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Review

Wi Digital Systems AudioLink Pro & Sure-Ears in-ear system

Issue #40

Now that digital wireless microphone transmitters and receivers are running in the worldwide free-for-all that is the 2.4GHz radio frequency band alongside microwave ovens, cordless phones, wifi routers and Bluetooth devices etc., the benefits of economies of scale and on-going developments in those other areas - which are many orders of magnitude larger than digital wireless mics - is really beginning to be felt in the MI and pro-audio markets.

In the past, innovations in the old UHF and VHF wireless microphone market tended to be the preserve of the big players - Audio-Technica, Shure, Sennheiser, AKG and the like - due to the investment needed to develop new products. However, with the size of the 2.4GHz wireless market worldwide driving the latest low-cost technology, innovation has become more important than a monstrous bank balance.

Early 2.4GHz wireless systems were, in form and function, essentially digital analogues of their analogue ancestors. Nowadays, innovative entrepreneurs are leveraging the miniaturisation being driven by other 2.4GHz market segments to produce smaller and, in terms of their feature sets, ever more powerful digital wireless mic systems.

One such company is California-based Wi Digital Systems, which was (in their own words) “…created to be at the leading edge in the development and manufacture of unique Pocket Portable Stereo Digital Wireless Systems, High-Definition In-Ear-Canal Reference Monitors, High Performance Miniature Microphones and Wearable Technologies for musicians, performers, videographers and educators.”

Their AudioLink Pro stereo digital wireless system, capable of two-way USB 2.0 wireless audio connectivity (more of which later), has been designed for live use with every instrument - though probably not acoustic drums - smartphone, tablet and computer in the band. Complementing this claim are Wi’s Sure-Ears noise-isolating, in-ear monitor headphones.

Features and Setup

There’s not exactly a lot to set up with the Sure-Ears. In the box, you’ll find the Sure-Ears themselves, small, medium and large ear inserts in both silicone and soft foam, a ¼” TRS jack adapter, a clip to help stow the cable neatly and a hard case to keep everything in the one place.

The bodies of the headphones are engineered in solid, silver-finished, lightweight brass and carry Wi Digital’s 10mm diameter permanent magnet dynamic transducers. A Wi-exclusive tangle and kink resistant cable is used and is engineered with bendable metal-reinforced ear loops to give a comfortable and secure fit.

Life gets a bit more complex with the AudioLink Pro, due to the various ways in which the transmitter and receiver can be configured. Presented in a hard-shell carrying case, the system comes complete with a mic/headphone adapter for smartphone or tablet, every audio adapter cable required to connect the system as per the manual, a USB to mini USB data cable, a Y-split mini USB charging cable and a universal mains charger.

The transmitter carries a mono or stereo minijack input connection with mono pre-amp, mono line-in and stereo line-in modes, tricolour (GBR) status LEDs, gain up/down, mute, link, power on/off and control lock switches. A rear-mounted clip is provided to allow you to fix the transmitter to your belt or guitar strap and there is a side-mounted mini USB 2.0 plug-and-play audio interface and charging port.

The receiver looks almost identical physically to the transmitter, but its minijack is an output, not an input, and some switches have slightly different functions, adding an output mute and (only when in USB mode) play, pause and track skip. The receiver’s mini USB 2.0 port functions identically to that of the transmitter.

Once transmitter and receiver have been charged, you're ready to go as the units are factory-paired, although re-pairing (should it be required) is a simple, button-pushing process. How you connect up the system will depend on what you’re connecting to it and on how you’re using it.

For use as a simple wireless guitar system, if you’ve got an electric or acoustic guitar without any active electronics, you’ll simply plug the instrument into the transmitter (using the supplied TS-mini jack adapter lead) as the transmitter boots up in passive guitar/mono preamp mode, indicated by a slowly-flashing blue status LED. For an active mono output guitar, you’ll switch the transmitter to mono line-in mode and for a stereo active instrument you’ll switch to the stereo line-in mode and use the appropriate supplied adapter lead to make the required connections.

You’ll then connect the receiver either in mono or stereo to your pedalboard, amplifier or mixing console using the supplied mini to single TRS or mini to twin TRS adapter leads as necessary.

