This past Easter, I had the chance to try out a set of Sennheiser 2000-series wireless IEMs. We’ve written these up in the past, but I heard from a number of people that something must have been wrong with our test sample. So I wanted to give them another shot, and I’m glad I did.
The unit we received was an SR 2050 IEM dual transmitter and a pair of EK 2000 IEM receivers. Physically, the EK 2000 looks just like pretty much every other Sennheiser bodypack. It’s a metal case, so it will stand up to the occasional drop to the floor, and has a single antenna. A 1/8” headphone jack and volume control make up the top controls. The standard orange-backlit LCD display is on the face, giving you all the pertinent information.
The SR 2050 is a single rack space unit with dual transmitters. The large, easy to read display will flash red if there is a warning requiring your attention. The rear of the 2050 has a pair of XLR inputs, along with a pair of TRS loop out jacks. Two RJ45 ports allow you to connect and control the system using Wireless Systems Manager (the two transmitters act like separate units in a single rack space, so you need to connect both to the network). A pair of antenna outputs are also found back there, one for each channel. AC comes in on a standard IEC cable, so no nasty wall-warts.
As you would expect from a system at this price point, you have a lot of options. The system will tune to about 3,000 frequencies over a 75 MHz bandwidth. As Sennheiser is a global company, they make many versions to cover everything from 558 MHz-932 MHz. Models for the US take up 75 MHz swaths between 518-698 MHz.
One interesting feature of the EK 2000 IEM body pack is the adaptive diversity reception it employs. Essentially, it uses the cord of the ear buds as a second antenna, which cuts down on drop outs and RF issues. In practice, we found them to be quite reliable, once we got our frequencies coordinated properly. For Easter, we had 12 wireless mic's on stage, plus 8 channels of IEMs. It took a few passes at getting a full set of compatible frequencies, but once we did, all was good.
While we didn’t use it during the services, once I brought the units back to the Palatial CTW Studio, I tried out the built-in 5-band EQ on the transmitter. It worked surprisingly well, and might be rather handy to correct for deficiencies in a set of IEMs for example. While you could do the same thing on the console, making a quick adjustment on the stage might be a good thing once in a while.
In my listening tests, I was struck by a few things. First, with no signal present, there is a slight background hiss; something I find common with most Sennheiser IEMs. Once the music gets going it’s not really noticeable, though it is more pronounced than our Shure PSM 900s and 1000s. But once the music gets playing, two things stood out. First there was an excellent sense of clarity and dynamic range. I tried them with both my UE7 customs and UE900 universal fits, and the signal sounded great with both. Sennheiser uses what they call HDX companding for “crystal clear sound.” I won’t argue with that—it does sound really good.
Second, stereo separation is really, really good. Shure and Sennheiser use different methods for deriving stereo in their IEMs, and while Shure might have the edge on noise and possibly RF performance, Sennheiser takes stereo to a whole new level. The ability to precisely place individual elements in the stereo field can be the difference between a good IEM mix and a great one, so this is kind of a big deal.
We found battery life on the receivers to be excellent. I would say on average, we were one bar higher on the 2000s compared to the PSMs at the end of a rehearsal or performance day, using the same Ansmann 2850 MaH batteries. The 2000s also have charging contacts on them for use in their own recharging cradles.
Features R Us
Additional features on the receiver include an adjustable high boost mode to compensate for less than ideal IEMs, and selectable stereo or focus mode. Focus mode is basically a “more me” mode; you run a full monitor mix to one input and a direct out into the other. The artist can then adjust the balance between the overall mix, and their own voice or instrument. In this mode, the system obviously goes into mono, but it might be good for artists who really want to control their own level. Or for the ones who are constantly badgering you for “more me.”
Something I’m not sure how I feel about yet is Sennheiser’s decision to treat the two transmitters in the 2050 as completely separate units. On a Shure PSM1000, you have one headphone jack that is switchable between each transmitter. Shure’s is also a 1/8” jack, so you don’t need to hunt down an adapter for your IEMs. Sennheiser uses a 1/4”, which is arguably more professional, but keep a bunch of adapters on hand.
Shure also uses a single menu control, which makes adjusting parameters easy. On the other hand, you could have two people working on each channel of the 2050 without interfering with each other. I don’t think one way is better than the other, unless you have just two channels to monitor (then Shure is easier).
