By Rev. Bill
There has been a cornucopia of wireless lately at the palatial L2P/SPL West HQ. I feel like I have written about nothing but wireless systems for ages. But this one is special for me.
You see, I took a lot of crap for my early and enthusiastic adoption and support for digital wireless. That started about 15 years ago when I met Guy Cocker and Jamie Scott at a fledgling company called X-Wire. Guy was the first person to figure out how to make digital transmissions work for music. It was, he told me back then, all about error correction. Analog wireless never had to worry about this because it transmits in an uninterrupted stream. Digital transmits in “packets” of bits and bytes and the packets are reassembled into a re-creation of the original data stream on the receiving end. If any of those packets become corrupted or arrive out of order due to things like interference, you are hosed without really good error-correction. I’ll leave it at that but if you want to geek out on it check HERE
X-Wire was sold to Sennheiser who pulled the same thing RCA engineers did when that company bought Fender and needlessly “improved” a product that worked and people loved so that it fell in line with their idea of “good engineering.” (Mesa Boogie founder Randall Smith once famously commented that RCA engineers understood good engineering but had no idea what kind of distortion sounded good to a guitar player stoned out of his mind on Thai weed…) The result was the System 1000 which was such a flop that you can’t even find them on eBay. Then, when his non-compete agreement expired, Guy launched his own actually improved version under the moniker X2 at Summer NAMM 2007. They showed their new guitar wireless and—crucially—met Line 6 founder Marcus Ryle. By Winter NAMM 2008, Guy had a prototype of the world’s first digital wireless vocal mic and it was the talk of the show. By March of that year X2 had been bought by Line 6. Jamie eventually went on to found the highly regarded amp company 3RD Power and Guy is still at Line 6 and still the driving force behind their family of digital wireless products.
The Line 6 thing is important beyond just the fact that Guy’s latest wireless creations carry their brand. The MI and pro audio worlds—and even the overall music industry—have been upended several times by Ryle and his cohorts at Oberheim and Alesis before he even started Line 6 and made amp and effect modeling more of a norm than a geeky exception in music creation. It took the rest of the universe of companies that make guitar and mic wireless almost a decade to get onboard with digital and 2.4 GHz. But knowing the history and that Marcus had seen the potential of this technology to the point of buying X2 confirmed what I thought when I first met Guy and Jamie and is really why I was such an early and vocal proponent of the technology. I have a deep respect for Marcus and really consider him to be a visionary—which is not a term I use lightly. If Marcus says it is worthwhile, do yourself a favor and listen. It is not a coincidence that pretty much every company that dismissed the tech early on, now makes their own version. And some of them are very good.
I started using the Line 6 Relay G50 as soon as I could get my hands on one. I used it for years and was always really happy with it, although I will admit that another guitarist who I had give the unit a spin hated it. Because it was “too clean.” Which is one of the things I loved about it.
But the G50 was getting a little long in the tooth right about the time I went to the Winter NAMM show in 2015. I had suddenly and unexpectedly gone from someone who played the occasional gig to doing close to 100 dates in just a couple of years and I am hard on gear. I dropped by Line 6 at the show for the obligatory walk through their latest stuff and saw the G70. I started lusting after it pretty much right away.
The G70 is not an incremental upgrade. It is not going overboard to describe it as a re-imagination of guitar wireless. Other mfgs have been adding “extras” to stompbox-style guitar wireless systems for a while. The Audio-Technica System 10 has a built-in A/B box function and the Shure GLXD sports a tuner as two examples. But the “extras” on the G70 open possibilities that no other system can.
It has three outputs—two 1/4” and an XLR—and an Aux input. And it’s programmable. Here’s how that works.
You can define eight different setups or scenes. Each one allows the user to select which output (or outputs) that scene uses. So, not only do you have a virtual A/B box for those who use two different amp setups, but if you are using, say an acoustic guitar that really needs to get into the PA, you can choose the XLR output. You step through presets using a standard stompbox foot switch.
The ability to do this is a big deal. In the past, most of us using wireless had to go wired with the acoustic because it needed to get to a direct box and not the guitar amp setup. Unless you are using some kind of effects on your acoustic, the G70 allows you the same freedom you had with your electric guitar with an acoustic.
More than just the output is definable on a per-preset basis. For me, this is the big one: Adjustable output gain.
On most gigs, I play three different guitars: A 1968 Gibson ES335, an Epiphone Riviera with three P90s and a “clone” Gretsch Black Falcon. From time to time I will switch one of those out for a Reverend Avenger. Obviously very different tone signatures, but also wildly varying output levels. The 335 has been through a ton of changes in terms of pickups and wiring including at various points; coil-split switches, ultra-hot pickups and a Ghost bridge with embedded piezos in the saddles for a quasi-acoustic tone. But last year, we took it back to as close to stock as possible including all-new wiring. That wiring change (Recommended and done by Neil Smith at Vegas Custom Guitars has opened up the instrument massively and it is now the highest output of the four. (The Riviera had that title prior to the wiring change.), The Riviera is a little lower output, the Reverend a little lower than that and the Black Flacon a bit lower than all the rest.
