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Getting the Audio Right – Radio Microphones

JTS KA-10 Videographer & Sennheiser EW 112-p G3 Radio Mics

The Sennheiser G3 and its predecessors have enjoyed a long period as the non-broadcast radio mic of choice. There’s plenty of cheaper products, mostly little more than toys. There are also many higher end £800+ broadcast products, but sub £500 the Sennheiser products have ruled the roost for many years. So when I heard about a young pretender from Taiwanese company JTS I was keen to put the product through its paces, especially as it was significantly cheaper and, on paper at least, offered more features. Let’s start with a look at the reigning champion:

Sennheiser EW 112-p G3

Most people will know this product as it’s been pretty much omnipresent in the videography industry for so many years. It’s latest version, the G3, improves on an already winning formula. The kit comes with a body pack transmitter, ME-2 microphone and receiver with hot shoe mount. The ME-2 microphone is omnidirectional and produces a nice quality of sound, especially for spoken voice. The ME-4 is also available with other kit and is a cardioid (directional) microphone. The kit also includes cables to connect the receiver to XLR and 3.5mm inputs. Its metal housing feels immediately robust and professional. It has features to reassure any professional including adaptive diversity reception, 1680 tuneable UHF frequencies and display of both remaining battery charge and RF signal strength.

I have been using these microphones for years in a wide range of environments and can honestly say they have never let me down. They produce good clean audio, free of the companding artefacts noticeable in some competitors’ products. They work with widely available AA batteries, two in both the receiver and transmitter and should give around eight hours continuous use. Truth be told, most professionals will use new batteries before each days shoot “just to be sure”.

With a street price of around £500 including VAT you really can’t go wrong. You have to spend a lot more money to get substantially better quality than this.

JTS KA-10 Videographer Radio Mic

I must confess I didn’t know much about JTS when I first heard about the KA 10 microphone system. It turns out they are large manufacturer of PA and sound reinforcement microphones and ancillary equipment. They already make a wide range of radio mics and the KA 10 is a fairly recent addition to their range.

For a long time I have wondered why none of the mainstream manufacturers were taking Sennheiser on in this middle market. As I’ve mentioned before there’s lots of products under £200 and lots over £1000 but very few in this middle space. The more I found out about the KA-10 the more enthusiastic I got. I arranged to get a review set from their UK distributors, Proel International. Let’s look at some highlights of the KA -10:

16 UHF selectable channels
Built-in rechargeable lithium battery with desk charger
14 hours working time
Transmitter includes internal microphone

I absolutely loved the built-in lithium battery. As I already mentioned most people will use fresh batteries every time they use their radio mic, so having a product that sits in a desktop charger and is always ready for use has great appeal – and potential cost savings too.

Both the transmitter and receiver are smaller than the Sennheiser, about the size of a pack of playing cards. They are manufactured with plastic cases which makes them very light. Often when you’re shooting you need to quickly switch the mic from speaker to speaker, so having a lightweight transmitter pack to put in an inside jacket pocket is a definite advantage. How well it would stand up to long-term professional use is unclear. However it has no protruding buttons and seems well enough made. It does not however have the built to last robustness of the G3.

A feature which came as a complete surprise was the built-in microphone in the transmitter pack. I couldn’t work out why I was hearing audio before I plugged the microphone into the transmitter. Someone at JTS has clearly thought about the applications these microphones get used for. I was pleasantly surprised to find the sound quality from the built-in mic was actually very good. It’s a great little feature and I’m sure could prove very handy especially when single operators need a quick solution to grab remote audio.

So far so good. Some really interesting features for £150 less than the G3 – £350 ex VAT. Is the Sennheiser reign at an end?

In Use.

Of all the specifications of the two products one proved to be the most telling. Output power:

G3 30 mW
KA-10 10 mW

And what a difference 20 mW makes. There’s a lot of experience and technology goes into RF design and a little black magic too. As any RF engineer will tell you, output power alone is only part of the story. I’m not sure how much difference the Sennheiser external antenna makes compared to the JTS internal one. Perhaps its metal case aids transmission and reception more than the plastic case of the JTS. But in practice, if I moved the transmitter more than 50 meters away (line of sight) the KA 10 began to drop out. I tried a number of channels all with the same effect. In reality it’s rare I would be more than 25 meters away from my subject. I did also notice a little audio noise “pumping” which is usually caused by the companding systems used by most radio mic systems. It was only noticed as the KA-10 approached its maximum range.

Conclusion

For £150 more the Sennheiser was giving me rock solid high-quality audio at over 100 meters – and that includes travelling through a building! I really hope JTS review this product and either increase the output RF power, improve the radio efficiency, or both. It’s a great little product but needs a little more reliable range before I would give it my full recommendation for all users. If you rarely work more than 30m from your subject it is a bargain, but for those who requireand can afford greater flexibility the Sennheiser EW 112-p G3 remains king of the mid-price hill.