The old adage is trueAn old adage says: You get what you pay for. This is true with everything from microphone stands to microphones and amplifiers to speakers. Going cheap does not always mean better. This is especially true when it comes to professional audio wireless systems. Skimping on a wireless system can spell disaster for any performance. Poor frequency selection, dropouts or degrading audio signal are just a few of the things that can go wrong when with an inexpensive wireless system is purchased.
Because the end point of the audio signal in a wireless in-ear monitor system will be your ears or a musician’s ears, it is vital to pick a wireless system from a manufacturer that has a proven track record in building wireless audio devices. Below is a short list of criteria to consider before purchasing a wireless in-ear monitor system.
Hearing Protection. One thing that is a given in live audio is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. That means it is important to be ready for anything. Having a wireless in-ear monitor system with some type of limiting or compression is a must. The Audio-Technica M3 wireless in-ear monitor system has a multi-level limiter (defeatable) to protect the system from sudden peaks in the audio signal. When the audio level is below the threshold where the limiter is set, the limiter is inactive, but when there are any sudden spikes or increases in audio level, the limiter will act as a brick wall. The Shure PSM900 and PSM1000 series of in-ear wireless systems have what Shure calls Audio Reference Companding. Basically, “Audio Reference Companding utilizes a ‘soft-knee’ type of compression, where the onset of compression occurs gradually, allowing the wireless system to avoid companding until it is absolutely necessary.” In both cases the processing happens automatically, which is an essential feature.
Wireless Synchronization. A live show stops for no engineer. When you’re spending time trying to set up a wireless system or change frequency during a show, something else will happen that you are not seeing. Wireless synchronization of the receiver to the transmitter to tune frequencies is a must. Why set two devices when one set of buttons is quicker? The Sennheiser ew 300 IEM and the Shure PSM900 and PSM1000 both sync wirelessly, allowing for lightning speed setup and reducing any possibility of an error.
Pilot Tone. Another great feature to look for is something Sennheiser and Audio-Technica call “pilot tone squelch” or “pilot tone.” The pilot tone simply protects against RF interference when the transmitter is turned off. Most wireless systems have some sort of pilot tone protection, but it is still a good idea to look for it in the features list.
Batteries. One thing we always forget when budgeting for wireless systems is the cost of batteries for the receivers. Over several years of operation, the cost of batteries to keep a wireless system working can get expensive. Shure and Sennheiser addressed this problem by incorporating battery charging into the their systems. Shure has, at an additional cost, the SB 900 rechargeable battery that allows the PSM900 P9RA bodypack to become rechargeable. The BA 2015 rechargeable battery from Sennheiser is a complete charging system when paired with the L 2015 that recharges two batteries, and the L1039-10 charges 10 bodypacks at a time. For performances using wireless in-ear monitors several times a week, having a rechargeable battery system is a must.
Backlit LCD Display. Backlit LCD displays are essential but overlooked. Most wireless transmitters and receivers have backlit displays, but it’s still a good thing to look for. Make sure you can see and read the display in the dark.
Equalization. It is unfair to make the assumption that every band or engineer will be using a wireless in-ear monitor system with a mixing console with multiple bands of parametric EQ. Sennheiser recognized this and incorporated a 5-band graphic equalizer into the SR 300 G3 transmitter. Since the equalizer is built into the transmitter, EQ changes can happen in real time. The EK 300 G3 in-ear receiver is equipped with a hi-boost, an adjustable limiter, and a stereo/focus mode, the receiver has a balance feature allowing for flexibility during setup.
When it comes down to the brass tacks, we know the almighty dollar plays the biggest role in deciding what in-ear wireless system will be purchased. The Audio-Technica M3 In-Ear Wireless System, the Sennheiser ew 300 G3, and the PSM900 and PSM1000 from Shure all fall within a couple hundred dollars of each other. All three manufactures are known for their wireless microphones and instrument wireless systems. Decide what features you would like to have that fall within your budget and then do what every good sound engineer would do before they make a capitol investment – go listen to each unit and then make your decision.
Hello I’m Edward Frebowitz, president of Production Monster. I have mixed monitors in all different venues with all different types of bands for over 22 years. Monitors are just about all I did. If you have a question regarding wired in-ear monitors, wireless-monitors or personal monitor systems, please send me an email or give me a call at 888-252-5942.