This is the story of two Air Force officers’ real-life success stories. Under the harshest of working conditions, in a high ambient noise environment–combat conditions–they found a way to hear vital communications despite the din.

The UmeVoice Bone Conduction Boom Headset

The UmeVoice Cobra Microphone

IMPORTANT NOTE!: This article about the Ume Voice Bone Conduction Headset with noise-cancellation mic was first written as a PR piece and was featured on UmeVoice’s Web Site..

I dealt directly with the President of that company to write this article at his request, based on having previously reviewed their consumer-grade noise-cancelling headsets for another site..

So, I can write Public Relations (“PR”) press releases as well as reviews, thus this article was originally a PR piece, which I later re-labelled as a review for the purpose of adding to my own site. 

If your company produces and sells a tech product of almost any kind, including consumer electronics and accessories, CDs, DVDs, downloadable or on-demand films, and / or rather esoteric items like this expensive, military-grade headset, I can write Press Releases for you.. I am NOT limited to only writing product reviews!

PRELUDE:

As a tech writer / journalist for over 25 years, I’ve had my hands on a truckload of computer and cell phone / communications peripherals, accessories, and hardware. I’ve put hundreds of gadgets and gizmos through their paces and with years of experience writing reviews one acquires the ability to tell the treasure from the trash. It’s a rare treat to discover products that not only live up to their manufacturers  claims, but actually out-perform expectations.

UmeVoice makes a wide range of headsets. most targeted towards consumers looking for solid, reliable, thoughtfully-engineered gear that lives up to the company’s motto: “Whisper and be heard.”

I’ve extensively used and reviewed pretty much every consumer product they make, including the original TheBoom, TheBoom “O,” the nearly-invisible-when-worn TheBoom “E”, and the spectacular TheBoom Quiet stereo headphones with active noise cancellation, and I didn’t just give these products a short gloss-over before pounding my impressions onto a keyboard.

I used them with my personal cell phones, landline phones, and hi-fi gear for dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours and continue to use them to this day.

While their ergonomics (and prices) differ to suit the varied tastes and budgets of different people, UmeVoice’s remarkable products all have two things in common: they all make a hard-wire connection to your gear (no flaky, static-laden Bluetooth here!).. and they all feature the same, remarkable noise-cancelling mic, engineered and developed in UmeVoice’s in-house anechoic chamber, a room so quiet and sound-deadened, that you can literally stand inside it, and hear your own heart beating! You’d expect an ultra high-end manufacturer of uber-expensive loudspeakers to make use of an anechoic chamber…even have their own, but a headset company?

I mentioned Bluetooth, because I’ve also tested and reviewed a lot of noise-reduction and noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets over the past few years. I won’t name names, but they’d be familiar to most of you who relish being the first kid on the block with the latest tech toy. Some of them work fairly well, some not so well; unfortunately, many are more style than substance.

You’ll just have to trust me when I say that I’ve NEVER met a Bluetooth headset with claimed noise cancellation that can hold a candle to UmeVoice’s products. Never.

I know this all sounds like the typical tech hyperbole…just more self-serving advertising hype to wade through in your search for the ultimate headset.

UmeVoice certainly isn’t a household name. They don’t spend millions bombarding you with advertising on every cable network you watch, every billboard and bus bench you pass, and every magazine you flip through. Instead, those dollars go into solid, intelligent, truly innovative engineering, and my hunch is they’ve sold a lot of products through word-of-mouth, thanks to satisfied owners who simply slap one of their headsets on a friend’s noggin, and say “Here, try this, you won’t believe it.”

My first experience with an UmeVoice headset happened a few years ago. They sent me TheBoom “O” for review. To find out just how well it lived up to their “whisper and be heard” claim, I drove to my Brother’s house.  He had never heard of UmeVoice’s products, never used one, and never touched one.

As we had pre-arranged, he came out and met me at my car, with his cell phone in hand. With the engine running, air conditioning blowing on high, and stereo playing full blast, I asked him to stand across the street from the car while I sat in my car, and called him from my cell phone to his.

Donning TheBoom “O”, I rolled up my car’s windows, dialed his number, positioned the mic on its flexible Magnesium boom near the corner of my mouth, and actually whispered into it. With the combination of engine, air conditioning, and stereo noise, I literally could not hear my own voice, but he could hear my every whispered word, NONE of the background noise and thanks to the supremely comfortable earpiece, I could hear him clearly.

