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Old 06-08-2015, 2:26 AM
minh6710 minh6710 is offline
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 44
Default Amplified speaker mic / lapel speaker for scanners

Before, when portable scanner listeners wanted to listen to their scanners out in the field they had four options Ė the internal speaker, earbud, earbud(s) or headphones. Itís not always practical or comfortable to hold the radio up to your head or have something in or on top of your ears, especially for extended periods or in noisy environments that require both hands to be free. Today I want to introduce another solution Ė the battery operated amplified remote speaker mic / lapel speaker. Iíve been a radio user / scanner listener for over 20 years and Iím always searching for ways to bring more utility and enjoyment to the hobby. Iíve used everything from car cassette adapters to Apple earbuds to the line in aux input in my car. But for truly portable use I think itís hard to beat a remote speaker positioned closer to your ears while your radio is securely mounted on your belt. Back in the day (1990ís) with the old Bearcat and Radio Shack scanners the old trusty Radio Shack Lapel Speaker RS 20-009 was an ok solution. It was flimsy and chintzy and for the price of $10 it wasnít expected to have the best build quality. The coiled cable and clip werenít the most robust but it worked well enough for the most part. Nowadays, as many of you may know, most new portable scanners are designed with circuitry that greatly attenuates the audio when any device is connected to the headphone / earphone jack, to prevent possible hearing damage that could result if full power from the audio amp is accidentally routed to headphones. When connected to earbuds or headphones for that reason the audio is sufficiently loud, but when connected to any kind of external speaker the sound is very, very low and is useable in only the quietest of environments. As explained earlier, it isnít always feasible or desirable to have something in or on top of oneís ears. Short of lugging around powered computer speakers everywhere you go there really isnít a good solution that works well for truly portable use. Scanner Master sells two different lapel speakers but the reviews are bad because the audio is low. For the price point, the build quality canít be that good either. It isnít the speakerís fault that the audio is very low. Again, itís the circuitry in the radio limiting it. Iíve been tempted to take an old Motorola JEDI series PSM public safety mic and modify it with a 3.5 mm audio jack and perform the old paper-clip/bread-tie-around-the-antenna-ground trick to create a short and bypass the audio resister but Iíve been hesitant to do so for fear of burning up my expensive Uniden BCD436HP or voiding the warranty. So a workable alternative has eluded us. Until now. I spent an exhaustive effort researching possible solutions until I came across a web site that manufactures amplified remote speaker mics for PTT / Zello applications on mobile phones. For the past four months Iíve repurposed it unofficially into a listen only device and it has been working extremely well, much better than any non-amplified lapel speaker you can find on the market (i.e. the Scanner Master lapel speaker). Mobile phones also have the same limitations built in so when I found it I became very excited wondering if it could be used for my purposes. The manufacturer is OEM / Klein Electronics and their amplified remote speaker mic model is the VALOR SPEAKER / MICROPHONE FOR ZELLO or OEM-VALOR-ZLO.

Valor Speaker / Microphone for Zello Phones

The price for the speaker mic is $135. Yes, it is a bit on the higher end of what many users may want to spend but it comes with a rechargeable battery included as well as a micro USB charging port and micro USB wall charger. When I initially called the company and asked them about the feasibility of using it as a listen only device for scanners they were befuddled, not knowing what to answer as their product was not designed for that purpose. I took a deep breath and went out on a limb and purchased it not knowing how well it was going to work, if it was going to work at all. I am here to tell you that the answer is a resounding YES. It is built extremely well, has a grippy rubber overmold and robust rotating clip. It is LOUD. Approximately 100 decibels. Like blow your ear off loud. The volume level on my Uniden BCD436HP goes up to 15 but I usually have it set at 7 or 8 with the speaker mic attached. For more volume I can crank it up to 11 or 12 but all the way up is not necessary. It comes with a right angle three conductor 3.5 mm jack and plenty of coiled heavy duty cable. You wonít be complaining about the cord being too short on this mic! In addition it has two audio ports on both the top and bottom for users who may want to plug in a listen only earbud while wearing it on the front (traditional way) or draped over the back towards the front. It has a three year warranty and comes in black or safety orange. The included battery lasts a long time. I will usually have to replace the AA batteries in my scanner three or four times or more before I have to replace the battery in the mic. Which leads to the next best thing about this speaker mic Ė the user replaceable battery. The battery resides in a compartment behind the back rotating clip. With a downward push of the battery compartment latch the rear rotating clip comes off and exposes the battery. It is chargeable in the mic but I have never charged it this way. The battery is a common Motorala BK70 or Rayovac CEL10926. The Motorola batteries are cheap and plentiful on eBay for less than $4. Motorola also makes a desktop charger for the battery, part number SPN5394A, also available on eBay for $8. For the price I bought a desktop charger and five extra batteries. I didnít know this at the time, but honestly, I really didnít need five extra batteries, because the battery lasts so long but still the idea of having a couple extra spares is nice. Iím the type that uses a battery until it is completely discharged before I recharge it so itís nice knowing that if Iím out and the battery goes dead I can swap it out in seconds. For $3.70 for each battery I figured I couldnít go wrong getting extras.

I wanted to take a few months to evaluate the speaker mic and use it before posting a review. That said, here are some of my findings: As stated earlier, the volume at full blast is loud. Over 100 decibels. I tested it unscientifically with a decibel meter app that I downloaded onto my iPhone. I replayed a recording of a fire tone-out, something that would be loud and consistent. From the build in scanner speaker, it peaked at 96 decibels. From the speaker mic it reached a maximum of 103. 103 doesnít sound like it would be much of a difference over 96 decibels but it is. It is more room filling sound. If I understand correctly, the level of sound goes up exponentially as the decibels increase. A jet taking off, for example, would be around 140 decibels. A rock concert would be like 115 dB. Youíll probably rarely need it on full blast, but if you do, it will be more than loud enough.

