So far we’ve discussed the transmitters and receivers, Spectrum Manager and ShowLink, and today we’ll move on to the final components of the system. First up is the AXT630 Antenna Distro (I told you the names weren’t that creative…). Like the familiar AWB845 we’re used to, the AXT630 is a wide-band distro; meaning you don’t have to select a frequency band. Unlike the 845, the 630 can be set up to filter the input to the band you’re using however. That keeps you from bombarding the receiver with a bunch of RF that’s outside their selected tuning range, presumably delivering a cleaner signal.
Another new feature is adjustable gain and attenuation on the outputs. The 630 features 4 outputs plus an unfiltered cascade output. It also has two network ports that supply POE. Which, come to think of it, is something I should mention. All the Axient rack gear comes standard with 2 POE network ports and a built-in switch. So at a very basic level, you could build a system of a receiver or to, a Spectrum Manager and a ShowLink that can be powered right off the Ethernet port. But I digress…
The 630 is network controllable and boasts a very low noise linear design. And that’s about it. But what do you want, it’s an antenna distro.
The other piece of the Axient puzzle is one that I’m particularly excited about; the new LiOn battery system. All of the Axient transmitters are designed to run on these new rechargeable batteries. You can buy a three AAA battery case for the body pack, but there is really no reason to do so, given how capable the recharging system is.
The heart of the battery system is the AXT900 modular rack-mountable charger. There is a module for the body pack batteries, and another for the handheld cells. You can mix and match them, up to four modules in a rack (with each module holding 2 batteries each). They chargers are designed to hold the batteries for shipping, so after the show, you can throw the batteries in the rack, and the rack on the truck without worry. This is especially nice for portable churches.
The batteries themselves are medical grade LiOn (Lithium Ion) with an onboard chip to monitor battery health and charge status. The chip communicates with the transmitters to deliver run-time information that is accurate to within ±15 minutes. Speaking of run time, because you have a lot of options with the transmitters, run time will vary. But you can figure on something like 7 hours with the body pack running at 10 mW; around 5 hours at 100 mW. The handheld will vary more, depending on whether you’re using frequency diversity or not. In single channel mode at 10 mW 9-10 hours seems likely; and it drops to 4-5 hours running in frequency diversity mode at 50 mW.
The good news is that the chargers will put a 50% charge on the battery in 1 hour with the rest of the charge coming in another 2-3 hours if I remember right. As for life span, Shure claims the batteries will do 500 complete cycles and still be 80% of original capacity.
As someone who has used and written about rechargeable batteries extensively, I’m glad to see the manufacturers going this way. It’s really not financially or ecologically responsible to continue to use disposable batteries any more, and this looks like a great system.
Finally, the AXT620 is a ruggedized 10/100 Ethernet switch. It contains 8 ports, 4 of which are POE. Shure was careful to say that you don’t need to use their switch for the Axient system, but this one has some handy features on it. First, the ports are at the rear so you don’t have cables running from front to back (though there is a convenience port on the front). They also included a hard switch on the front to turn the DHCP server on and off. This is a great feature in and of itself. It’s also built to withstand the rigors of the road. Again, for a portable church setting, this would be a good investment.
Well, that’s the system. As I said at the beginning of this series, it’s pretty complete and well thought-out. The one question we’ve not yet addressed is the elephant in the room; how much does it cost? That question was brought up at the demo, and Shure was very cagy about it. This is the one point that I personally think will get them in trouble. When someone asked point blank, “How much is a receiver?” they couldn’t (wouldn’t?) tell us, saying only that it depends on how you configure the system. But let’s be honest, it’s a SKU; it has a line item price. Why can’t we just have that?
The real reason is that it’s expensive; and I think justifiably so. When pressed, they said that a complete system would come in somewhere around $8,000 a channel. While that seems outrageous at first, consider that Sennheiser charges more than that for 5000 series, and it has none of the spectrum management and active interference avoidance Axient does. It is a scalable system, however, so you can build it in pieces.
But it gets interesting when you factor in the new ULX-D systems. I asked my rep to price out (at MAP) two systems; the first is a UHF-R system of 16 channels of ULX-4Ds, 16 UR-1s, 16 UR-2s (w/ SM58s) and antenna distro; the second consists of 2 AXT400s, 2 AXT100s, 1 AXT200 (so you can run the pastor and worship leader in freqency diversity mode), ShowLink, batteries, then 12 channels of ULX-D with both body packs and handhelds. Both are pretty complete systems, and would probably serve a 2000-4000 person church well.
When priced out at MAP (minimum advertised price, you may be able to get a better deal), the UHF-R system came it at about $54,000. But check this out: The Axient/ULX-D system came in at $52,000. I'm getting my first experience with the ULX-D as I write this, I my initial impressions are that I would replace UHF-R with ULX-D without a problem.
Now, granted this is a 16 channel system with all the bells and whistles. It may be overkill to do both packs and sticks for all 16, and if you only need 12 channels, the price points may converge. But if you view Axient as part of a system, it's more affordable than you might think.
Now if you’re still thinking, “So what, it’s still too expensive,” let me have you defer that thought until my final Axient post next time.