Who among us hasn’t heard the apocalyptic talk about the impending doom of the UHF wireless range at the hands of those ruthless pillagers, television stations? Well, whether you believe the paranoid propaganda or not, things are becoming more crowded in the UHF band – especially in major urban areas. This congestion has some RF manufacturers looking to find greener pastures for future RF operation.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, installation
Features: 2.4 GHz operation; handheld and bodypack transmitters; onboard DSP and compression; feedback suppression
Contact: Sabine at 386-418-2000, Web Site
Is Sabine, with the recent introduction of its SWM7000 2.4GHz wireless system, a messiah that will lead us to new safe ground or are they just another company with a fancy marketing tactic? That was the question going through my head as I awaited the chance to examine this new product from the company that brought us such useful gear as the Graphi-Q and the FBX Feedback Exterminator.
I have come to know Sabine as a company that has what I call “Swiss Army Knife” mentality. In other words, they tend to pack lots of useful features into a product with perhaps an occasional foray into the realm of superfluous features.
My review unit featured a single rack space, dual-channel receiver and two transmitters, a handheld and a bodypack. The receiver has front panel controls for capabilities like channel selection, FBX feedback suppression, mic modeling, de-essing, compression/limiting (ratio, threshold and attack), display contrast and storage of customized settings. Each of the receiver’s two displays is packed with icons for RF level, audio level, battery strength, compression level and a variable function display. The receiver’s back panel is loaded too. It is home to a variety of outputs (AES digital audio, mic level XLR, and line level 1/4-inch), antenna mounts, a sync input, RS485 network connections, RS232 and USB ports for computer interface. There is also a DIP switch bank that offers adjustment of front panel locks, FBX filter width, clock source and network enable. Antennas can be mounted in front or on the rear of the receiver chassis.
The transmitters use AA batteries and are rechargeable friendly (NiMH only). In fact, you can purchase a mic clip that has an integrated charger (very cool). The handheld utilizes an Audix OM3 or OM5 capsule while the bodypack can be used with a headworn, lavalier or instrument cable. Sabine says that the SWM7000 system has a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz and a dynamic range of greater than 100dB. The transmitters have an RF output of 25mW and a usable range of more than 100 meters. While the system is not affected by high-power sources (like radio and TV), it may be susceptible to things like microwave ovens, wireless LAN networks and cordless phones – if they are in close proximity to the receiver. Sabine states that devices utilizing spread-spectrum technology should not interfere with the operation of the SWM7000 and vice-versa.
The SWM7000 has a massive feature list with lots of innovations and standard useful features- so many that I don’t know where to begin. Like many other current systems, the SWM can perform RF scans for usable frequencies but it can also create a hierarchical list of those frequencies starting with the clearest and strongest – even issuing a report via the remote control software. Unlike other RF systems the SWM can apply 10 feedback notch filters per channel in a jiffy. In addition, when used with the remote control software, the operator can utilize additional features like parametric filters, high and low-pass filters, greater control over the FBX and compressors, and enhanced operations and displays.
Sabine claims that up to 70 RF channels can be used simultaneously (very nice) but that receivers must be more than one foot away from each other when the distribution antenna is not in use (not so nice). Those 70 channels (35 dual receivers) can all be controlled from one computer via the remote control software.
There are many features that strive to make the system more “idiot-proof.” For instance, you can name customized settings, lock front panel controls and the receiver won’t allow both channels to reside on the same frequency. In addition, the transmitters can be set so that its external switch can be configured for on/off, on/mute or on/on operation, thus reducing the likelihood of unintentional loss of transmission.
I used the SWM7000 in many situations from a wedding reception to a concert hall and in my studio. One of my favorite features of the SWM system is the “tweek and peek” function. Just spin a knob on the front panel and its parameter level pops up on the display screen. This made it easy to make changes on the fly. On one gig where the band had a very loud singer, I found the transmitter pad to be very helpful. At the same time, I found that the compressor was ineffective at traditional settings. With the transmitter pad initially set to 0, the threshold at -10 dB and ratio at 5:1, I would expect to get some pretty serious compression on most dynamic processors. But even when shouting, the Sabine had no audible (or visual) gain reduction. Lowering the threshold more, eventually produced the desired results. The de-esser is very functional and will be a help for “sizzly” vocalists. I think the radio sounds great and I am a big fan of the OM5 capsule, which delivers a nice aggressive sound.
Later, I tested the SWM7000 at an Al Jarreau concert where I was the house monitor engineer. Placing the mic near the cue wedge, I pressed the setup button on the appropriate receiver channel and began pushing up the cue wedge gain. Multiple rings were promptly extinguished and, when done, the unit yielded a loud, full-bodied sound. It should be noted that the FBX applies a very narrow notch filter on the offending frequency, thus preserving program content. If you sucked out 10 bands on 1/3 octave graphic, you’d lose a lot of content along with the feedback points. At no time in my use of the SWM7000 did I experience any kind of RF interference. I did notice some static-like crackling in the radio when I unscrewed the handheld’s outer chassis to edit the pad setting.
I am not of fan of so-called mic modeling. I scrolled through the options of the modeling menu and even A/Bed them to the actual real world models and the results were not very impressive. My beef is not just directed at Sabine, there are others out there who have been peddling this feature for years. In Sabine’s case it seems to be marketed as a color tool rather than a way to avoid buying quality microphones but I still find it out of place on this very professional piece of equipment. I’m sure that it’s fun for designers to flex the techno muscles, but save it for the more legit stuff. I think this is one feature that could have been left off this otherwise remarkable product. [Sabine disagrees: Is it really appropriate to dismiss an entire product category, especially one that has been embraced by other reviewers in this magazine?]
The Sabine SWM7000 is a bonafide technical achievement for wireless microphone design. With a superior radio, 70-channel compatibility and extensive remote control, an open frequency range, onboard feedback suppression and dynamics control, it is charting a new direction in wireless technology. If long term reliability and interference free operation prevail, this will probably be a product that is viewed as historically significant many years from now. In my opinion, the SWM7000 is anything but a marketing ploy. It exudes high quality and seems destined for a wide range of professional applications.