3M/Peltor Com-Tac II MT15H69FB-19 (dual comm)
MSRP: $530 – $725
I recently acquired a Peltor Com-Tac headset and I thought I would do a short write-up about them. Prior to writing this I have been using an MSA Sordin Supreme Pro neckband version which I will refer to from time to time to provide a reference point to compare these to. While this write-up is not intended to be direct comparison between the Sordins and the Com-Tacs given that these two products are considered top tier for this category and are both widely fielded by Military units and LEO Tac Teams worldwide I feel that it would be a fair comparison.
As most of our readers, I am sure, are already grossly familiar with the Com-Tacs I will be skimming over many of the nomenclature and a few other things that can be considered common knowledge and will focus more on my personal findings and observations.
- Environmental Listening – Level-dependent surround sound for “talk-thru” function (aka. Environmental Listening) Environmental Listening is a means of allowing safe audio sounds to bypass the individual hearing protection while still protecting against harmful noises. This is accomplished with a proprietary digital audio circuit integrated into the headset. A microphone receives the sounds outside the headset and transmits them to a speaker inside the headset. The Level-Dependent digital audio circuit senses noise levels above the desired threshhold and compresses them to a safe decibel level or amplifies weak sounds to an audible level.
- Autonomous sound amplification and comm circuitry – external communications and stereo “talk-thru” are independent of each other meaning that you can listen to an external signal without battery power and even when the product is switched off. In more relevant terms, this means that should the batteries on your headset die, radio coms are not interrupted. When the headset batteries die, the comms circuitry draws power from the radio unit.
- Ambidextrous noise-canceling boom mic –The flexible goose neck boom mic can be switched to either side for both left and right handed shooters.
- Meets Environmental Standard MIL-STD-810F
- Last setting memory – This feature ensures that the latest settings are stored at shut-off.
- Automatic Shut-off – after two hours of no active functions the unit automatically powers off to conserve battery power. Two warning signals are emitted to indicate that the unit will switch off in one minute if no function is activated.
- Polarity Protection – prevents damage to circuits if the batteries are inserted incorrectly.
- Active-Volume Function – When the active-volume function is on, the amplification is reduced when an external signal is received, i.e., radio transmission.
- Noise Reduction Rating (“NRR”) of 25 DB.
- Submersible – Waterproof up to 3 feet, for 30 minutes, salt water survivable
The ComTacs covered in this review is a Com-Tac II ACH dual comm model. Visually identical to the single comm model with the exception that the latter, will have only one down lead that can be plugged into a PTT while the dual comms have two cables. Realistically though, unless you are team leader or have a need to monitor two nets at once, there are no advantages to running dual comms.
My first impression of ComTacs was that they were a bit big and clunky and the battery compartments, which protrude outward from the cups might interfere with achieving a proper cheek weld when aiming down a rifle.
The plastic earcup shell on this particular unit is an olive drab hue with nice matte finish. The ear cups are color matched to the muff housing. (I had initially thought that they came standard with gel ear cups out of the box but it appears that I was wrong, though they are available as an aftermarket drop-in replacement)
The head band consists of a metal curved piece that that the hangers attach to, which is then covered in a non- removable thin leather wrap. The materials used along with it’s non padded design, allow the headband to have the lowest profile possible. The tension provided by this metal headband do quite a good job of ensuring that ear cups perfectly sits against your ear with just the right amount of pressure to achieve a perfect seal. Comfort-wise, in my opinion, they feel pretty comparable to many of the standard foam cupped designs I am used to.
I was eager to find out how they would fit under a helmet so I put them on and my modified MSA TC2k ballistic (high cut) helmet to see how they fit and I was absolutely amazed at how comfortable the fit was! Having been used wearing SORDINs (neckband) under my helmet, which I had no complaints about (except for maybe a bit of pressure to the side/rear of my head which is mostly only an issue when worn over long periods), I have to admit trying on the ComTacs has introduced me to a whole new level of comfort! In fact, after trying on the Com-Tacs and then comparing it to the SORDIN neckband fit with a helmet, I now notice that it does take a bit of playing around with the positioning of the helmet with the Sordins to get it to sit comfortably while maintaining a proper seal compared to with the Com-Tacs and even then it is no contest. With the Opscore pads arranged in a way that leaves a pad channel for the headband to sit in, it is just a matter of putting the helmet on. Just as the manufacture claims, I can confidently say that this headset can indeed be worn comfortably underneath most ballistic helmets.
