Posted from: San Diego, CA
Next (and last!) tour stop: Honolulu, HI (two weeks with tons
of free time, woohoo)
Okay, what’s the deal with companies who make all these good little toys that
I have to keep giving good reviews to? Not that I’m complaining, but seriously…I
almost wish somebody would send me something awful just so I don’t seem like
a softie (and to think, in the other field I do product reviews for, I’ve actually
had one retailer trash talk me in an ad for one of my products because of some
criticism about one of his products I made in a review!). But, of course, that’s
getting ahead of ourselves.
There are lots of us in theatre who need to be reachable on ClearCom systems
in the case of a problem, at certain points, etc., but who don’t need to–or
in fact can’t–be on headset for the entire show. That’s why ClearCom includes
call lights on the beltpacks, right? But if you’re wearing the beltpack, you
can’t see it, and it’s sometimes hard to put the beltpack somewhere where it’s
in line of site. And that’s not the brightest or most visible light.
Then came the various strobe lights–Production Intercom has the Blazon, and
ClearCom has their own model, and for the intrepid DIY types, you can take a
phone flasher from RadioShack and rig it up to work as a ClearCom flasher, too.
For those who’ve actually tried using them, you’ll probably agree that these
go too far down the "Holy crap, that’s BRIGHT!" scale. I hated it
when I had one, and I was hidden backstage in the wings; our FOH engineer had
to wrap 90% of the thing in blackwrap or gaff to make it usable at FOH. Not
to mention that these aren’t exactly small–they’re all at minimum around the
size of two beltpacks stacked together, when you account for the strobe housing.
So, along comes Paul Puppo, god of nifty gadgets and proprietor of Illumineering,
and his Com-bit. Now this is more my speed:
It’s perhaps stupidly brilliant–a little call light that’s easier to see than
the one on the beltpack, not as blindingly bright as the strobe options, and
just barely larger than a standard right angle XLR connector. No power supply
necessary, just plug it in anywhere in a ClearCom system, and when somebody
on that channel hits the call light, it lights up. Done. The only potential
downside is that it has to be on the end of a chain, so you may need to keep
a Y-adapter handy depending on where in the system you’re using it.
The great thing about the size is that you can put it nearly anywhere; Paul
suggests gaffing it to the top of the console with the LED on the top and the
cable going down the back. On my 02R, I just drape the cable across under the
trim knobs, and lean the connector against the ledge on the top of the LCD.
(I’ll try to take a picture tomorrow after load-in, since I didn’t think of
it last week.)
No moving parts, the thing just works. My only two quibbles are minor. First,
the one I got uses a flat lens cap with the word "CALL" printed on
it. Very slick looking, but it does diffuse the light a bit. Not enough to greatly
affect visibility, but I wonder how much brighter it would be with a clear or
at least more transparent colored cap (which is what the older photos on the
Illumineering site, and in the photo above, look like).
The other one, which I’ve mentioned to Paul, is an arguable one. It seems to
be my experience that people tend to hold down the call button, which makes
for a solid light, which is easy to miss compared to a blinking light. The Com-bit
is made with a normal LED, which mirrors the light in the beltpacks, so for
it to be attention-getting, the person hitting the call button really should
flash the button a few times, like a Morse code/telegraph button, as Paul put
it. The more I think about it, the more I think Paul is right–since this works
the same way all the other call lights do, just train everybody to flash the
button instead of holding it down steadily, and you’ll be all set. What do you
guys see happening on your shows? Leave a comment, and let me know if more people
seem to hold down the call button, or press it repeatedly.
Of course, the ideal solution is what the Blazon does, which is that even a
quick press latches the flashing strobe for a few flashes worth, so regardless
of whether the button is held down, or pulsed, the thing flashes. The downsides,
of course, are that they’re too bright and too huge. In my dream world, a timer
circuit that could do that would be built into the Com-bit, but I don’t think
there’s anyway to do it and maintain the tiny form factor it already has.
That said, I really can’t say much bad about this thing–it works, there’s
nothing to break, and it’s pretty reasonably priced. And as if that weren’t
enough, Illumineering gives IA, Equity, and school/university discounts.
Till next time,