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How are wireless microphone "bands" defined?

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by Stevens R. Miller, May 7, 2019.

  1. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    From The Department of Stupid Questions: I'm finally forced to buy my own wireless microphones, and am wondering who assigns the band designations to groups of frequencies these devices use?

    I ask because I have used the Audio Technica 3000 series, for which the manual refers to the reassigned 600 MHz frequencies as "Band D." The still-available 542-566 MHz frequencies are called "Band C" in that manual. However, the Samson Concert 99 system, which operates in that same 542-566 MHz range, is described on several seller's pages as a "D Band" device. Yet other vendors seem to use all kinds of odd names for their band plans (Galaxy Audio's "D Band" seems to run from 584 MHz to 602 MHz, and they have a different band called "P2," a name that no one else seems to use).

    Are any of these band names official, as by FCC or a professional association? Or are they picked by the manufacturers? Where do they come from?
     
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  2. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Stevens R. Miller Good to see you; let's employ Control Booths 'Bat Call' to garner some attention: @FMEng @Ancient Engineer @MNicolai @TimMc Care to comment?
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
  3. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    As far as *I'm* aware, they're manufacturer-defined.
     
  4. Ancient Engineer

    Ancient Engineer Well-Known Member

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    Buckle up kids... its a bumpy ride...

    A lot of wireless radio manufacturers use arbitrary letter designations rather than exact frequencies to define operating bands.

    There are three basic standards in use since Marconi tapped out his first transcontinental messages. (On a giant 12' long telegraph key...)

    1. IEEE - This is not the sound you make when you discover that the FCC has eliminated the band that your 40 wireless sets are using...
    It is a basic standard that designates sections of the RF spectrum. It covers 3MHz to 300GHz and is mostly talked about above 8GHz for microwave bands: X, Ku, K, Ka, V etc.
    Mostly used for R.A.D.A.R. and Microwave transmissions.

    2. ITU - This is not a complex ballet maneuver...
    This is what most (but not all) people are talking about when they say things like ELF, LF, HF, VHF, UHF, SHF, etc. It covers basically all of the "radio" spectrum: 3KHz - 3THz.
    Nine equally spaced bands. Reasonably logical. Purt' neer' used everywhere.

    3. EU, NATO, US ECM - You'd think this one was the most agreed upon and sensible one of the bunch. You'd be wrong. Abandoned almost everywhere by everyone.
    It changed from letters I through W to A through M. Almost nobody noticed...
    It covers 1Hz (yup, below the "audio" spectrum) to 100GHz.

    You will notice that the letters used by wireless mic manufacturers just don't line up with anything anyone agrees upon.

    Fortunately for us the interwebs provide a nice chart to compare them with: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Frq_Band_Comparison.png

    Most importantly, there are NO stupid questions!!!!!!!!
     
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  5. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    They are arbitrary designations to serve the needs of the manufacturers.
     
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  6. FMEng

    FMEng Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    You forgot the NTIA. The manufacturers make up the bands and name them as they see fit. It must make sense to them.
     
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  7. Scarrgo

    Scarrgo Active Member

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    Very cool information.....

    You must have not talked to my wife or children than.....

    But I agree....

    Sean...
     
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  8. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Sweetwater's customer support agrees:

    "So the bands for wireless are named different for every company they all use their own code for it."

    What a missed opportunity to avoid confusion! (But thanks for making this clear to me.)

    Looking at Samson Concert 99 systems. Some vendors have them on sale for about $180, full set. I am often advised not to skimp on gear, but my experiences with low-price, other than "name" products has been pretty consistent: keep a spare on the shelf and maintain an aggressive maintenance schedule, and a lot of it works as well as the expensive stuff. When it comes to wireless microphones, almost every batch I've used has forced me to deal with scratchy connections, 90% of which were where the cord meets the pack. The rental places do, as far as I can tell, no maintenance on them. I end up taking them home and doing my best to clean the crud out in time for the first show. Sometimes, an entire pack will die on me, again for lack of maintenance. I've opened up more than one, only to find solid chunks of salt inside. Big ones. (And that's icky.)

    We will be taking very tender care of whichever ones we buy, I can promise that. Just wanted to make sure that the low price wasn't because I'm buying a system that uses a soon-to-be banned band.
     
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  9. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    Hi Stevens-

    The question is "to meet this price point, what design compromises were made and what features had to be sacrificed?" It's knowing what you're not getting, and the relative importance (or lack thereof) of each of those things.
     
