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Author Topic: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help  (Read 1407 times)

Joe Breher

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Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« on: March 25, 2021, 12:22:24 am »

I have decided that I'd like to purchase wireless IEMs. Despite having spent a half-century in audio, I have never used any wireless IEMs - neither as talent nor as engineer. I could use some help sorting out the market. Pluses and minuses of various manufacturers' offerings.

There are essentially two environments that these will be used in, with the potential of a future third.

1) Since covid, I've been doing live streaming internet broadcasts. Solo, guitar, vocals, backing tracks, all production staff - audio and video, I'm the entire crew. I'm tired of the look of an old-school set of headphones on my head for these. One stereo channel would suffice here. Fed from an SSL board with other gear of that caliber (Neumann, Avalon, Grace, Avid, etc).

2) Until covid, and soon to get underway again: Rock/country/blues/pop cover trio (gtr/bass/drums/all sing). All my gear (see below), but FOH is manned by a friend of mine who also owns a local sound company of his own. These IEMs would be to replace wedges. Everything mic'd regardless of venue size, gtr direct from modeler, acoustic drums.

3) Possible stretch goal. Until covid, I operated a small sound co as well. I might be kind of done with it. But may get back into it, in which case the IEMs (suitably expanded to more sets) might be a good thing to have in the roster. I've got a dozen Yamaha DSR112 that I'm using for wedges here. Soundcraft Si Performer 3 & 1 on FOH and Mons respectively, about 35KW, 8 EAW KF650s (gunness) over 6 JBL SRX 828. Mostly municipal street fairs with a mix of rock, country, latino, and pop bands, occasional jazz & chamber. Usually many acts doing ~ 1 to 1.5 hour sets, with anywhere from ~ 15-45 min changeover.

So I'm figuring probably get one set as soon as I can figure out what I want - for scenario 1). Work the operational bugs out before equipping...  scenario 2), the band starts up again in early May (we're hoping the vaccines have covid tamped down, but we're only booking outdoor shows at the moment regardless). Either two or three more sets by that time.

Each performer would run their monitor mixes off iPads running the Soundcraft app (TBD - I've run my mix off app, the other guys have not). If each muso running their own mix pans out, do we need a set for FOH?

I'm willing to spend 'a couple grand' per set. I think that allows the budget to accommodate anything I've seen on the market. Well, assuming midgrade universal fit earpieces for the other guys (I 'll likely spring for custom molds for myself).

I don't currently have any wireless mics. However, the ability to play nice with potential future needs should be a consideration. Should I ever restart the soundco, I don't envision any case where I'd end up using more than 8 or so sets of IEMs. Anything more, I imagine I'd want to sub out to a specialist.

So in my first round of looking, I have looked at Shure, Sennheiser, and Lectrosonics. I have since noticed that AKG and AT may have some offerings as well. There are some other brands that I have had past poor experiences with - while this experience is old, and they may have since upped their game, there's a bit of personal stigma that may be difficult for me to overcome.

However, not have had a chance to actually use these things in the heat of battle, I am flummoxed as to how to evaluate the merits of each brand's offerings. And I don't know anyone to turn to (except for this august group here) for recommendations or even anecdotes.

I'm in northern CO. Probably not a too unfriendly locale for radio gear. I do get into Denver. Should I be concerned about crowded spectrum? And speaking of spectrum, how many years should I plan on being able to use the same gear before the FCC mandates that I replace it?

Stages tend to be smallish. Will the little 'whip antennas' (what are they - 1/4 wave dipole?) that come stock with the TX be sufficient? For four 'sets' (which for some brands would be two TX, as they package them 2 in one rackmount unit), will I need an antenna combiner? If not, where is the threshold where a combiner becomes a 'really good idea'? And what are the tradeoffs in the various antenna types?

I have 'heard it said' that the Sennheisers have subjectively better audio quality than the Shures. Anyone care to wade into that shark-infested pool?

If I go to the Shure camp, I get the impression that I can freely mix and match RX and TX from the PSM 900 and 1000 series. Is this true?

I've been dabbling with Dante. I have the Dante cards in the Soundcrafts. Any reason to shy away from a Dante feed from the board to the TX - for example on the Lectrosonics units?

