Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aston Origin Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Aston Origin and Spirit
Both the Aston Origin ($299) and the Aston Spirit ($449) have been out a while. My life intervened and demanded that I do other things. I’m back, I think, and thanks for your patience. The first Origins and Spirits, delivered just before my life left the road for parts unimaginable, were pre-production models. They arrived Pin 3 High. When I alerted the company, they told me that these were just pre-production models and the production models were Pin 2 High.

I was then sent production models, an Origin and a Spirit, both Pin 2 High. This time the Spirit worked with my Sound Devices 442 and 664 Mixers and my GML 8304 Classic preamps, but not with the mic input on my JVC HM650 camera. There the signal would waft in, stay for a few seconds and then waft out for a few seconds and repeat. It’s the only time my camera has shown such a problem. I reported it to Aston and they were very interested to find out what THAT was about. Perhaps it was something in the input topology of the camera preamp, but the Origin worked fine, so it had to be something to do with that particular Spirit. A new Spirit was sent and works quite nicely with the camera. Maybe the current requirements in the Phantom circuitry of the wafting Spirit were somehow on the hairy edge. Aston said 4mA was a good feed for the Spirit, which the JVC is capable of. My Schoeps CMC641 need 4 mA and they work quite well into my JVC HM650 camera. Go figure.

Both the Origin and Spirit are large diaphragm, externally polarized, studio condenser microphones. I’m a member of the “Brighter Is Not Better” club. These mics are not over the top bright. They’re just, well, solid. More on the Spirit later. In this review I want to focus on the Origin.

Moving On

SMT on Origin Circuit Board
It’s obvious that Aston has taken great care to do a bang up job on this mic. Per Aston’s website, they did a notable amount of listening research with double blind testing on capsules and associated PCB boards. After the larger group vetting, five final capsules were chosen after more vetting, and then they narrowed the combination down to one for each model. The Origin is solidly built and has some nice features. The Origin circuit board uses state of the art SMT (Surface Mount Technology) and everything looks quite tidy under the hood. 

Rubber-Lined Shell
The inside of the body shell is lined with a section of black rubber sheeting to reduce body resonance. A clever steel mesh and inner screen sit inside the wavy outer headgrille, providing RF and pop protection. The mesh continues across the top of the mic. 

Double Mesh Headgrille
Origin Capsule Front
The Origin features a one inch, center-terminated, large diameter diaphragm with a transformerless output. Lots has been written about how edge-termination and center-termination affect the sound of a mic. Because of the other design differences in play, the decision as to which one is better is far from clear. Aston seems to have gotten it right in how they implement the center-terminated capsule.

The Origin capsule sits on a flexible yoke. (Note the cable tie at the base of the flexible capsule post.) It's supposed to help in isolating the capsule from the frame. My Neumann U 89 i “boinked” louder than both the Origin and Spirit when directly tapped. The base of the capsule is flat and metallic. That would normally be a reflective surface, yet I don't hear any obvious reflections. Perhaps the mesh provides enough diffusion to prevent that.

Origin & Spirit w/Triad-Orbit M1-R Adapters
Both the Origin and Spirit bodies are made with a standard 5/8” threaded socket in the base to allow for mounting to a boom arm or mic stand. Unless you have adapters on your stands, boom arms with adapters, or something like a Rycote Lyre suspension mount, this limits the ease of placement for these mics. The Rycote Lyre suspension mounts are very functional, but I find they take up a lot of space and are a bit fussy for positioning LD studio condenser microphones. Placement is, well, EVERYTHING, so, what do you do? 

Triad-Orbit M1-R
Atlas Swivel Mount
I have several Atlas Sound SB 36W mic stands with triangular bases on wheels. At the end of the boom there’s a swivel mount knuckle with a four inch stub and a standard 5/8” thread. This allows mics to be positioned very precisely. 

Atlas used to make 5/8” to 5/8” knuckle adapters for smaller boom arms that have a 5/8" thread, but unfortunately quit making them some time ago. I found some very nice adapters at Triad-Orbit, a US company in Kingston, Washington. They make a wide variety of stands, arms and associated hardware. The Triad-Orbit M1-R was perfect for the Aston microphones, allowing me to attach them to my smaller DR Pro mic stand boom arms that have the standard 5/8" stub. The MR-1 provide an excellent way to position these mics so you can get them exactly where you want them.