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  10. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    I think that's a very accurate metric for predicting bang-for-the-buck, Tim. As an amateur techie working on amateur productions, one thing I've noticed is that, however much we all think we'd love to get some whiz-bang gizmo with lots of high-end attributes, the truth is most of us don't have the time to master that stuff. As a result, the complications introduced by the "best" equipment tend to make it hard for us to put it to use in our oh-so-basic context. For me, as a techie, it can be very, very frustrating to watch a company's "alpha geek" (you know, that guy who is just always the one who takes charge of everything with current flowing through it because, well, he's just that guy) push buttons at random, keeping a dead-pan face, as he tries not to let it show that he has no idea what he's doing (and, for whatever reason, refuses all suggestions that, hey, maybe we ought to find the manual on this thing?). I always get the book, read the book, and operate gear by the book. But, for even that to succeed, it has to be a short book! No time to plow through thick manuals.

    So, if low price means fewer features, that's a good thing from my perspective: less to learn, less to forget, less to relearn again and again. If it means lower reliability, we keep a spare on-hand. If it means more fragility, we keep a lot of duct tape in the booth and I don't mind putting in time on the bench repairing broken stuff. So far, that program is working out for me (and I learn a lot at that repair bench, too :)).
     
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  11. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Well-Known Member

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    In my experience, wireless microphones is something where lower cost generally also means lower performance. I don't have any stats or metrics to back this up, but I've used some pretty low-level wireless mics and you can tell. You can probably get away with a cheaper mic cable most of the time, cheaper analog crossover or compressor, and you won't notice many performance issues. The cheaper wireless microphones - almost always gave me headaches. I would strongly encourage you to evaluate your situation and unless you *need* to buy wireless, rent. Buying wireless mics is like buying a car or boat - they lose half their value once you take it home.

    When I started in the industry I made the mistake of sinking 1000s into wireless equipment - only to use it a few times and now it collects dust because it's not usable. The wireless equipment devalues faster than a lot of other stuff in the industry. I'm not trying to be a negative sour guy here, but just give some serious consideration to if you "need" to buy wireless.
     
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  12. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    I'm thinking more along the lines of audio quality. Youth and community theatre typically gets lousy gear because the budget ain't there and my hope is that if at all possible, you audition the available choices in your price range, first with tiny little kid voice and then a newly minted baritone shouter. What does the noise floor sound like for the little kid? How easily does the transmitter overload with the shouter? Is some form of useful gain compensation available on the transmitter? What about the mic elements themselves? Any odd frequency response (unusual feedback) issues?

    Here's the reason - the better the audio path is to start with, the easier the down-stream work will be. It's easier to EQ, it's easier to mix, it's easier for parents to pick out Their Darling MonsterĀ® in the cacophony. Hearing for yourself is the best thing you can bring to the selection process.

    As for your earlier comment about hope to avoid purchases in spectrum that is soon to be reassigned, you can kind of relax. First, not all of the 600 mHz spectrum was sold at auction and the next grab for spectrum is likely to start where it left off before moving down in the UHF band; the new (and not yet built) 5G mobile device systems use substantially different (higher) frequencies than our current wireless mic systems. No guarantees, sorry, but it looks to be stable for 5 years or so.
     
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  13. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    If I can possibly avoid it, I will never rent a wireless microphone again. See above. The local providers (I'm in northern Virginia) do no maintenance and some have billed me for providing replacement units when their own gear arrived DOA. Nearly all the problems I have had have been at the micro-XLR connector on the pack. They are often corroded, loose, bent. Owing to rental schedules, I frequently don't get access to them until the first day of tech week, with no time to repair or clean them up before rehearsal starts. We use all the usual tricks: spray antioxidant in them (short-term fixes it, long-term makes it worse), wrap the connector in thin paper, bend the connector this way and that until you find a position that works and then duct-tape it for all you are worth, bend the pins with needlenose pliers (and hope the pins don't break). The problems that have not been due to the connector have all been due to sweat crystallizing into salt in the pack (yuck), or bad microphone cables (which I suspect is due to harsh treatment by other renters).

    When it comes to the electronics equipment I have used for local theater, there have been two kinds: what I own, and what I don't own. These two kinds are also known by their aliases: what works and what doesn't work. Gonna find out, finally, if that applies to wireless microphones.
     