The ComTacs consist of two, semi-flat, oval-shaped ear muffs with a ramped up section at the lower sections of each earpiece which make up the battery compartments. The battery compartments are accessed by using a flat tool like a screwdriver head and prying up on either end of the friction-fit battery covers.
The flexible goose-necked boom mic clips slides lower end of the hanger and has a connector plug that attaches to the audio input socket located at the rear of each cup. The mic is ambidextrous and can be switched to either side for both right and left handed shooters. When not in use the boom mic can be flipped to one side and out of the way or removed al together quite easily.
The on/off/volume buttons are made up of two slightly textured buttons located at the bottom of the left ear piece. Depressing either of these buttons and holding it down for at least 3 seconds turns the unit on or off.
A 20”, NATO-wired down-lead wire runs from the back of each ear piece (only one on a single comm unit) and requires an in-line PTT to connect to two way radios.
Operation of the headsets are fairly simple: The most forward button increases the volume while the rear button deceases it. There is an audible chirp with each button press to let you know that a setting was changed. The ComTacs are equipped with a Volume Boost Mode that restarts the audio at a higher gain setting. To do this simply press and hold the volume up button for 10 seconds. The user also has the option of adjusting the stereo balance between left and right ear if he chooses by holding down both buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds, you are now able to adjust the balance using the up and down buttons.
The Com-Tacs provide active hearing protection and sound amplification using what they call the ‘Talk-Through’ Feature in which the built-in microphones receives the sounds out in full surround the electronics then dampen any harmful sounds while amplifying ambient sounds up to 18DB.
The noise-canceling microphone filters out distracting sounds allowing for the clearest possible transmissions. The Talk-thru is independent from external comms so should the headset batteries die, radio comms remain uninterrupted allowing you to maintain command and control which is critical on the battlefield.
While evaluating the performance of the ComTac’s sound protection and amplification functions I noted that the stereo sound sounds much more natural compared to some of the other cheaper headsets. Sound being amplified are natural and very life-like, giving you the illusion of full surround sound listening, making hearing intuitive, allowing the user to pinpoint the direction of the sounds heard with relative accuracy, enhancing situational awareness .
In order to connect the ComTacs to a two-way radio unit, you will need a compatible in line PTT adapter (Note: these connectors are only compatible with NATO Standard PTT’s which can be identified by a suffix ending in “02”. )
The ComTacs are equipped with an active-volume function which prioritises incoming radio signals over ambient sounds. When this feature is activated, the circuitry automatically reduces ambient sound amplification by about 30DB when an external signal such as a radio transmission is received. While it provides the obvious benefit of never missing any critical intra team comms it also has the side effect of making you sound blind to any surrounding information which becomes a primary concern during times of high radio chatter such as when conducting entry drills. It is critical to be aware of this and to train around it to ensure that your equipment does not hinder your effectiveness.
The manufacturer claims that the Comtacs have a battery life of about 500 hours while I found that in practical use this number seems realistically more like about 250hrs -300hrs. Three audible warning signals are emitted every 30 seconds for five minutes when battery power is low, before the unit eventually powers itself off.
*While the non comm models are equipped with an auxiliary audio input jack for connecting to an external audio source such as an MP3 player or radio using Peltors’ proprietary cable adapter, the comm models do not. SRS Tactical does make an Auxilary adapter plug (part #: PHC-6000) that allows you to plug a cellphone or MP3 player into the microphone input jack if you choose. Should you do this note that the sound will only come through on the side that the device is plugged into, so no stereo sound. Interestingly, If you tried to plug into the unused microphone input jack while the boom mic is connected to the other one, you will hear the audio from your auxiliary device coming through the boom mic. *
Insights and Conclusion:
Peltor’s ComTacs are an awesome product and it is easy to see why they are chosen by of many of the SOF guys.