Is there any commentary - anecdotal even - about relative durability and service life of these or other brands? Operational complexity? What else should I be thinking about? Battery life? How fiddly they are in the heat of battle?

Lastly, it puzzles me that googling seems to answer none of these questions. Is my google-fu uncharacteristically weak? I would think that there would be resources that cover this apparently mission-critical piece of modern production gear, but I've been unable to find anything useful. Glancing at the topics over the last year here doesn't even turn up much info. Where should I be looking?

Lastly, if you're a rep or a retailer, who doesn't mind spending the time walking me through this forest, feel free to hit me up. Just understand that I'll make sure I understand the pluses and minuses of most leading brands before signing on the dotted line. Though I'm not the kinda guy that's gonna suck all your knowledge then buy from some lowball internet box fulfiller to save the last few percent.

Thanks in advance...
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Luke Geis

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2021, 01:45:24 am »

I think the Sennheiser's punch above their weight but is not the most popular.

I have used and ran MANY Shure systems and I have never been impressed. It is pretty much PSM-1000 or bust I think, although the PSM-900 is the only one in your budget. For Senny I have only used a couple of systems, the 300 series and what was essentially their 2000 series. The 300 series ( now G3 or G4 ?? ) was not bad considering the cost but was subject to noise without good gain structureing. Way better than any mid-tier Shure ( PSM 300 ) I have ever used though.

The reason I suggest Shure is because their Wireless manager and options are just better. At least with PSM-900 you can have most of the features of the 1000 series and be better priced than Sennheisers top-tier IEM system.

Most people will say spend the money on the earbuds, I say hogwash. You can find pretty good earbuds for much less than the $500 - $2k mark some people spend. The magic to IEM's is the mixing engineer and having reasonable expectations. It is not an overnight transition.
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Helge A Bentsen

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2021, 04:13:09 am »

PSM 900 is good, does 90% of what PSM 1000 does for most jobs.
Those 10% are really nice to have if you need them, mainly their network capabilities and wider frequency range.
For 2 channels, not  a big issue.
For 24 systems alongside X number of WL mics, the network interface pays for itself in reduced setup time and you can fit everything in legal bands.

Miss a Dante chip in PSM 1000. Or a digital unit.
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Jim McKeveny

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2021, 10:03:50 am »

Anecdotal: My experience with dozens of Sennheiser G2/3/4 since introduction has shown their durability. Wear items are the antenna (which is a quick fix if you are moderately skilled) and the battery door/hinge. These parts are readily available and reasonably priced. There is a robust used market for transmitters and packs on Ebay.

Hint for IEM newbie: Most of your situations will be satisfied with mono mixes. Sennheiser Twin Packs build mix count fast at reasonable cost. 8 mixes from 4 TX with a combiner and single LPDA is a low-mess package. (Recommend Professional Wireless antenna for ruggedness and cost).

Others may have different experience...

« Last Edit: March 25, 2021, 10:11:41 am by Jim McKeveny »
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Steve Litscher

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2021, 11:40:39 am »

I've had PSM900 and currently have PSM1000 - can't say that I noticed much difference between the two in terms of sound quality.

Some suggestions/observations:

- The whip antennas will be plenty fine for your stage sizes/environments. We've used the "stock" antennas in 3500-5000 cap venues with stages that are 40x24, no issues whatsoever. (Make sure you find clean frequencies, of course)

- Depending on the number of IEM units, you may want to consider using an antenna combiner, like the RF VENUE COMBINE4 or (new) COMBINE8. Makes things a lot cleaner.

- I like the Shure receivers because the whip antennas are easily serviced. I keep about half-a-dozen spare antennas around for the band I work with, "just in case."

Brian Adams

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2021, 11:42:08 am »

In my experience, I've seen mostly Sennheiser G3 on the "budget" tours and PSM1000 on the big ones. There's a little PSM900 out there, but I never see PSM300 on the road. I've sold a few PSM300 kits, and while it's good for the money, I think the Sennheiser is a better choice than PSM300 in that price range, despite the noise level. Nobody I know uses anything other than Shure or Sennheiser. Some of the others aren't too bad, but Shure and Sennheiser really have it figured out.