To say he was beside himself in disbelief would be an understatement.  “What is that? Who makes it? How much is it? Where can I get one?” I’ve heard those same questions time after time, as I’ve demoed the different UmeVoice headsets for friends and relatives. Once you’ve tried one, these headsets sell themselves.

BNC Bone Conductor and micWhen you’re in a noisy environment, whether it’s in your car, where “hands-free” is now the law in most States, a crowded store, an echo-filled mall, an amusement park, out for a walk on a windy day, you name it. UmeVoice’s unbelievably clever noise-cancellation engineering just plain works, without fancy electronics, but instead, through the use of VERY intelligent acoustical engineering, and it works better than any other noise-cancelling products I have EVER used. Period.

That’s my take on their consumer-grade gear. Try their product yourself. You don’t have to believe me. You be the judge.

TAKING  IT TO A (MUCH) HIGHER LEVEL

But what if the noise around you IS literally deafening?  What if your job requires you to communicate with others, hear them clearly, and clearly BE heard, but you also have to wear ear protection?  What if your life and the lives of others literally depend on clear, two-way communication?

This is the predicament in which many people find themselves. Wall Street stock floor traders, race car drivers, factory workers, power plant employees. But especially, those brave souls in our military.

These men and women, whether in training or in combat, work with, work in, and are surrounded by machinery built not for comfort, but to get a job done…a job that’s not only dangerous, but machinery that is insanely loud…a job that requires the highest-quality equipment, especially communications hardware.

Enter the UmeVoice Bone Conduction Headset

(The “BCH”), and the UmeVoice Cobra Microphone
The BCH, at a base price of $499.99, is a no-nonsense device, designed with a different form factor than UmeVoice’s consumer-level headsets, and it employs a totally different approach to the hearing component of communications.  Built like the proverbial tank, it’s designed specifically for very difficult, very noisy, and often very dangerous situations, where clear communications are an absolute must.

BNC Bone Conductor partsThis all-black bad boy is built both to stand and deliver. A light-weight black box, about 3” wide, 5” tall, and just under 1” thick holds its electronics, and a pair of AA batteries under a slide-open door. A very solid, black belt clip is screwed to one side. There’s only one control on the box: a small, black on / off slide switch. Up top on the business end, you’ll find a threaded, chrome-plated BNC connector, a small red LED power indicator lamp, and a chrome-plated jack into which you pop a cable to connect to your phone or communications radio. On the example I was sent, because I was testing the BCH with Palm Treo cell phones, that jack came with a two foot cable that terminated on both ends with a 2.5mm male plug. UmeVoice offers different size plugs, depending on what kind of phone or radio you need to jack the BCH into.

BONE CONDUCTION

The headset portion of the BCH is radically different than UmeVoice’s other headsets.  NOTHING goes into or over your ears. Instead, the BNC cable is hard-wired to a very springy, semi-circle, feather-light, tubular metal band.  Although not size-adjustable, this band is available in different sizes, because people have different sized heads.

It slips over the back of your head in the blink of an eye, and two curved sections reset atop your ear lobes, holding it in place.  Thanks to this behind-the-head design, the BCH can be worn along with a hardhat or helmet.

BNC conductor, close upInstead of padded speakers, ear plugs, “gels” or any other kind of in-ear or on-ear speaker, there’s a pair of oddly-shaped black transducers, roughly the size of a “jumbo” olive, at each end of the band. These are the bone conduction units, and their flat sides comfortably rest on your left and right temples, just in front of your ears. Finally, UmeVoice’s ubiquitous (and spectacularly effective) noise-cancelling mic, on its highly-flexible Magnesium boom, is permanently affixed to the left side of the headband, and, like all its other incarnations, is easy to bend and it STAYS PUT when you position it, optimally, near the corner of your mouth.

Bone conduction allows you to clearly hear the other party through vibrations through your temples, while it simultaneously keeps your ear canals open for the use of earplugs for maximum hearing protection. The best of both worlds, when you need to hear clearly AND protect your ears. It works, and it works well.

Again, this implementation of bone conduction technology is targeted towards those who work in and around extremely loud equipment, where protecting one’s hearing is an absolute must, but at the same time, one has to have a way to communicate with others. With a five hundred dollar price tag, the Bone Conduction Headset is not a casual purchase for Joe Consumer and his cell phone. In fact, jacked into one of my Treos, I found its sound output through the two temple pieces TOO loud, even when I cranked my phones down to minimum volume.

