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Top-of-the-Line Wireless Microphone Systems

As new digital television (DTV) broadcasters' and emergency response units' signals continue to eat up wireless frequencies each year, wireless mic manufacturers

As new digital television (DTV) broadcasters’ and emergency response units’ signals continue to eat up wireless frequencies each year, wireless mic manufacturers must upgrade their products to take advantage of the remaining available frequencies. Mix talked with 20 wireless mic manufacturers to find out what’s new with each company’s top system. Thirteen new wireless systems have been introduced since Mix‘s 2000 guide (see the February 2000 issue), including two new all-digital wireless systems, and several existing flagship systems have been enhanced with new options.

AKG’s WMS 81 UHF Wireless Microphone System ($862 with AKG D880 handheld; $1,936 with C535 WL head and CK77 WR lav) is a half-rack model (with a rackmount kit) that offers up to 20 selectable channel frequencies between 246 and 710 MHz. The WMS 81 system features switchable mic/line outputs, interchangeable mic elements, tone-code squelch, RF and AF signal-strength indicators, and a removable rear-mounted antenna. The transmitter packs feature-adjustable frequency and gain control, power on/off, Mute switch, signal peak indicator, and can operate on two AA batteries for up to 10 hours. On the market for several years and still going strong, the WMS 81 offers options that include a wide-band antenna splitter, directional antenna, external antenna, a choice of three modular mic capsules, and a bodypack system that includes two headworn mics, two lavalier mics and a wind/brass instrument mic.

Announced late last year from Applied Microphone Technology were the Roam I ($775) and Roam II ($795) Wireless Mic systems for live instrumentalists. Operating in one frequency per channel on U.S. channels between 801 and 805 MHz, the Roam I system can be used with 40 different instruments including most brass, woodwind and percussion; the Roam II is designed for use with the violin, viola and mandolin. Roam I includes Samson’s Airline UHF 1-channel wireless system, a hard-shell case, and an AMT microphone with flexible gooseneck and ISO ring, the latter suspending the microphone in a four-point isolation ring to help eliminate valve, key and instrument-handling noises.

Audio-Technica’s 7000 Series wireless family now includes the ATW-7373 Handheld Condenser Microphone System ($999), which comes with the company’s ATW-T73 handheld transmitter and ATW-R73 wireless receiver. Available in two frequency ranges (656 to 668 MHz for channels 45 through 47; 728 to 740 MHz for channels 57 through 59), the automatic switching, true-diversity ATW-7373 system comes with a wide range of options including bodypack mics, antenna-distribution packages and joining plate kits. The ATW-T73 handheld mic/transmitter uses the same condenser as the company’s legendary AT4033 studio mic, and users can select among 100 available television channels.

Improving on its 311DRH VHF Wireless system, Azden Corporation introduced its 411LTH Wireless System ($720, including bodypack transmitter and electret condenser lapel mic) at this year’s Winter NAMM Show. The 411DRH receiver, operating in the 793 to 805MHz UHF channel range, is a half-rack version of the company’s 411UDR, which adds RF/audio displays, an on/off switch, external squelch and rear-mounted detachable antennas. The newly designed Azden handheld mic employs a supercardioid element and 63 user-switchable channels, and the bodypack transmitter provides user selection of the same 63 channels and employs an input level control, Standby switch, locking input connector and a metal belt clip.

Electro-Voice’s new fully programmable RE-1 Series Wireless Microphone System ($1,550, with handheld mic), expected to ship this fall, utilizes Advance ClearScan technology to automatically make frequency-agile selections of the best of 15 UHF channels for seamless mic performance. The dual-band compander RE-1, which operates in two frequency ranges (680 to 704 MHz, TV channels 49 through 52; 722 to 746 MHz on channels 56 through 59), also includes the handy SoundCheck mode that allows one live sound engineer to handle dropout/deadspot checks with a built-in, 1kHz audio test tone without needing a second engineer. Optionally, E-V N/DYM 767a Handheld Transmitters ($600/each) and Bodypack Transmitters ($520) can be added to the system. Also from the E-V family is Telex’s FMR-1000 ($1,830 for handheld/bodypack Combo System), an almost identical wireless system to the RE-1 that is targeted at the sound contractor market.