The Origin’s 23.7 mV/Pa Sensitivity is .7 dB hotter than the Neumann TLM 103. That makes them two of the hottest mics on the planet. The Origin has a selfnoise of 18 dB-A weighted versus 7 dB-A for the TLM 103. Comparing the Origin and TLM 103 in the quiet of my studio, I could hear the difference in selfnoise, but it didn’t sound as great as 11 dB. Yes the .7 dB extra sensitivity mitigates some of the selfnoise difference, but not 11 dB worth. The shape of the selfnoise of the two mics is also slightly different. The Origin has a bit more high frequency content than does the TLM 103; a SSSS as compared to a SHHH.

I have a AA battery-powered wall clock in the studio. It ticks very quietly every two seconds. The selfnoise of the Origin almost masked the ticking. The lower selfnoise of the TLM 103 revealed the ticking quite plainly. This begs the question of how quiet a mic has to be. If you’re recording rock and roll with amps turned up to eleven, I don’t think you’ll notice the selfnoise. How did the "back-in-the-day" masters deal with a 17 dB-A selfnoise? Analog tape hiss did a great job of masking the selfnoise.

If you check out the polar response of the TLM 103, you’ll see that the front lobe stays very constant from 125 Hz to 8 kHz. I’d call it a “generously wide and uniform” cardioid pattern. Both mics getting more narrow over 8 kHz. A simple Hiss Test reveals that the TLM 103 pattern is wider around 6kHz than the Origin. Past about 25 degrees each side of center, the HF response of the Origin begins to roll off. The TLM 103 goes wider, almost to about 70 degrees with very soft shoulders. There are no awkward lobes of noise or phase anomalies at the shoulder of the Origin pattern; the highs just go away. 

As the diagrams below indicate, on the low end, the Origin begins to roll off at about 125 Hz. The TLM 103 at 70 Hz. Both mics begin to rise at about 3 kHz. The TLM 103 gets up a bit faster, hitting +4 at 6 kHz. The Origin gets to +4 at about 10 kHz. I've had more than one vocalist with excessive energy at 6 kHz when they bear down on a note for emphasis – enough so that I need to pull that energy out with parametric EQ to keep them from sounding harsh. I didn't have them here to test the Origin, but I'm guessing that I'd have to pull down a bit less.

The TLM 103 hangs on to 15 kHz before dropping to -4 dB at 20 kHz. The Origin begins to fade at about 11 kHz and drifts down at a less severe angle to 20 kHz. At the end of the day, the TLM 103 should be brighter and will have more bass. In the Hiss Test, the differences in high frequency response were negligible, perhaps because the low end of the TLM 103 was filling in more of the lower frequencies.

TLM 103 Frequency Response
Aston Origin Frequency Response
Because the Origin has a center hot spot for high frequencies, you may be able to take advantage of it by turning the mic directly toward or slightly away from the source to increase or decrease the high frequencies it picks up.

Aston Origin Polar Response

You can hear that in the video below as I check out the polar pattern and frequency response of the mic and compare it to a Neumann TLM 103.

I’ve spent over thirty years doing voicework for radio and for numerous freelance projects with a lot of critical listening. As a result, I can tell a lot about a mic using just my voice. The voice doesn’t have those upper frequencies, though, and because of that, I turn to my acoustic guitars. In this case, I used my D28s Martin. The standard D28 has a huge bottom. The D28s is much more balanced across the strings. You can hear that as I try different positions with the Aston Origin in the above video. On my MacBook Pro speakers, the low end sounds slightly overdriven due to the limitations of the speakers. As more and more work is done for small speaker playback, we need to be more careful about EQ. 

