Updated: Aug 31
Blackline has been using Zello as a Push-to-talk-Over-Cellular (PoC or PTToC) communications tool for some time. However, the available accessories have not always been durable in design or tactical in appearance. That has started to change as companies recognize the need for rugged PoC accessories. One of the most impressive offerings to take up that challenge has been the Phoenix Elite PoC RSM from Stone Mountain Ltd.
Stone Mountain Ltd. is a company out of Virginia that's been producing communications gear for years, and their entry into the PoC accessories market comes at a good time for them and military simulations. Most of the players at Blackline airsoft events use some communication accessory for Zello. In the past, they would spend between $200 and $300 (Canadian dollars) on Bluetooth speaker microphones or simple headsets from Amazon. While acceptable, there were always questions about reliability and appearance. Stone Mountain's Phoenix Elite is at the same price point but puts an end to the uncertainty.
Product Name: Phoenix Elite PoC RSM
Product Type: Speaker Microphone for PoC Applications (Zello)
Price: $180 to $220 CAD ($140 to $165 USD)
Made of sturdy plastic, rubber, and metal hardware, the Phoenix Elite PoC RSM has a layout that is relatively standard for a speaker microphone with a few noteworthy exceptions.
Dominating the front face of the device is a large grill containing the speaker and microphone. Turn the device over, and you'll find the 360º rotating clip, which locks into place every 45º to aid in positioning. The bottom of the device houses a 3.5mm audio jack for listen-only earpieces. You'll find that located right next to the cable strain relief moulding.
There are three buttons on the Phoenix. The largest of these is the PTT located on the left side of the device. Complimenting the ribbed style is a very substantial click when depressed, which provides excellent positive feedback. The other two buttons are a few of the features that make this different from other speaker microphones. Below the PTT is a high-low volume button. Pressing this switches between the two modes. The high setting surprised us with how loud it was while the low volume setting was appropriate for quieter environments. The other button on the top of the device and its function will depend on what you request when you order your Phoenix Elite. For us, we chose the 'CallCheck' function. The proprietary technology activated by this button will let you selectively store and playback a message. This is pretty useful if you don't want to pull out your phone and use Zello's history functions.
Inside the device is an 1100 mAh replaceable battery to power the hardware. To charge it, you'll find a 5.5mm industrial-grade charging port down the cable near the phone connection. Many PoC devices using a 3.5mm audio jack require power that the phone can't provide through the standard audio cable. While this is a bit of an unusual connector for a Zello accessory, Stone Mountain also offers a 5.5mm to USB adapter for field-expedient charging.
The Phoenix Elite PoC addresses a few problems that have plagued Zello-compatible speaker microphones: wired connections, compatibility, and durability.
Wired connections are hard to find on Zello accessories. There has been a heavy focus on Bluetooth connectivity for speaker microphones, and there are certainly benefits to wireless capability. However, having a hard-line connection between your phone and the Phoenix Elite eliminates the Bluetooth signature and gives you one less piece of technology to fail. Stone Mountain created a heavy-duty coiled cable that is more than long enough to span the distance between your device and the Phoenix. On the one end is substantial strain relief moulding to prevent cable damage. On the other end is a right-angle 3.5mm connector. This design has the benefit of reducing the stress on the phone connection, which can be further reduced using a velcro strap.
Finding accessories that work flawlessly with both iOS and Android devices has also been a challenge. If you've spent time looking at Zello speaker microphones or buttons, you'll know you have to monitor the fine text for compatibility information. We're happy to find that the Phoenix Elite PoC has no problem serving both operating systems. No particular configuration or setup required for virtually all users. Plug it in and go.
Durability is perhaps the most impressive feature of this device. Finding an IP-rated speaker microphone for PoC applications was unusual, but Stone Mountain's product meets the IP68 standards along with the more impressive MIL-STD-810G. The latter covers all manner of environmental stresses, including temperature extremes, moisture, submersion, salt mist (rust testing), impact, and vibration. It will likely overcome whatever challenges a military simulation can throw at it. We know from experience it has no problem with heavy rain. As for battery life, we've only been able to test the activity of the device over 4-5 hour periods. Between uses, the Phoenix PoC holds its charge well, and we still have yet to discover how long it will take to drain the battery. (We'll update this post when we do!)
Issues and Notes
Through this article, we have alluded that 'most' users have a plug-and-play experience with the Phoenix Elite PoC RSM. It wouldn't be a fair assessment of this product if we didn't call out the one (and only) individual that had challenges getting the device set up. The user had an iPhone SE (1st Generation), and a Samsung Galaxy 6. They're older phones, and so we attribute these challenges to the devices and not to Stone Mountain's product. However, our troubleshooting may help you if you encounter similar problems.
The iPhone issues occurred after using the Phoenix for some time. Instead of the PTT triggering Zello, it would instead trigger Siri. We were able to resolve this problem by turning off the 'Mix with other audio' settings inside Zello. We were also able to fix this by disabling Siri. On the Android device, the phone would stop responding to the Phoenix entirely after it had been in use for a while. The solution here was to turn on the 'handle button in the background when possible' and the 'wake up the device to keep Zello connected' options. Since these changes, the issues have not recurred for either phone.
There's been a bit of feedback from our testers as well. Overall, the opinions are very positive, with praise for the construction of the Phoenix. One note is that the belt clip is not narrow enough to fit into MOLLE webbing, so you'll have to consider a different attachment point on your pack or rig. The device only has limited volume adjustment controls onboard. The high-low volume button works well, but you'll have to go to the phone if you want to fine-tune the sound levels.
The field of competitors for a wired PoC speaker microphone is a small one, but the Phoenix Elite PoC RSM lays down a gauntlet for the competition that is undeniable.
Here is an IP68 / MIL-STD-180g rated, PoC enabled, Android and iOS compatible speaker microphone with a hard-line connection to your device. It has almost all the features you'd want and provides them at a price that is on par with lower quality competitors.
If you're looking for a Bluetooth solution, or want to set up a more covert communications setup, you can take a look at our article on Zello Accessories for Military Simulations. But if you're in the market for a durable Zello speaker microphone, it's hard not to recommend the Phoenix Elite PoC RSM.
Editors Note - in the event you can't find what you're looking for on Stone Mountain's website, send an email to Matt at Stone Mountain and he'll try to help you out. ** Some Long Term Notes **
When the battery gets low, the device will beep intermittently. Note that when this started, we had to hunt around our house to find out what was giving off the occasional beep. If you hear something and wonder what it is, check your speaker mic.