When I design a system with wireless microphones, I have one rule – get the best there is. We all know that in the long run it is cheaper to have gear you can count on, and in my experience, the average lay person does not understand the quagmire you can fall into when you use a wireless system that’s less than excellent. I was interested to see where on the dependability scale Audio-Technica’s new Artist Elite 5000 Series Professional UHF wireless system performed.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, installation
Features: UHF system; IntelliScan channel scanning; true diversity; handheld, beltpack transmitters; software control interface
Prices: 5000 Series systems begin at $959 for the basic dual bodypack system; the AEW-5313 system reviewed here has an MSRP of $3,359.
Contact: Audio-Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.
I had the AEW-T1000 beltpack transmitter which boasts a battery life (two 1.5V AA) of approximately eight hours on high (35mW output), or 10 hours on low (10mW output). It weighs 4.4 oz, which matters if you are forced to, say, mount the beltpack inside a wig. It has a 10-position audio input gain setting, ranging from +12 dB to -6 dB in 2 dB increments.
I also had the AEW-T3300 handheld transmitter – a cardioid condenser. The batteries last approximately six hours on high and eight hours on low. It has a three-position audio input gain setting; +12 dB, +6 dB, and 0. There is also a mechanical pad switch under the wire mesh grille for an additional -6 dB attenuation.
The AEW-R5200 dual receiver (two true diversity receivers in one rack chassis) is also sleek, with a soft blue tint on the LCD windows that display everything you need to know in a live performance, including RF signal reception, audio frequency level, and battery levels.
On the front you will find a headphone output with level controller, and the mode/setting switches. It also has front or rear mount antenna options. On the back you will find both line level and mic level balanced outputs, ground lift switch, AF output attenuators, rear rack mounts to permit attachment for extra support, as well as connectors to link all your receivers.
Audio-Technica’s IntelliScan Channel Assignment System has the capability to do a frequency sweep of the area and program your receivers to available frequencies that work well together. It is assigned 200 frequencies in a 25 MHz-wide frequency range, 655.500 – 680.375 MHz (TV Channels 44 – 49).
The 5000 Series system uses standard networking protocol and Ethernet interfacing. This permits all the receivers in a system to be integrated, monitored and controlled from one computer in real-time, from a single laptop, to a central computer via local area network or even the Internet. It also comes with software to monitor and control things like the receiver name, frequency, squelch, and even display the transmitter name and some cool tools like the spectrum analyzer, which shows frequencies occupied in your area and at what power level.
Audio-Technica never skimps on accessories. Included are all power cables and link cables, rubber-ducky type antennas with BNC cables, feet for the receiver for table-top mounting, and even an over the shoulder microphone transport bag.
First used as a talkback mic during the sound check and rehearsal of a dance concert held at Appalachian State University, I must say it worked pretty well. Tuning was a snap. The audio was strong and so was the RF signal. The LCD display on the transmitter is rather small for all the information it provides.
Next, I decided to plug it into a theatre/dance show at the Manhattan Arts Institute. The performers were students of the arts in the high school age range, freshman to senior. I purposely used it in New York City, where UHF frequencies are very carefully monitored because of the number of musicals. A quick sweep with the IntelliScan gave me two good frequencies. A student had no trouble programming the transmitters, even though she had no experience working in sound. Both the handheld and the beltpack survived the rigors of a high school performance without so much as a pop, crackle, nick or scratch. The RF indicators on the receivers hardly flashed in this 1,400-seat theatre, even with the performers backstage. I noted that the handheld AEW-T3300 has a warm feel, and the pattern seems to be slightly larger than, say, your average SM-58. It has a personality all its own.
So I felt confident to use it on another dance show. I decided to use it in a gospel number, the singer standing by the dance-dramatization of an adult baptism. The microphone blended perfectly with this singer’s voice – warm and silky, milk-chocolaty smooth.
Next I used it in a small cabaret where JF-100s sat at the edge of a tiny stage with 100 people packed into a room suited for 50. It responded to the subtleties of a performer who controls his dynamics by moving the microphone closer to or further from his mouth. The warm microphone accentuated that sexy low-end that you want in a club.
This is a tool that you turn to as a matter of choice, and not because you have to compromise. I’ll recommend this system to anyone who has a standard for the RF they use and can’t afford to go below that standard. I have just added it to the short list of wireless mic systems I’ll consider using on my performers.