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The 2$ Tactical Hearing Amplifier

I repackaged two “super-ear” hearing amplifiers into a pair of hearing protectors to allow for stereo amplified hearing in a form factor usable in the bush.

Unfortunately it both worked better and worse than I hoped.


First of all, I have a confession to make – it cost 2$ not counting the hearing protectors. (Peltor Shotgunners – if anyone cares.) The two hearing amplifiers were from the 1$ store.

The hearing amplifiers are high-gain amplifiers and work pretty well indoors. From up the stairs I can hear someone tapping their finger on the kitchen table. The biggest problem is the fact that they are so darned sensitive. They also pick up every little movement of your hand or fingers on the case, or if it’s clipped on clothing, every move of the fabric comes through loud and clear.

The solution to this was to re-package them into the headset. Thus, they would be insulated from noise resulting from handling, and free from feedback since the speaker would be isolated from the microphone (the microphone is on the outside of the hearing protection, the speaker on the inside). This way I could have one for each ear and maintain stereo hearing.

PARTS USED

  • Hearing protection (I used Peltor Shotgunners, as they were cheap and comfortable).
  • Two “super ear”/ “spy ear” hearing amplifiers.
  • Two AAA cells (replaced the watch-battery 1.5V cell with a AAA for longer life).
  • Two flat speakers from an old audio headset. (The flatter the better since it has to fit into the hearing protector cups.)


WHAT WAS DONE

  1. Open up the hearing amplifier units and remove the contents.
  2. Extend the microphone out on a longer wire. Do this for each unit.
  3. Remove the audio jack from the circuitboard and wire in a headphone speaker instead. Do this for each unit.
  4. Drill a small hole in each hearing protector cup. This hole will be how we reach the on/off/volume switch.
  5. Drill another hole for the microphone – this one closer to the front and bottom of the cups so the mics will point forwards.
  6. Glue the circuitboard into the hearing protector cup with silicone (or hot glue).
  7. Glue the microphones in to the hole made for that purpose.
  8. Wedge the battery into the side anywhere it will fit.
  9. Put the foam over the electronics and place the headset speaker on top so that the speaker will be over your ear when you are wearing it.
  10. Try it on for comfort. If it’s not comfortable, move the battery around or cut away some foam as necessary.

USING IT, AND WHY IT DIDN’T WORK OUT

Operation was not a problem – they worked just as I hoped, in a way. That is to say, they worked just as well – if not better – as the amplifiers did when on their own. Repackaging into the headset was much easier to use, carry, and listen to.

However, while I could sit (or walk) around the house and hear almost everything that went on, they wound up being unsuitable for tactical use.

I discovered some limitations in the amplifiers’ operation while I tested them in the field on a couple separate occasions.

In a nutshell, they are in many ways TOO sensitive, and they don’t let you really hear far-off sounds well.

While wearing them every little crack and scrape came through loud and clear. I couldn’t tell the difference between a small crack nearby and a loud one far away. A tiny twig scraping against your gear sounds like someone out there in the bush. The smallest snap which you’d otherwise ignore or tune out without a second thought sounds like a branch snapping under someone’s foot right around the corner.

In one game, I tried using them to find some players who were sneaking around in the woods with the objective of secretly reaching their rendezvous points. I donned a ghillie suit and this headset and set out – I did listening stops regularly and scrutinized every incoming sound. Long story short, at the end I was shocked to discover I had only made it about 40 or 50 feet from camp. I heard so many sounds so clearly while wearing these that it took me forever to move such a short distance – I was unable to “tune out” the junk.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Implanting the amplifiers into a headset worked pretty well, actually.
  • They give you an intimate knowledge of every little sound in the immediate vicinity, but not much for further-off sounds.  You can be lost in a maze of detail of the tons of sounds in the 5 feet around you.
  • These things might work better indoors, where the audio situation is a little more controlled and there are plenty of walls, etc for sound to bounce off of and carry further.
  • All in all, they were not suitable for tactical use outdoors.

You can read more failures here.

Or, for a change of pace you could check out the projects that actually worked out (more or less.)