Jensen Music Industries’ JW 801.DV UHF Diversity System ($389, with handheld mic) includes the company’s JW81.DV receiver, a deluxe Jensen carrying bag and the UT 801 handheld transmitter. The system operates in the 794 to 804, 806 to 814 and 863 to 865MHz UHF frequency ranges, and allows for the use of up to 10 systems at a time. The system is also offered with a belt pack for lavalier or headset mic configurations and with an instrument cable. Both the handheld mic and body pack transmitter include built-in transmission antennae, and will mute signals to the receiver when set to “mute” or “off” positions. Additional features of the JW 801.DV include front panel controls and display for squelch, level, RF signal meter, power on/off switch and detachable UHF antennas. The receiver’s unbalanced ¼-inch and balanced XLR outputs may be used independently or simultaneously.

Lectrosonics’ UCR411 Digital Hybrid Wireless ($3,825) debuted at this year’s NAB and promises to ship this month. The UCR411 receiver comes teamed with a choice of three different Lectrosonics lavalier microphones and either the company’s UM400 belt pack or MM4000 mini-submersible belt clip mic transmitters. Aimed largely at the motion picture and high-end TV production markets, the UCR411 Digital Hybrid operates between 537 and 862 MHz (in 25.6MHz blocks) and is expected to be developed for studio and stage versions later in 2002.

The 800 Series Multi-Cell™ wireless from LightSPEED Technologies is designed to produce highly reliable reception in large areas such as stadiums, cruise ships, theme parks, outdoor/field training areas, race tracks, etc. Multi-Cell systems employ from two to 16 remote cell-receivers to capture wireless transmitter signals in very large areas (50,000 to 400,000 square yards) or multi-level facilities. The remote cell-receivers connect to a Multi-Cell processing unit, which uses tri-stage diversity processing for seamless audio from one or two independent LightSPEED UHF wireless mics. Prices start at $5,760.

Mipro, whose UHF and VHF wireless systems are now distributed by Beyer Dynamic, is now shipping the Mipro ACT Modular System (starting at $2,600). This compact, true-diversity, half-rack wireless series uses the company’s Automatic Channel Targeting (ACT) technology to provide rapid and precise channel setting of the transmitter, while automatically locking the receiver and transmitter into a common operating frequency. Operating in the 620 to 960MHz frequency range, over 100 channel presets per 24MHz bandwidth, the ACT-707S also features a multifunction color LCD front panel display of RF/AF and diversity-signal metering, transmitter battery fuel gauge, performer’s name, squelch level, mute on/off and address.

The UHF-16 ($529.95 handheld with a Shure SM-58 cartridge; $449.95 for the lavalier) is an affordable, new wireless system debuting at this year’s Summer NAMM from Nady Wireless. This frequency-agile UHF system (726 to 863 MHz, 16 channels switchable in pre-programmed bands up to 20MHz wide) offers 16 user-selectable channels, up to 500-foot line-of-sight operation, 120dB dynamic range and a selectable Tone Squelch feature for increased protection from RF interference. The half-rack UHF-16 receiver boasts dual-removable antennas, IF filtering for multiple UHF-16 system operation in one location, and comes with the choice of Nady’s UB-16 handheld mic with no antenna protrusion, its UH-16 instrument, lav or headworn bodypack with three-way input switch for either input, or the optional Shure cartridge mentioned earlier.

Combining the wireless traits of the company’s flagship 5000 Series Wireless System with a top-notch Neumann handheld mic, Sennheiser now offers the SKM5000-N ($3,150, with Neumann KMS 105 condenser/transmitter). Features of the SKM5000-N and its transmitter include 16 user-selectable frequencies, an integrated antenna design, a selectable bass roll-off filter and a five-way sensitivity switch. Neumann’s KK105-S small-diaphragm condenser capsule provides clarity without excessive sibilance, and features a supercardioid pattern for a wider sweet spot with good rejection. A proprietary multilayered grille assembly helps eliminate popping and breath noises.

Sabine has significantly upgraded its top-of-the-line True-Mobility Wireless Series with the new 2.4GHz Spread-Spectrum SMW-5000 Series ($2,299.99 for Combo System with a 2-channel receiver and Audix OM3 handheld and Sabine lavalier mic transmitters). The 2.4 comes with Sabine’s FBX Feedback Exterminator, compressor/limiter, de-esser and microphone-modeling DSP, remote control of up to 50 systems via PC and access to 50 available local television channels. The sleek front panel of the 1U rackmounted SWM-502R diversity receiver includes dual signal, battery, audio and locked channel meters, and provides controls over mic modeling, compression, de-esser, and channel and program selection. The system uses rechargeable NiMH C and AA batteries for both handheld and beltpack transmitters.

The Samson Wireless UHF Synth 32 system ($1,024.98, with Sennheiser’s MKE-2 omni-directional lavalier) provides 32 user-selectable UHF frequencies (from 801 to 805 MHz) in both the receiver and transmitter units. Shipping now, the Synth 32 sports a compact half-rack receiver with a large front panel LCD, and features like-PLL-synthesized VCO transmitter circuitry, the company’s Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) filters and built-in noise squelching. Additional features include balanced XLR and unbalanced ¼-inch outputs, battery life indicators and a 3-pin mini-XLR connector.

