Sennheiser strikes back with the next generation of their wireless guitar setup. Alex Wilson tunes in and riffs on the results.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
So, why would you want a wireless guitar system in the first place? Chances are, you’re not The Boss and don’t need to be able to run to every part of a stadium stage. But even those of us playing smaller venues can get justifiably irritated by instrument cables. And if you’re a guitarist whose performance depends heavily on physical movement, you’ll immediately sense the benefits of dispensing with an ordinary lead.
But before you get all hot and bothered with visions of yourself jumping back-first into the crowd mid-solo, there are always cons with the pros. Transmitting your signal aerially involves learning some basic wireless theory and practice.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR...
Because of some of the challenges involved in making wireless sounds, Sennheiser’s previous range of G3 units had been the product of choice for many customers. Everyone from bands, to theatre companies, to event managers have come to rely on the G3s for reliable performance, straightforward setup and solid construction. While you’ll generally pay a bit more for a Sennheiser, the vibe is that you’re getting quality with the higher price tag.
The new G4 series are Sennheiser’s latest product range of wireless transmitters, and the EW 500 is a multi-product pack that comes with everything you need to connect your guitar to your amp, sans instrument cable. Well, except for the very short CI-1 instrument cable that connects your guitar to the SK 500 G4 Bodypack Transmitter, which speaks wirelessly to the EM 500 G4 Rackmountable Receiver.
I can verify that it’s simple to get the EW 500 system up and running. This is thanks to Sennheiser’s auto-frequency scan and sync features. Basically, with a quick read of the manual and a few button presses, it’s a straightforward procedure to get the system to identify what radio frequencies are free in the area you’re working in, and then sync both units together. This will be sufficient for the vast majority of players, but if you want to get under the hood, there’s lots of details that one can tweak – there’s 3,520 tunable frequencies, 32 different channels to choose from, and an ethernet port for remote control via Sennheiser’s Wireless Systems Manager.
Other great features include a ‘squelch’ function for eliminating interference when the transmitter is turned off, auto-lock to prevent accidental changes of settings, and a programmable mute.
...AND YOU PAY FOR POWER
Anyone who’s ever run a buffer on their pedalboard will be familiar with the sound of the EW 500 G4 system. There’s a slight high frequency boost as well as an overall smidge of extra volume. Even with the gain pushed on my two test amps, the system ran cleanly. There was no additional noise introduced when A/Bing the system against a plain instrument cable. I also tested the response of the volume pot through the wireless system.
Because of a process known as ‘companding’ (compressing and expanding) that is used in wireless systems to manage dynamic range, responsiveness to volume changes can suffer. Overall, I didn’t notice an issue in that respect.
In summary, the EW 500 G4 is clean, transparent and responsive. As a side note, however, my research indicates that a known issue with wireless guitar systems is that certain fuzz pedals, treble boosts and germanium overdrives can sound really bad when confronted with a buffered output from a wireless. Although I didn’t have any of these kind of pedals on hand to test with, it seems this is a problem the EW 500 G4 might be subject to. Make sure you test the unit with your pedalboard before purchasing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re in the market for a wireless guitar system, then this is an industry standard solution that will cover all your bases. It won’t be the cheapest option, but it will be one of the best.
• Auto-scan of frequencies
• 'Sync' function between transmitter and bodypack
• Backwards compatibility with other G Series gear
• Squelch function
• Auto-lock to prevent accidental tweaking
• Easy to use
• Strong sonic performance
• Options under the hood
• Not a big improvement on the previous G3 line
• May not play nice with all your pedals
Ph: (02) 9910 6700