3M Peltor is hawking the Ora Tac lightweight tactical in-ear headset that plugs into a portable radio to provide push-to-talk, two-way voice communications without the use of a boom microphone. It has a noise-reduction rating of 20 decibels (dB).

A built-in tactical microphone lets users hear ambient sound up to 82 dB, which means that they can carry on conversations with coworkers but still be protected from louder noises. “The danger level starts at about 85 dB,” said Jason Jones, marketing manager for hearing, head, eye and face products in the company’s occupational health and environmental safety division.

A boom microphone isn’t needed because the right earplug contains a second microphone that picks up sound resonating within the ear canal, similar to how a throat microphone works. The headset is designed for use with headgear such as construction hardhats or welding helmets.

“It’s targeted to any industry that needs hearing protection,” Jones said. “It might be a hot environment, or it might be used under a respirator. It also will appeal to anyone who just wants to have less on the head.” Before, anyone using a respirator would find it difficult to be in communications, because most devices utilize a boom microphone for push-to-talk and a muff for hearing protection, neither of which would fit under the headgear, Jones said.

According to Jones, the ability to integrate with a respirator makes the headset ideal for use in industrial environments where air-born particles are a hazard — such as grinding operations — or where noxious fumes from hazardous chemicals are present.

Public safety is another target market, as first responders need two-way communications and the ability to hear what’s going on around them during an emergency, which typically is a very noisy environment, Jones said. Again, the ability to integrate well with a breathing system makes the headset useful for hazmat teams or firefighters. “It has an IP65 rating, so it will work very well in wet or dusty environments,” he said. It also is compliant with the MIL STD 810F, which means that it can operate in very hot and very cold environments, Jones said.

Other styles are on the drawing board, including a roll-down style that will have a noise-reduction rating of 29 dB, and a push-to-fit option that will have a 28-dB rating, Jones said.

Currently, the headset is compatible with Motorola HT750 and HT 1000 portable radios, Jones said. He added that the company plans to roll out versions of the headset for six other radios sometime this month, including Motorola’s MOTOTRBO and some Kenwood models. Longer-term, Jones expects more versions to follow, but wasn’t sure how long that would take.

“The connection points always are the challenge,” Jones said. “Every two-way radio has a different connection point.”

The headset operates on two AAA batteries that provide between 350 and 400 hours of operating time, Jones said.