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Comteks and other monitoring systems

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I'm upgrading my gear and stepping up my game and need to get a monitoring system, for either clients, directors, producers, etc. I've hear a lot of talk about "Comteks" and so I went on Ebay and bought an old set which seemed cheap and like a great deal, but after it arrived and I tested it, it wasn't anywhere near to the quality and expectations I had in mind. Is it cause they are old, and the new models are the way to go? or I don't really know, I've tried to do some research on this, but I'm a bit confused.

What do you guys recommend and what do you use to provide monitoring to multiple people?

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Comteks are still the most common IFB in general use, particularly for those jobs where there is a need for lots of fairly non-essential listeners to have a headset monitor. The newer models do sound better than the older ones (not sure which model you purchased) but none of them have good sound my any measure. For critical listening, for the director, script supervisor, the Lectrosonics R1a system has been quite popular as well as some systems from Shure and Sennheiser (and Lectrosonics has just released a new IFB, the successor to the R1a). Now, for truly critical listening, for boom operators, some people have used lower cost UHF wireless receivers (Sennheiser G4 for example) and at times even one of the standard talent wireless (Lectrosonics, Zaxcom, Wysicom, etc.). Also in common usage is the Zaxcom ERX series and more recently the URX series IFB. For me personally, the best sound quality has been from the Zaxcom units. The late great boom operator, Don Coufal, was very resistant to doing wireless boom work primarily because we could never find a suitable monitor. With the Zaxcom Digital wireless we solved the problem of the audio quality of the boom mic but Don was still adamant about the lack of quality in his monitor  ---  when the Zaxcom ERX came out, this did the trick  --- super high quality audio monitor made it possible for wireless boom to work at the standard we were used to with hard-wired duplex cable.

 

So, the attraction of Comteks is lower cost, fairly reliable and feasible to own the upwards of 20 or so units that is required these days. The sound quality is what it is (and it isn't very good).

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Comteks are cheaper and more commonly rentable, and the 216 systems most folks are using have several freq choices built in.  I prefer the Lectro IFBs for people like directors since I feel they sound better than Comtek 216s.  But they are much more expensive, and it is harder to find extras to rent in all freq blocks if you need more than you have for a job.  I ended up with a mix of the 2, with the Comteks onhand for extras and for when I need to quickly rent extra RX.    There are still a lot of old fixed-band M72 type Comteks in circulation.  They work fine, if at an even lower fidelity than the 216s, but there are no more crystals available for these and the only service available is through private techs. 

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55 minutes ago, Philip Perkins said:

Comteks are cheaper and more commonly rentable, and the 216 systems most folks are using have several freq choices built in.  I prefer the Lectro IFBs for people like directors since I feel they sound better than Comtek 216s.  But they are much more expensive, and it is harder to find extras to rent in all freq blocks if you need more than you have for a job.  I ended up with a mix of the 2, with the Comteks onhand for extras and for when I need to quickly rent extra RX.    There are still a lot of old fixed-band M72 type Comteks in circulation.  They work fine, if at an even lower fidelity than the 216s, but there are no more crystals available for these and the only service available is through private techs. 

 

The Lectro IFB do sound much better than Comteks, however, another downside is that the battery will only last until lunch. Re-batterying them at lunch is a huge PITA. Hunting them down is the worst part. Comteks last all day on the same 9v.

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3 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

I prefer the Lectro IFBs for people like directors since I feel they sound better than Comtek 216s.  But they are much more expensive, and it is harder to find extras to rent in all freq blocks if you need more than you have for a job.  I ended up with a mix of the 2,

 

That's been my approach too. I started with just Comteks and gradually added a few Lectro IFB units for the director and producer and a few others. It's a good workaround. The quality is pretty good, not a hard wire connection but good enough for all but the most critical listening. Most of video village doesn't need the best quality and aren't listening that closely anyway. A few units for key people works well and keeps the investment from going crazy. Start with just Comteks and only buy into the Lectros as jobs require and you can afford it.

 

David

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I only want me to have the critical listening on set...everyone else can hear content on Comteks...  NEVER a comment or complaint in decades...  

When they stop leaving them in the gutter and under bushes, I'll reconsider..

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30 minutes ago, afewmoreyears said:

I only want me to have the critical listening on set...everyone else can hear content on Comteks...  NEVER a comment or complaint in decades...  

When they stop leaving them in the gutter and under bushes, I'll reconsider..

+1. Found one in a fireplace once.

