FCC Will Auction More UHF Spectrum

Some time back, I asserted my belief that UHF was going to be a bad place to be for wireless microphones. As it turns out, I was right. The next group of frequencies that will affect wireless microphones to go onto the auction block will likely be the 600MHz band, maybe as soon as next year. Shure GLXD24-SM58 2.4Hz wireless microphone package (photo by Shure)

Meanwhile, wireless microphone manufacturers are finally beginning to make relatively affordable systems available in the 2.4GHz band -- right where I said they ought to be going. Shure's GLX-D systems start at around $500 for a tabletop receiver and handheld SM58 wireless mic (check it out at Sweetwater).

The GLX-system looks to be fairly complete, too, with a full line of options for hand-held and body-pack mics and instruments, as well as table-top/rack-mount or camera-mount receivers. Shure also offers a 900-MHz digital system, but that what's left of that frequency-band is getting increasingly crowded.

Still, wireless in-ear monitor systems are conspicuously absent from the 2.4GHz band, with most manufacturers seamingly still burying their collective heads in the sand. If the wireless microphone frequencies are becoming unavailable, what do they think is going to happen to their in-ear systems? They operate in the same frequency ranges... I'm just sayin'...

A-Wireless We Will Go

After our most recent gig, it became abundantly apparent that we need monitors of some sort, be they floor wedges or wireless or some combination thereof. Our bass player currently owns a UHF in-ear system that he's almost never used. I'd like to go wireless, too, as would our other backup vocalist. But, as a seven-piece band with as many as five singers, this could be an expensive proposition. And, I'm concerned about the future of the rest of the UHF band. When the government-mandated transition from analog to digital television occurred here in the US, a couple of other things happened, at least one of which directly affected musicians using wireless microphones, instruments and in-ear monitoring systems. Specifically a large chunk of the UHF radio band, which was previously used for our wireless gear was declared off-limits. I don't have to tell you that decent wireless gear is expensive. The best price I've found so far on a decent-quality UHF personal monitor is around $350 for the Carvin EM900 system. UHF spectrum is like gold to the wireless communications industry (cell phones, two-way radios, etc.) who benefited most from the UHF frequencies made vacant by the DTV transition, and it's only a matter of time before they lobby the government and win the rest of "our" airspace.

So, I began looking at what's going on in other wireless market segments. The answer is that there is a large allocation in the 2.4GHz range for digital spread-spectrum systems. The technology is mature, and you're already familiar with some of -- cordless phones, wireless networking and even baby monitors are operating using this technology now, along with radio controlled model airplanes, cars and boats. Because so many consumer industries are using this technology, that also means that the it's relatively cheap!

Digital spread spectrum is a great technology for our use as musicians because, once a transmitter and receiver are "paired" (just like a Bluetooth earpiece gets paired to your cell phone), they always "know" each other. When they first get turned on in a new location, they negotiate with other 2.4GHz devices so that many, many systems can operate together without any interference whatsoever. And, a single transmitter can be "paired" to several different receivers, just as easily as pairing that Bluetooth gizmo to your phone.

Knowing all this, you'd think that there would be a ton of inexpensive 2.4GHz wireless systems for musicians out there. There are already amazing 2.4GHz radio control systems out there for under $100! But, as near as I can tell, there are only two companies using this technology. Line6 has products for wireless guitar/bass and vocals, but no in-ear monitors. The other company I've found is Jangus Music. Yeah, I've never heard of them either.

Based on a common transmitter/receiver pair, Jangus systems start at around $190. If you're a guitarist, it comes with everything you need. For in-ear monitors, you'll need to add a pair of ear-buds. If you're looking for a head-worn mic, they have a "kit" or sell their very nice headset mic system separately (along with adapters to use their mic system with any wireless or wired PA).

If you're a keyboardist, each system can support a single stereo keyboard, or two keyboards, if you run mono like I do! Guitarists might like their integrated strap/transmitter setup. There are no pictures of it on their web site, but they do mention it in all of their literature. The Jangus system also looks to be a great solution for videographers or digital film-makers using an HDSLR rig.