The majority of my gigs are in casino lounges. Volume is a huge issue. In order to keep my vintage Mesa Boogie Mark III under control, I use a THD Hotplate and that actually does double duty as a way to even out the output between guitars as well attenuating the overall volume of the amp. When the 335 is in use, the Hotplate is set at -8dB, with the Riviera, it’s at -4dB and the Black Falcon or the Reverend are at 0. It works but it’s a pain and increases the time it takes me to switch guitars. And when the dance floor is pumping, that extra few seconds can kill the vibe.
All of which explains why I was super interested in the idea of presets that include the ability to manipulate the gain of each guitar at the point where it hits the rest of the signal chain.
Now, the real idea here is that each preset will also have its own transmitter. Which is great if you are a touring band making enough dough to pay for a couple of additional transmitters. (They list for $279 each and you can find them in the usual online locations for about $199). But for the rest of us, the transmitter does not attach to the guitar strap, it attaches to a belt or gets put in a pocket and we unplug and plug in with each instrument change just like we would if we were wired.
When you add new scenes, the default workflow is that each new scene is on a different transmitter channel. But—and this is a case where you really want to RTFM or you’ll miss it—it is possible to set up more than one scene using the same transmitter channel. So it is possible to get the same functionality of varying output levels with a single transmitter
Switching between scenes is cake. Hit the footswitch and it will cycle through existing scenes, returning to the first one when the switch is depressed with the last scene showing. The LCD for reading what scene you’re on is large and bright and very easy to read and—addd bonus—you can choose a color to correspond with each scene. The transmitters come with a set of colored plastic collars that correspond to the colors for the scenes and that screw onto the input to the transmitter. When you get the G70, the transmitter has the black collar on by default but replacing it with a different one is quick and easy and does not require tools. The idea here is that if you are using multiple transmitters, the collar color on the transmitter and the scene color on the receiver match, which makes it fast and easy to make sure the right transmitter is hooked up to the right guitar.
As long as we are talking about the transmitters, this is one of the things I like most and that will be appreciated by traveling players more than anything. Every other wireless for guitar I have ever used—including previous Line 6 models—used a mini-XLR input. Which means you needed a special mini XLR-to-1/4” cable. And if the cable dies or you lose it or the dog eats it in the middle of a four-night run, you are likely hosed. Because even if there is a music store in town, they probably do not stock that particular cable. You are gonna have to go online and order it. And they are not cheap. Plan on spending between $20 and $30 for a foot-long cable.
The G70 has a standard 1/4” input to the transmitter. It ships with a very nice 18” cable with a locking collar on one end so it can be screwed tightly into the transmitter. But, if cable tragedy arises, it can be replaced with any standard 1/4” guitar cable. I don’t know about you, but I probably have a half-dozen foot-long cables in my gigging toolbox. And if you don’t (first, shame on you because cables—even on pedal boards—fail all the time and having a backup is a basic part of what should be in any gig bag), you can pick up a backup for under $10.
Couple of other cool features. Like we already noted, there are two 1/4” outputs for feeding amps or FX units and an XLR output for feeding a PA direct. There is an additional 1/4” output called Tuner that is always active regardless of how a scene is setup. If you want to use a specific tuner, you can feed it from that output and pressing and holding the footswitch on the G70 for two seconds will mute the other outputs and just leave the tuner active. OR, if you do not plug anything into the tuner output, pressing and holding for two seconds mutes all the outputs and activates an internal tuner.
And there is an Aux In 1/4” that can be programmed on or off per scene. For the first gigs I did for this review, I set up all the scenes with it active and kept a 15-foot cable plugged into it as a backup in case I had a battery die mid-set. I never had to use it. But the way the Aux In is implemented is pretty clever and not obvious right away. There are two modes: Always On and Scene Only. Scene Only mode is the mode I used but, for the purpose I had in mind, I could have done it a better way. With the Aux In in Always On mode, the input is active BUT MUTED as long as the transmitter is active in any preset. So this means that you can keep a cable plugged in for emergencies and not worry a lick about hums or buzzes or added noise from an “open” cable sitting on the stage. It’s ready to go and if the transmitter dies or is switched off, you are instantly ready to plug in and rock out in a wired fashion. Very clever.
And, while we have been talking all about the G70, there is another version called the G75 with all of the same features but it is in a non-stompbox format suitable for placement on top of an amp rig or for those touring guys with guitar techs who are playing in situations where all amps, effects ,etc live with the tech and he or she does all of the switching (which is pretty common among bigger acts). If you like the format of the G75 and don’t have a guitar babysitter, there is an additional jack on the G75 version that accepts any momentary footswitch which allows for stepping through scenes/presets just like on the G70.
