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This article was originally published in issue #37
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After the 2.4GHz radio-frequency band was opened up to licence-free operation worldwide, a plethora of products have appeared that operate within it. In addition to manufacturers of distinctly non-musical wireless WiFi routers, Bluetooth devices and the like, an increasing number of musical electronics companies have moved into the 2.4GHz band with wireless guitar and vocal systems.
For those manufacturers, the advantages are obvious - they can piggyback on the economies of scale of the WiFi industry, there is a worldwide market to aim at and the data transfer rate is high enough to support uncompressed 24-bit digital audio - what’s not to like?
There is, of course, the downside of potential interference from any other devices operating nearby over the 79 1MHz channels of the 2.4GHz band. Fortunately, regulations limit the output power of all 2.4GHz devices but, unfortunately, many devices - including wireless guitar and microphone transmitters - have sophisticated and aggressive channel hopping systems that can cause interference problems. All manufacturers work to avoid interference with sophisticated software and electronic circuitry that discriminates in favour of their devices’ signals. As you might expect, the 2.4GHz wireless guitar system market is currently dominated by the usual foreign multinational suspects, but now a UK company, Smooth Hound Innovations, is taking them on at their own game.
Smooth Hound Innovation’s Classic 2.4GHz wireless guitar system is made up of the K1100 transmitter and the twin-antenna K2100 diversity receiver, each of which is equipped with an ARM processor to ensure maximum signal integrity. The system’s audio specification is impressive, offering a frequency response of 10Hz-20kHz and a dynamic range of 120dB, all at 0.006%THD. Transmitter range is quoted at an impressive 200 feet line-of-sight when outdoors. However, as most of us will be using it indoors where there is the potential of interference from other devices, range is maximised by automatic adaptive channel selection which continuously finds the optimum regions of the 2.4GHz spectrum to operate in. This adaptive selection allows four Classic systems to operate in close proximity without any set-up requirements and allows these Protocol-K systems to co-exist peacefully with WiFi and Bluetooth devices.
Transmitter battery life is an equally impressive 15 hours from two AAA batteries (10 hours with rechargeables). The transmitter also has selectable automatic power-down mode if you don’t play your instrument for a period of time.
One area where the Classic doesn’t score quite as highly as some of its competitors is in the realms of latency, where its quoted 8ms lags behind the class-leader’s quoted 1.5ms. This isn’t a huge issue, equating, as it does, to standing eight feet away from your guitar amp. In reality, this latency is undetectable when you are playing live but is worth bearing in mind if you ever use the Classic to feed into a DAW where latencies can begin to add up. Having said that, in situations where there is little chance of interference in the 2GHz band you can opt to run the system at a lower latency.
Physically, the Classic is an extremely compact little system that would fit quite happily into the pocket of a guitar case. The metal-bodied K1100 transmitter features a hinged, polished zinc assembly with an integrated ¼” jackplug which allows it to be used with all jack socket positions on all styles of guitar body - even acoustics - and a supplied microsuction pad means that you can secure the unit to any smooth guitar surface without leaving any marks. Since the jack can be folded flat back against the body of the K1100, it can be mounted as a body or strap pack, although you would then need an adapter lead to connect it to the guitar. An illuminated button in the shape of the Smooth Hound Innovations logo switches the K1100 on and off and a useful feature is that the unit will not power up if it does not detect its paired transmitter.
The K2100 diversity receiver is a black aluminium box not much larger than a pack of cards - a size ideal for fitting onto a pedalboard. Its rear panel carries the On/Off switch and socket for the included 9VDC power supply. The only issue here is that the power connector can’t be secured to the socket, which isn’t ideal for live use - but this state of affairs isn’t unique to the Classic.
The front panel is where you’ll find the ¼” TRS balanced output jack, three four-segment LED meters and a switch and its associated LED marked Pro(gramme). Two of the LED ladders, one green, one red, are paired together above the Signal legend. The green ladder displays the strength of signal from the transmitter whilst its red partner shows the amount of interference from other nearby 2.4GHz devices, i.e. how hard the system is having to work to hold things together. The Classic system transmits across four of the 79 available 2.4GHz channels, simultaneously tests another four as backup and swaps to alternate channels if it sees high interference on any of the eight.
The third LED ladder shows the remaining charge in the K1100 transmitter’s batteries so that you know when their end is nigh. The Pro(gramme) button gives you access not only to the “latency reduction at the expense of signal integrity” function mentioned earlier, but also to a variable-length cable simulator and to the housekeeping functions of transmitter ID and system pairing. An unlimited number of K1100 transmitters can be paired with a K2100 receiver although switching between them is accomplished by switching the active K1100 off and the next one on.
In use, Smooth Hound Innovation’s Classic wireless guitar system is ridiculously easy to use - plug in, switch on and you’re away. As you’ll see from the video, it fitted easily to all the guitars I could find in the studio that day including my own guitar’s piezo pickup, which it handled perfectly.
Sound quality was exemplary and, even although the red LEDs came on at varying numbers throughout the review, there was no audible evidence of signal degradation, even when I experimented off-camera with lower latencies in the studio’s WiFi-rich environment. The cable simulation function worked well although personally I tend to use high-quality, low capacitance cables and therefore I preferred the unaffected sound.
Although the Smooth Hound Classic wireless guitar system doesn’t have the additional inputs, outputs and functionality that you might find in some of its competitors, its level of performance is so high and its price point is so competitive that you’re not going to have much difficulty in deciding which way to go.
By focussing on the core requirement of the vast majority of guitarists and bassists - freeing us up from the tyranny of a few feet of cable - Smooth Hound Innovations have produced a 2.4GHz digital wireless guitar system that is capable of giving its competition a run for their money. If you’re looking to ditch your guitar lead without breaking the bank, Smooth Hound’s Classic is, in my opinion, a great way to go! Highly Recommended.