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GENIUS! #6: Gerrit Buhe and the Sennheiser Digital 9000

"Digital is one of those modern magic words that make things appear simple..."

Gerrit Buhe obtained his amateur (‘ham’) radio licence at the age of 14 and built his own first own short wave transceiver shortly afterwards. He’d already learned Morse Code three years earlier. No surprises then that he decided to make his hobby his profession, studying electrical engineering with a focus on communications technology.

After his professional start in a small engineering office in Rostock, he moved to Siemens in Munich where he developed Mobile Radio Base Stations as an RF and DSP engineer, eventually broadening his experience to include software systems engineering with the University of Paderborn. Buhe joined Sennheiser in 2002 with the challenge of introducing digital transmission technology into demanding wireless microphone systems. The result, ten years later, was the Digital 9000 Series.

Buhe started with a team of four, swelling to 20 towards the finalisation of the product. Since its launch in late 2012, Digital 9000 has been implemented in events all over the world: The Voice and X Factor recording in several different territories; prestigious awards shows in Switzerland, Malaysia and Australia; and of course, the last two Eurovision Song Contests. As a leading wireless systems delivering full-bandwidth uncompressed audio, it has found favour in theatres and musicals (the huge 14-18 musical in Belgium for instance), with classical producers and leading event production companies too.

Around ten years of research and development went into the Digital 9000 system. Looking back, what was Buhe’s greatest challenge? “The greatest challenge was at the same time an ever-present one: developing a wireless microphone system with digital transmission and really outstanding audio characteristics meant going close to the limits of physical feasibility. And once we are at these physical limits, technical complexity positively explodes. We went into a huge amount of detail in many places and developed a lot of small solutions that enabled us to achieve higher data transfer rates for the audio data than is usually the case.”

Does he think that his Sennheiser team has now developed the ideal digital wireless microphone? “The absolutely ideal digital wireless microphone doesn’t exist – but I think we are very close to it!” he laughs. “But seriously, there is no such thing as the ideal microphone for all applications because, due to the physical limitations that I mentioned before, a digital microphone must always make a sensible compromise, for example asregards the operating time, size and weight, or range. But – never before has such high audio quality been transmitted wirelessly in the UHF band as with Digital 9000.”

Digital makes things easier then..? “I would rather say that digital is one of those modern magic words that make things appear simple, which are in reality based on or require highly complex internal processes.”

Nevertheless, the magic will continue with further extensions planned to the Digital 9000 family… At press time, the company had just announced the launch of the D1 instrument wireless series.