An “Easy Set Up” mode on the receiver lets you scan for available, intermod-free frequencies, then transfer that information to the transmitters via infrared sync. After you find the frequencies with one receiver, you can sync all the frequencies to all the transmitters in one easy step. Syncing the rest of the receivers with the transmitters also happens via infrared. I found syncing to be fast and reliable, and not finicky position.
At about $4000 (price found online) for a SR 2050 IEM and a pair of EK 2000 IEMs (plus a pair of Sennheiser ear buds), the 2000 series is not inexpensive. On the other hand, it is about $900 less than a dual channel PSM1000 (from the same vendor—and you don’t get ear buds). Both systems sound great, and each one has features I wish the other had. In comparison to a G3 IEM system, the 2000 is considerably better, though it is about $1000/channel more than the G3.
You certainly wouldn’t go wrong with a 2000 series IEM; it sounds and works great. Whether or not it’s worth the price premium is something you’ll have to decide. But it is a good system, that’s for sure.
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And by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.
Back in the day, Aviom introduced the personal mixer. And they pretty much ruled the market for about 10 years, if for no other reason that there weren’t many options. But in 2013, the market is rife with personal mixing options. From the elaborate to the simple, console manufacturers and third parties are all getting into the game.
We first saw the Elite Core system at WFX in 2011. At that time, we were immediately impressed with the sound quality. They also appeared to be built quite well. In the intervening months, we’ve seen them at plenty of trade shows and conferences. But it wasn’t until recently that I actually got a full system in my hands to work with.
We had a Women’s retreat a few weeks back, and one thing I learned the past few years is that in the small room that they have the main sessions, stage wash is a real issue. We have ended up with 5-6 wedges on a small stage, in a small room, and the monitors are always on the edge of overpowering the mains. I thought it would be a perfect time to evaluate the Elite Core PM16s.
One of the great things about personal monitoring systems is that the connection between FOH and the stage is a single Cat5e cable. That was a real benefit for our load in/out. I put the POE switch they sell with the system on stage and ran my PM16s back to that.
Parts is Parts
Like most personal monitoring systems, the Elite Core system consists of three basic parts; an input module, a distribution module and the personal mixer. The input module, cleverly named IM-16, is a simple affair. It accepts 16 analog inputs on TRS jacks. They thoughtfully included Through jacks as well, so you can use the inserts on your console if you don’t have direct outs.
There is a single RJ45 on the back which connects to the switch. While you might be able to use any POE 100Base-T switch, their DM-8 is certified to work well with the rest of the system. It’s a little more expensive than an off-the-shelf D-Link or Linksys model, but not enough that it’s worth skipping it. The DM-8 also has several bright indicators that help you quickly diagnose cabling and connection issues. Plus, you get a set of rack ears, which again, cleans up the install.
Finally, there is the PM16 mixer. In contrast to the Aviom model of push the button, turn the single knob, the folks at Elite Core put 32 knobs on the surface; 16 volume and 16 pan. There is also a signal present LED over each channel, which makes it easy to troubleshoot audio routing issues. They run on Power Over Etherent (POE), so you don’t need wall-warts or power cords to each mixer.
In addition to the volume & panning, you have a built-in ambient mic with it’s own control, and a single-knob compressor. They also included a 3-band graphic EQ, which is nice for a little tone shaping on the final mix. Finally, a master volume knob controls the level for both the headphone and stereo line outputs (stereo line out on a pair of TRS plugs).
Another nice feature is the 6-segment LED meter that gives you an idea of how hard you’re driving the system. In my testing with my UE-7 custom IEMs, I was running most of the volumes in the 9-12 O’clock position, with the master at 10 O’clock. That lit up the meters to about −10dB on the really loud parts, which meant I still had plenty of room to get it loud.
Sound Quality (Finally!)
One of the most frequent criticisms of the Aviom system is that it just doesn’t sound that good. When I’ve used them, they seem to somehow suck all the dynamic range out of the sound, and leave it thin and lifeless. I’m happy to report that the PM16s sound really good.