At first, this was puzzling, until it dawned on me that I was dealing with a headset specifically designed for users in VERY high-noise environments, not someone sitting in the relative quiet of a living room or car.  The bone-conducting transducers are supposed to be loud.

Bob DeFeo, Colonel, USAF (retired)

Bob DeFeo, Colonel, USAF (retired)

I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time discussing both the Bone Conduction Headset and UmeVoice’s UmeCobra mic with a pair of highly-experienced, career Air Force officers.

Colonel Bob DeFeo (Ret.) met UmeVoice’s president through a mutual friend.

He’s worked on flight lines, the parking apron for aircraft, around noisy generators, air conditioning, hydraulic test stands, jet engines.. the most intensive noise environments you could possibly imagine. These situations require both ear plugs and ear muffs (those hearing protectors you see airport runway workers wearing).

These situations generate some of the highest decibel levels human beings are exposed to in work environments.

As Colonel DeFeo elaborated, “When you run up aircraft engines you have a guy out in front, connected by an intercom cord or a radio to the pilot.. he uses a muffled cup over his mouth to keep ambient noise out, and uses a lot of hand signals to communicate.  

The beauty of the Bone Conduction Headset and its noise-cancellation mic is that it kills the noise at the source…the groundsman and the pilot can hear and speak to each other clearly, even over the roar of the jet engines.

By law, OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires these flight line workers to wear both ear plugs AND ear ‘defenders.’

The USAF  used the BCH at several Air Force bases within the Air Mobility Command, performing rapid engine-running turnaround of planes, as they onload and offload cargo.  

When in a war zone, moving cargo out of an enormous jet like the C-17, especially when under enemy fire, has to be done quickly. The USAF uses the BCH at various bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is totally satisfied with its performance.

With older-style headsets, if the cargo handlers were taking fire while working on airplanes, because they had to work quickly and concentrate on their job, they often never heard a radio message that they were under attack unless someone grabbed them or saw mortar fire.  

We even modified the ubiquitous green “d/c” aircrew headsets that cost a lot of money (withOUT a noise cancelling mic on them), so the UmeVoice mic plugs right into them.

The most critical thing with problems or emergencies, is that noise gets in the way constantly. the clearer you can speak and be understood, the more you reduce the risk of injuries or casualties.

The UmeVoice BCH is soon to be on the GSA schedule–any federal or state government that qualifies can place an order on contract and order them in bulk.

They’re mostly used by ground people in the Air Force, but in the Army they’re also being used, for example, at Ft. Campbell KY, on Blackhawk helicopters.”

Colonel DeFeo introduced the BCH to the Air Force at Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque, NM. There, they bought the UmeCobra mics and jacked them into their d/c headsets for ground operations, and loved it, and replaced the d/c mic with the UmeCobra mic, on ALL their headsets used for ground maintenance.

Robert G. “Bob” DeFeo, Colonel, USAF (Ret.)

Bob DeFeo has over 35 years of experience with US and foreign military forces in joint and combined operations, security assistance, DoD acquisition and program management, USAF/Joint logistics, aircraft maintenance and transportation. He is CEO/President of DeFeo Gehri Associates, Inc. an aerospace & defense, high-tech consulting firm he founded in 1998 after a 27-year career in the USAF.  In his military career, Mr. DeFeo held the positions of Deputy Director, Logistics & Security Assistance, US European Command and USAF C-5 Aircraft Program Director & Aircraft Product Director.

Contact Mr. DeFeo:  bobdefeo@defeogehri.com

Bob DeFeo, Colonel, USAF (Retired)
CEO/President, DeFeo Gehri Associates, Inc.
Novato Office
8 San Pablo Court
Novato, CA 94949
Office: 415-382-6618
Fax: 415-382-6623
Marketing and Business Development
www.defeogehri.com

 

Major Robert Haston, USAF

Major Robert Haston, USAF

Major Robert Haston, USAF

At the time we spoke, Major Haston had clocked over 5200 hours in military helicopters, including $22 million Blackhawk H60s, and HH60s, and Pavehawks, a 22,000 pound chopper twice the weight of a Vietnam War-era “Huey.”