The battery lasts for DAYS. You will be replacing the batteries in your radio before you replace the battery in the speaker. It is important to know that there is no on / off switch on the mic. Once the battery is inserted it is on. So even if you arenít using it, even if it is unplugged from the radio, it is still on. But it lasts so long plus the inexpensive price of widely available spares makes this a non issue. A small red LED lights up unobtrusively on the back of the mic to let you know the battery is low.

The voice quality is good and clear. It sounds like a professional radio. Speech is clear and it is easy to understand what is being said.

Build quality is very good. It feels very solid in the hand and is easy to grip. All ports are covered with rubber flaps. The rotating clip has a tactile click. I have no trouble finding an attachment point on my clothes to attach it to. The cord has a heavy duty feel and weight to it and length is not an issue. The right angle connector fits well in the headphone port of my scanner is swivels out of the way. Strain reliefs are strong and rugged. Iíve dropped it a few times accidentally onto a hard concrete floor and it looked none the worse for wear. It has a professional look and feel. I havenít had it out in inclement weather but it appears to be well sealed against the elements. It seems like it will last a long time.

There are two PTT buttons on it. One is the traditional one on the side and the other is the round speaker portion itself. The speaker is mounted on a clickable switch so itís easy to find in any condition or orientation. I realize that wonít serve much purpose on a scanner but if you were so inclined to download the free Zello app, it works well for that. I did not have Zello before purchasing this mic, but it was free and why not? I use it casually to stay in touch with a small group of friends and it is reminiscent of the old Nextel days, right down to the sound effects. Iíve used Zello on iPhone and Android and the mic works well with both. The app itself is ok, but it does kick itself offline if it hasnít been pulled up in the foreground after some time. It doesnítí work as well as a dedicated Nextel phone, when Nextel was in business but for the price, I canít complain. I can create channels to talk to a group or privately PTT to individuals. The way I see it, itís just icing on the cake.

Now, onto the bad. These arenít deal breakers by any means, but my personal observations and opinions: The VALOR speaker mic isnít going to win any beauty contests. I suppose Iím biased with my experience with Motorola products. Aesthetically it doesnít compare to the sleekness of Motorola mics but it does the job. ĎNuff said. Not that itís terribly ugly by any means. It does look and sound professional. Because the engineers had to incorporate a battery compartment into the mic, it has to be a bit thicker than what Iím used to. There is no audible low battery indicator. There is a small red LED on the back that lights up, but I leave it off the radio for days at a time on the kitchen counter and would never notice it. It would be nice if it chirped to let you know it was low. After a few days of not using it the battery will be completely dead and I will know this when I plug it in and press the light key on the scanner which should beep. The latch holding the rotating clip on the back of the mic which also serves as the battery compartment cover is probably the weakest link. The cover has two tabs at the bottom and the spring loaded latch is at the top. So far, I havenít had any issues with it, and the fit of the battery cover to the body of the mic is laser precise. But if any part is going to fail, I think it would be the latch or the tabs. Iím sure that the part would be covered by the three year warranty or would be easily available for purchase. The volume when cranked all the way up, especially if the battery has been partially depleted, will clip and distort some. Not obnoxiously, but it is there. It happens only at the highest settings, which you probably wouldnít normally have it at. Replacing the battery with a fresh one alleviates it somewhat. It is still very much useable, and again, you probably wouldnít want it at the highest settings, unless you want the volume to be uncomfortably loud. On the issue of price, while it may be higher than some may be wanting to spend, I think it is about reasonable for what youíre getting, which is a professional, rugged, well made speaker mic with built in circuitry and an amplifier with good clear sound. If you're willing to spend $500 for a flagship scanner, what's $135? It has been more than worth the price for me.

In conclusion, the VALOR RSM is a great solution for anyone desiring portability and the ability to place loud clear sound where they need it. I believe that the right accessory can make a device all that much better and more useful and enjoyable. This may not be the accessory for every portable scanner user, but I imagine it would make a huge difference for those who are in the law enforcement / security field or those who work or want to listen in noisy environments. I am using it on the Uniden BCD436HP scanner and it works absolutely well. I imagine it will work just as well with any scanner with a standard 3.5 mm earphone / headphone jack.

Whatís in the box: VALOR RSM, battery, micro USB wall charger, quick start guide. Extra replacement batteries are available on their website for purchase for $40. Or you can find Motorola BK70 batteries on eBay for under $4.

In the Zello market for accessories there is only one other viable competitor, and it is the Savox Promate RSM-30 remote speaker mic. It is $140. If you go to the Zello website and click on accessories at the bottom you will be taken to a page of compatible products. Most of them are the in-the-ear bud types and a few wireless Bluetooth speakers. The Savox Promate RSM-30 is the only other wired battery operated speaker mic. It does look sleeker but I chose the VALOR RSM because it has a more traditional look to it and the cord does not veer off at a weird 45 degree downward angle like the Savox, which I am not sure would work well for my uses. No information as to if it accepts an inexpensive user replaceable battery or even if the battery is replaceable or how well overall it works, so I canít vouch for that. If anyone does try the Savox, please post on here and let us know what you think. Likewise, if you purchase the Klein VALOR RSM I would really be interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions on it as well as what equipment youíre using it with. Please see the attached pictures for additional information. Any questions? Feel free to ask
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