Most likely, we were all introduced to the 2.4 GHz operating frequency via consumer electronics—cordless phones, Bluetooth accessories, Wi-Fi, even our garage door openers. Yet today, pro audio has embraced the frequency to build simplified, user-friendly wireless systems that are especially helpful in houses-of-worship (HOW) environments.
At first, only a few embraced 2.4 GHz (actually a band of spectrum centered on 2.4 GHz set aside by the FCC for unlicensed device usage) for pro audio wireless. For example, Line 6—known for prioritizing the pro audio user/operator—introduced its XD Wireless Series years ago against no competition. Today it’s a proven, successful product line.
“2.4 GHz is a vehicle in which manufacturers have developed their ‘digital radios,’ if you will,” offers Steven Devino, Line 6 Wireless Systems product manager, on the motivations for 2.4 GHz technology development. “And we’re in our fifth-generation radio. One of the benefits we saw early on was in the ability to put that digital radio into any band—even 5.8 GHz, down in UHF, or any of the other open bands. But 2.4 GHz has driven the R&D in that area. It’s unique because you never have to worry about running into TV channels or changing environments wherever you are. The first half-dozen channels designated by the manufacturer are usually far away from the Wi-Fi channels; Wi-Fi sits around channels 1, 6 and 11. We make sure that the first three channels are as far away from those as possible.”
As 2.4 GHz blossomed in pro audio and buyers were identified, more manufacturers joined in. “We’re the first to acknowledge that we’re not the first to this party,” confirms Kevin Waehner, manager of Professional and Integrated Systems at Sennheiser, which launched the evolution wireless D1 system at January 2015’s NAMM Show. “We wanted to make sure that when we did it, it was done in the best possible way, with all our engineering power behind it, and with a conscious effort to get it right.”
WHO SHOULD USE 2.4 GHZ?
The XDV75 Digital Wireless System from Line 6, which pioneered wireless microphone use at 2.4 GHz. In Houses Of Worship, adopting 2.4 GHz wireless technology over traditional UHF spectrum-based systems should depend on key factors such as required channel count and staff knowledge of audio technology.
“They are the volunteers,” explains Waehner of typical HOW-based 2.4 GHz end-users. “[The technology] is intended for the customer that wants to get the message out while not focusing on the technology and other ‘tweaky’ things that make it all work. Whether it’s a band playing gigs or a church, it’s all about less features that are handled adaptively, for you. These users shouldn’t have to think about what they need; instead, they turn it on and it’s all taken care of. Without a dedicated, highly educated technical staff, it’s nearly necessary.”
A HOW’s location—rural, urban, or someplace in between—makes no difference to 2.4 GHz wireless technology either, which is something that can’t be said for UHF. “There’s really no difference,” confirms Devino. “It’s a handful of very high-quality channels without the need for frequency coordination or worries about what else is out there in the environment, whether it’s a lot or very little.”
Devino offers an example of how well 2.4 GHz works for “portable churches” or traveling ministries, allowing it to be impervious to outside interferences. “I play a juvenile camp every Saturday morning,” he explains. “It’s a quick, simple setup where you just pick a channel and go; it’s critical to have wireless success there.”
Beyond the manufacturers, industry retailers, end users and the pro audio press have largely collaborated to remind end users—especially HOW-based ones—that our licensed UHF spectrum is shrinking. Meanwhile, as contemporary worship styles incorporate more audio and video, thus more technology across the board, simplified, self-guided technology like 2.4 GHz wireless systems are valuable, indeed. Still, there are limits to 2.4 GHz capabilities, which is where traditional wireless kicks back in.
“2.4 GHz systems are great for those rooms where you don’t have a dedicated technical staff and just want to use a couple of channels,” explains Waehner. “Automatic frequency management found in 2.4 GHz systems is a big deal; if you turn on a bunch of these things, they avoid each other and manage themselves, finding the best frequencies in real time. Despite the benefits, one of the constraints of 2.4GHz is in how many channels you can operate safely—that’s probably eight channels; we’re sharing space with Wi-Fi. As the UHF spectrum is shrinking, we have to be efficient about what we use.”
“If you need long distance coverage and 10 or more channels on air, other options may be better,” says Nick Wood, product manager at Shure, echoing Waehner’s sentiment. “Shure has a wide range of systems available, optimized for different applications, and none of them are always ideal for a HOW solution. It all depends on the particular venue, end users and needs.”
