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Stuart Pendleton:
Before you even read this, let me say that my experience with good IEM's is limited so take this with a grain of salt.  I have a small company that works extensively with one band (60% of my work) so I eventually just racked the IEMs they owned in my gear because it made the setup so much faster.  They had bought 4 PSM200's.  Those units worked for them, but no one ever thought they sounded great.  They also complained about the early limiting.  With that said, here's the review of the M3's I bought.

I bought 4 transmitters and five receivers.  I use ATW3000 series wireless units and expected the same sort of quality and reliability I knew from AT.  The feature set is nice for the money.  I like the soft touch programming that is similar to the ATW3000 series.  The menu structure is easy to use and familiar to me.  The three stage limiter is a nice option after coming from early limiting.  I racked them up exactly where the older PSM200s had been.  From here out, the review is subjective, but I have used the 200's a lot with these same guys, and in the same clubs where the new M3's would be used for the maiden run.

The units do not feel substantial like some IEM's so it doesn't exude confidence in reliability.  I will let you know later how they hold up.  I have only had them in use for about a month so far, but nothing has broken.  I do find that the antennas tend to hold a shape so if you case them up and lay even  a manual on the antennas, they will not be straight when you pull them out of the case.  Changing batteries was easier than on the PSM200, but I am not sure how long the door lid will last without more care than the Shures required.

The band did think that the sonic quality was improved.  Many comments on the fidelity of the music.  Everyone felt they sounded notably clearer than they were used to.  No one cared for the buds as much as the Shures.  They were a little harder to keep in place because the inserts seem to slide out of the ear canal a little too easy, and the leakage was slightly higher than the Shures.  The stock Shure buds were never great so the band had bought some 4's as an upgrade.  Most members opted to continue with the 4's which I had expected.  They felt the AT buds were a little less clear and artificially bass heavy.

Although the M3's do go louder than the 200's before the limiters kicked in, some still felt like they needed more.  Even with the limiter on the lowest setting, it didn't go where they wanted it.  It seemed that the limiter would cause a SPL level reduction that had a brief recovery period each time the limit was hit.  Some folks didn't mind, some did.  Even turning the limiter off did not rectify it completely.  It was as though the transmitter had saturated, although the meters didn't indicate that.  Some time with adjusting gain structure may improve that somewhat.

I will say that the units experienced drop out at what seemed to be less distance than the 200's did.  No scientific testing here, just turning on some music and walking away until we noticed drop out.  I also noticed sporadic noises almost like brief interference on old AM radio.  Just a crackle once in a while.  The Shures didn't do this at all.  I am not certain what I am hearing so will have to learn a bit more about RF issues.  Moving from 9 volt batteries to the AA was nice. AT says these units can get up to eight hours, and that was part of my decision since cost of operation can add up.  I have not found eight hours to be realistic for ME yet. They aren't dead at the end of the night, but won't make two nights.  So, you wind up changing them every night anyway because mid-show isn't a good place to have them die.

I am hoping that a few of these issues go away as I work with units.  I am left feeling like the sound quality is better and the RF is more problematic.  Possibly antenna issues.  I did remove the units from the old rack and put them in a rack by themselves.  I have made certain to have the antennas visible by line of sight from the performers.  This seems to help, but not a cure all yet.  I am considering having to move to paddles which will be an issue because we are using these in 2-300 person clubs so 4 paddles in the air 3 feet apart will be a logistics issue.  I am also considering a transmitter combiner to ONE antenna but cost will be a problem for me.  Not able to invest >$1k to fix this at this point.

Overall, after a month of use. I have a few mixed feelings.  I think the overall experience is better with the M3's, as it should be since the costs was higher.  The sonic quality is better.  The drop problem is slightly worse but realistically not an issue on stages the size I usually work.  Some of this may be my inexperience with RF problems.  I realize that getting these to work as easily as the ATW3000 mics is not going to happen. I like the options it has, the number of channels (and that may be of help because I realize that I may be having some of these issues due to not using the best frequencies yet.  I just tried to find 4 that appeared to be free from the on-line freq listings, but that doesn't guarantee trouble free operation.  Maybe other freq's will help in the long run.

In closing, I had expected the improvements we saw, and got them.  I didn't expect the dropout/noise issues we didn't have with the Shures and do have now, but assume with time, I can address these.  I found these for quite a bit less less than the normal "street price" by shopping for several months before purchase so I still feel like I did OK for the money spent (I spent $2500 total for 4 transmitters and five receivers plus shipping and taxes.)  I will write up some issues to my learning curve, and some to "get what you pay for."  All in all, I am happy with purchase, but it will take a little effort to sort some of the issues out.

If anyone wants to steer me to answers on any of this, feel free. I admit to being a babe in the woods with IEM's.  I am all "ears."  Sorry...had to say that.

Tim Padrick:
Did you run the manufacturer's frequency coordination software to make sure that none of the IEMs or mics were stepping on each other, and that there were no IM problems?

Stuart Pendleton:
Yes Tim.  I used the freq coordination software on the AT site.  I also used only freqs that were in their predetermined groups. It didn't help.

A few updates...

1) I eventually found that even some of the groups and freqs that AT says are OK in my area of the country were issues.  I changed the freq on one problematic unit and have not had a serious issue since.

2) I bought a a Senny antenna, AC2 combiner, and new coax cables (cables came from Henry Cohen at Production Radio Rentals and I love them.) This has cleared up all issues with reception, squeaks, noises, etc. Distance improved and so did sound quality.

At this point, the units work very well, sound good, and I have  not had any complaints since adding the mentioned gear to the equation. But I feel like for small stages I should NOT have had to add that much $$ for reliable performance.

Gene Declue:
We tried two M3's out last night for the first time (we had one to test, but with 2 female singers, testing 2 had to wait until we actually purchased them).

A couple of questions...

Does defeating the limiters (or reducing) allow for more volume, thus allowing a decrease in gain and decreasing "scratchiness" (a scientific term used by my singers?

What's the best way to determine the correct channels to use?

Have you found a good way to protect the units from sweat?

Thanks, in advance, you seem to be the only person with experience with this particular unit.


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