Audio specialist Sennheiser updates popular wireless series with multiple options for filmmakers.
If anything, Sennheiser's evolution wireless G3 series epitomizes the Bert Lance quote, "if ain't broke, don't fix it." When the company updated the G2s in 2010, it was in the midst of the Canon 5D/7D craze and it instantly became a standard for many filmmakers in need of a reliable wireless solution.
Eight years later, the German company is offering the evolution wireless G4 series in four different lines—100, 300, 500, and IEM—for live sound, business/education, and broadcast/film markets. Similar to the G3 series, kit options are offered that include bodypack transmitters and receivers, lavs, plug-ons, handheld mics, and rack-mounted receivers.
Is it worth the upgrade? Let's compare the new broadcast/film line and see how it stacks up against the evolution wireless G3 and AVX line. A few caveats before we start: the products are not available until April 2018, so although it's very unlikely, specs could change. We reached out to Sennheiser for more information and their Product Manager of Professional Audio, Dennis Stegemerten, did reply via email to five of our questions, but couldn't arrange a phoner to discuss further.
In reviewing the technical specs of the SK 100-p G4 transmitter and EK 100-p G4 receiver, we found them to be identical to the G3 series. Both G3/G4 transmitters and receivers tout the same wideband FM modulation and the same 1680 frequencies across a 42 MHz band on the UHF spectrum. They both have the same signal-to-noise ratio, squelch, and audio output level 42 dB. The transmitters also share the same 30 mW RF power output and frequency response. Even the dimensions and eight hour operating time are the same (2 AA batteries). The only difference was an increase in power consumption and weight, from 160g to 180g, which could be a misprint on the data sheet.
The 100-p G4 series has a new housing design while retaining the same hematite color from the G3 series. Sennheiser also changed the orange LCD of the G3 to a high-contrast black-and-white LCD. More importantly, the 100-p G4 series is backward-compatible with previous evolution systems, giving you the ability to mix and match G4/G3 transmitters, receivers, handhelds, and plug-on transmitters.
For good reason, Sennheiser is declaring the 500-p G4 series its professional line. The company has integrated a new chipset to allow for 2,880 frequencies across a 88 MHz band where up to 32 channels can be used in parallel, compared to 12 presets (20 manually) with the 100-p G4 series. More channels means there's less of a chance of interference on location.
Beyond adding 1,200 new frequencies, the specs of the SK 500-p G4 transmitter and EK 500-p G4 receiver are actually fairly comparable to the 100-p G4 series. The transmitter offers an improved signal-to-noise ratio of 115 dBa compared to 110 dBa on the SK 100-p G4. On the receiver side, intermodulation attenuation, squelch, peak deviation, and the audio output level of 42 dB are the same. Dimensions and runtime are identical.
Sennheiser did add switchable RF output power with 10 mW, 30 mW, and 50 mW options. It's a nice addition when comparing it to the 100-p G4 series that has a single 30 mW option. If you're unfamiliar with RF output power, in layman's terms, it's the wireless signal strength. A higher mW doesn't always mean better (intermodulation can still occur) but higher numbers can produce a wider signal area. Like the 100-p G4, the 500-p G4 received a cosmetic makeover with an all-black design and the aforementioned black-and-white LCD.
The money for the 500-p G4 appears to be going toward the frequencies and higher-end accessories from Sennheiser. The 500-p G4 kits include the MKE 2 lav, the SKP 500-p G4 plug-on transmitter (phantom power/selectable RF output power - SKP 100-p G4 doesn't), and 900 series handheld microphones.
The AVX system is popular because of its small footprint and ease of use. It's the closest thing to plug-in-play for wireless audio currently available. Ideal for run-and-gun, doc, and wedding shooters alike, the EKP AVX receiver connects directly to the XLR input of the camera and matches to your camera's input sensitivity without needing to adjust the audio level on the microphone. It can be paired with the SK AVX bodypack transmitter (MKE 2/ME 2-II lavs) or the SKM AVX-835 handheld microphone.
The wireless transmits about 30 feet (9 m) compared to the 330 feet (100 m) on the G3 and G4 series. As a power-saver, the AVX automatically switches on and off with your camera.
The FCC sold off the 600 MHz and 700 MHz bands to mobile and cable companies, currently transitioning the 600 MHz band over to them.
Depending on where you shop, Sennheiser offers its wideband wireless in different bands, ranges, and systems. You'll see "A1, A, AS, G, GB, B, C, D, E JB, K+ or 1G8" next to the name. These letters relate to its specific frequency range. For example, the "A" range of the EK 100 G4 receiver is 516-558 MHz. The EK 500 G4 has a frequency range of 520-558 MHz for "AS." This is the UHF spectrum it operates on to transmit audio wirelessly.
If you're in the United States, stay away from 608-806 MHz frequency ranges. The FCC sold off the 600 MHz and 700 MHz bands to mobile and cable companies, currently transitioning the 600 MHz band over to them. While you can still navigate in certain frequencies of the 600 MHz band, it's tricky. Beginning on October 13, 2018, it will be prohibited for companies (and people) to sell or rent them without the new RF output power and frequency requirements. Sennheiser discontinued selling these frequencies to U.S. markets, and you should be cautious if you find them on reseller sites like eBay.
If you're looking for a smaller footprint with quick setup, the AVX is a solid choice.
If you already own the evolution wireless G3 series, it would be hard for us to encourage an update to the 100-p G4 series. If you want a slightly different housing and a black-and-white LCD, go for it (if specs change before the release date, we may have a different opinion).
The additional frequencies in the 500-p G4 series and the ability to incorporate better microphones are both great and worth the extra $300.
If you're looking for a smaller footprint with quick setup, the AVX is a solid choice. However, it doesn't offer a ton of range and the ME 2-II lav kit price is $100 more than the new 100-p G4 series.
100-p G4 series available kits
- ew 135-p G4 (SKM 100 G4 handheld transmitter w/ e835 cardioid capsule, receiver, accessories) $599
- ew 112-p G4 (ME 2-II omnidirectional lav, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $599
- ew 122-p G4 (ME 4-II cardioid lav, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $599
- ENG Combo (ME 2-II, transmitter/receiver, plug-on, accessories) $799
- SK 100 G4 transmitter $299
- EK 100 G4 receiver $349
- SKP 100 G4 plug-on transmitter $299
- SKM 100 G4 handheld transmitter (capsules sold separately) $299
- SKM 100-S G4 hanheld transmitter with mute switch (capsules sold separately) $299
- ME 2-II omnidirectional lav $149
500-p G4 series available kits
- ew 512-p G4 (MKE 2 lav, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $899
- ew 500 BOOM G4 (transmitter/receiver, plug-on, accessories) $899
- Pro Film Combo (MKE 2, transmitter/receiver, plug-on, accessories) $1,295
- SK 500 G4 transmitter $399
- EK 500 G4 receiver $449
- SKP 500 G4 plug-on transmitter $449
- SKM 500 G4 handheld transmitter (capsule sold separately) $399
- MKE 2 omnidirectional lav $389
AVX series available kits
- AVX ME2 (ME 2-II lav, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $699
- AVX MKE2 (MKE 2 lav, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $899
- AVX-835 (SKM AVX-835 handheld transmitter, receiver, accessories) $799
- AVX Combo (ME 2-II, SKM AVX-835 handheld transmitter, transmitter/receiver, accessories) $999
- SK AVX $349
- EKP AVX $499
- SKM AVX-835S (switch) $459
- ME 2-II omnidirectional lav $189