Licence‑free wireless is fine for smaller shows, but more serious calls for a more serious system.
From their humble beginnings in the 1960s manufacturing turntable cartridges, Audio‑Technica have grown into a significant force in the audio industry. Though the company’s feet are still firmly rooted in the turntable market, over the decades they’ve become a leading name in pro audio and their catalogue has expanded to include a wide range of headphones and microphones, in both consumer and professional audio markets.
Wireless technology has also played a big part in Audio‑Technica’s story — which brings us to the subject of this review, the new 3000 Series Wireless In‑ear Monitor System. With elements based on the 3000 Series UHF Wireless Microphone System, Audio‑Technica say it has been designed to bring “professional sound quality and features to all levels of performers and performance venues”.
If you’re currently using one of the many wireless IEM systems that make use of the ‘licence‑free’ UHF frequencies available to us in the UK, you may well have experienced some level of interference, especially if you’re gigging with your own band or bands and you’re all using IEMs or radio mics. Without going into too much technical detail, the licence‑free frequency band is very narrow (863‑865 MHz) and can only accommodate a limited number of devices — around four — before harmonics generated by one device start to interfere with another, resulting in distortion, artefacts and reduced range. The solution is to use the areas of the UHF band that are less congested. However, this does come at a cost, both in terms of upgraded hardware and of licence fees (the latter not as onerous as you might expect — see ‘Finding Frequencies’ box).
The Audio‑Technica 3000 system is one that does operate in the ‘licensed’ bands and offers exceptionally wide‑band UHF tuning bandwidth of 138MHz across one of two frequency bands, DF2 (470.125‑607.875 MHz) and EG2 (580.000‑713.850 MHz). This enables the use of frequencies that should ensure good, interference‑free operation.
In addition to its wide UHF coverage, the 3000 Series also includes features such as networking, wireless synchronisation between transmitter and receiver via infra‑red, and a Cue mode (see ‘Join The Cue’ box) that allows audio engineers to monitor multiple channels with a single receiver. These take it considerably beyond what you’ll get from a typical licence‑free system.
Arriving in a large cardboard box, the 3000 Series ships as a complete ‘ready to go system’ comprising the ATW‑T3205 stereo transmitter, the ATW‑R3250 stereo receiver pack, and the ATH‑E40 in‑ear headphones. The transmitter can be rackmounted and ships with the appropriate 19‑inch rack ear extensions, but straight out of the box it is a free‑standing unit measuring around eight inches square and powered from an included 12V wall‑wart PSU.
The rear panel hosts left and right input XLR sockets, alongside left and right Loop Output quarter‑inch jack sockets, which mirror the input signal. These outputs can be connected to speakers or a recording device but, as their name suggests, they can also be used to configure more complex monitoring setups by routing the signal to a second transmitter.
Accompanying the familiar bayonet RF socket, to which the supplied flexible UHF antenna is connected, is a network port. This allows the transmitter to integrate with other Audio‑Technica network‑enabled devices and make use of Audio‑Technica’s Wireless Manager software. This comprehensive Mac‑ and Windows‑compatible application enables you to create a detailed frequency plan by scanning the RF environment and deploying an optimal set of frequencies to each connected device.
The front panel is minimalist, with only three buttons, including the power switch. The panel is dominated by a large OLED screen that displays a trove of information, including the transmitting frequency, group and channel, audio signal levels and RF status. You can also name the transmitter (Guitar, Vocals, etc) and have that displayed as the dominant element on screen.
A large data‑entry wheel with push confirmation is used to scroll through all the menus and adjust parameters. A small button to the left acts as a ‘back’ button and doubles as an ‘RF off’ button with a long push. The final thing to note on the front panel is a small infra‑red sync window to the left of the OLED display. This enables automatic frequency synchronisation with the receiver pack.
The receiver body pack feels solid and well made, to a design that will be familiar to users of IEM systems, featuring an antenna, a 3.5mm headphone jack and an on/off volume knob across the top. Interestingly, the headphone cable can act as a second antenna, which, although not providing ‘true diversity’ (which requires a second receiver), does offer the possibility of a better and cleaner signal, with the system most of the time using the main antenna but occasionally switching to the audio cable as backup to...