News & Reviews

ComPack Connects for Field Work

Radio World - February 12, 2003
by Carl Lindemann

With the explosion of cell phones, interfaces to take advantage of the new connectivity are popping up. JK Audio’s ComPack lives up to the company’s claim of being a “universal telephone audio interface” bringing together everything needed to work with both wired and cell phones.

The ComPack is small enough (8 x 3 x 2.2 inches) to be an easy add to any field kit. The sturdy metal case makes sure that it survives the beating that such duty demands.

For wired applications, the ComPack plugs into standard and digital PBX lines. If there’s a phone line handy, this lets you use it.

As you might expect given JK Audio’s success in this arena, it earns its keep well as a full-function, clean-sounding hybrid. But the real bonus here is cell phone connectivity. Despite the decidedly “iffy” audio quality of cell phones, the simplicity and ubiquity of the services make it irresistible. Calling in live reports in a pinch via cell beats looking for a land line! But working with a bare cell phone means accepting many limitations besides the sound quality.

What the ComPack offers is the means to conduct interviews with a professional mic, monitor with real headphones and also send actualities down the line as needed. It’s not just a hybrid; it also integrates a mixer so that there’s nothing else needed.

This extended functionality comes from taking advantage of the tiny 2.5mm jack now included in many cell phones. These are designed to provide “hands-free” operation with headsets that integrate mic and headphone. Extending the capabilities of the 2.5 mm jack takes some doing especially since these are unbalanced connectors. But the ComPack manages to work around these issues admirably.

I took a ComPack out for a test last election eve covering a gubernatorial campaign inside a local hotel. How well could I work the room with the ComPack? My assignment was to phone in hourly reports and to be set to deliver breaking news live as needed. Typically, the calls were recorded station-side and trimmed. Here, the ComPack offered two options. I could record with my standard MiniDisk setup then feed the audio via the 1/8” line input. Or I could simply conduct interviews on-the-fly and have them recorded directly.

That, as it turned out, was the preferred method. The MD playback was reserved for clips drawn from speeches taken from the pooled feed.

The full rig consisted of using the ComPack to tie together a Beyerdynamics MCE 58 mic, Sennheiser HD25 headphones and a Motorola V60 cell phone. The mic and headphones just snapped into standard connectors. Bringing the cell phone online required the proprietary 2.5mm to ¼” adapter cable.

At first, there was some RF interference. This is an inherent issue - the cell phone transmissions are problematic for the unbalanced connections. Fortunately, the noise only came through the headphones. It was not transmitted to the other end of the line. It is just a minor annoyance that can be minimized by carefully placing the cell phone as far away from the ComPack as possible.

I had it slung on my right side by the shoulder strap with the cable reaching behind me to the cell phone tucked away in a left side pocket. This all but eliminated the interference.

With the headphones on and the newsroom producer tapped in, it was easy getting good sound almost effortlessly – at least as good as the cell phone connection allowed. The unit itself was easy to operate. The only adjustments used were the headphone and mic levels. A third control adjusted the line input when that function was in play.

Newsrooms should find it easy to dispatch reporters with a ComPack and not have to make much effort in the way of training. Operation is virtually self-explanatory.

The beauty of the ComPack was its near invisibility. It fast faded into the background allowing me to focus on conducting interviews.

The only thing I had to be mindful of was the hit-or-miss qualities of cell phone audio. I avoided some “dead spots” in the hotel where the signal got sketchy. The beauty here is that if I’d found the cell connect unacceptable, it would have been easy enough to tap into a standard phone line.

With the ComPack, you don’t have to worry about bringing separate devices. The single solution takes care of it all. If nothing else, that is enough to commend this for any remote work. Add the well thought out design, easy of use, and superior sound quality and you have an irresistible combination. Once you’ve had a chance to use a ComPack, you won’t want to head out on assignment without one.

Carl Lindemann is a frequent contributor to Radio World.