If you think computer technology is progressing at a breakneck pace, you should take a look at wireless microphone systems. In the last few years, wireless manufacturers have brought us high-quality compact UHF systems loaded with usable pro features – all at prices that seem incomprehensible compared to similar systems of a decade ago. Recently, Audio-Technica unveiled three new wireless systems, 3000, 4000 and 5000. These are considered professional grade with 200 UHF channels. I received the 3000 Series system with a handheld transmitter ($799) that features A-T’s new AE4100 element (PAR, 1/03). It also comes paired with a bodypack transmitter for use with a variety of transducers.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound
Key Features: UHF system; handheld and lavalier packages; 200 channels
Contact: Audio-Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.
The 3000 Series receiver is a half-rack affair that weighs 2.4 pounds not including the external power supply (boo, hiss). The unit comes with a pair of mounting ears for single system use or two receivers can be mounted in a single rack-space with the purchase of an adapter plate (AT8630, $30). The system features true diversity operation and 200 PLL-synthesized UHF channels (541.500 MHz – 566.375 MHz and 655.500 MHz – 680.375 MHz) that are selectable via soft-touch controls on both the receiver and the transmitter. The receiver has an LCD screen that displays conventional parameters like RF level, operating frequency and audio signal level as well as transmitter battery level. The receiver also has an alert indicator that flashes if the transmitter battery gets low (nice), the RF level drops, the transmitter is in mute or edit mod or when the level is close to clipping. Outputs are via unbalanced 1/4-inch or balanced XLR that is equipped with a ground lift switch to combat hum.
The 3000 Series handheld transmitter is built around their superb new AE4100 cardioid dynamic mic. Both the handheld and bodypack transmitters feature a switchable output power of either 10mW or 30mW. Like many new RF systems, the 3000 transmitters use AA batteries, which, according to A-T, last between six and eight hours. At the end of the handheld chassis is a recessed power switch (when held for more than two seconds) that doubles as a mute switch I when depressed for less than two seconds). The transmitter also has an LCD display that normally displays power status, operating frequency, mute status and battery level.
My first use of the 3000 Series system was by far the most demanding. I was doing sound reinforcement for a three-day Christian event that featured speakers, bands, choirs, etc. While it was hinted that the preachers get pretty “excited” during their sermons, it was not an apt description of what followed.
Immediately the 3000 handheld transmitter (which was serving as the pulpit mic) was subjected to a torrent of relentless screaming, spraying and breathing that would send any microphone to an early grave. Unfortunately, this barrage created some periodic clipping in the transmitter which was unaffected by downstream gain reduction and compression. Eventually, we found an opportunity to swap out it with another RF unit (properly trimmed and adorned with a foam windscreen). By that point, though, the 3000 handheld’s element was drenched, resulting in diminished LF and causing me to expect the wrath of A-T when the unit was returned in a coffin. Alas, it was not to be. I laid the mic in front of the exhaust port on one of my power amps (AKA the hair dryer effect). Within hours, we had the 3000 back onstage (with a foam windscreen and some serious trim reduction performed via the unit’s soft touch controls) delivering clear, crisp, intelligible sound. I was particularly impressed with the ATW-T341 transmitter’s sonic character. On a stage full of high-quality wired vocal mics it held its own, delivering a pleasing yet appropriately aggressive sound.
The next test for the 3000 Series was an event featuring presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. Kerry was speaking to about 100 people at a private event in Washington, D.C. With the Senator’s good mic technique and the 3000’s superb sound, all in attendance could hear perfectly. It was in this setting that I noticed the unit’s lack of handling noise and smooth high-frequency response. While this area was RF congested, I did not have any trouble finding clear frequencies and switching both transmitter and receiver over.
In the weeks and months that followed, I used the 3000 Series receiver, its handheld transmitter and a lavalier with the bodypack transmitter in a wide range of situations. In all instances, I was treated to superb sound and bulletproof performance. This is clearly a professional unit that can perform anywhere from small clubs to arenas. My only beef? I wish the power supply was internal – there is nothing like a rack full of wallwarts to wreak havoc. At the same time, I applaud A-T for revamping its RF line. Although the 3000 Series is “budget priced” ($699 with UniPak and $799 handheld), its performance is equal to or better than the brand’s former flagship, the 7000 Series. With the 3000, 4000 and 5000 Series, A-T (which had drifted toward the back of the RF class in recent years) is once again in the front waving its hand for a chance to show off.