Josh Polak With The Grand J-28 LSE Martin
Josh Polak has been here recording a CD project. I was comfortable enough with my experience with both the Origin and Spirit to use them to record Josh. I had Josh play as I moved the two mics around while listening to a pair of Sony MDR 7506 until I got the right stereo image. I had the Spirit in cardioid. He used my now discontinued Grand J-28 LSE baritone Martin for several pieces. Its strings are 17-70 and I keep it tuned at least four semitones below standard E-e guitar tuning. As such, it has a huge sound. I had to pull the mics a bit farther back than with a standard acoustic six-strings to capture it properly. As shown in the picture, here's Josh playing the Martin with both Origin and Spirit mics deployed for a stereo capture. 

In The End
What we have here is an underpriced mic. The Origin is a mic that’s performing above its retail price and is well-designed enough to be used on a variety of sources. This doesn’t happen that often! Thanks again for your patience and please subscribe to this blog and my YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for my review of the Aston three-pattern Spirit. 

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Thanks to Kathy Phelps for her editing help. We are still not in agreement with one sentence. Find it and win a nickel!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Audio-Technica AT8024 - Good Things In Little Packages

Audio-Technica AT8024 on a JVC HM 650
The landscape is littered with little “shoe mics”; those mics designed to slip into the hot or cold shoe of a DSLR or other digital camera. 

Each time I see one, I look for improvements in sound, suspension mount and ease of use. Today I’m looking at the Audio-Technica AT8024, which comes complete with separate foam and very effective furry wind covers and lists for only $249.

The stereo signal from the AT8024 is derived from a set of electret condenser Mid/Side capsules; a front-facing mono capsule and a side-facing figure of eight capsule behind it. That bulge at the base of the interference tube is where the two side-facing capsules sit. 

AT8024 Body and Switches
One of the switches on the AT8024 has three positions; Off, Stereo and Mono. In Mono, the mic employs the Mid capsule only. In stereo, the mic uses both Mid and Side capsules and has a internal matrix that provides a fairly narrow stereo pattern to the 1/8” TRS plug.

These features allow the AT8024 to be used with cameras with either a 1/8” mono or stereo input jack. This is a real problem solver because some DSLR cameras have a mono input and some have a stereo input. Pugging a standard mono mic into a stereo input often results in the audio going only to one channel in the camera. No problem, just switch to Stereo. Switching to Mono puts the center capsule audio on both the tip and ring and results in Mono.

AT8024 Pop-out Battery Sled

The mic is powered by one AA cell that lasts for 80 hours. The pop-out sled is very well designed and easy to use. The green LED indicates that the mic has been switched on. When the LED turns red, it’s time to change the battery. 

In every audio forum I participate in, including the Creative Cow Audio forum I lead, are warnings about camera-mounted microphones. As a professional location sound practitioner, I know that the best spoken word audio recordings happens with the microphone within 18” of the person talking, with the right boom mic, a boom operator and a mixer to feed the camera or record separately. Once you get more than two feet away from the talent, most of the quality of the even the best mics begin to fade. I was, therefore, impressed by how well the AT8024 fared.

Built-in, on-camera mics have two additional problems. First, they conduct even the most casual handling noise and that noise becomes part of the recording. My JVC HM 650 camera, which uses SD cards, has a very distracting fan motor noise that is conducted through the body to the built-in mic. In addition, if the camera operator talks or makes noise, the mic will pick up those noises. Second, I don’t know many camera manufacturers who use really good capsules for an on-camera mic.

To reduce handling noise, you need a separate mic with a suspension mount that isolates the mic from the camera body. The AT8024 has that and it’s sturdy and simple. As my video demonstrates, while there is some hand noise transfer, it’s extremely small compared to the built-in camera mic. 

There’s a switchable, 12 dB/octave, 80 Hz low frequency roll off to reduce low frequency noise. There are also a 10 and 20 dB pad. These pads are very useful for run and gun shooting in wildly varying volume levels. Yes, you do have to figure out the best gain staging for camera and mic levels, but being able to knock 20 dB off at the mic should let you get in front of some pretty loud machinery or a rock band without clipping.