If you have PSM1000 money, they work very well. The 900 is a close second. I think all of them support dual mono, so you can run 2 mono packs per transmitter.

I'd recommend a combiner, even if you don't plan to use a paddle antenna. In addition to getting everything down to one antenna, the combiner can power your receivers, and it's always preferable to not have a tangled mess of wall-wart cables in the back of your rack.

The earbuds that are included with Shure systems are pretty decent, the Sennheiser ones suck. I just use SE315's most of the time and they're great. Sure, you can spend more and get a little better, but the normal Shure ones work well for a lot of people.

In your situation, if you can justify IEM's for band, that's a good reason to get into them. You'll likely get some use out of them for other shows, but most acts at that level are going to expect wedges, and most of the ones that don't will often have their own ears. I wouldn't bank on using them for the majority of your other shows, but it could happen.

Whereabouts in Colorado are you? I worked the Stampede in Greeley for 2 weeks every summer for 7 years until I got tired of it a couple years ago. Probably good timing on my part! Not many RF issues in those parts, but Denver could be a bit more of a problem for you.
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Joe Breher

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2021, 09:10:48 pm »

Thanks all for the commentary so far. I think I'm starting to get a feel for what is on the market.

Luke - Looks like I can get into PSM1000 for about $2300/user. That's seemingly an all-in cost, given that they can cover two users on an antenna. (Of course all racking, cabling, etc aside). I'd be willing to go there.
Though that means in scenario 1), I'm throwing away half a transmitter. I'm not gonna move a rack from the truck to the video studio area, so I'd need to have a dedicated transmitter there.
Indeed, that's why I ask about compatibility between the PSM900 and 1000. I could install a PSM900 Tx in the video studio, use it with a P10+, and just carry the Rx back and forth between the video studio and the stage system.

Helge - Perhaps that's another vote for 900 in the video studio, 1000 in the field? Again, assuming compatibility.

Jim - Thanks for the info on the Senny durability. Current plans only call for three mixes, and funds are not an issue at this scale. Admittedly, though, I am considering putting the drummer on a wired connection. Of course, the _feasibility_ of future expansion is indeed an important consideration.

Steve - Thanks for the info on feasibility of using the whip antennas on the transmitters. It's good to know that the combiner is a cost that can be deferred.

Brian - Thanks for weighing in with the 'OTOH' on the combiner. There's logic in your point. I'm somewhat disappointed to learn of the comparative quality of the buds included in the Sennys. Longer term, I'd be upgrading mine anyhow. But I would have hoped the base offering would be 'good enough'. Though if any link in the chain is going to be weak , that would be my preference for the weak link.
FWIW, I'm about a half-hour W of Greeley, which is well in my territory of operation.

---------------------

So new discussion points:

What's the deal with 'groups' or 'bands'? They seem to be the frequency ranges that the (tunable) radio sections operate upon. Correct? Is there some technical reason they wouldn't make this universal? Legal reason (i.e., there's bands they want you to stay out of because other stuff is there)? How does one decide what to get? Go with whatever is recommended for the densest metro you expect to work in?

Dave Rat has recently done some YouTube videos discussing IEMs. Using signal sources, o-scopes, Smaart, and ears, he compares PSM1000 to Lectrosonics, and Shure vs Senny. I was rather astonished by how invasive these systems were to transients. Of course, the music we make is not all pulses. How much of a compromise am I making in subjective sound quality by adopting wireless?

To those who have IM'd me - thanks. I'm getting generalities dealt with before hitting up vendors. I'll be in touch.

Thanks!
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Scott Helmke

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2021, 12:49:52 pm »

What's the deal with 'groups' or 'bands'? They seem to be the frequency ranges that the (tunable) radio sections operate upon. Correct? Is there some technical reason they wouldn't make this universal? Legal reason (i.e., there's bands they want you to stay out of because other stuff is there)? How does one decide what to get? Go with whatever is recommended for the densest metro you expect to work in?