SIMPLICITY AND RELIABILITY
Sennheiser’s D1 Vocal Set is one of the most recent microphone systems to go live at 2.4 GHz. 2.4 GHz wireless systems generally need little input from the user: they’re truly plug-and-play. “It does offer simplicity, at least in the user interface aspect of the technology,” explains Wood, referring specifically to the company’s GLX-D Digital Wireless Systems. “We’re taking advantage of frequency hopping and automatic frequency selection—very desirable features. What does this mean for the customer? Setting it up is very straightforward. If you only need one wireless microphone, you literally turn on the transmitter, turn on the receiver and they arrange themselves. And you really never have to create that pairing again.”
With its largely volunteer user base, HOWs have been faced with countless pro audio innovations over the past few years—some of them user-friendly, some of them not. The ones most embraced in the marketplace thus far prove that simplicity is a top priority for buyers of technology for use in worship environments.
“2.4 GHz technology really avails itself to simplified user interfaces,” explains Devino. “That first comes into play, even at the highest levels, with the end users—the instrumentalists on stage. Giving them wireless on stage separate of the massive frequency coordination tasks is nice. Giving them a system with a useful interface with valuable information is important, too. We can just give them a channel and put the carriers wherever to avoid the Wi-Fi in the room.”
“The ‘house of worship market’ isn’t a one-size, singular entity,” reminds Wood. “If it’s not a venue pushing the envelope on the number of channels, some of the attributes of higher-rent wireless systems may not be important. Simplicity is desired, but sound quality and reliability are always important.”
Ultimately, the simplicity of 2.4 GHz systems free the HOW user to be more creative, allowing them to focus more on the music and less on logistics. When simplicity is paired with reliability, it truly makes for a HOW-friendly solution.
“There’s a lot of thought power being put into, ‘How do we get more performance out of products for the end user?’” poses Waehner. “You hear this in the recording space a lot, and increasingly in live sound: ‘I just want to get back to making music.’ It’s fine to be tweaky, but not everyone wants to do that. When we’re designing a product and it’s taking a lot time to get down to the customer’s needs, we joke that the top three goals are reliability, reliability, and reliability. The thing’s gotta work or there’s no reason to do it, and this is especially true for musician- operable wireless products. Users can just turn ours on and use it, resting assured on Sennheiser’s nearly 60 years of experience with wireless systems.”
Shure’s GLX-D Series sports features designed to make the system simple to deploy and use, including advanced battery technology. As with musician “weekend warrior”- type customers, according to Devino, budget- conscious HOW buyers of 2.4 GHz systems come for the value. “There’s a strong concern about the value of investment made in this particular market,” he explains. “It’s important to remember that churches don’t receive rental income from their wireless systems, unlike large rental firms with high-end, comprehensive wireless rigs. They have to make sure that their investment is valuable for a long time.”
Wood offers that Shure’s proprietary battery technology for the GLX-D adds to the value of investment his 2.4 GHz gear. “We built quite a battery system for it, and it’s a big part of the appeal,” he explains. “Users always have to remember to plan for enough battery life to get through a show, performance or service. Considering a battery system as a long-term solution, we estimate that the battery in a GLX-D solution would replace 2,500 alkaline batteries in its normal lifetime, plus it offers a number of other benefits, including approximately 16 hours of battery life per charge and accurate metering in hours and minutes. This is all meaningful and useful, especially for HOWs.”
“While form factor isn’t necessarily about 2.4 GHz, we felt that including durable, physically oriented features into our systems was important,” Wood continues. “Details include the belt clip that stays on well, the better-quality guitar cable that’s included, a charging slot in the receiver (as the charger doesn’t have to be a separate component), and the guitar pedal form-factor of the receiver. All those choices were as important as anything else. We were thinking about the musician, the praise band and the owner/operator of the system.”
A PORTAL TO OTHER UPGRADES
As HOWs continue to ease into the “easy” technology of 2.4 GHz wireless, folks like Wood hope that the users will migrate onto other potentially more helpful technologies as well. “Following 2.4 GHz, I would recommend having conversations about going wireless with in-ear monitoring, too,” he says. “IEMs have a number of tangible benefits to the congregation and the audio team, including a huge reduction in the amount of sound coming off the stage and some key monitoring benefits for the band.”
Indeed, one technological innovation begs another. For HOW audio buyers, 2.4 GHz is a great place to start with satisfying, immediate results.