Gear & Now: New Mics Hit as Sky Falls
Posted Jan 30, 2009

Shortly after you read this issue of EventDV, the sky will fall! With the long-anticipated Feb. 17 DTV transition (or at whatever time it happens, now that it's been temporarily postponed again by President Obama), we’re told there will be many changes to the way we watch—and ultimately make—TV and video programming.

In this column, we have written several times before about how the transition and resultant “white space” issues could directly affect wedding and event videographers by taking away the frequencies used by their wireless microphone transmitters. The FCC has ruled that Part 74 users (auxiliary broadcast devices, including wireless microphones) must vacate this frequency band between 698MHz and 806MHz, affecting blocks 27, 28, and 29.

What’s more, unlicensed devices are limited to 100mW operating power (or 40mW if operating in a channel adjacent to an active station), which could reduce their range and effective operation.
As we reported, the anticipation of these changes caused a great deal of anxiety for many customers and major mic manufacturers, who have now officially responded.

Lectrosonics
Lectrosonics, for example, has a new service policy that will allow owners of its current generation of products in the affected blocks to have their frequency changed to a lower range. For “a nominal fee,” owners of mics in the SM Series, UM400-type, UH400-type, UT, LM-type, IM, and MM400-type transmitters and UCR411-type, UCR401, Venue-type, SR-type, UCR100, and R400-type receivers are included.

The cost will vary, the company says, by model, cost of the radio-frequency board replacement, the warranty status of the product, and so on. Lectrosonics is offering a reduced cost for replacement with new products in lower frequency blocks.

TOA
TOA announced changes to its UHF wireless mics. These mics will now be capable of operating on the E and F frequency bands and will be denoted as such with an “E01” or “F01” extension on the model number. TOA says the upgraded systems will resemble the current A01 700MHz frequency models but will operate using the white spaces between active DTV channels in the 600MHz band.

Trantec S5.5 wireless system

TOA subsidiary Trantec, by the way, has added new features to its S5.5 wireless system. Available as either a hand-held or lapel mic  (with receiver and accessories), its mic size and running costs are now said to be smaller, with single-AA cell operation, providing more than 10 hours of continuous use. The S5.5 system and its big brother, S5.3, can be operated remotely using a PC-enabled software application.

Sennheiser
Sennheiser is also taking steps to assure its customers that the sky will not fall after Feb. 17 (or whenever the switch is made). As a first level, Sennheiser is offering a free initial consultation service via phone to answer questions from users or dealers and to address each individual situation.

Higher-level services will include on-site spectrum analysis and frequency coordination as well as service contracts.

Sennheiser will explain to anyone who uses the service that the new FCC rules include several safeguards to avoid interference to wireless microphones. Most importantly, licensed operation of wireless mics takes precedence over TV band devices (TVBDs), formerly referred to as white space devices (WSD). TVBDs (categorized as fixed devices) are allowed to operate with effective radiating power up to 4W on channels 2–51, with the exceptions of channels 3, 4, and 37. Those classed as personal/portable are restricted to channels 21–51 and are also not allowed in channel 37.

In addition, in 13 major markets where certain channels between 14 and 20 are used for land mobile (municipal and public safety) operations, two channels between 21 and 51 will be reserved and available for wireless microphones. These will be the first open (non-TV) channels above and below channel 37.

Sony
Sony has discontinued its range of WL-800 and UWP series of wireless microphone models operating on UHF-TV channels 62/64 (758–782 MHz) or 66/68 (782–806 MHz) and replaced them with new models operating on UHF-TV channels 30/32 (566–590 MHz) or 42/44 (638–662 MHz).

Sony customers with WL-800 Series “B”-suffix models who want to modify their existing channels 62/64 or channels 66/68 wireless systems to operate on alternative channels 30/32 or channels 42/44 (on a charge basis) can contact Sony Service in Teaneck, N.J.

Sony customers with previous UWP Series systems operating on channels 62/64 or channels 66/68 should consider replacing their wireless systems with new UWP systems that operate in channels 30/32 or channels 42/44.

Sony, by the way, is shipping its new line of digital wireless transmitters, including the DWTB01. In light of the new regulations, its audio and metadata transmission operates on UHF-TV channels 42–51 (638–698 MHz). It has selectable output power of 1/10/50 mW. Among the other digital benefits, its transmitter functions (including input attenuator, RF frequency selection, RF power output, audio LCF frequency, and a power sleep mode in the transmitter) can be remotely controlled from the DWR-S01D digital wireless receiver. Audio input is selectable from either mic (it uses an ECM-77BC/9X lavaliere) or line level.

The transmitter operates for approximately 4 hours using two AA size alkaline batteries at 10mW output power. The DWT-B01 supports the use of alkaline, lithium, or nickel-metal hydride batteries. It seems a little pricey at $2,627, but there are some undeniable benefits in using digital.

Sony is shipping five new system packages in its UWP Series of UHF wireless mics. The UWP-V1, UWP-V2, and UWP-V6 are for use with camcorders for ENG and EFP applications. The UWP-X7 and UWP-X8 are ideal for PA applications, and they include a transmitter and a tuner module that can be installed into a mixer.

Transmitter options for the UWP Series mics include the UTX-B2 bodypack, the UTX-H2 hand-held microphone, and the UTX-P1 plug-on transmitter. Supported receivers include the URX-P2 portable tuner and the URX-M2 tuner module.

Packages are available in channel blocks 30/32 (566–590 MHz) or 42/44 (638–662 MHz) at suggested list prices from $699 to $949, depending on configuration.

Revolabs
In the midst of running around like the proverbial chicken without a head worrying about microphone matters, you may have missed some news about a couple of new wireless mic products.
Revolabs’ line of wearable wireless microphones has a much different look from its competitors. As such, they can bring an added “ooh-aah” factor to your video productions (and they have conferencing, telephony, and PA applications, as well). XLR adapters are available.

The Solo ($249) looks something like a fancy lipstick case, but, in fact, it is a noise-canceling cardioid microphone. Its very small form factor (less than an inch in any dimension) still clips to a collar pocket or lapel.
There is a base station that plugs directly into a USB port. It’s about the size of two stacked iPods, so it’s pretty easy to carry around. 

Revolabs Solo

The Solo comes with a rechargeable battery, good for about 8 hours of talk time after each full charge. The mic charges when it is in the charger base, which ships with each system, or by using other charger accessories. The mic recharges to 85% capacity in about 45 minutes. It operates in the UPCS (Unlicensed Personal Communications Services) band, from 1.92GHz–1.93GHz.

Blue Microphone
Finally, a word about another new mic that is neither wireless nor specifically designed for pro video application but it is nevertheless worth a look—or, rather, a listen. Blue Microphone has introduced a number of high-end and consumer audio/video products that bridge the analog and digital worlds.

Icicle is its new USB converter and mic preamp that allows you to connect any XLR microphone directly into your computer via USB. It features a studio-quality microphone preamp, 48V phantom power, fully balanced low-noise front end, analog gain control, and driverless operation. It works with both dynamic and condenser microphones and either a Mac or a PC. Whether you’re using a microphone for digital recording, podcasting, voice messaging, or voice-recognition applications, the Icicle is the quick and easy way to get connected.

Blue’s new Mikey is a portable recorder for iPods that captures voices, live music, interviews, and so on directly to the ubiquitous Apple music and video player (including iPods, iPod Nanos, and iPod Classic). Mikey features stereo condenser capsules, with three position-user-selectable gain settings. Both new products are now available; Mikey has a suggested price of $79.99.

Blue Microphones Mikey

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.