When configuring your computer and the HamSphere software for conversations on HamSphere there are two adjustments that must be made correctly. The first is the sensitivity of your microphone. This is usually set in Windows or whatever operating system you are using. The second is the MIC LEVEL on the HamSphere transceiver. The final result should be clean, clear audio that makes the needle on the HamSphere transceiver meter peak at 8 to 9 on the top scale or the top of the green bar on the bottom scale. This is absolutely CRITICAL to success.
Setting the sensitivity of the microphone is best done using the built in Sound Recorder program in your computer’s operating system. I use Windows so I use the Sound Recorder program found under Start\All Programs\Accessories\Entertainment\Sound Recorder. The Sound Recorder makes an actual audio recording of your voice and allows you to play it back so you can hear what you sound like using whatever microphone you choose.
Setting the sensitivity of the microphone is done within the sound driver of your computer’s operating system. Again, in Windows, this is usually found in the Control Panel under Sounds and Hardware or something similar. Typically there is a slider control or some sort of adjustment that controls the amount of amplification applied to the signal from your microphone.
Let’s take a minute to talk about Microphone Technique. The most frequent problem with transmit audio in HamSphere (or any other transmit audio application) is poor microphone technique. Because HamSphere is a computer based communications system, many operators use notebook/laptop computers. The built-in microphones in these devices are usually situated at the bottom of the display or along the front edge of the device which points more or less in the user’s direction. Invariably, the user is a foot or more away from the microphone. When the operator is this far from the microphone, every noise in the room can be heard nearly as loud as the operator’s voice. The computer cannot distinguish between the operator’s voice and the other noises in the room. Essentially, the operator’s voice and the other noises in the room all sound the same. The result is audio that sounds terrible. When you are so far away from the microphone, your audio will usually sound mushy, bassy and can be completely unintelligible. No one will want to talk to you…at least not for very long.
Another common problem is dealing with receive audio. On some computers, pressing PTT to transmit on HamSphere results in the receive audio being muted. This is perfect. On other computers, the receive audio is not muted. Worse, the transmit audio is not muted. When the transmit audio is not muted, FEEDBACK (a squeal) or ECHO is usually the result. Both are completely unwanted and need to be dealt with.
These problems are easily solved. Find a way to get close to the microphone or buy a microphone that is easy to keep close to your mouth. Set receive audio very low in volume (not usually preferred) or use a headset.
Many users buy single or dual headphoned headsets with a boom microphone that reaches around the face to be close to the mouth. This is a great solution to both problems. The boom microphone is positioned near the mouth but not directly in front of the mouth. The headphone part of the headset allows receive audio to be set to a comfortable level even if one can hear one’s own transmit audio while transmitting.
Headsets come in two basic types: USB or dual plug. USB headsets come with software to make them work. Dual plug type simply plug into the computer’s headset and microphone jacks (always situated next to each other and marked with icons.) I personally prefer the dual plug type but many people enjoy great results with the USB type. Before getting on the air with your new headset, be sure it’s working properly by making a recording on your own computer FIRST! Listen to the recording and be sure everything sounds great.
If you buy a headset, be sure to configure its setting correctly. Make recordings on your own computer to set the microphone level to produce good clear, clean audio in the recording. This will involve setting the microphone levels in the Control Panel or driver software for the headset. Once you have been able to make a good recording that sounds great, you are ready to configure the HamSphere software.
Make no further changes (for now) to the control panel or driver settings of your microphone or headset. That is, leave them as they are to produce a good clean recording. Load the HamSphere program and Login. Configure the HamSphere transceiver to 160M band and adjust the big knob to a frequency setting of 1.825. The frequency setting is absolutely critical. be sure it’s set to 1.825.
Set the Mic Level control to 4 (approximately 10 o’clock position.)
Press F8 to toggle the PTT to LOCK when you press it. (This means you click once on PTT to transmit and click on PTT again to return to Receive mode. If you don’t set the PTT to lock you must hold the mouse button down to keep the transmitter keyed on.)
With the headset or microphone positioned where you want, transceiver set to 1.825, mic level set to 4, and PTT set to LOCK on with a single click, Take a breath and relax. Here’s what you are going to do next:
1. Make sure the volume is turned up so you are receiving/hearing the rushing noise from the HamSphere transceiver’s receive mode.
2. Listen without transmitting for at least 2 minutes to make sure the frequency is not in use by others. Press F12 to see if anyone is shown as being on that frequency.
3. Assuming the frequency is NOT in use, Click the PTT and make a 30 second transmission. Simply count up until you have spoken for 30 seconds.
4. While you are counting up, look at the meter on the HamSphere transceiver and observe its movement. How HIGH is the meter moving?
5. Click PTT to stop transmitting.
Did the meter move while you were speaking? If it barely moved, you need to INCREASE Mic Level. If it moved above 9 on the top scale, you need to REDUCE Mic Level. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 and adjust your MIC LEVEL control on the HamSphere transceiver until the needle on the meter peaks at 9 on the top scale during most of your speech.
If you find that you have to set the MIC LEVEL to 8 or 9 in order to make the meter peak at 9 on the top scale, you likely need to either move the microphone a little closer to your mouth or adjust the microphone sensitivity up a tiny bit. Avoid putting the microphone in front of your mouth or you will risk having loud breath noises in your audio. Go back and make more recordings with the mike a bit closer and/or the sensitivity increased slightly and you sound clean and clear. Repeat Steps 3 to 5 again.
If you find that you have to set the MIC LEVEL to 1 or 2 to keep the needle near 9 or can’t get the meter to read below 9 at all, you will have to reduce microphone sensitivity or move the microphone away from your mouth a bit. Ideal settings for MIC LEVEL are between 3 and 6, in my opinion.
Why is it so important to adjust your audio to a maximum of 9 on the meter? Because excessively loud audio will get you kicked off the system automatically for “excessive modulation.” You will be kicked off repeatedly until you fix the problem. If you are too loud or your audio is too low, most people will not want to speak with you.
Once you have found a combination of microphone position, microphone sensitivity and mic level that results in transmit audio that sounds good in personal recordings and peaks at 9 on the top scale of the meter, you are ready for the next test. The Echo Server.
Adjust the HamSphere transceiver’s big knob so the frequency readout shows 1.82345. Be very precise as the frequency setting is critical and must be 1.82345.
When you transmit on 1.82345, the HamSphere server will record the first 10 seconds of your transmission and play it back to you a few seconds after you stop transmitting. This is a handy tool for confirming that your audio is setup correctly.
1. Verify that the microphone is properly positioned, MIC LEVEL set and frequency readout says 1.82345.
2. Click PTT and make a 15 second transmission. Count or just speak for 15 seconds.
3. Click PTT again to put the transceiver back to receive. Within a few seconds, the HamSphere system will play back 10 seconds of what it recorded from you.
How does it sound? It’s likely it won’t sound as nice as your personal recording but if it’s clear and clean, you are good to go.
If you have any questions, email KB4T at kb4t at kb4t dot us [change "at" to @ and "dot" to a single period]
Good luck and sound GREAT on HamSphere!!