I recorded a set by “The Old Part of Town” at Edith May’s Paradise, a house concert venue in Jessup, Maryland. I was about 20 feet from the stage, used the 10 dB pad and had no problems capturing sound from the amps, acoustic instruments and PA. The AT8024 has a very pleasant sound with music. If you find it a bit too organic, running the audio through a limiter in post and just catching the peaks can put a nice polish on the track. I didn’t do that for this particular clip.

My good friend Brian Glock helped me test the AT8024 during the Towson, Maryland July 4th Parade. He had the AT8024 set at -20 dB and the camera audio input set to Auto for this clip. He was doing lots of run and gun that day and didn't have time to manually adjust the camera audio. Drum and bugle corps by their very nature are VERY LOUD and the horns are frequently "blatty." The Auto feature on Brian's camera cranked the volume up and I think I can hear some of its processing, but when I pulled the waveform up, I only saw one flat top.

We also tested the AT8024 at Atwater’s, a local soup and sandwich shop. At a distance of 18 inches, you can hear that the ambient noise is distracting against a normal speaking voice, so, as always, there are limitations. 

Meanwhile, down in my acoustically treated studio, the AT8024 surprised me by how well it sounded at distances of three feet or more.

I could talk all day about how good or bad the custom made AT8024, wind protection accessories are. In a word, they are invaluable. Here’s some outside footage that confirms how well the foam and especially the fuzzy work.

Capsule frequency response is smooth and the the mono and stereo patterns behave nicely.


Down to the small hook at the base of the mic that allows the cable to be snugged close to the body to keep it from flapping around, the AT8024 is an example of thoughtful design. If you do need a camera-mounted mic, look hard at this one for the above reasons. And at $249 for mic, foam and fuzzy, what’s not to like?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The CEDAR DNS 2 Portable Dialog Noise Suppressor --- The Sound Of Silence

There were a few “Wows!” and even a few fluttering hearts at NAB 2016 when Independent Audio debuted the new CEDAR DNS 2 portable dialog noise suppressor. It was followed by a stinging sensation as a result of the $4K USD price tag. CEDAR has the well-earned reputation for making expensive ($10K to $50K, USD) but effective audio restoration and forensic noise reduction software and hardware devices and winning awards for them since 1989. 

Fraser Jones and Independent Audio Staff
Fraser Jones, head of Independent Audio, a distribution company here in the USA, has always had a keen eye and ear for audio gear, (and recently some video gear) as demonstrated by the names on the Independent Audio line card; Audessence, Audio & Design, Audio Developments, Coles, DACS, Merging Technologies, Pearl, Sonifex and Thermionic Culture.  Not what you might consider mainstream, but slightly boutiquey. It was no surprise to see CEDAR on that list. 

Eric Toline
Professional Sound Services
A CEDAR DNS 2 was making its way back up the east coast from Eric Toline at the Fort Lauderdale office of Professional Sound Services to Independent Audio in Portland, Maine and landed here for a few days. I quickly put together an ad hoc gathering of Washington and Baltimore Location Sound pros; Bernie Ozol, Jim Gilchrist, Len Schmitz and Jonathan Cohen answered back quickly and the date was set. 

Len Schmitz
These are four top shelf mixers with many years of experience and incomparable ears. Some of us, myself included, had watched a YouTube video demonstrating the CEDAR DNS 2 and were concerned that either YouTube encoding had compromised the audio or that better adjustments on the mic or DNS 2 would yield better results.

Bernie Ozol brought a 12 V DC battery, cup and female, four-pin XLR powering rig, so we wouldn’t be tethered by the wall wart that is included in the DNS 2. The two-channel DNS 2 has identical controls for each of its two channels.

Jim Gilchrist and Jonathan Cohen listen to playback.
The DNS 2 XLR inputs can be easily hard switched for Mic, Mic with 48 V Phantom Power or Line Level. The DNS 2 operates in 48 Khz, 24-bit mode, however, with external AES sync, it will lock to 44.1kHz, 48khz or 96khz, The DNS 2 also has an AES3/AES11 digital input and AES3 XLR connections.

