Choosing the right wireless microphone system can be a confusing endeavor, especially when technical specifications seem to be based on different reference scales. Without a standardized system of evaluation, one can find oneself comparing apples and oranges in the quest for the most reliable and best sounding system for their application.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, television production, location audio
Key Features: Ratio diversity design, dual-band compander, LecNet software integration
Price: UT200C ($1,520); UDR200C ($3,565)
Contact: Lectrosonics, Inc. at 800-821-1121; www.lectrosonics.com.
One company dedicated to clearing the haze surrounding wireless specs is Lectrosonics. And with good reason: its new UT200C Transmitter/UDR200C Ratio Diversity Receiver combination raises the bar for the entire industry.
The UT200C ($1,520) is an impressively designed handheld mic transmitter that is available with a variety of different capsules. The model reviewed here is equipped with an AKG C5900 capsule. The capsule is held in a tuned suspension mount with the length of the mounting pins tailored specifically for the weight of the capsule. The mic has a fixed 36 dB per octave 75 Hz rolloff filter to eliminate breath thumps and handling noise.
Separate controls are provided at the capsule for bass, mid and treble boost or cut. This aids in matching the microphone to other mics already in use. An attenuator is also provided for occasions when an exceptional amount of headroom is required. The main level control is in the battery compartment along with defeat switches for the operating LED and outer control switches.
There is a small magnetically held door on the side of the microphone, beneath which are the frequency adjustment controls for the transmitter.
As the name suggests the UDR200C ($3,565) is a diversity receiver. Diversity is the term applied when more than one antenna or receiver is being used. The main propose of this type of design is to improve reception by minimizing
multipath drop-outs. That is what happens when the signal from the transmitter is reflected off of a surface near the receiver and both the original signal and the out of phase signal are picked up by the receiver simultaneously, resulting in a loss of sound. What makes the UDR200C different from other diversity receiver systems is that rather than switching to another antenna, or switching to another receiver, it actually blends the outputs of two receivers in a ratio controlled by the comparative RF inputs of both receivers. This process eliminates the switching drop outs sometimes heard in other designs, and greatly improves the signal to noise ratio.
Another impressive feature of the UDR200C is the dual-band compander. While other systems will compress the entire signal as a result of peaks in the low or high frequency ranges, the UDR200C splits the signal into two parts via a 1 kHz low-pass filter and a 1 kHz high-pass filter and processes them in two separate channels. Each channel’s attack and release times are optimized for its respective frequency range. The two channels are then summed in an op-amp and sent to an audio amplifier as one signal. This allows the system to handle high or low frequency transients independently without affecting sounds in the opposing frequency range.
Traditionally, setup of a wireless system requires two people: one to walk around the entire usage area of a location while talking into the transmitter and one to listen to the receiver output. Lectrosonics has improved tremendously on this procedure. Provided on the back panel of the 200C’s half-rack-space chassis is a 3.5mm stereo mini jack. This is the “LecNet” (RS232) jack. When connected to a computer’s serial port with the included stereo mini to DB9 cable, the UDR200C is able to communicate with the proprietary LecNet software (also included). The software allows the user to monitor the receiver’s RF and audio input levels, as well as other operating conditions. When the audio output of the receiver is connected to the sound card of the computer, the user can record the audio as well as the meter information and play it back later. Voila!
A one-man walk test! The software also provides a spectrum analyzer that sweeps the entire frequency range of the receiver and graphically shows what frequencies are in use by other devices or contaminated by RF interference.
The receiver also has a calibrated output that is variable from +15dBu to -40dBu. This output is not a gain stage and, as a result, does not affect the signal to noise ratio or the headroom.
I must confess that I have been using Lectrosonics wireless units for many years and have never been disappointed by their performance. Even when working events such as the NBA All Star Game for ESPN, where 20 or 30 other wireless units are in use in a small area, the Lectro equipment has been able to give me good sounding audio, free of dropout. But I have never listened quite as critically to the subtle characteristics of the sound as I have in researching this review.
I first compared the quality of the sound coming from the system to that of the sound coming from a Shure Beta 58 wired directly to the console. The Lectro sounded better than the 58 in many respects. Mainly because of its sophisticated dynamics processing.
Another simple test I performed is the car key test. This is a test that Lectro suggests on their web site. Listening through high quality headphones, I rattled a set of car keys about a foot from the microphone while someone else was talking into it. I slowly backed the keys off about five feet and listened to the result. I then repeated the test with several competing systems that I had on hand. The difference was remarkable. Whereas the other wireless systems showed a tendency to distort the sound of the voice, the 200C reproduced it quite clearly.
I also used the system on several sound reinforcement gigs with a large band where it doubled as the primary vocal mic and a handheld used for speeches. One such occasion was a banquet for the Mid-Atlantic Toyota Dealers Association.
When the performer using the mic was finished with it, she turned off the transmitter. Many systems would have made a loud thump as the squelch on the receiver kicked in, but when the 200C lost pilot tone it engaged a short across the pins of the output connector that resulted in dead silence. Another example of fine Lectro quality.
To many of us in the industry, wireless microphones are a necessary evil. The Lectrosonics 200C makes dealing with them a much more pleasant experience.