Frequency bands refers to the actual tuning range of the particular unit, and each product will usually have several to choose from based on what space is available in your locale. One problem with PSM900 is that the available bands are kind of limited since 600MHz was taken away.  Though the Sennheiser A and G bands are a little limited as well - you get what you pay for!

Groups, on the other hand, usually refer to predefined sets of frequencies that are designed to work well together without intermod issues.  Say if you picked group "1" you'd have maybe 10 or more "channels" which are newbie-friendly frequencies.  Shure has a web page where you put in your zip code and what Shure product you are using, and it will suggest groups and channels for you.

Anybody who does wireless for a living will be using coordination software such as Shure's Wireless Workbench to decide what frequencies to use.
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Russell Ault

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2021, 07:35:20 pm »

{...}
What's the deal with 'groups' or 'bands'? They seem to be the frequency ranges that the (tunable) radio sections operate upon. Correct? Is there some technical reason they wouldn't make this universal? Legal reason (i.e., there's bands they want you to stay out of because other stuff is there)? How does one decide what to get? Go with whatever is recommended for the densest metro you expect to work in?
{...}

To build on what Scott said, available wireless frequencies ("spectrum") are a scarce resource, and their use is heavily regulated by each country (although the content of those regulations can be significantly different from place to place). In Canada, for example, wireless microphones and IEMs are allowed to operate (without a license, anyway) in the ranges 54-73 MHz, 74.6-74.8 MHz, 75.2-108 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-608 MHz, 902-928 MHz, 2400-2483.5 MHz, and 5725-5850 MHz. Each of these different bands present different challenges (including other users, differing maximum power levels, and additional restrictions). Most professional license-exempt wireless microphones in both Canada and US are operated in the 470-608 MHz range.

The reasons for bands are primarily related to technology and cost, since the more frequencies a device is capable of using the harder it is to design the device and the more expensive it will be to manufacturer. Because some of those constraints are physical, some manufacturers will specify a different set of bands for their smaller devices (like wireless microphone TXs) than their larger devices (like wireless microphone RXs), with a single larger device band covering two or more bands of the smaller devices.

The choice of band typically comes down to dealing with the other users of the spectrum. The primary, licensed users of the 470-608 MHz range are UHF TV broadcasters, and the goal when picking a band is to pick the one that will still have the most available spectrum after remove the space being used by the TV broadcasters. This is simpler for installs (although the ongoing TV station repack in the US causes headaches), but for touring systems the choice gets quite a bit harder, since each city has a different set of TV stations.

{...}
Dave Rat has recently done some YouTube videos discussing IEMs. Using signal sources, o-scopes, Smaart, and ears, he compares PSM1000 to Lectrosonics, and Shure vs Senny. I was rather astonished by how invasive these systems were to transients. Of course, the music we make is not all pulses. How much of a compromise am I making in subjective sound quality by adopting wireless?
{...}

There's an old joke about wireless microphones: you can spend 5 figures on a single wireless microphone channel, and for your money you'll end up with something that is almost, but not quite, as good as a $25 microphone cable.

With IEMs that all is true and then some. Because of latency budget concerns, most manufacturers continue to use analogue transmission technology for IEMs, even as their microphone lineups become entirely digital. The actual dynamic range of a regulation-compliant wireless microphone FM signal is only about 50 dB, so basically every manufacturer implements some kind of companding system, which is the cause of all the measured non-linearities you saw in Dave Rat's video.

How bad is this subjectively? Well, that's really subjective. :P No IEM system (or wireless microphone, even a digital one) will ever be as linear (or sound quite as good) as the wired equivalent, but the professional ones don't typically sound "bad". Of course, just like a wireless microphone, if you really need the movement advantages of having no wires then absolute sound quality isn't really the first priority anyway (it rarely is in live audio).

-Russ
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Mike Caldwell

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Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2021, 07:54:25 pm »

Don't forget another handy use for a IEM system is using them for wireless audio links to fill speakers ect. You can put them to work in more ways than one!

Sennheiser IEM transmitters will link up with their wireless mic receivers that make a handy way to use external antennas on the receive end to help get some more range.

ProSoundWeb Community

Re: Wireless IEM purchasing decision help
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2021, 07:54:25 pm »


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