The UHF Wireless Series U24D/Beta 87C system ($4,646.30) from Shure Incorporated has been the company’s flagship wireless system configuration since 1996. This dual-channel system comes with two handheld Shure Beta 87C microphone transmitters and now boasts a total of 75 possible wireless systems (24 per frequency band), thanks to the new M4 and J4 frequency bands made available for the UHF Wireless Series family (U.S. television channels 28 through 36, 46 through 54 and 66 through 69). A user-programmable display on the U24D receiver shows group, channel, frequency, name and squelch levels, and Shure’s Noise-Squelch circuitry analyzes signal quality rather than signal strength to virtually eliminate noise bursts. The U24D/Beta 87C system also sports a 25-pin serial connector for future computer control and monitoring via an accessory interface box.

Sony expanded its Legacy 800 Series wireless family at this year’s NAB Show with the introduction of the single-rackspace MB-8N Rackmount Tuner Base ($2,750), WRU-8N UHF Synthesized Tuner Unit ($1,000/each), WRT-8B UHF Bodypack Transmitter ($1,850) and WRT-847 Wireless Microphone ($1,000 body, plus five capsules ranging from $445 to $550/each). This Sony wireless system, designed for applications requiring a large number of wireless mics such as broadcast program production, theater and live P.A., sports a dynamic range of 116 dB and 20 to 20k Hz frequency response, and can be controlled from any Ethernet-equipped PC via the included software. Up to four WRU-8N tuners, each with LED AF/RF level and transmitter battery alarm indicators and an LCD screen for viewing channel, frequency and group settings, can be installed in one MB-8N base. Up to four MB-8Ns can be linked (to provide 16 channels total) without requiring an antenna divider. The WRT-8B bodypack transmitter’s size (2.5×3×1 inches) and ultra-lightweight (4.9 ounces) make it a great choice for ENG, documentary production and sports coverage.

A password is all that you will need to get 64 user-selectable UHF channels (690 through 722 MHz), dual built-in switching antennas and operation of up to 16 simultaneous systems. TOA’s Password Series UHF Wireless ($1,600) is designed for A/V rental companies, boardrooms, schools, fitness clubs, hotels and houses of worship. The Password Series includes the company’s WT-4800 true-diversity receiver with onboard interference scanner and dual squelch protection (noise and tone-key), a diversity antenna distributor and the YW-450 powered dipole antenna. Also included are WM-4200 dynamic handheld and WM-4300 bodypack lapel microphone/transmitters. Password Series mics will operate continuously for up to 10 hours on one 9-volt battery. The system is covered by a new five-year warranty for all of TOA’s commercial and engineered sound products.

The Vega U-2020 Wireless Microphone ($1,600, with an A-T ATM89 capsule) from Vega/Clear-Com Intercom Systems is a frequency-agile, 100-channel UHF wireless microphone system consisting of the company’s R-2020 receiver, BT-2020 bodypack and HT-2020 handheld mic transmitters. The latter comes with a choice of E-V N/D767 ($521), E-V 557 ($421), Audio-Technica ATM89 ($621) or Audix OM6 ($614) handheld mic elements. U-2020 system operates on two 20MHz frequency bands (708 through 728 MHz, 728 through 748 MHz), and may be expanded with the MC-2020A multi-coupler that can feed up to four receivers ($570). A variety of UHF antennae, rack kit, Euro power supplies and other options are also available. The R-2020 UHF receiver’s front panel has RF level, diversity, channel and audio level displays, and over 20 U-2020 systems can be operated simultaneously.

Zaxcom’s Wireless Digital System ($3,940, with beltpack) began shipping last year as the first digital wireless system for the television and film industries. With a receiver measuring only 4.5×1.2×6 inches and a 2×3-inch transmitter (smaller transmitters are available), the Wireless Digital System also offers several significant audio advantages: 24-bit/96kHz audio conversion, secure transmissions, alignment-free digital filtering/compression, very low THD and a 117dB dynamic range. Zaxcom’s system operates between 500 and 1,000 MHz, and can be ordered in blocks of 25 MHz. Other features include by far the industry’s smallest transmitter, pushbutton transmitter control, and analog and AES/EBU digital receiver I/O.

Randy Alberts is an audio and music journalist in Montara, Calif. His first book, Tascam: 25 Years of Recording Evolution, is in final production with Hal Leonard Publishing.