Equipment Review: Shure ULX-D

I first ran across Shure’s new ULX-D line at NAMM in January. Initially, I was indifferent, but as the rep started explaining the feature set, I became more intrigued. When I heard the price point, coupled with the facts that you can coordinate 14 or so channels in a single TV channel plus networking, I was hooked. I knew I had to try it.

The ULXD4 Receiver

We needed a few channels of wireless for a women’s retreat, so I called my Shure rep and asked for a handheld and body pack system to review. One of the systems seemed to have some issues with IR sync and networking, but the other one worked fine. I never did sort the networking thing out, but I will take Shure at their word for it that it does work. The other unit sync’d over IR perfectly (and quickly). My rep was going to send the other unit back for service, and as we talked he did tell me that he’s had his demo unit jump right onto networks without issue, so most likely we had one that needed some love from service.

Initially, the ULX-D looks a lot like the ULX-P. If I had to guess, I’d say the case for the receiver is the same. The transmitter looks familiar, but has been re-designed to use either AA batteries (finally—no more 9v’s!) or Shure’s new LiOn rechargeable system. The transmitters have a decent heft to them and feel well made. The ULXD1

The very clever dual-bay charger accepts either handhelds or bodypacks.

The -D designation stands for digital. The signal gets converted from analog to digital in the transmitter and is sent digitally to the receiver with no companding. Companding is a big reason that some don’t go wireless; the signal gets compressed in the transmitter and expanded at the receiver. This process can lead to various artifacts, some of which can be audible. No companding will be a big boon to guitar and bass players who want to go wireless. Even the UHF-R isn’t always good enough for discriminating players; but the ULX-D should be.

The handheld uses standard Shure threads, so any mic that works on the UHF-R will work on the ULX-D. I did exactly as you would expect me to do and unscrewed the SM58 and installed an RC-35. After the retreat, I tried it out on our worship leader. He normally sings through a UR-2 with an RC-35 on it, and I’m very used to the way that sounds. The ULX-D sounded even better. It’s a bit more open with no hint of compression. The high end sounded cleaner, but not at all harsh. It was really quite good. We happened to have three engineers in the room that weekend and all of us agreed that the ULX-D was some of the best wireless we’ve heard.

The body pack worked great as well and we had no issues with any dropouts at either the retreat or during the weekend. Battery life was excellent as well. I was given the new drop-in chargers (which are most excellent) and the LiOn batteries to try. After seven hours of run time on Saturday, the LiOns showed 4 bars (out of 5). I loved the fact that to charge them, you simply drop the pack or the handheld into the charger and walk away. Though they would take up more shelf space than AA chargers, the fact that you simply drop them in the charger is a fantastic benefit. 

With a price point coming in well under $1500 per channel (depending on handheld/bodypack/mic combo), this is a very compelling option. In fact, if I were spec’ing a system today, I don’t think I would go UHF-R; ULX-D would be half the cost and it sounds better. UHF-R may be a little more road-ready with it’s beefier cases and built-in antenna and network cascading, but for a church install, ULX-D would be hard to beat.

As you may recall from my review of the Axient system, when I priced out 16 channels of UHF-R versus 12 channels of ULX-D plus 4 channels of frequency diversity Axient, the later came out cheaper. Had we not gone through the 700 MHz transition just a few years ago, I would certainly be looking at replacing my wireless with ULX-D. 

In fact, anyone looking for a deal on a 12-channel UHF-R system in the U4 band?

Today's post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA's range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA's miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.