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8 features to help you choose the right in-ear headset

Look beyond comfort and price and consider a system’s hearing protection and situational awareness capabilities


The following is paid content sponsored by Silynx Communications.

By PoliceOne BrandFocus staff

Law enforcement officers depend on their radios and headsets to communicate in the field, and constant communication is critical for SWAT operations. Many agencies invest in a high-quality radio system but skimp on lower-cost headsets or shoulder mics that provide poor audio quality and offer little or no protection for the user’s hearing.

Constant, reliable communication is critical for SWAT operators, and in-ear headset systems provide the connectivity you need without interfering with your helmet and other gear. (image Wikimedia Commons)
Constant, reliable communication is critical for SWAT operators, and in-ear headset systems provide the connectivity you need without interfering with your helmet and other gear. (image Wikimedia Commons)

In-ear headsets may offer the best solution. Commonly used over-the-ear headsets are heavy and expensive and lag behind current technology. By contrast, in-ear headsets offer increased comfort, custom-fit options and less interference with the user’s movements, as well as superior audio and hearing protection capabilities. No longer the new kid on the block, they also cost less than you might expect.

Here, we break down eight customer concerns to help you choose the best in-ear headset for you.

1. Comfort

Comfort is always the top concern when it comes to gear you’ll be wearing, especially on your head. You want a headset that is lightweight and does not interfere with your helmet or eyewear. This is where in-ear solutions really shine. Earmuff-style headsets are heavy and sweaty and usually sport a boom mic, which can be a snag hazard in rough conditions, or connect to a throat mic that must be strapped around your neck.

Look for an in-ear headset with a microphone built in to the earbud itself, which eliminates these problems and allows you to communicate seamlessly. These all-in-one headsets can provide all the communications capabilities you need in a device roughly the size of a cough drop, and foam ear inserts come in a variety of sizes and shapes or can be custom-made, making it easy to find a comfortable fit.

2. Clear communications

Clear communication is the reason you have the radio, and your headset should be an accessory that enhances this important tool. In-ear headsets deliver the sound directly to the ear canal, which reduces interference from ambient noise and provides both clarity and confidentiality. This also requires lower audio volume and less battery use.

The microphone is an important consideration here. We’ve already mentioned the drawbacks of bulky boom and throat mics, but what about internal mics? Many in-ear headsets use bone conduction to transmit the user’s speech, which relies on the vibrations of your skull as you talk. This can be a problem when an officer is on the move, as the vibrations of your movement will be transmitted along with your spoken message, reducing the audio quality. And there may be no vibration at all when you whisper, making bone conduction less than ideal for covert operations.

Look for systems with in-ear microphones that do not use bone conduction. Internal microphones that capture the voice without relying on vibration avoid the known issues with bone conduction technology, providing better sound clarity and transmitting your speech even when you whisper. This is especially important in a tactical environment, when stealth is critical.

3. Hearing protection

Hearing protection is a more recent concern for cops, triggered by the rising frequency of hearing loss and related disability claims among police and military veterans. Law enforcement agencies are now looking for a headset that provides both communications and hearing protection for officers.

Hearing loss is cumulative and non-reversible, and loud noises are a danger of the job. Furthermore, hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline, so even minor hearing loss can have a major impact down the line. You never know when you’ll be required to fire your weapon, and that burst of noise from your own weapon may well be the noise that does the damage.

4. Situational awareness

A headset is meant to keep your hands free and your focus on the action. A common misperception is that, like a smartphone earbud, once you put an earplug in your ear, you can’t hear the noises in your surroundings. Cops can’t sacrifice their situational awareness, and it’s imperative that your headset allow you to hear outside sounds in order to stay engaged with your surroundings.

For full communications capability along with the same perception you’d have with nothing in your ears, look for a headset with external microphones that preserve the ability to hear what’s going on in your immediate surroundings. Some systems even allow you to adjust the volume of the external microphones to enhance your ability to hear outside sounds.

5. Durability for rugged use

Like any other technology you use in the field, you need your headset to be rugged and durable. Make sure you select a solution designed and tested for the rough use of a SWAT officer or soldier.

Look for a manufacturer with experience supplying the military and products that meet MIL-STD-810 specs, which indicate that a product has been designed to withstand dirt, water, shock, extreme temperatures, etc. Many military-grade materials are also developed specifically to be lightweight.

6. Ease of use

Ease of use is a key factor as well – you don’t have time to fumble with on/off switches and push-to-talk buttons when you’re on the move. Your headset should fit seamlessly into your actions without a second thought. Consider the ergonomic and operational features of various headsets. For example, the push-to-talk button needs to be the right size and in the right place so you can find it when your adrenaline is pumping. 

7. Modularity and compatibility

Modularity is another consideration. Look for a system you can customize for your specific needs. With all the options now available, you can pick and choose what you want with your headset, from the simplest system at the lowest price that connects to a specific radio to a radio-agnostic solution with a variety of accessories, including wireless push-to-talk accessories or a covert system for plainclothes officers.

If you are buying your own headset or your department is considering a change in radios, it may be worth the extra investment to preserve your headset’s compatibility with multiple systems. Look for a headset with a modular connector that can be changed to match a different radio without replacing the whole system. If some officers on your team prefer earbuds while others want to keep their “old faithful” over-the-ear headsets, look for a system that can accommodate both with adaptable connectors.

 8. Affordability

Five years ago, in-ear radio headsets were a fairly new option on the pricey end of the spectrum, nearing $1,500-$2,000 per officer. As the technology has matured, some manufacturers have worked diligently to provide the same level of quality and same functionality and performance at an average cost closer to $500-$600 for a complete system. Various options are now available for any price point and configuration of needs, whether you are looking to purchase a headset for yourself or make a departmental purchase on behalf of your agency.

For more information on in-ear radio headsets, visit Silynx Communications.

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