L2P Opinion: The world of performance wireless has changed again. What does that mean for working musicians?

If you use wireless instrument packs or mics or personal monitors, you need to make sure you understand this. I’ll make it as quick and painless as I can.

As I write this, I am looking at a bag next to my desk that contains a nice AKG guitar wireless system with two transmitters and one receiver. I am also cursing because it is illegal to even turn it on much less take it on a gig.

Since the first days of wireless guitar units in the ‘70s, our gear has existed in a kind of regulatory no-man’s land. Operating in the same VHF and UHF spectrums that TV broadcasters use, we were kind of wireless squatters. We did not have a license to use the spectrum but since we pried ourselves into spaces that the TV stations were not using, no one really cared.

But with the explosion of wireless information/communication devices and digital TV that requires less bandwidth has come a big fight over that space. It was dubbed “white space” by the electronics and communication companies who want to use it for their devices. That is “white space” as in “unused.” We were using it but, being unlicensed, we really had no right to it.

So, with a couple of decisions–one in January of this year and one this week–we have been officially recognized—but not granted any special rights except in a couple of fairly narrow slices of the spectrum that will be reserved.

Bottom line is this. Look at your wireless stuff. Everything. Guitar packs, mics, in-ears. All of them will have something on the case telling you what part of the spectrum they will use. If it is 700 or above, it is illegal to even turn it on. If it is below 602 mHz or above 620 or between 609 and 613, you can still use it but in the coming months you will likely find a lot more interference from other devices. I just checked my stock of IEM transmitters and will be selling two of the four of them right away.

If you do smaller gigs where you provide the gear, you will likely be OK for the foreseeable future as long as you are in those frequency bands. But if you do gigs in venues such as casinos or theaters or anything involving a sound company, be prepared to go wired. The “safe” bands are about enough for maybe 14 wireless mics or 10 stereo IEMs. If the name headliner is running a couple of wireless guitars, say 5 wireless IEMs and two or three wireless mics, the the spectrum is used up. And your request to turn your stuff on may very likely be denied.

Short of being prepared to be wired everywhere, there are three companies making wireless products that transmit and receive outside the UHF band. Line 6 is shipping wireless guitar units (read about it here and a video review is in the works) and wireless mics (review also forthcoming shortly). Sabine has been shipping wireless mics that use the 2.4 gHz spectrum for several years now. And Neutrik has announced a system that is slated to ship in the next few weeks.

Note that as of today, NO ONE is making IEMs that operate outside of the UHF spectrum. So, when advancing any gig in a larger venue or with a soundco, make sure to let them know IN ADVANCE if you are carrying wireless IEMs so that can be co-ordinated.  And, while the consumer devices that will eventually make the other parts of the UHF spectrum largely unusable have not yet materialized, expect them to do so in short order.

I don’t know about you… but I am getting as much stuff out of the UHF spectrum as i can as fast as I can. Hey, I’m just sayin…

Originally posted 2010-09-25 13:04:58.