Analog output from the DNS 2 via XLRs, is at line level only. That means the DNS 2 has a pair of preamps. Our first concern was the mic pres in the DNS 2. All five of us judged that the preamps were as good as the Sound Devices MixPre D we were using during these tests. Although we liked the sound of the preamps, we liked the idea of having a mixer for better control between the DNS 2 and the camera. Again, we’re location sound guys; of course we want more control. Several folks thought a headphone jack would have been nice, but we got along just fine with the headphone jack on the camera and on the MixPre D.

CEDAR DNS 2 Analog In and AES/EBU I/O
Gain range on the DNS 2 preamps is +18dB - +78dB. Dynamic range: >102dB (at 36dB gain). Each channel has its own independently switchable Phantom Power supply. The line input nominal level is +4dBu with 20dB headroom. 

Gain range is a very wide -6dB to +54dB with a dynamic range of > 102dB. The DNS 2 runs on 8VDC to 17.5V DC (nominal 12V) and consumes 4.0 to 6.0 watts. The DNS 2 is about the size of a Cracker Jacks box and weighs just over a pound. It has strap poles on the face that allow it to be  connected to other gear or a sound bag. 

CEDAR 4-pin XLR Power and Line Level Analog Output
Our first chain was CMC641>DNS 2>MixPre D>JVC HM650. We later went CMC641>MixPre D>DNS 2>JVC HM650 but heard no appreciable difference. 

The analog input level was already set very well for the Schoeps CMC641, so we didn’t have to touch that. The input sensitivity level can be easily adjusted by depressing the SetUp button and spinning the control knob.

CEDAR DNS 2 Front Panel
I live in Baltimore Country. An arc of the I-695 beltway semi-surrounds me from about a mile away. As a result, I can easily hear a constant low level pad of distant internal combustion machines. More locally, the cicadas were singing nicely the morning we did our tests. The Light Rail was running and we also had the occasional car-by and flights to and from BWI Airport. We also ran a test with an umbrella sprinkled by water from a hose while micing from below. 

The “Learn”  procedure is very simple. Hit the “Learn” button. It can be turned off or left on. We chose to leave it on most of the time. The Noise Reduction control is variable from 0 to -20. After SetUp and Learn, you simply engage the filter and use the rotary control to vary the amount of noise reduction.

I couldn’t find latency figures for the DNS 2, but Cedar’s DNS1500 sports a latency figure of Ten Samples; not milliseconds, but samples. My guess is that this short a latency figure is due to the zippy SHARC processors and Cedar’s algorithm. The DNS 2 is designed with 24-bit A/D and D/A conversion with 40 bit processing resolution and 1.2 GFlops (Floating Point Operations Per Second). That may not be a lot given where computer power has gone and continues to go these days, but it’s pretty damn fast. The result; a very powerful tool.

A Schoeps CMC641 with Schoeps B5D and Rode Dead Kitty was set on a locked down boom. We shot to SD cards in my JVC HM650 HD camcorder and did a few playbacks. We didn’t have enough headphone outputs to go around, so we share shared a pair of Sony MDR 7506 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 as we shot and took the card down to my studio to listen for more detail over my Event Opal monitors.

Our first test was determining how much cicada noise we could reduce. Even before that, engaging the noise reduction dropped the distant mostly low frequency beltway noise right out. In most of our tests, the best results were when the noise reduction knob was midscale, somewhere between three and seven. Any more than seven and we could hear artifacts or the background would drop out so completely that the voice sounded like we were recording inside. That was eerie and surprising, At some point, when reduced to excess, the voice sounded like the person was talking through a tube.

While one of us was on-camera, talking for the test, the rest of us were making side comments off mic. Those comments were louder than the background noise, but not by much. As we increased the amount of noise reduction, those voices began sounding “watery.” If you were shooting a scene in a noisy location and wanted human “walla” in the background, this would be a problem. The “walla” didn’t sound right.

There was a general consensus among the five of us that use of any noise reduction required extremely astute listening. Astuteness that might not be easy on location and being close enough to the talent to have their voice “in air” adding to what we were hearing even with the closed back Sony and Audio-Technica headphones.

Jim Gilchrist came up with a good solution if you’re recording double sound. Use a spare track on your mixer/recorder and feed the noise reduced audio to that track and perhaps feed that to the camera as well. Also record a track without the noise reduction in case post has a problem with the processed track.