Despite my initial apprehensions about the extruded battery compartments, I am happy to say that they do not interfere with achieving a good cheek weld whatsoever and as Peltor claims, they fit perfectly under most standard kevlar helmets with no modification and have surpassed my expectations in comfort and fit. I would say that they are actually much more compatible when worn under a ballistic helmet than the both the headband or neckband Sordins. The ComTacs do a good job of effectively filtering out any harmful sounds and I found comm functionality to be exactly what you would expect out of a product of this caliber.
Again; while it is not my intention in this write-up, to sway the reader toward either ComTac or Sordin or even to provide a direct comparison between the two, I feel that there is some value in mentioning a few aspects that I feel are pros and cons between these two. I found the battery compartment on the ComTacs a bit awkward to access compared to the Sordin`s metal thumb screw cap and I can’t help but wonder if these plastic edges would wear down over time from repeatedly prying them open with whatever tool might be most accessible at the time. Because of the design of the Sordins battery compartment dead batteries are also much easier to replace in the dark even with only one hand. Because the Sordins use the smaller AAA batteries, it allows them to have a lower profile and as a result are also slightly lighter in weight than the ComTacs. (The battery life also seems to be a little longer on the Sordins something MSA claims to be due to some proprietary circuitry). Another thing I like in the Sordin design which was also present in the ComTac 1 but was oddly changed in the ComTac 2 and onward, are the raised power and volume buttons which allows the user to easily `feel` them even while wearing gloves. I like to place three fingers on the buttons and I know that the middle one is power and the other two are the volume. Also because holding down the up or down volume buttons will shut the power off on the ComTacs, you run the risk of accidently turning the units off while trying to increase/decease the volume or even more so while holding the volume up button to activate the Volume Boost Mode. The button placement on the Sordins, the raised, more tactile nature and the fact that there is a designated power button all work together perfectly in my opinion to minimize operator error especially while under duress particularly if wearing gloves.
Functionally, there are those that argue that sound quality on the Sordins are better but there are also those who swear that the ComTacs are far more superior and ultimately it does seem to come down to personal preference. One thing I did hear from a couple of people was that they experinced a slightly audible clicking sound on the ComTacs but as I didn’t notice this myself I cannot say either way. I would say the audio is pretty comparable between the two brands but the Sordins do seem to pick up higher pitched sounds (such as snapping twigs or scraping metal) a bit more clearly compared to the ComTacs.
One thing that I found to be particularly quite impressive with the ComTacs, is that Peltor claims that these headsets are submersible in upto 3 feet of water for as long as 30mintes and will even survive a dip in salt water. A pretty damn impressive claim which MSA doesn’t even try and compete with. (I did not try this out myself however.)
Price-wise, those not backed by the big green machine will appreciate the act that the Sordins do tend to be slightly cheaper in price than the ComTacs especially if you are buying used.
While the OEM foam ear cups are not uncomfortable in either brand, if you see yourself wearing these over extended periods, do yourself a favor and swap these out for the gel ear cups, your ears will thank you. Sadly there is no getting around the occasional sweat buildup typical of wearing full muff designs particularly when wearing these in hot or humid climates. Despite the comfort of the fit of the ComTacs with the OEM headband under my helmet I picked up a pair of ARC Rail adapters and mounted them directly to my helmet this allows me to have them in the ‘open position’ which increases airflow, ventilation and gives my ears a bit of break from the pressure of he cups while still being able to monitor comms if needed. Mounting them to the rails also aids in easier donning and doffing of the helmet and headset.
In closing, I will say that whether you choose to go with Sordins or ComTacs, you can be sure that both will be more than apt for the job. As with using any equipment in the field, they are they are great tools and give you the much needed edge when they work, but batteries die, electronics break or malfunction, in these circumstances these tools can become more of hindrance than a help. In the event of failure, knowing how to work around equipment failure and having a fall back plan is critical and might just save your life.