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I wish there were a better alternative to Comteks but there really isn’t right now. The main box to check is the all day battery if you ask me.  Comteks work great for the bunch but there are a few useage scenarios where they fall a little short. Interference for one. Cell phones, dmx stuff, follow Focus, fluorescent lights. All common on set sources where the Comteks can pickup noise. 
 

Also, the receivers have almost no indication that you’re operating on a clean channel. And what’s up with the units picking up the same transmitter on like 10 different dial settings? It’s hard to get multi-channel working well especially when you’re trying to cooperate with another production close by and you both need 2-3 channels. 

 

Most of the time Comteks work great but when an issue crops up like interference of some sort there’s usually not much you can do other than move closer to the village. You can’t scan a clean frequency, and even if you do want to try a new freq getting xx number of Comteks retuned before the next take is a hassle and doesn’t look good. 

 

Side note... if for some reason you want to stick with the older 72MHz system or add additional units the PR75a receiver is still a current 72MHz model and can be tuned to any letter band with a programming unit. No crystals needed. 

 

 

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I'm an ERX user and I love them. Sure they aren't perfect, and depending on what transmitter setup you have the range isn't always the best.

But I still think in this market they sound the best.

 

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23 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

I can get all-day use on Lectro IFBs with Lith 9v batteries.  Worth it for just a few for the Premium Service folks.

That's a lot of lithium 9 volt batteries for a whole show. Adds up no?

 

I use the R1a's for boom and utility monitoring only and use ipower 9 volts. They get us to lunch. Just one change a day. I use comteks for everyone else.

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4 hours ago, BAB414 said:

 

I use the R1a's for boom and utility monitoring only and use ipower 9 volts. They get us to lunch. Just one change a day. I use comteks for everyone else.

 

That's my MO as well. Worked great for years.

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Have 3 generations of comtek, zaxcom erx and an R1a system but currently moving to the Sennheiser IEM system. I have a block 28 lectro system with 11 rx's that I can no longer use freq wise and the cost / time of re blocking them made it not worth it. Have been using a Senn G4 IEM system for sound crew for the last few jobs as a test and they perform well so going to replace my whole system with them. The one cart based Tx can send 2 mono signals on the one freq also which is very useful also. I do really like the quality of the zaxcom system and with an amp range is ok but the with the proliferation of 2.4ghz stuff on set now I want a system that is clear of 2.4 also. Still love my generation 2 fixed freq comteks which sound pretty good (a lot better than the original gen 1 comteks) but 1 by 1 the Rx's get lost and they're not replaceable.

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On 3/21/2020 at 8:23 AM, BAB414 said:

That's a lot of lithium 9 volt batteries for a whole show. Adds up no?

 

I use the R1a's for boom and utility monitoring only and use ipower 9 volts. They get us to lunch. Just one change a day. I use comteks for everyone else.

Worth it if it keeps the peace.  I usually don't have any help that needs monitoring gear so the only R1as working are for the Premium Class folks.

3 hours ago, Derek H said:

What do you mean by gen2 Comteks?

Do you mean PR72b?  Like, the ones with fixed plug-in crystals?  If so, yeah, that's why I sold all mine (32+4 TX)--too hard to replace, esp. the crystals.

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I call the 72mhz plug in crystal ones Gen1, had these and audio quality horrible, range not great. Model I upgraded to (late 90's / early 2000's?) was same housing but fixed freq (mine comtek 12-6 band from memory, 203Mhz..?) and colour of Rx's was grey. These have been brilliant, much better "hifi" audio quality and very good range. (I call these the Gen 2's) Not sure the actual model numbers, still use them but they locked away in truck at studio and no access while in lock down. Have a current model 216 system as well but had interference issues using it in conjunction with Zaxnet, never had that prob with the "gen 2" model. Have discovered faulty antenna connection on 216 Tx tho so need to retest after that fixed as that could be letting in the RF interference.

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I was surprised this week by being booked on a job, just one day commercial. (more like a public service announcement). But the shoot was streamed so no agency/client on set.

This new way of working seemed to work very well. The producer loved it, he could take feedback via messages. The clients loved it as they were still in their offices/comfort zone and could keep up with other work. And the flow of the shoot was much better.

I think this way of working may keep going once we move on from these strange times.

I have 10 headsets available for commercials and previously had to hire in extras quite often. Therefore I had been considering buying some more, but I get the feeling that remote clients will become the norm, and until I see otherwise I won't be investing in extra comms for a while.

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