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  14. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Good point and your analysis of all the links in the chain (and how they can affect quality) is spot-on. Here again, however, is another example of what happens when (for any number of reasons) I have to zip my lip and watch other people guess their way through the gear. For example, if the element is too close to the actor, or the pack attenuator is set too low, you get distortion there, before the signal even leaves the transmitter. Easy to see at the receiver if it has an audio level meter (you see it pegging). But, not so easy to see at the mixer, which is where the operator tends to be (while the receiver might be in the wings). When you hear it, you can fix it, if you know it for what it is. A lot of my colleagues will "fix" it by simply sliding their faders down on the mixer (or turning that knob at the top of the strip whose function they sort of know). Sometimes the "fix" is to ask the actor to change their own amplitude, which can work pretty well if the actor will do it.

    Now, when the signal into, and out of, the mixer is actually pretty good, where does it go? In the middle schools where I do a lot of my work, it goes into the middle school's rack, wherein lives an amplifier that is also not maintained, which feeds speakers over which I have no control, and so on. This means hum, hiss, distortion, and every other audio demon you ever met. My point being that, even if my system uses God's Microphone, my audio will still end up sounding like that Close-'n-Play some of us had as kids.

    Someday, when this company we have started grows, and we have more money, of course I will advocate for the best gear we can get, including our own amps, speakers, and so on. Until then, we have to make some compromises. Those that can be at least partially addressed at the equalizer will be included.
     
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  15. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Quick point before I come off as overly sour: some of the techies I have worked with have really known their stuff. I've learned a lot from working with them. But there are a lot who don't know their stuff. In its own way, I've learned a lot from working with them, too.
     
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  16. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately, your rental houses sound like they're subpar compared to what I've experienced in my region. Is there something more towards the DC metro area you might be able to find, even if it's a little more of a drive/cost to acquire that might be more professionally suited? I understand your statement about things you own / things you don't own - but a good rental house should be providing gear that works better than something that's collects dust 10 out of the 12 months in the year. If the rental house you're going through isn't providing you with working equipment - they shouldn't be getting paid. (see side story below.) I believe the vast majority of broadway shows I've seen on tour have been using long-term leased/rented equipment - not their own. They don't buy it for the same reason you shouldn't - when it becomes illegal to use or stops working, you bring it back to the rental house and it's their problem. The rental houses get to "eat" the cost of the new equipment when they need it- and they've probably long paid off their systems by the time they have to replace them. The same concept should apply to gear you own. If you can't "pay off" the cost of buying the systems so when they become obsolete for whatever reason you aren't in the hole, you really shouldn't be buying. I really get the joy of owning your own wireless, but just be prepared for disappointment if you don't do it right the first time. An old antidote I learned from one of my mentors years ago - there's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over. I firmly believe this applies to cheap vs expensive wireless as well.

    Side story about rental houses:
    Many years ago I was the sound designer on a large show for a school. We had a failing wireless system in the house - and had been renting for several years as a result. We rented 24 systems from a reputable rental house in town - but my placement of the receivers combined with their non-directional stock antennas provided by the rental house made opening weekend an almost complete blowout due to dropouts and RF issues. I assume a room full of interference (audience) didn't help either. By the third night I "borrowed" some paddle antennas from another facility I had access to and saved the 3rd of 6 shows. (Had I not done this, I probably would've been fired from the show.) All the issues immediately ceased.

    I called the rental house on the next Monday and asked for them to provide me some paddles (since the ones I had acquired for one day were not available for the second weekend of shows). They asked if they could come out to the site and see if they could identify a problem with my setup, since they promised it should've worked as sent. At first they tried to blame my frequency coordination, but I explained that their initial coordination did not account for my IEM systems, house listening assist, wireless intercoms, etc. They conceded and provided me with paddles free of charge for the rest of my shows, and added to our account that we always got paddles at no additional cost for our shows. Needless to say, the rest of the shows went off without a hitch. This rental house also provided a plethora of spares whenever I needed to, and I usually on a weekly basis had to replace my "care package" between shows/tech week because after all, it was heavily used gear.

    If your rental house isn't willing to do this for you (or give you a refund)- find a new rental house, period. I'm not saying rentals are hassle-free, but at the end of the run, you get to turn the stuff in and you don't have to keep the problems, and you aren't in the hole.

    PS - I get the impression as a future resident of NOVA that I need to capitalize on the apparent lack of good rental houses in the region...
     
  17. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    This is clearly one of those things that varies quite widely from person to person, place to place. People here on CB have mostly (not all!) told me that my experiences are typical. The rental places are very competitive and don't have the time/staff to do proper maintenance. For a long-term rental, like the broadway traveling shows you mentioned, the math might work out differently. But my company does two or three shows a year. The cost of rentals for three weeks each made the cost of owning start to look very attractive, even before you factor in the poor quality of rental gear.