That leaves power and data—the only areas where I ran into problems.
All of the Line 6 wireless stuff—being digital—can be updated and upgraded via firmware. That used to be a fairly daunting process. I had done it with both a Vetta guitar amp and an XD-V 70 handheld wireless mic system and it was not what I would describe as fun. But, starting at least as far back as the POD HD stuff—and maybe earlier—Line 6 started to include some kind of USB connectivity which makes firmware updates MUCH easier. In the case of the G70, it is micro-USB and there is a port on both the transmitter and the receiver.
Now, USB can be a data conduit and it can also provide power. That is how those little portable hard drives and even USB thumb drives work. They get power from the USB connections as well as using it to send and receive data. So when it comes to powering the G70 you have two options. There is a standard 9VDC, 500MA input. But the unit does not ship with a power supply for that port. That is optional. Instead, it ships with a wall-wart power supply with a standard USB port on the top and a cable that is standard USB on one end and micro USB on the other. And the G70 is powered via the USB port.
I would love to see Line 6 change the standard package and include a power supply the plugs in to the 9-volt input. Here’s why. The connector is just beefier. Not just on the cable end, but the actual internal connector that attaches to the circuit board. A micro USB connector is designed for uses that do not include residing on a guitar player’s pedal board. They are pretty flimsy. And in my case, I was able to knock it off the circuit board by plugging it in a bit too roughly. The good news is that if you have an appropriate 9-volt adapter, you can plug that in and be good to go. If you are like me and have been playing with gear for a while, you probably have a shoe-box full of wall-wart power supplies and after a bit of searching I was able to find one that works. In my case it says TC Electronic on it and I really don’t remember what it came from. But if you have something that will power the G70 from the 9-volt jack, it would suggest using it. Or, Line 6 sells one as an accessory.
When I talked to Line 6 about this, they said they had only ever heard of it happening one other time, so this is hardly an indictment of quality control or design. I would just rather go with the connector I have more faith in.
I have been using the G70 for a few months now.And it has been great. I have never suffered a glitch or wireless dropout and the battery life is stunningly good. A huge improvement over the previous generation. As I mentioned previously, I do mostly casino lounge and bar gigs. These are “grinders”—typically four or five hours of playing time in a total period of five or six hours. I can get almost TWO full nights out of one set of batteries.
I have seen a couple of reviews online that claim to have issues with getting interference and dropouts. I have used the G70 now in at least four different venues without a single hit. And one of those was a BAD environment for 2.4 GHz wireless. I have written about the Splash Lounge at the Aquarius in Laughlin, NV before, but not this part. My band, Rev. It Up, uses quite a bit of 2.4 GHz wireless. Three Audio-Technica System 10 PRO belt packs for the horns plus the Relay G70 for my guitar and our female singer uses a Line 6 XD-V 75 transmitter with a Heil PR30 head. Oh, and there is a router in the PA rack to set up a local network so I can control the PA from my iPad. The Relay G70 is newer tech and I think uses four antenna vs the two on the XD-V 75 and the System 10 Pro uses a frequency-hopping scheme akin to military-grade spread spectrum and they were fine. But, bottom line is we had to ditch the XD-V 75 and use the standard wireless that the house had available because it was dropping out—a lot.
The deal with 2.4 GHz is that it is the same spectrum used by a lot of wireless routers for computer networks. And, with the increasing number of devices—musical and non—in that bit of bandwidth, you have to be smart about managing devices. (The reason we had issues in Splash with the mic was that there is a powerful router in the room next to the lounge. In theory, it is there for vendors to use when they are on property and so it should be pretty quiet at night by the time the band is on. In practice—as should be expected in the real world—anyone who works at the casino who has ever been given the password to that router has it saved to their phone so they can be on wi-fi at work and not have to burn their cell plan minutes. Bottom line is that it is a very busy little router pretty much 24/7.) Almost all 2.4 GHz wireless devices include a Scan feature that will scout out a clean frequency. Use it whenever you can. But again, despite a crowded environment that took one of our devices out, I had not a single dropout with the G70. And this was not a single gig. This was 19 nights over a four-week period. A 90-minute set followed by a 30 minute break, another 90 minute set and 30 minute break and a one-hour set to close the night. That makes more than 75 hours of stage time without one dropout. As far as I’m concerned, it’s bullet-proof.
It is not the cheapest guitar wireless out there but at about $399 typical online price (MSRP is $699), it’s within 50 bucks of the other options and with the additional features plus the fact that it is all-steel construction (Did I mention that? Yeah, it’s beefy and there is like zero plastic), it’s worth the bump in price. It sounds great and it’s so flexible that it is just silly and it’s reliable—especially for those of us who play multiple guitars on the kinds of gigs where we have to depend on the gear to work every time.
The Relay G70 is literally my favorite guitar wireless system ever. And I have used a bunch of ‘em.