Peltor ComTac III Hearing Defender Review and Analysis
The Peltor ComTac III is the third iteration of the ComTac headset. It is in common use with many specialized military and police units and is beginning to see regular adoption by the U.S. Army. It is available with mics/downleads for use as an integrated communications headset but I'll be focusing on the "Hearing Defender" model of the ComTac III, which is identical to all other models other than it lacks dedicated downleads or a mic for comms purposes, though it is modular and can be set up with communications gear.
Price is typically around $300 with gel seals included. They can often be had as low as $250.
Uses two AAA batteries, rated battery life of ~500 hours
NRR rating of 23
Waterproofed, rated for submersion at 3 feet for 30 minutes, saltwater survivable
Two front facing microphones, one on each earcup
Kevlar reinforced cable linking the earcups
Communications fail safe, outgoing and incoming comms will function without battery power
4 sound levels, 5 when "Volume Boost Mode" is activated
EQ Mode (Change listened frequencies of ambient sound. 4 settings available.)
Balance Mode (Change volume balance in the earcups)
Headset will turn off after two hours of inactivity (no button presses for two hours)
Sound compression, does not "clip" or turn off the speakers when loud noise is encountered
Will save last used volume level and EQ selection
Adjustable for fit
The headset: This is my headset in Coyote Brown. These headsets are available in several other colors, including Black and Foliage Green. There are gel seals installed on this headset.
Left side earcup, front (microphones) to the left: The controls are on this side, below the battery port.
Right side earcup, front (microphones) to the right:
Front view, showing the microphones with wind screens:
Rear view, showing the two comms adapter ports, one on each earcup:
Here is the left side (control side) battery compartment. The battery compartments feature triple-flange sealed plastic battery doors. The doors themselves slip behind the battery contacts and seat against them, preventing loss of contact tension which could lead to battery disconnect.
Here is the first thing seen with the earcup seals and inner foam removed. Seen is the speaker in its rubber housing, with "COMTAC PELTOR" and "MADE IN SWEDEN" printed on the speaker housing.
After detaching the speaker housing from its mounting pegs we can see the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and other elements inside the earcup. The thick conformal coating can be seen on the PCB, protecting the electronics from water and other environmental factors. The battery wire ports, speaker wire ports, and control wire ports are also sealed with an epoxy. The wire solder joints on the PCB are also coated.
The microphone wind screen and mounting point for it. This is in my opinion one of the weak points of the ComTac design. The wind screens can be easily torn off/lost and the plastic mounting pegs are susceptible to breakage. Peltor does sell replacement wind screens and would likely supply replacement mounting pegs as they simply snap into place.
Use as shooting muffs: I was comfortable firing a range of weapons with this headset, including a 12 gauge shotgun, .327 Federal Magnum LCR, 7.62x54r rifles, and 16 inch barreled AR15's. Granted, this was in an open space. On an indoor range experiences may vary. The response time is excellent and the headset comes out of compression almost instantly. No ear ringing or other deleterious effects were experienced.
Sound quality: The sound quality of the headset is excellent, on par with the Sordin Supreme Pro-X for comparison. It is actually better than the Sordin headset in some aspects, with the ComTac handling bassy/low frequency sounds (foot steps on wood stairs, door slamming, etc) better than the Sordins. These sounds are clear and do not muddy up. Ambient noise such as bird chirps, cars in the distance, and the like are picked up and heard easily.
The sound reproduction is overall done quite well. The sound levels are balanced, the headset does not present extreme frequency bias, and the sound is as close as you can get to natural human hearing with a headset in this price range.
Durability and environmental resistance: As stated before this headset is rated for full submersion in water at 3 feet for 30 minutes and is saltwater survivable. The cord connecting the earcups is Kevlar reinforced. The headband is metal. The earcups are appropriately thick and molded well. The electronics, including all solder joints, are covered in a thick application of conformal coating to prevent water damage. All wire ports are similarly sealed. The battery compartments are water tight.
The ComTac III has seen use by multiple police and military units in wildly varying conditions across the world and continued to function even under extremely rough use conditions. I believe it has proven itself as a truly durable electronic headset that will be dependable at all times provided proper user care.