We all felt that putting both unprocessed and processed tracks on a camera was asking for trouble because of the opportunity for post to simply mix them together. That not only can happen, it has happened. If you’re doing all of the work yourself, then have at it!

Next was the “Umbrella Test.” Since it was not raining, I used a garden hose. We repositioned the boom to below the talent, aimed up at the umbrella. As such the CMC641 was hearing the talent and all of the umbrella above the talent’s head quite well. Again, we were all very impressed by how well the DNS 2 pulled the low frequency background noise as well as the voice out of the rain noise. And, again, moderate settings seemed the best. 

These two tests demonstrated the ability of the CEDAR DNS 2 to learn a fairly complex but consistent noise pattern and cancel it so well without the “underwater” artifacts most noise reduction devices create when pushed too far.

In some cases, when more Noise Reduction was applied, there was a spooky kind of feeling. We knew we were outside, but the audio was so quiet that it sounded as though we were inside. Just past that there was point there was a slightly phased “tubular” sound, as though the voice was speaking through a cardboard or plastic tube in between the voice and the microphone. 

Bernie Ozol (L) and Len Schmitz (R) set up an interior shot
Our indoor test was less dramatic. We set up in my living room, the room with the most echo in the house and positioned the mic first a proper distance and then purposely two feet away to get some room ring. While not a miracle worker, we were impressed by how much room the DNS 2 could wring out of the audio. I didn’t have time to test the DNS 2 in a really large hall to see how well it might extract large room sound.

Jonathan Cohen echoed Jim Gilchrists thoughts, "This gear raises the question of how much we, as sound mixers/recordists, should be effecting the audio we record. I broached this same question many years ago to a CAS forum; where do we draw the line on 'artistic license?' Is it our job simply to record the cleanest audio tracks possible and let Post do the boosting and cutting and effecting? Lastly, and I only thought about this today, I would like to have heard how it handled clothing noise on hidden lavs. Does this magic box work well on this too?"

As we wrapped, we talked about using the CEDAR DNS 2 on the set. At $4k USD, close to the price of one high-end wireless system, how would we charge a producer for that? If we brought it along and found it got us out of a jam, we could let the producer hear the before and after. If the producer approved the noise reduction, we thought a $100 USD charge would be nominal. Would they be prepared to pay the extra hundred? If so, it would take forty uses to pay for it. If the producer already had noise reduction capabilities in post, then he/she might not want us to use it in the field, for the extra cost and that we might use it too aggressively. Our final thought was that in the right hands and in the right situations, the CEDAR DNS 2 would be a winner, even if it was in post. In the wrong hands with the wrong ears, not so much.

Incidentally, there is an eight channel, CEDAR DNS 8. The DNS 8 was originally an AC powered device, but now also has four-pin,12 V DC powering. The DNS 8 costs $10K, USD.

CEDAR DNS 8 Live Hardware Dialogue Noise Suppression

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Audio Ltd. 1010 Digital Wireless Microphone

Audio Ltd. TX1010 xmitter
Some years back, as I was beginning to do more serious location audio work, I heard that Audio Ltd. made the best sounding analog wireless with the greatest range in the market; in particular their 2020 and then their 2040 series. I had been writing professional audio gear reviews for MIX, Radio World, Pro Audio Review, Pro Sound News and a few other trade magazines before the Internet caused the big trade magazine meltdown. What caused it? The immediacy of information and the loss of classified ads. I know, hard to believe, but those classified pages in the back of a magazine were solid gold. Anyway.......

I was very pleased by the 2040. Here's my 2040 review from back in 2007, they had the best sound and distance of any wireless I could find. Here are some 24-bit WAV files I recorded to a Sound Devices 744T.

The Audio Ltd. gear was not cheap; about $5K USD for a transmitter and receiver. They're made in the UK and had the reputation of needing a tweek now and then. That tweek usually meant a trip back to England; not all that convenient. By the time the Audio Ltd. slightly less expensive Envoy series was released they had redesigned the pieces so they could have circuit boards replaced here in the USA, and with minor adjustments, be returned to the owners a lot more quickly.

