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This article was originally published in issue #48
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I was so impressed by the performance and convenience of the AudioMatrix that I am buying a system for my own use.
Easy to use
Compact and unobtrusive
Sounds as good as a piece of wire
None at all
Has Bluetooth finally come of age and can it possibly threaten the dominance of copper wire for PA connections? Bob Thomas thinks so.
Wi Pro is out there making a bit of a name for itself as a manufacturer of 2.4GHz digital wireless systems that deliver virtually unique functionality at very attractive price points.
As an active gigging musician and sound engineer, I’ve been looking for a way to wirelessly connect the outputs of my console to my active loudspeakers for a long time. I’ve cobbled together analogue UHF wireless setups in the past to cope with specific situations (and dealt with the resulting compression/expansion issues), but what I really, really want is a wireless system that doesn’t affect the sound, that is easy to set up and that is simple to operate.
If you’ve already watched the video review, you’ll have seen just how excited I am by Wi Pro’s latest product, the comprehensively (though not catchily) named WI-AMP50 AudioMatrix Portable Stereo Digital Multicast Wireless Audio System – which is (as far as I’m concerned) the answer to all my prayers.
So why do I need to have a stereo digital multicast system and, more importantly, why should you even think about owning one? On one level the answer is deadly simple – if you own a digital “stagebox” mixer or any other digital mixer that you can control remotely via a wireless app, you’ve already done away with a multicore, so why would you want to run wires out to your active loudspeakers?
I work in quite a few venues where, in order to get the coverage necessary to give the audience a good sound, I have to run multiple front-of-house (FOH) speakers which, incidentally, is a technique that I learned from BBC outside broadcasts many years ago. In any challenging acoustic situation, you’ll get better results at FOH running multiple loudspeakers at low levels, rather than driving a single pair at high level.
In the old, pre-digital mixer, days using multiple speaker systems could be a bit of a pain, as compensating for the delay between sound leaving the FOH speakers and arriving at a repeater set further down the hall meant carrying a digital delay and adjusting the system manually. Nowadays, many modern digital consoles have adjustable delay on their outputs so, although you still have to tune the system manually, you can do that wirelessly, standing out in the hall and adding delay to the signal to the repeaters as required – just remember that 1foot = 1millisecond of sound delay (approximately) and go from there.
The first thing that you’ll notice is just how small the Audiomatrix’s transmitter and the twin receivers are. Their black aluminium casings are both sturdy and rather elegantly attractive and can be configured as belt packs (making them useful for in-ear monitoring), tripod mounted or strap-mounted to speaker stands, carrying handles and the like.
The main audio transmitter inputs and receiver outputs are carried on mini-XLR and all necessary cables and converters to connect to full-size XLR connectors are supplied as part of the AudioMatrix package. The power supply setup is quite flexible – you can run for 6-8 hours from the onboard rechargeable batteries and recharge those and/or run the system continuously from the three supplied mains USB power supplies or from any USB power source, for example USB power packs and the like.
The front panel control setup on both transmitter and receivers is very intuitive – power button, battery and signal status lights, channel up/down select and an alpha-numeric display that can display channel number, volume and mute status. The rear panel is similarly sparse – a +/-20dB gain switch, inputs (transmitter) and outputs (receivers) on stereo mini-jack and on left and right mini-XLR.
The Wi Pro AudioMatrix WI-AMP50 is designed to enable the creation of a line-of-sight stereo digital wireless audio distribution matrix from one transmitter to up to 50 digital wireless receivers without the need to route cables to speakers or run cables from one room to another. As you can imagine, manually pairing a matrix at maximum size would be a bit of a nightmare, but Wi-Pro avoids that by making the AudioMatrix essentially plug-and-play by using its proprietary Seek-and-Link algorithms to enable the receivers to search for audio stream acquisition and automatically link to the transmitter, making manual pairing of transmitters and receivers a thing of the past.
To get round the line-of-sight and distance restrictions (approx 250 feet in the case of the AudioMatrix) of 2.4GHz wireless transmission, a receiver and transmitter can be configured as a relay pair to extend the wireless distance coverage or allow the wireless coverage to go around barriers.
Once the transmitter and receivers have paired, all you have to do is to hook them up to your console and active speakers just as you would with a wired system and play some music. Having two stereo receivers allows you to run either as separate mono left and right sources or to run with two stereo pairs, useful when you want to feed stalls, circle and balcony with their own stereo sound. Pedants like me will of course have to point out that the system isn’t truly wireless as you still have to run leads from a receiver to its active speakers, but it can be only a matter of time before Bluetooth appears to finally rid us of the tyranny of copper wire.
I can’t fault the sound and performance of the WI Pro Wi-AMP50 AudioMatrix Portable Stereo Digital Multicast Wireless Audio System – to me it sounds as good as using wire to connect console and active speakers and it is a lot more convenient in a venue where wire either can’t be run (many churches) or where they have to be run over doorways, air-conditioning ducts and other unfriendly routes. Incidentally, the AudioMatrix system could be used to replace any piece of mono or stereo wiring which gives it a wide range of uses in addition to the FOH setup that I’ve been describing – recording, DJ, headphones, in-ear and floor monitors, lavalier microphones and so on...
I was so impressed by the performance and convenience of the AudioMatrix that I am buying a system for my own use. Although it costs more than a few tens of metres of copper wire, the convenience alone makes it great value for money and, if the concept appeals, you should visit your favourite Wi Pro dealer and have a listen.