By Evan Young
The Peltor ComTac III line is the third iteration of the ComTac headset. It’s 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.
The ComTac III Hearing Defender model, which is largely identical to the other models in the line, but it lacks dedicated downleads or a mic for comms purposes. It is modular, though, and can be set up with communications gear.
This is a tough-duty headset that’s weather resistant and made for hard use. It’s made to stand up to full submersion in water and is even saltwater resistant. They can typically be found priced around $350 with gel seals included and as low as about $250 with standard foam ear seals.
The headset: This is my headset with optional gel seals in coyote brown. These headsets are available in several other colors, including black and foliage green.
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 ear cup:
Here is the left side (control side) weather sealed 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.
This 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 ear cup. 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.
This is the microphone wind screen and mounting point for it. In my opinion, this is 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 sells 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 AR-15’s. That was in an open space. On an indoor range experiences may vary.
The hearing protection response time is excellent and the headset comes out of compression almost instantly. No ear ringing or other deleterious effects were experienced.
The sound quality of the ComTac III Hearing Defenders is excellent, on par with the Sordin Supreme Pro-X for comparison. It’s actually better than the Sordin headset in some aspects, with the ComTac handling bass/low frequency sounds (foot steps on wood stairs, door slamming, etc.) better than the Sordins.
These sounds are clear and don’t “muddy up.” Ambient noises such as bird chirps, cars in the distance, and the like are picked up and heard easily.
Overall sound reproduction is quite good. The sound levels are balanced, the headset doesn’t 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 ear cups is Kevlar reinforced. The headband is metal. The ear cups are appropriately thick and molded well. The electronics, including all solder joints, are covered with 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 Hearing Defenders have 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.
That said, I 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 ear seals. 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 dropped and lost when swapping batteries. However, I should note the headset will function without the battery doors.
The ear seals are the poorest I have seen on a headset. The seals’ fit to their plastic backing is poor and they tend to 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 aren’t comfortable or functional. They are indeed comfortable and function appropriately. I simply believe there’s room to improve the quality of their construction.
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 Hearing Defender 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 bass or low register 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 many mobile phones and GMRS hand-held radios. What’s 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.
Here’s the cable attached to the headset. It can be attached to either rear comm port.
Specifications: Peltor ComTac III Hearing Defender Ear Muffs
Power: 2 AAA batteries
Battery life: Approx. 500 hours, auto off after 2 hours of non-use
NRR Rating: 23
Controls: 4 sound levels, 5 when “Volume Boost Mode” is activated
Price: About $350 with gel ear seals
Ratings (out of five stars):
Build Quality: * * * *
The headsets build quality, durability, and environmental resistance ratings make it an excellent choice for hard use applications.
Sound Quality: * * * *
Sound quality is on par with other headsets in a similar price range (such as the Sordin line) and is in some aspects better.
Overall: * * * *
The Peltor ComTac III is a high quality electronic hearing protection headset that’s capable of being used as a single comm headset should the user desire. It’s also adaptable for use with consumer grade electronics through use of the 3.5mm adapter cable. 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’s generally an excellent headset and one I can recommend.
Evan Young is the publisher of the Tactical Gear Blog
Do the gel seals provide a better NRR rating than the foam seals?
That’s a lot of money for an NRR rating of 23, but I’m not sure anyone makes an electronic muff with a higher rating.
Hello, author here! Gel seals can sometimes provide a higher NRR when the headset is worn over eyepro with hard stems but overall they’re primarily a comfort thing. The difference in NRR values achieved between foam and gel seals is typically negligible, and you’ll actually generally see a point or two higher rating with foam seals instead.
There are higher NRR headsets, such as the Safariland Liberator series (of which I wrote a review of the HP version that can be found on my site) as well as several Pro Ears headsets. Howard Leight also now has the Impact Pro which is rated at 30 NRR.
The reason for the cost of Mil. grade headsets like the ComTac is things like better overall engineering, improved sound quality, added features (such the frequency pre-sets), environmental resistance (waterproofing, RF/EMI protection), not being made in China (higher cost of manufacturing, better materials), etc.
Thanks for the response and additional information.
I like the Peltor 6S Tac sets I have. No use for the comm equipment here, if I ever start a Spec Ops unit I’ll consider them… 😉
So… forget this price point. What muffs are the very best with regards to noise suppression, amplification ABOVE ambient, and suitability for use with a rifle?
