewed was the single plug design, so it wasnít a right fit for our vintage 1990 Realistic FRS radios which are a dual plug design.  It also didnít fit a newer TruTalk radio which uses a single three conductor 1/8Ē jack.  A good thing about standards is that everyone has one.  Users looking to purchase a throat-mic should check with FireFox for model compatibility with their existing radio.

In a few minutes time a splitter adapter was built to allow the throat-mic to be tested with the Realistic radio for review.  As the radio used did not offer a VOX feature, all testing was done in push-to-talk mode.  The PTT button proved to be much more convenient than having to reach to the radio for activation.  A player can sit in a concealed position, and communicate quietly with very little movement.

The all critical question is how did the microphone perform?  Performing a quantitative analysis can be a bit difficult, so real world performance was recorded to allow the reader to compare.  Two short recordings were made while driving in an open topped Jeep Wrangler and transmitted a distance of approximately one eighth to one quarter mile, and converted into Real Player format for online listening.  Using the microphone built into the radio there was significant background noise from wind, road noise, and the car stereo.  Using the FireFox throat-mic, the speech was not quite as distinct, as with the radioís microphone, but the speech was the only sound coming through, it did not have to be sorted out from the background noise.  The comparison recording can be played HERE - Real Player required.

FireFox Technologies throat mic made an FRS radio much easier to use in paintball, and improved communication capability by eliminating background noise.  In comparing it to other throat mic systems on the market, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, the FireFox system is well suited for FRS use, and is surprisingly inexpensive at a suggested retail price of less than forty dollars.
 

 


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