He’s been an instructor-pilot for years, with vast experience in training chopper crews in deep-penetration battlefield missions to pick up downed pilots, and medical evacuations.

His secondary bread and butter is involvement with NASA’s Shuttle program–mainly clearing boats out of the launch danger zone (usually encompassing an area of 16 x 70 miles) before launches and commanding the crews of multiple choppers for possible Shuttle rescue, should the need arise.

His job is basically training the Air Force version of the Navy Seals.

Major Haston told me he’s always on the lookout for new gadgets and ways to do things and almost every military squadron has someone like him.

Many years ago, Haston earned a degree in electronics, and found himself involved in issues regarding ear plugs, for hearing protection for military helicopter crews. “I literally stumbled across theBoom Web site”, he explained, “where I learned that UmeVoice had already gotten into the maintenance side.”

His crews often spend up to three hours in a single training exercise, performing such feats as hoisting people up and down into and out of salt water, and despite the harsh environment, he had NO failures with the Cobra mics.  Thanks to UmeVoice’s technology, the Cobra mic eliminates need to press to talk on VOX (voice-activated) radios.

His training and in-service choppers are typically manned with a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and gunner–a crew of four.  The choppers are equipped with five different radios, and his crews must be able to clearly communicate with ground crews, other aircraft, wingmen, support aircraft, and refueling tankers.

Major Haston told me “helicopter air crew members are VERY finicky about the equipment they use.. you give them something new, and typically someone isn’t’ going to like it”, but in the case of UmeVoice’s Cobra mic, he had NO complaints from anyone at Patrick AFB who used them.

Haston told me he’s always on the lookout for interesting, new COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) solutions for communications.

He tested the UmeVoice UmeCobra noise-cancelling mic both in the choppers’ cockpit (front) and in the cabin (back), where it’s windier and MUCH noisier when the side doors are open.

Sound pressure levels inside these seriously mean machines can easily reach peaks up to 110db ambient levels during flight, while the mandated, legal day-long exposure limit is 88db.

The standard crew equipment consists of a Gentex headset in a model HDU-56 helmet, with voice-activated radios. Haston replaced the stock headset mics with the UmeCobra mics, and was totally impressed with the increase in performance and “hearability.”

Haston continued: “We didn’t use the bone conduction headset, but we have been using the UmeCobra mic exclusively since December, 2006.  We have been very pleased with it. We didn’t do any informal testing, but the difference (after we replaced the stock mics) was quite notable. When someone with the old style mic gets on board, you immediately notice the difference in noise level and accidental VOX triggers.

The main thing I noticed was that I used to have to put my VOX knob at the one o’clock position. Now I put it at 12 o’clock. Another benefit over two sided noise cancelling mics, is that when air from the vent blower or window strikes the mic, it’s much less likely to falsely trigger the VOX.

It isn’t often that something comes along and you get unanimous positive feedback. We make a great investment in rescue helicopters, so even the tiniest improvement is extremely valuable.

The UmeCobra microphone’s noise reduction allowed me to increase the sensitivity knob on my voice activated intercom (VOX) a full clock position.

This all but eliminated the problem of having the VOX trigger accidentally. It also made the crew’s speech distinctly more intelligible. With a crew of four, and up to five radios going, good intercommunication is important in our mission.

This commercial off the shelf (COTS) replacement has been as reliable as the old microphones, including repeated exposure to salt spray.”

Haston has been using the UmeCobra mic since 2006, and said he had over 70 of them in use, constantly exposed to salt spray, with absolutely no degradation in the mics’ performance. Now THAT’S a solid recommendation from a true pro, a man with VAST knowledge in his field of expertise and a true gentleman and patriot.

Major Robert Haston, USAF

Robert E. Haston, Major, USAF (Reserve)

Robert E. Haston, Major, USAF (Reserve)

Robert Haston has over 27 years military experience with the Army and Air Force, 24 of those in the cockpit. He has logged over 5,400 hours of flight time, most in rescue helicopters, with 200 hours in fixed wing jet trainers.

He has received awards for rescue work in hurricanes Andrew, Floyd, and Katrina. His technical achievements include designing the SITREP software interface for the US and NATO’s premier survival radio the PRC-112G, with over 23,000 radios in service. He has regularly deployed to fly in the Southwest Asia Theater since the early 90’s and has been deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan and other duty stations. 301st Rescue Chief of Training.