If you’re simply looking for high NRR Pro Ears makes several higher NRR headsets and the Howard Leight Impact Pro offers high NRR as well. Whether or not they’ll interfere with shouldering a rifle depends on your anatomy and your particular method of firearm manipulation. You will ALWAYS sacrifice NRR to get a lower profile headset, you cannot overcome the physics of sound with current technology.
Should note that I can’t speak to the quality of the other headsets mentioned as I have yet to use them myself.
The Howard Leight headband is too long for some of us,(can’t shorten it enough). The Peltor and Walker were a better fit. All were good at noise suppression. Funny, I paid the most $$ for the Howard Leight. I gave those to my husband. Fits him fine.
Read the whole article and still not clear if these are active noise canceling headsets or passive with background amplification.
Every electronic earpro headset on the market relies on passive (physical) noise reduction with the mics allowing in ambient sound. The only electronic hearing protection headset I know of with a claimed ANC (active noise cancellation) ability is the new Liberator series from Safariland and ANC’s applicability to reducing impulse noise is highly questionable, though it is undeniably advantageous with constant noise.
Peltors definitely need to be kept out of the water. I’ve seen way to many get destroyed getting wet.
Which ones? There is an entire line of Peltor headsets, with the ComTacs being vastly different from the commercial grade offerings. I have never heard of a ComTac headset going down due to environmental conditions alone.
The comtacs. Seen way to many of them go down working around the water in my career in the military. We still issued the old school swimmer headsets and would dry bag our peltors cause we would lose to many of them getting them wet.
First I’ve heard of it, never heard complaints about the ComTac III and up from any of the civilian, trainers, LEO, and Mil. users I’ve talked to but maybe they just didn’t bring it up. Maybe I should poll some people and see what I get for a failure rate.
All those wires.. get a 3.5mm bluetooth adapter. Good ones go for $30..
So a 3.5mm adaptor on a 2 prongs to 3.5mm adaptor? I’m too high drag low speed for that.
Right of the top, the over the top of head retention is crap. It interferes with protective and balistic headwear. “Angling” the headset to compensate, normally disrupts ear seal contact with head contours. “Behind” the head retention is the only true solution for a tactical application.
There was mention of “stereo” type balance. That however, doesn’t provide true directional awareness which is the most important hearing protection/sensing quality. Like human ears, the majority of sound collection is geared to gather it from the sides and slightly forward.
Here’s how I check clairity/distortion. With the E/Muffs on, I listen to a music track that I know very well. You will know immediately what’s sounds are spot on (I haven’t found one yet), very close, average, poor or have gaps where nothing is picked up. Instrumentals with great range and repeating same “bar” sections and that bar section with “staff” (pitch or percussion) changes: Vivaldi Four Seasons is a fine example. Vocals primarily highlight the singer and of limited range. Your speaking voice (Test, Test, Test: Lol) is of no use as you hear it in your head as well as in your ears. That’s why our recorded voice sounds different from our speaking voice, while they will be identical to another person. Just listening to ambient sounds provides neither scale or repetition. You might as well just snap your fingers and hear if the sound is muffled.
Snap your fingers – hey, that’s what I do to see if my ear pro is on! On shooting ranges I frequent they very rarely play Vivaldi.
Um… 3M makes helmet mounts for Peltor headsets. Other companies such as Team Wendy do too.
Since Team Wendy threw in with “her” and backed Hillary in 2016; I doubt too many people here will ever support them again.
Then buy them from 3M, Hard Head Veterans, Atlantic Signal, Crye or whatever other company that floats your boat and fits your price range.
Just take the top center pad out and replace it with smaller pads to the front and rear. Done.
Still not what I need, I have hearing loss already, we need more bands of frequency amplification to adjust. The technology is available, just no one willing or smart enough to put it in a product.
Wow. Peltor finally put the batteries on the outside of the muffs so they aren’t constantly submerged in sweat, eh? It’s about time. Looks like you can actually change the batteries without breaking your fingernails too. I’m impressed. This only took them, what, ten years to figure that out? I might get some of these, with the batteries dry and accessible, I can maybe even think to use the microphones and noise canceling features that I had hoped to use on my old muffs. Maybe.