You’ll probably have worked out by now that you can also run the AudioLink Pro as a stereo wireless in-ear personal monitor system simply by connecting the transmitter to your console and plugging a set of in-ear headphones (such as the Wi Sure-Ears) into the receiver, which you then clip to your belt.

If being a digital wireless guitar system or personal in-ear monitor system was all that the AudioLink Pro could do, it would be pretty good value for money - but there’s more!

One stunning area of additional AudioLink Pro functionality requires your smartphone or tablet to be running a software guitar amp simulator app such as NI’s Guitar Rig and requires the supplied mic/headphone adapter. All you have to do first is to plug the transmitter into your guitar as normal and plug the mic/headphone adapter into the transmitter. You then connect the transmitter to the mic input on the adapter (using the supplied minijack to minijack lead) and the headphone output (in either mono or stereo) to a FRFR (flat response, full range) cabinet such as a powered PA speaker. This allows you to play wirelessly into your guitar amp simulator mobile app and to amplify the output - which is a very neat trick.

But that’s not all!

The two-way, plug-and-play USB 2.0 audio interfaces built into the transmitter and receiver open up a whole other range of operational possibilities by enabling you to connect to an iPad, Windows Surface, tablet PC, Mac and Windows PC for simultaneous two-way 2.4GHz digital wireless communication. To achieve this, the transmitter is connected to the device’s USB 2.0 port (you’ll need to use the Camera Adapter with an iPad) and the receiver is where the instrument and headphones get plugged in (again using the supplied mic/headphone adapter)

This functionality allows you to connect your instrument and headphones wirelessly to a Core Audio compatible software application running on any of the above computing devices so you could, for example record and monitor using Garageband on your iPad or Mac. You could also connect your computer or tablet wirelessly to mixers or other equipment on stage, in the studio or to your home theatre system when you’re streaming video and want the full audio experience.

Having this connectivity also means that you can use the AudioLink Pro as a means of listening wirelessly to mp3 files in iTunes (or similar programmes) on your computer or tablet - and you could even use the system to make VOIP telephone calls on Skype, Facebook etc.

Features and Setup

There’s not exactly a lot to set up with the Sure-Ears. In the box, you’ll find the Sure-Ears themselves, small, medium and large ear inserts in both silicone and soft foam, a ¼” TRS jack adapter, a clip to help stow the cable neatly and a hard case to keep everything in the one place.

The bodies of the headphones are engineered in solid, silver-finished, lightweight brass and carry Wi Digital’s 10mm diameter permanent magnet dynamic transducers. A Wi-exclusive tangle and kink resistant cable is used and is engineered with bendable metal-reinforced ear loops to give a comfortable and secure fit.

Life gets a bit more complex with the AudioLink Pro, due to the various ways in which the transmitter and receiver can be configured. Presented in a hard-shell carrying case, the system comes complete with a mic/headphone adapter for smartphone or tablet, every audio adapter cable required to connect the system as per the manual, a USB to mini USB data cable, a Y-split mini USB charging cable and a universal mains charger.

The transmitter carries a mono or stereo minijack input connection with mono pre-amp, mono line-in and stereo line-in modes, tricolour (GBR) status LEDs, gain up/down, mute, link, power on/off and control lock switches. A rear-mounted clip is provided to allow you to fix the transmitter to your belt or guitar strap and there is a side-mounted mini USB 2.0 plug-and-play audio interface and charging port.

The receiver looks almost identical physically to the transmitter, but its minijack is an output, not an input, and some switches have slightly different functions, adding an output mute and (only when in USB mode) play, pause and track skip. The receiver’s mini USB 2.0 port functions identically to that of the transmitter.

Once transmitter and receiver have been charged, you're ready to go as the units are factory-paired, although re-pairing (should it be required) is a simple, button-pushing process. How you connect up the system will depend on what you’re connecting to it and on how you’re using it.

For use as a simple wireless guitar system, if you’ve got an electric or acoustic guitar without any active electronics, you’ll simply plug the instrument into the transmitter (using the supplied TS-mini jack adapter lead) as the transmitter boots up in passive guitar/mono preamp mode, indicated by a slowly-flashing blue status LED. For an active mono output guitar, you’ll switch the transmitter to mono line-in mode and for a stereo active instrument you’ll switch to the stereo line-in mode and use the appropriate supplied adapter lead to make the required connections.