I do have some minor complaints with its construction, namely the weak microphone cover design, headband cover, lack of lanyard points for the battery doors, and the earseals. The headband cover is a thin strip of leather that can be easily worn through. The battery doors lack any sort of lanyard points or other retention system, meaning they could be lost when swapping batteries. However, I should note the headset will function without the battery doors.
The earseals are the poorest I have seen on a headset. The seals fit to its plastic backing is poor and they peel at the edges. They are almost soft to a fault, I can see them compressing and wearing more quickly than other headsets gel seals. This is not to say the seals are not comfortable or are not functional, they are indeed comfortable and function appropriately. I simply believe there's room to improve the quality of their construction.
Back of gel seal and inner foam pictured below. The poor fit of the seal to the plastic backing piece can be seen.
Operation: Operation of the headset is simple. Hold either control button for ~2 seconds to turn the headset on or off. There are separate on and off tones. The forward button is volume up, rear button volume down. A soft tone sounds for each volume level adjustment. The headset will beep to alert you to having reached one end or the other of the volume settings. All other operation of the headset relates to the use of the built in modes, explained in detail below. Explanation of modes: The ComTac III has several useful modes built into the headset. These are - "Volume Boost", "EQ", and "Balance".
Volume Boost - With headset turned on, hold the forward button (volume UP) for 10 seconds. Headset will cycle off, then on. When it turns back on a set of extra tones will be heard, signifying the activation of the Volume Boost mode. This provides a fifth volume level louder than the normally available fourth level. I will say this fifth level is not any louder than a Sordin Supreme Pro-X headset on its loudest setting. It is my opinion this extra volume level should have been part of the normal volume settings instead of being hidden in a separate mode. The headset will NOT "remember" this fifth volume level, the Volume Boost mode must be activated each time you want to use it after turning the headset off.
EQ - This mode allows you to cycle through 4 frequency ranges for the microphones, changing slightly what ambient sounds the headset will pick up. With the headset on, hold the back button (volume DOWN) for 10 seconds. Headset will cycle off, then on. When it turns back on an extra tone will be heard, signifying activation of the EQ mode. When changing frequency settings a set of tones will be heard, signifying which setting you have selected. One tone means setting 1, four tones means setting 4. I find the headset sounds the most natural in most situations on either setting 2 or 3. As you go up in setting the frequency range becomes higher - favoring higher pitched sounds. As you go down the range becomes lower - favoring bassy or low sounds.
Balance - This mode allows you to adjust the volume balance between the speakers. With the headset off, hold BOTH the control buttons down for 10 seconds. Headset will turn on and an extra tone will be heard, signifying the activation of the Balance mode. Now you can adjust the volume balance, making the right earcup louder and the left quieter or vice versa. This would be most helpful for people with hearing damage in one ear, with this mode allowing them to up the volume of the speaker for their damaged ear. Most users will likely leave this mode set for exact 50/50 balance and there is a tone that will sound to alert you when you have the balance set for 50/50 while adjusting the balance.
Compatibility with consumer electronics (usage of 3.5mm ports): Though not readily apparent users CAN make use of devices with 3.5mm audio OUT ports on them, such as most mobile phones and GMRS handheld radios. What is required for use is an adapter cable due to Peltor using their proprietary two-pin audio plugs on this headset. Peltor themselves make such a cable and there is at least one aftermarket cable available. This cable can be had for around $20 to $30 and allows for the user to pipe in audio to the headset from a device with a 3.5mm audio OUT port.
The cable itself, showing the two-pin L shaped end on the left and 3.5mm mono L shape pin on the right.
The cable attached to the headset. It can be attached to either comm port.
Conclusion: The Peltor ComTac III is a high quality electronic earpro headset that is capable of being used as a single comm headset should the user desire. It is also adaptable for use with consumer grade electronics through use of the 3.5mm adapter cable. The sound quality is on par with other headsets in a similar price range (such as the Sordin line) and is in some aspects better. The headsets build quality, durability, and environmental resistance ratings make it an excellent choice for hard use applications. It is adaptable, comfortable, and provides adequate hearing protection while allowing for excellent hearing of ambient sounds. I do have some minor complaints with the headset, primarily relating to a few aspects of its construction, but it is overall an excellent headset and one I recommend.