Audio-Technica has been the purveyor of many fine microphones for two decades. A-T now presents a foray into the in-ear monitor realm with a new wireless rig called the M3.
The M3 comes in a well-conceived package with the wireless receiver/belt-pack, the transmitter, power supply, in-ear dynamic headphones (EP3 ear buds) and several ear bud accessories like extra rubber ear cups and a short ear bud cable extension for use with portable audio players [The locking 3.5mm connector won't work with a standard 3.5mm jack. — Ed.] The M3 transmitter is 1U tall and a half-rackspace wide; optional rackmount ears are included. The transmitter is connected to the console by means of separate left and right XLR/TRS combo connectors; also included is a L/R XLR throughput connection. The M3 front panel is simple. Its headphone output jack is flanked by a headphone volume rotary control. The channel/frequency controls are accessed through a series of menu button pushes and the accompanying Up and Down-arrow controls. The frequency display LCD screen is the centermost component of the transmitter.
The M3's receiver is a conventionally sized belt-pack, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. The receiver case is plastic and contains the 9V power source, centered display, and frequency controls. You can attach an external lavalierstyle microphone, allowing for personal control of ambient sounds (more on that later in the review). The top surface contains L/R pan control, which is concentric to the volume control.
The M3 kit arrived just in time for me to employ it at a Daryl Worley concert, where our company was providing audio, lighting, and stage production. The show's monitor complement was a mixture of in-ear monitors for a few players and conventional wedges for the other players. I sent signal to the A-T in-ears by means of wiring the transmitter to an unused output of our Midas Sienna monitor console. I did insert an equalizer on the insert point of the master output of the chosen mix, much the same as you would for any wedge monitor or speaker for any monitor mix. Even ear buds sometimes require a little EQ to give them a nice edge.
I built my own mix to send to the transmitter, and I did so by using the supplied EP3 ear buds as the reference speaker, as opposed to a cue wedge. My first impression of the EP3 buds was "amazing." They were comfortable, even with the supplied generic rubber cups; equally important, they sounded superb. The bass response was excellent, which is fairly unusual for ear buds. The midrange frequencies were crystalclear, and the highs were sizzling but never splashy. I first inserted the outboard EQ and then bypassed it, repeating this process several times, ultimately deciding to leave the EQ out of the signal path, as the EP3 ear buds sounded incredibly good without the EQ.
A great feature of the M3 kit is that it allows you to attach an optional lavalier microphone to the belt-pack receiver and clip it wherever you want; it gives the user the option of how to mix the ambient audience and stage volume to interlace that mix with your monitor mix. The side of the receiver has an 1/8-inch jack, and when optioned to do so, it allows you to send the ambient to the right side of the pan control and the actual monitor mix to the left pan, thus giving you the ability to balance the two sources at your own discretion.
I actually found this feature to be useful, because once the monitor engineer has installed the ear buds in his ears perfectly, it never fails that someone suddenly has 200 questions for him. I have always used a separate mic at the console with PFL on for that mic's channel; if others wish to talk to you, they can do so through the mic; the M3's A-T lav mic attachment eliminates that need. However, it's worth considering the downside of doing this: The lav mic picks up a fair amount of other ambient sounds during soundcheck, such as stage volume and backfire from the mains. [A-T notes that the receiver does have an external mute for its ambient mic. — Ed.] The belt-pack receiver can also scan the available frequencies, permitting you to easily link to a spare M3 transmitter that frequency group. The well-written M3 manual gives the complete frequency chart for Audio- Technica IEM systems, allowing for a little advance info in rental applications.
Audio-Technica also supplied a model M2 in-ear rig, which has the same buds, the same receiver, but doesn't have the back-lit displays or the scanning capability of the M3 receiver. It's also a quality product and slightly less in price.
Audio-Technica has a winner with the M3. I found it to be a high-quality product that is very roadworthy with excellent features. I used the product on four of our own shows, and each time I was treated to a very pleasant listening experience. I recommend this product whether you are a musician or a monitor engineer.
Will James, owner and chief engineer of Atlantis Audio and Lighting, is a longstanding PAR contributor.www.atlantisaudio.com