    As for paddles: you probably know those are simple log-periodic antennas. Pretty easy to make (I've done it, but for ham radio use, not theater). Once we own our own stuff, fabricating that sort of thing (along with housing, power distro, and other things) also starts to look more attractive. When you mix in your own homemade gear with rental stuff, you have to hide the fact that you did so, or else the rental company blames you for whatever was already wrong with their gear (and bills you for it).
     
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  18. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    All the rental places I have worked for and rented from make the time to maintain stuff, but thats how they keep me coming back. I've used enough beat up gear to know who to ignore and never go back to. Easier said than done in some markets. I don't mind cheaper stuff a lot of the time, but with wireless mics I really prefer to pay more 1 time rather than constantly have to repair stuff. Sure, elements should be viewed as expendables, but with proper care they'll last just fine. But dealing with school groups and amateurs, the lower tier packs all seem to be plastic pieces of junk. Then you move up to the more substantial plastic or plastic/metal combo packs, and then you get to the higher tiers where the whole back is metal. I've had kids doing a roll or whatever choreography, smash those cheaper packs, or rip the antennas off, which on the lower end, tend mean replacing the whole pack is easier. OR you could take the pain and buy the better stuff and enjoy a metal pack that can take a beating and keep ticking.

    I didn't notice as much until I started working with nicer stuff, but with the same amount of care, the repairs/troubleshooting/problems all declined, with with an increase in reliability. /2cents
     
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  19. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    Lol. Don't worry. We ALL know the people you are referring to. The ones that are willing to learn new things, I teach, the ones that are not I avoid. It seems to me like this happens when techs only work in one space or with one group for WAY too long. One of the reasons why I try to grab gigs at as many different places as I can. That, and I always surprised by the amount of cables that get abandoned in the rafters of community theaters!

    I feel like the most important quality for a person in this industry is the ability / willingness to learn new ways of solving old problems.
     
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  20. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Please PM me with the name of your employers. The ones I have used do vary, but all send me stuff I have to clean up on my own.

    The reason I love Control Booth is that knowledgeable people--many of them serious professionals--volunteer huge amounts of good advice, just for the asking. The one piece of advice I can never take, however, is, "Spend more than you have." My colleagues and I are operating on hope, prayers, and pocket change. But, what we lack in money, we make up for with labor, so we buy cheap stuff and fix it when it breaks. No other real option.

    Gracious, what are your kids doing? Tributes to "Cirque du Soleil?" We have no problems with people rolling over the gear or pulling on things. I specifically train our actors, of all ages, to pull only on connectors (if they have to pull at all), never to touch a button, and never put stress on anything. Maybe because I deal with amateurs, who tend to know how strapped we are for cash and that even having a piece of gear can be extraordinary, they respect my instructions to be careful. Consequently, metal or plastic makes no difference to me. My problems are almost never at the pack itself. They are almost always at the cable connection point, where corrosion and mechanical slop make for intermittent connections.

    What stuff are you working with? The rental places I've used have sent me a wide variety of makes, including Shure, Audio Technica, and (rarely) Sennheiser. Though the list prices for those products can vary by factors of two to three, all have performed virtually identically. (This is not surprising. Consumer Reports has published on this repeatedly, over the years. People will simply pay more for a name they know, regardless of whether or not there is any difference in quality. Best example is batteries: in bench tests, all AA cells you can legally buy discharge along almost identical curves for all practical loads, but you can pay literally 100% more for a famous brand as for a cut-rate cell.)

    Now, as an earlier commenter mentioned, differences do exist. Audio quality can be one of them. In my venues, however, high sound quality in the microphone system is kind of wasted, because my sounds all go through middle school sound systems that can make a sine wave sound like a duck call.

    I haven't been doing community theater all that long. Started in early 2016, just before I joined Control Booth. I've done about 14(?) shows since then. What I've observed is that, in the hands of amateurs, mostly performing in public school auditoriums, expensive stuff and cheap stuff behave about the same. I've also observed that, when you do not know what you are doing, admitting that to yourself, reading the manual, asking for help, and taking the time to learn what you need to know can also make expensive stuff and cheap stuff behave about the same, and pretty well, at least for the purposes we amateurs in public schools have. (I suddenly wonder if the rental places give us their lesser gear, saving the best equipment for more professional customers with bigger budgets. They do know who we are, after all.)

    Anyway, we have ordered a few Samson Concert 99 Earset systems. Will post a review after we have them on the bench (and the yard, as my director is going to wear one while mowing his lawn; we amateurs have to find inventive ways to do our tests, while not neglecting household chores).
     

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