Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Look Ma, no wires.

I'm having to put together a proposal fast for twelve-plus channels of wireless lavalier mics.

The options haven't gotten better in the way I had hoped, not yet. Only one company so far seems to have brought a digital system into the middle price range, and it is a gigahertz system. I'm not interested. My XBee work has informed me far too well of the difficulties in punching through a reliable signal at 2.4 gHz.

The way things seem to be settling out now, is the price ranges correspond to a set of assumptions from the manufacturers. At the low end, they are generally fixed-frequency systems. Through both low and middle, the manufacturers seem to assume their biggest problem is the users are idiots; so all the effort is towards choosing compatible bands for you. With the result being you really can't use more than one system in the same space at the same time, not reliably. You must purchase a system pre-built with two lavs or eight hand-helds or whatever other package deal they have.

In the high middle of the price range are, finally, systems that are properly programmable, as well as being in wireless bands that are going to remain open for at least part of the next decade, full diversity, standard batteries, etc. So this range starts at maybe $500 a channel and progresses up to the low $1,000 range.

You have to jump up to the low end of the high-end gear, and very much break the $1K per channel of wireless cost group, before you get any of the recent work in adapting to the FCC's latest moves. And these aren't digital. They are other clever ways to shrink the bandwidth and deliver more effective channels in the limited frequency ranges still available.

And some of them are very clever. Top-line Shures can get you fifty microphones jammed into the bands available, and still let you run IEMs for the pit and wireless headsets on your backstage crew.

Thing about Shure is, once you leave their flagship gear -- any time you find an "X" as part of the model name, or the dreaded "PG," -- their quality takes a huge drop-off. Many working audio techs don't know this because they have only worked with Shure; they haven't had the experience of comparing the Shure SLX with similarly-priced units from other manufacturers. To them, the SLX behaves just like they expect; like a Shure you didn't spend quite enough money on.

I'm still looking at Audio-Technica, and even Electro-Voice, but even outside of being in frequency bands the FCC already has in their gunsights, and other issues, they just don't offer on paper anything remarkably better than the Sennheisers. And I know the sennies very well, and can speak to both their peccadilloes and their general reliability.

So I'm probably going to have to recommend purchasing something pretty similar to what I was already in position to rent to them. Sigh.

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