Driver and co-driver were able to converse quite well in early rallying days because their cars were not as similar as those on the road. They also didn’t have helmets. Motorsport became more sophisticated and the drivers, as well as co-driver, were required to wear helmets made of thick, padded material.
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It was then that an electrical intercom was invented. This allowed co-drivers and drivers to communicate clearly without using their voices. This enabled crews to hear pace calls more clearly, which made them perform better on the stages.
As intercom systems have evolved over the years there are multiple options that can make it confusing which system to choose.
The heartbeat of the intercom is the amplifier. It is also the control box, which contains all electronics and features like inputs to the co-driver and the volume controls.
Analog and digital are the two main types of amplifiers. Both types can be used to amplify an electrical circuit, but there is a major difference in their sound quality.
Due to the noisy environment of rally cars, the background noise can interfere with the co-driver’s ability to hear the pace notes. A number of intercom amplifiers are equipped with noise-canceling features to help reduce background noise so that the co-driver can be heard clearly.
Some amplifiers fit between co-drivers and drivers. Others mount to the roll cage, while others can attach to the dashboard or roof.
The cables are often provided with a section made of coiled wire that allows for stretching and does not limit the movement of the driver. The connectors connecting to the wiring of the helmet have either a male jack socket or a female socket depending on the amplifier. We will talk more about the different types of connectors shortly.
An amplifier on its own is not enough to allow driver and co-drivers communication. The headset will be required by both users to work with the amplifier.
Some Helmets are pre-installed with the necessary electronics to work with an intercom system. Some Open Face Helmets can be supplied with either a fixed, adjustable, or full-sound attenuating microphone boom. Many full-face helmets come with an intercom headset.
Retro-fitting helmets with no intercom electronics are possible. There are many options for headset kits, both for full- and open-face helmets. You’ll need to check that your chosen kit will work with your helmet. However, this will be concerned in more detail later.
Motorsport intercom systems come with a variety of different connectors. It can be quite confusing to determine what type of intercom will work with which helmet.
It is possible to use converters to make a plug fit into a different amplifier type, but it may result in a loss of sound quality. It is best that you use the correct amplifier for your headset and vice versa.
Not all communication needs to be done inside the car. Sometimes the pit crew must communicate with one another as well as with the driver. It is possible to connect your headsets with a radio system, allowing team members and drivers to communicate effectively in noisy pit lane environments. Full duplex communication is a feature of most kits. This allows you to be hands-free and not have to push any buttons to communicate with other team members.