You’ll then connect the receiver either in mono or stereo to your pedalboard, amplifier or mixing console using the supplied mini to single TRS or mini to twin TRS adapter leads as necessary.

You’ll probably have worked out by now that you can also run the AudioLink Pro as a stereo wireless in-ear personal monitor system simply by connecting the transmitter to your console and plugging a set of in-ear headphones (such as the Wi Sure-Ears) into the receiver, which you then clip to your belt.

If being a digital wireless guitar system or personal in-ear monitor system was all that the AudioLink Pro could do, it would be pretty good value for money - but there’s more!

One stunning area of additional AudioLink Pro functionality requires your smartphone or tablet to be running a software guitar amp simulator app such as NI’s Guitar Rig and requires the supplied mic/headphone adapter. All you have to do first is to plug the transmitter into your guitar as normal and plug the mic/headphone adapter into the transmitter. You then connect the transmitter to the mic input on the adapter (using the supplied minijack to minijack lead) and the headphone output (in either mono or stereo) to a FRFR (flat response, full range) cabinet such as a powered PA speaker. This allows you to play wirelessly into your guitar amp simulator mobile app and to amplify the output - which is a very neat trick.

But that’s not all!

The two-way, plug-and-play USB 2.0 audio interfaces built into the transmitter and receiver open up a whole other range of operational possibilities by enabling you to connect to an iPad, Windows Surface, tablet PC, Mac and Windows PC for simultaneous two-way 2.4GHz digital wireless communication. To achieve this, the transmitter is connected to the device’s USB 2.0 port (you’ll need to use the Camera Adapter with an iPad) and the receiver is where the instrument and headphones get plugged in (again using the supplied mic/headphone adapter)

This functionality allows you to connect your instrument and headphones wirelessly to a Core Audio compatible software application running on any of the above computing devices so you could, for example record and monitor using Garageband on your iPad or Mac. You could also connect your computer or tablet wirelessly to mixers or other equipment on stage, in the studio or to your home theatre system when you’re streaming video and want the full audio experience.

Having this connectivity also means that you can use the AudioLink Pro as a means of listening wirelessly to mp3 files in iTunes (or similar programmes) on your computer or tablet - and you could even use the system to make VOIP telephone calls on Skype, Facebook etc.

Performance

Being visually unobtrusive and extremely light - each weighs only 30.6g (1.08oz) - there are essentially no physical barriers to where and how the Wi AudioLink Pro transmitter and receiver can be used. I can’t think of a single instrument that these couldn’t be used with - even a violinist wouldn’t know one was there and even a keyboardist (or a drummer with an electronic kit) might well welcome the opportunity to play through a cable-free stereo connection.

Sound quality (16-bit, 48kHz, 15Hz-20kHz) is absolutely excellent, battery-life is four-six hours from the internal rechargeable pack and the 30.5m (100’) line-of-sight range is more than adequate for use on-stage. Operating the system (once any computer is correctly configured) is simple and intuitive and the fact that every adapter lead that you’re likely to need is supplied (except an iPad Camera Adapter) is an object lesson for all equipment manufacturers!

The Sure-Ear in-ear headphones sound similarly superb, are extremely comfortable to wear and really do block out external sounds, confirming that they are achieving their quoted -26dB of noise isolation.

The Wi Digital Systems AudioLink Pro Stereo Digital Wireless Instrument and Audio Monitoring System is, to me, an exceptionally exciting product. Its functionality is well-thought out, it is easy to use and it leverages the economies of scale available in the wider 2.4GHz area to deliver exactly what many musicians have been waiting for at an extremely attractive price point. If you’re in the market for a 2.4GHz digital wireless system you really must take a very close look at the AudioLink Pro.

Wi’s Sure-Ears Noise-Isolating In-Ear Reference Monitors are a similarly attractively-priced proposition. You can buy (and I have bought) lower-priced hi-fi in-ears that claim to be noise-isolating but none of the cheaper models that I own have performed as well as the Sure-Ears – these are, indeed, extremely impressive.

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Issue #48

Tosin Abasi

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