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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