Audio Ltd. TX1010 xmitter with green slot for card.
Time passes and we find that the 
Audio Ltd. Skunk Works have been busy developing a new system. The Audio Ltd. 1010. The build on both transmitter and receiver are good. Solid metal - not plastic.

The Audio Ltd. 1010 is a digital wireless system, with an end-to-end latency of just two milliseconds. It covers 90 MHz of spectrum, from 470 MHz to 548 MHz or 518 MHz to 608 MHz, in banks, channels and fine tuned in 25 kHz steps to help you dodge the increasingly cluttered landscape, with a neat scanner in the receiver to help you find the empty spots. 

There is also a 594 MHz to 694 MHz range, but it will not be available in the US or Canada. One caution, a spot on a scanner may be empty one moment and quite busy the next. My only trivial complaint with the transmitter was that the battery clips are so "springy" that they would sometimes pop the batteries out when the door was open. 

Redding Audio's Scott Boland
When I mentioned that to Scott Boland at Redding Audio, distributors for Schoeps, Rycote, Voice Technologies, Cable Techniques, Peter Engh, Ambient Recording and Audio Ltd. in the USA, he reminded me that AA cells do vary in length, "Seems to be like the old 9V thing where Energizers and Duracell’s are a smidge different in length. I could get your alkalines that were left in the chamber when you returned the gear to pop out, but none of the other Lithium batteries I have here from all the pop brands did. It seemed that your battery + tip was a slice of a mm shorter."

The Audio Ltd. 1010 has been designed so that up to twenty systems can be operated within one TV channel. That, in itself, is somewhat remarkable. I was not sent enough systems to test this. Boland adds, "In the UK where their broadcast channels are 8 MHz wide, there's more room to fit more wireless. In the US we only have 6 MHz for a TV channel, so we can fit (15) 1010 systems in a US channel."

Audio Ltd. uses a proprietary codec to compress the audio and proprietary digital modulation scheme. It also provides selectable, four number encryption. Once the encryption is set at the transmitter, the receiver also needs to be manually set. The TX1010 transmitter, which comes with a snug neoprene case and mounting strap, runs on two AA batteries and can be set for 5 mW, 20 mW or 50 mW output. There's a ten step audio input gain control that ranges from 0 to -40dB. The high-pass filter can be set flat, 50Hz, 80Hz, 120Hz or 200Hz. Audio input is via a three-pin LEMO. I was told it's wired the same way as some Sennheiser three-pin LEMOS. The input will handle mic or line level signals and provides bias voltage for lavs and special bias for Schoeps CMR cables.

The data sheet says the transmitter can be operated up to five hours on two AA lithium batteries. I operated the transmitter at the highest output power, 50 mW, using Alkaline batteries and got two hours before the warning light began to blink and another twenty minutes before the transmitter shut down. Boland says, *Welcome to the world of digital wireless. Due to current drain, we don’t recommend Alkalines. When using any brand of digital wireless you must use NiMH as a minimum. Lithium are preferred. The reports back from the field so far is 4.5 hours with NiMH and anywhere from 5.5 to 7 hours with Lithium at 50 mW."

The OLEDs (Organic LED) are visible in the sun. The TX1010 display shows the block number and frequency simultaneously. You can easily switch between the US and EU block numbers.

The TX1010 has one feature guaranteed to catch the eye and ear of every sound location person. It records to a micro SD card in the transmitter, with "timecode capabilities", but I'm not exactly sure what those timecode capabilities are. If the signal doesn't make it to the receiver, you can pull the recording off the card in the transmitter. Brilliant! and a hat tip to Glenn Sanders at Zaxcom. (At present, there's a Zaxcom patent that may prevent the record feature from being enabled on any Audio Ltd. 1010 from sold in the USA.) That slot is also used for firmware updates.

