Transmission1 takes a look at one of the highest quality CB microphones around!
The Astatic Echomax 2000 is an unusual desk microphone. For a starter, the weight of this unit is around 1.4 Kg(!) making it far more solid than the average CB desk mic. From the moment you take it out of the well presented cardboard box one thing is apparent even before you plug it into your radio, the build quality.
To say that this is a ‘well finished’ microphone would be an understatement. Other than the controls on top of the microphone and the PTT bar the whole unit is all metal! No cheap plastics used in the construction of this one and I’m sure it will out last your radio several times over!
With a name like the “Echomax 2000” you would expect this microphone to be exactly that and I can tell you that the microphone does not disappoint in this department. Before I go into details about the features available I should mention that Astatic has designed the first in a new generation of desk mics here. It contains a fully integrated digital echo chamber unlike older microphones that used an analogue method of repeating speech, quite often introducing distortion in the process.
Basically this unit contains a full microprocessor system to handle the audio and give the output. The way a digital microphone works is as follows: The analogue audio (ie, your speech) is converted into a digital signal through the onboard microprocessor. The effects are then applied in real-time to the signal which in turn is then converted back into analogue audio, into a pre-amplifier circuit to boost the levels and sent out to the radio in the normal way. Sounds easy but a lot of processing goes on in a split second to give the desired sound quality.
The Echomax 2000 has a few controls to adjust before you can sound the best on air. Thoughtfully a standard 3.5mm headphone jack socket is provided on the back panel of the microphone so you can plug in a pair of stereo headphones and monitor the results without even connecting up to your radio. This is a great idea because you won’t be annoying other radio operators whilst setting your mic up by transmitting on a channel and monitoring the result on another rig!
Let’s take a look at some of the effects that the microphone has to offer. Firstly, a run through the controls. Two rotary controls are provided for adjusting the length of the effect and depending on which way you turn the control, left or right, will determine the type of echo. There is a choice of “Echo” or “Slapback”, the differences of which we will explain in a minute. Depending on how far right or left you turn the control determines the length of the effect from several milliseconds all the way through to nearly 2 seconds! (yes, you did read that correctly – that’s an incredible delay!). The other control labelled “effect gain” increases or decreases the volume of the effect against the real voice (ie, as you talk without echo). It is also possible to run the microphone without any echo at all by leaving the Echo control at exactly 12 o’clock. A slider control is also provided for the microphone output level which is determined by your distance from the mic whilst talking in a normal voice.
The effects on the Echomax are outstanding. Naturally there is a full echo chamber effect in the traditional style where a little part of your speech is repeated several times with each repetition fading away into the distance or the more trendy Slapback echo. If you have not heard this type of echo before then I’m sure you will be impressed. Basically the slapback is a form of echo that repeats just the once – not over and over again and can sound very clear to copy even under noisy band conditions.
Since echo chambers are very difficult to describe in words, we felt that it would be best if you could hear the output from this microphone yourself. We have included several files on the right in MP3 format. They will only take a few seconds to download and providing you have a suitable player on your system you can hear this wonderful mic in action!
MP3 Sound Samples
Slapback Echo Demo
No Echo – Audio Quality only
An analogue modulation meter is provided on the front panel at an easy to see angle. This is very useful to monitor your output whilst on air and it should help you achieve 100% modulation without going over the top.
So far we have concentrated on the echo effects that the Mic has to offer but there’s more. It also contains a short, pleasant multi-tone roger beep that can be turned off if required or reduced to a single tone. on the back of panel of the microphone there are only two controls. one for the volume level of the headphone monitor socket previously described and the other for the overall gain of the microphone. This is a particularly important control as an incorrect setting could make the mic sound very distorted and give the listening operator far too much background noise. Following Astatic’s instructions, they recommend that you turn this control to a minimum whilst monitoring your output and gradually increase it. Too high settings can cause TVI problems if you overload the audio stages of your radio and drive it over 100% modulation so this is good advice. There is also a battery panel on the back of the mic held in place by a single screw. The Echomax runs off one 9V PP3 type battery – these can be purchased almost anywhere so it’s not one of those microphones with an unusual size that has to be ordered.
The only criticism of this microphone is the two controls on the back panel to adjust the gain and headphone volume – they are almost impossible to turn with your fingers! They are very small and tight – maybe this is intentional to stop them being knocked accidentally but I would have preferred something a little easier. I found getting hold of them with a small piece of cloth made it easier to adjust. This is only a minor thing and once you have adjusted them correctly, it is unlikely that you will touch them again for a long time.
One feature worth mentioning is the microphone lead that connects to your rig. The Echomax 2000 has a modular jack socket (like a phone connector) that allows the disconnection of the cable from the desk mic entirely. This could be a huge advantage over traditional mics as you can buy separate cables and run the same microphone on several radios without having to get the soldering iron out and rewire plugs all the time! This is a brilliant idea and one that other manufacturers should consider without a doubt.
Ham radio operators may be tempted with this microphone even though it’s an echo microphone. For a start it’s got such superb quality audio even with the effects turned fully off. Audio is crisp, clear and well balanced and doesn’t get much better than this. When we tested the mic we tried all mode operation and it passed with flying colours. The FM sound quality was superb and SSB was very punchy too gaining good reports.
An extra special desk microphone – unlikely to be beaten at any price. The effects are second to none and the build quality is superb. This microphone isn’t cheap. Most UK retailers are charging £125.00 for the Echomax but Mickey’s Mikes are so impressed with the quality of this product that they are trying to negotiate a deal at the moment to offer this unit at a substantially reduced price. This article will be updated should they become available in the near future.
My thanks to Mickey’s Mikes for the loan of this microphone for the review.
Important Notice, February 2010
Since first publication of this article in 2001 Astatic have ceased production of this microphone some years ago. It is unlikely that any retailer will have brand new stock of the microphone. The only real hope of obtaining one would be via the second hand market and possibly eBay. It is a real shame that production has ended but the decision by Astatic was taken some time ago after the company changed hands. Good luck in your quest to find one.