SENNHEISER EVOLUTION G4 WIRELESS MICROPHONE & IEM SYSTEMS

Published On July 15, 2018 | Reviews

It’s been 10 years since the G3 launch. The theme of G4 is ‘more’.

Review: Christopher Holder

How big is the wireless mic market? Have a guess.

I found a report from Grand View Research (released in October last year) that valued the global wireless market in 2016 at US$2b, with the handheld segment accounting for about 65%. The market is set to hit US$3.5b by 2025, according to the report.

So we can all agree: it’s a significant market.

Sennheiser and Shure are like the Coles and Woolies of the wireless market. Yes, there are other competent players and there are niche competitors but Sennheiser and Shure rule the roost.

10 YEARS SINCE G3

10 years ago, Sennheiser launched the third generation of its Evolution wireless. It hit a real sweetspot — the price was right and the systems were rich in features.

The market has been anticipating a G4 for some time.

It’s arrived. The G4 offering has been somewhat simplified, or at least easier to get your brain around the alternatives.

There’s the 100 Series, the 500 Series and an IEM series.

The 300 series is aimed more specifically at commercial AV purposes. The ENG kits are called 100P and 500P.

The headline improvements include:

  • Easy linking and setup of up to 12 100 Series channels.
  • Up to 72MHz bandwidth for up to 32 compatible channels with 500 Series (100 Series remains at 42MHz).
  • More power; all transmitters except the 100 Series adds a ‘Hi’ 50mW RF output setting, equivalent to the power of the 6000 series.

There are a few other key points that will squeeze a sigh of relief from rusted on users. There’s now a dedicated Esc button on the rack units. For infrequent users of G3, exiting menus could be a stumper. The power supply has also been squished into a low-profile design that only occupies one socket space on a power board! It’s the little things. Before you get too excited, it’s still the bigger wall wart for the antenna distribution accessories. The 100 series handheld transmitter also now comes with a programmable mute switch. Yay? You’re wondering. Well, never fear, you can disable it completely. On the looks side, well, the new white receiver chassis and space grey IEM units look hot, and all the transmitters now have OLED screens.

As you’d expect, there’s a variety of configuration kits (instrument, lav, headset) along with the choice of your favourite Sennheiser capsule. And like all Evolution products, they use Sennheiser’s HDX compander and are interchangeable, if you only want to upgrade one component.


THE FREQUENCIES

In Australia, the available bands for the 100 series are: AS (520-558), G (566 – 608), B (626-668) and the 1G8 band (1785-1800).

Spectrum allocation gets a fair bit wider for the 300-500 series, but the widest available band is 72MHz: AS (520-558), GW (558 – 626), GBW (606-678). Naturally, the maximum number of selectable frequencies has also been expanded to 3520, up from 1680 on the G3 series.


HIGH PERFORMER

I was sent a channel of 500 Series handheld (with a 965 head), a channel of IEM and a 100 Series headset kit.

I’ve largely been a Shure wireless guy. The experience I’ve had with Sennheiser wireless has mostly been with its cheaper 2.4GHz D1 models. Meanwhile I’ve mostly had experience with Shure’s SLX and BLX series. The 500 Series handheld system feels like a step up. You firstly notice the heft of the transmitter — the mic is a solid aluminium construction and you know you’ve got it in your hand. Apparently the handheld is slightly trimmer than G3 — it’s still reassuringly solid. The sound of the e965 condenser capsule is superb — big and detailed. There’s also no handling noise to speak of. The wireless performance was faultless. This is Generation 4 after all, it’s not Sennheiser’s first wireless rodeo, and it shows.

MORE IS MORE

Everyone wants more wireless. When Evolution wireless started life, the expectation was that the customer may want a channel or two. If you needed eight or more then you were entering the pro realm and should pay accordingly. Now, eight channels is nothing. Theatre, touring bands, churches will routinely have that many channels and more.

Wrangling lots of wireless usually requires some organisational chops and a little RF know-how. For G4 to take care of your frequency management is a real asset. In fact, G4’s overall approach to the simplification of working with multiple channels is most welcome. 

But most people will tell you, the biggest hassle with working with lower cost wireless is the battery situation. It’s a pain in the neck, and if you’re using disposable alkalines then it’s terrible for the environment and expensive.


NOTES FROM A G3 USER

Mark Davie, Editor: For some, RF is second nature. Keeping hundreds of channels on the air, with the antennas and jurisdiction juggling that comes with it? No problems. For others of us rolling into theatres and small stages around the country, it can be a dark art — like acoustics, or IT networking. Even with a healthy grip on the science, every now and then a channel can just disappear into a mess of static for seemingly unknown reasons. 

That’s why setting up and shifting channels has to be simple for a wireless system to succeed. Even the base 100 series Sennheiser G3 units handled that task with relative ease. Either elect a simple system of banks and channels, or individually tune in your frequencies. Those cover all your bases, and IR sync is the cherry on top. 

Still, even with this simple procedure, setting up multiple units has always felt a bit like ‘manual labour’. There had to be a quicker way than churning through the same steps for each unit. With G4, Sennheiser has cut that time significantly. There was always a data port on the back of G3 100 receivers, but on G4 they actually do something. Link up as many as 12 units by daisy chaining their data sockets with the provided RJ10 cables and you’re ready to go. Now you simply use one receiver as your master unit. Dive into the menu, scan the channels, and when you’ve found a bank with enough available frequencies you can simply populate the rest of the units with those frequencies by scrolling through the bank and confirming which receiver you want to absorb that channel. It saves having to dive into the menu of each particular unit, and any time saved during setup is gold. 

Of course, if you want to plot your frequencies manually, you can squeeze 20 channels out of a 100 series system. Up to you.


A TAKE ON LITHIUM

I was really hoping for a big step up in the battery situation. An innovative long-life rechargeable lithium-ion set up (or similar) that would shake up this end of the market. My recent experience with Shure’s GLX-D Advanced system’s batteries with integral charge bay was a real eye opener. The downside is GLX-D is 2.4GHz. 

In Sennheiser world, you can purchase Ni-Mh battery packs and charge bays for up to eight hours of battery life, but not the 13+ hours you get with the lithium alternative.

If Sennheiser did something similar to the GLX-D Advanced with G4 it would have ripped the lid off the wireless universe.

CONSTANT EVOLUTION

It’s interesting, the Sennheiser literature says, ‘Evolution wireless users have come to expect an ever-evolving feature set with each new generation, and evolution wireless G4 is no exception’. I think this statement perfectly encapsulates G4. It’s an evolution. Don’t expect a revolution. Saying that, you can expect rock solid performance, great sound, and if you’re going for the 500 series, you’ve got a genuine pro system that can accommodate 32 channels. All at the right price.

Evolution has been the go-to wireless for so many for so long, and G4 ensures it will stay that way.


IEM: GETTING IN YOUR EAR

Sennheiser has simplified the evolution IEM proposition. There’s one series priced at $1499. The bodypack is well built with a clear OLED display and volume knob that feels right and is easy to manipulate. Out of the box it’s designed to accept a stereo feed. Switching to mono required a look at the Quick Guide but that’s no hanging offence. The IEM kit ships with IE4 headphones which work well, albeit without any insert alternatives. More likely than not, most people will have their own ear pieces. 

The system is compatible with Sennheiser’s WSM (wireless system manager) and will happily work with up to 16 systems (more than enough).

I suspect that there are plenty of groups (bands, theatres, churches etc) that are still sitting on the IEM fence, not knowing whether to jump or not. The G4 IEM is an excellent option. 

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