I played with a bunch of tracks from a night of worship we did some months back, and quickly found that I could dial up a great sounding mix with plenty of punch in almost no time. I built some stereo stems, and found the stereo separation to be quite broad. The EQ doesn’t have a ton of boost/cut capability but it is enough to tame the sizzle of the high end, or boost the bass a little of your IEMs need it. Pushing up the mids helps the vocals stand out a little bit without making the whole mix louder. And the compressor is a nice way to help glue the whole mix together a bit.
One of the things I like about the system is how solid it is. The cases of the PM16s are heavy gauge steel with roll bars protecting the knobs. When your musicians walk off stage forgetting they are still plugged in (and they will), these should survive the fall without any issue.
The input module is rackmountable, and even the switch is pretty rugged. Perhaps the best news in this whole review is the pricing. The MSRP for the PM16 is $644 (MAP $479). The IM-16 input module is $944 (MAP $699) and the DM-8 switch is $524 ($389 MAP). Another $20 gets you the mic stand adapters, and they make the best headphone extensions in the business for about $35.
The bottom line is that these are rugged, well-made pieces of gear that sound great. If you’re looking for a basic 16-channel personal mixing system, you really need to consider these.
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A few months ago, James Knight, our friend from across the pond, asked if he could write up a review of the new RØDE iXY iOS microphone. Never being one to pass up on a day off, I said, "Sure!" So here we go...
A few weeks ago, Australian microphone power-house RØDE announced the immediate shipping of their latest creation, the iXY microphone. Focussing on mobile sound capture, the microphone is iOS compatible and is the first unit to offer broadcast-quality 24-bit, 96kHz recording from its matched ½’’ stereo pair XY condensers when you pair it with the dedicated app, RØDE Rec. It’s also recently won the highly-regarded Red Dot design award and as with all of their mics, has great quality sound.
I tested it out for Mike to see whether it would be useful for church techs across the world, and it looks as though its passed. The wide range of events techs are asked to cover means that secondary thoughts like recording need to be setup and executed in a flash with limited prep time, and this is where we can find a use for the iXY. The beauty of being able to whip out your iPhone or iPad and record the pastor’s impromptu sermon or even have the ability to use the iXY as a backup recording device in case Reaper fails is a huge convenience. Anything from shooting videos for the Sunday service at a remote location or covering an event for the church website can be aided with a little help from this device. It’s probably apparent, therefore, that I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got my hands on – the price tag of only $199 (list) means that for the first time, small churches with limited budgets can utilise broadcast quality audio in their recordings, without the hassle of camera interfaces and their associated paraphernalia.
Understandably as audio geeks we have to judge gear on what it sounds like, and that’s why there are a few audio samples below – as you can see, the mic gives a very natural, smooth sound and the 90o coincident capsule alignment allows for true stereo recording (without the volume dip in the middle that you’d usually expect from competitors). The built in high-pass filter removes all handling noise (really, ALL handling noise) whilst the usual assortment of RØDE accessories (in this instance a hard-shell case with carabineer and a windshield) allow for maximum flexibility. It’s important to note, however, that if you’re looking for something a little more conventional to record your interviews or cover lectures with, but still want the flexibility of recording using your iOS device, RØDE have recently unleashed their ‘SmartLav’ (an iOS lavalier condenser microphone with 3.5mm jack output) which should fit the bill nicely. Anyway, the cardioid mic has a frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz, ensuring you capture all of the most crucial detail in your recordings, whilst its 40g weight allows for complete freedom of movement.
This mic really is a cool piece of kit and sports an onboard A/D converter, supporting the concept of simplicity during use – there are no cables, no interfaces, no PSU – literally, just plug and play. Once you’ve got it connected to your iOS device you can either fire up the free RØDE Rec LE app (with basic functionality) or pay a little extra for the RØDE Rec HD which boasts an on-board editor, cropper, compression and EQ – both apps have an adjustable input level to ensure volume remains consistent. The applications feature stereo bar graphs and scrolling waveforms to clearly display information whilst users are able to upload the audio to SoundCloud, Dropbox, email, FTP and iTunes File Sharing after the editing process with a single tap.
For years, the IT market has been manufacturing poor quality microphones for our portable devices and RØDE’s new iXY offering marks the end of inferior sound on the move. Over the past few years, RØDE have gained a huge presence in the audio world thanks to their solid build quality and careful engineering – this microphone is testament to their ingenuity and passion for great sound.
By James Knight, an audio consultant for London-based integrators Hans Kolberg Group