No word yet on whether or not there are never-clip-like features in the wings for the 1010 although it does have a limiter, and the 1010 does not generate or transmit timecode. Engaging the limiter brought up the noise floor on the preproduction model I was sent, but I was also sent a - 9dB Sanken red band COS11 (for screaming opera singers and South American soccer announcers.) That meant I had to increase the sensitivity at the transmitter which brought up the noise floor. Enough so that when my soundie friend Bernie Ozol brought his bag out for a comparison, his Lectro Sm and SRb with a regular COS 11 were noticeably quieter. 

I reached out to Sanken, (Thanks, Sara at, actually) and she sent along another regular COS11 with a 3-pin Lemo to fit the Audio Ltd. 1010 transmitter. Once we got them lined up, the noise floor was identical in level. The spectra of the noise in the 1010 was a little higher in frequency; more of a "sssssss." The Lectro Sm was more "shhhhhh." Apart from that, both lavs were basically interchangeable for in terms of sound quality. 

DX1010 Receiver
Audio Ltd. DX101 Receiver
The DX1010 receiver is fully digital and is fully dual diversity with dual antennas and dual switching receivers. In addition, there is another layer of technology at work; Maximum Ratio Combining Diversity. So, in addition to choosing the stronger signal, the circuitry further amplifies the stronger signal and decreases gain on the weaker signal.

The Audio Ltd. DX1010 receiver also has digitally controlled front-end tracking filters. Its output can be switched from AES3 digital to line level analog. The analog output (+10 dBu max) can be reduced from 0 dB to -12dB, -24dB or -36dB as needed. 

Pressing and holding the outside two buttons flips the display which may be useful when bag mounting. The DX1010 receiver does not have a battery compartment. The receiver power spec is 6-18 V DC. Its outputs is a 25-pin D-sub Superset, Sound Devices, Panasonic/Ikegami adapter, with external DC input and audio output cables. 

The receiver displays the TX1010 transmitter battery status. You can scan the entire 100 MHz bandwidth of the unit or chop the scanner bandwidth into fourths to save time. The scanner continues to scan until you depress the central button on the three-button controls. There are a number of small LEDs on the DX1010 that must have something to do with the receiver; probably the dual diversity, but I didn't have documentation for them. 

I had distance problems with reception at first with the 1010, but I write that off to how tricky the remaining spectrum can be in a metropolitan area; even in its suburbs. I remembered that a 300 kHz shift made all the difference when I was range testing the Audio Ltd. 2040. Eventually, my "standard walk test track", other wise known as a walk around the block in my neighborhood, equalled and exceeded the range I was getting with Bernie's 100mW Lectros, even though the 1010 transmitter was only putting out 50mW. As most experienced people will tell you, raw RF power may help you maintain a more solid workable RF field up close, but twice the power will not double your range. That's more the job of a well designed receiver and Audio Ltd. has a reputation for very well designed receivers.

Using the full 50 mW, I was able to get 130 yards in the clear, and with a hop over a neighbors solid wooden fence, out to 150 yards before the signal began breaking up.

I found one curiosity with the TX1010 transmitter. During my testing, we set it down on a folding chair and the audio began to misbehave. Under the padded seat of the chair was a sturdy metal pan bottom. It became apparent that the TX1010 transmitter does not like being placed on flat metal surfaces. Bernie's Lectrosonics SM worked fine on those same surfaces. 

The TX1010 transmitter may be controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth, using the 1010TX app. I had problems at first with my iPad 3, but they were quickly solved with an update. After starting up the app, my iPad screen tells you its searching for transmitters. It will list them if Bluetooth is enabled in any TX1010 transmittersYou can name each transmitter with the app and that name is also transmitted to the receiver. You can put the transmitter in and out of standby to save battery power. You can also adjust transmitter input sensitivity and adjust the high-pass filter.

There were other icons in the menu bar of the 1010TX app. Some of them were active, but there was no explanation of their use or purpose. 

Audio Ltd. has been to enough rodeos with proven results. They understand how to make a product that is designed to work well. I think they've showed that with the 1010. It will be interesting to see how the firmware updates continue to evolve.

List price for the TX1010 transmitter is about $2,000 USD and $2,300 USD with the Voice Technologies VT500 omni wav. The DX1010 receiver is $2849 USD with adaptor.

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