AKG WMS 40 PRO
With a wide range of options and the addition of the innovative MicroTools, this wireless line has much to offer.
Text: Simon Honywill
AKG makes my favourite microphone ever. In the C414-ULS I find all I want from a transducer. I use it on everything from cello to guitar amps, from drum overheads to choirs, and have captured some surprising results with all manner of ethnic weirdness from Azerbaijan to Zaire. Any orchestral stage I have been charged to reinforce will be littered with mics bearing the triple-cardioid logo. When I saw kd Lang cradling a ULS gently in her palm during a live performance, I thought ‘wow, that’s crazy, I must give that a go’, but then changed my mind when I thought about the monitor engineer – not something I do often enough I’m afraid to say… sorry guys.
Before it arrived, I knew nothing about the WMS 40 system. I’ve used precious few AKG wireless systems in the past, the most notable being a very tidy in-ear system with some interesting presets designed to cater for user listening preferences and help counter adverse acoustic conditions. One lasting impression I have of AKG wireless systems is that they’re quite expensive. The WMS 40 would seem to break that mould, it’s affordable yet maintains the AKG quality standards expected of the brand. No-one will be surprised to learn that the system is built in the promised land for the 21st century, China, whilst still designed and engineered in Austria.
The system comprises a series of compatible components designed to provide ‘turnkey solutions’ to ‘established applications for wireless transducer technology’. (I think I need to spend less time listening to marketing speak at trade shows!) What this means is that WMS 40 PRO is available in four ready-to-go kits, all UHF, and all using the same diversity receiver but with appropriate transmitters depending on your application – a handheld vocal mic for the Vocal Set; a head-worn mic for the Sports Set; a belt-pack transmitter and jack input cable for the Instrument Set; and a belt-pack transmitter and lavalier mic for the Presenter Set. It’s radio mic buying made easy for punters who don’t want to know how it works.
There are three ranges to choose from too, depending on the budget and application – the Single range, with fixed frequency single transmitter and receiver is as described above, but beyond that it gets a little more involved. I think the marketing department of AKG has been doing some heavy-duty market research, quite possibly spending time in sweaty health clubs watching aerobics instructors in leotards; in cabaret clubs watching tribute bands; and definitely in hotel rooms watching talk shows on cable TV. The Dual range features several combinations of two fixed frequency transmitters, all sharing a dual-channel diversity receiver. The Vocal Set, not surprisingly, consists of two identical hand-held transmitters. The Guitar/Vocal set would be ideal for a David Gray tribute, featuring a headset mic and radio guitar bug. The Dual Presenter Set puts me in mind of hyperactive TV presenters running around shopping malls wearing a headset mic and breathlessly interviewing hapless shoppers with a hand-held stuck in their face. Beyond Dual is the Flexx range. This is essentially the Single range of sets, but with a switchable, three-frequency option. The obvious advantage here is that if the bingo caller in the club next door is on the same frequency as your karaoke system, you can choose another frequency! One last thing worthy of mention for the entire product range is the provision of a charger, which will take both beltpacks and hand-held transmitters – a smart bit of thinking from the design department.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE WIRELESS
So that’s the heart of the matter dealt with. In WMS 40 Pro, AKG has produced a customer-friendly range of radio mic systems that make it very clear and simple to choose the right option for your personal application, without you having to spend a fortune (all Flexx systems come in at around $599, by way of example). But they’ve also gone beyond that, and this is where the Pro 40 system gets a little more interesting.
In a world where you could be forgiven for thinking that everything has already been invented, AKG has sought to re-invent the radio mic. There is nothing unusual or particularly different about the standard range of transmitters and receivers, but AKG has come up with something called MicroTools to enhance and expand the product’s potential, and I think it’s here that they have made the difference. MicroTools amounts to a selection of cleverly designed, compatible alternatives for transmitters and receivers that are, frankly, really quite sexy. By examining the applications of wireless systems, and then applying modern materials and perhaps borrowing some CIA technology, AKG has produced these little gems that in our mad rush for ever more convenient ways of going about our daily business, may well fit the bill very well indeed.
Take the SO40, for example. SO stands for Snap-On, and we’re not talking aero industry tool chests here. SO40 is a snap-on transmitter that is designed to work with any dynamic microphone, fitted as it is with an XLR connector, and is actually only very slightly larger than an XLR connector. It will turn that favourite live mic of yours into a wireless system effortlessly and in quick time. Its size is necessitated only by the fact that it requires a single AAA battery to give it credible battery life (approximately 30 hours) – it’s a very neat little device. A rechargeable battery will also enable use of the CU40 charger. Combine the SO40 with the PR40 receiver with a pair of small diversity aerials and you have an extremely compact instant radio system for not very much money (around $578 in all). The PR40 is primarily designed for use with ENG (Electronic News Gathering) cameras, and comes complete with Velcro to stick it to the side of your Ikegami. But I can see some friends of mine, who are accomplished singers on the local live circuit, being very excited about this particular combination. Alternatively, if you’re a nomadic guitarist who enjoys a bit of a stroll while shredding, the GB40 is basically a jack plug with a radio transmitter attached, and gives your instrument a touch of Jedi chic. The last little gizmo I have been sent is the MP40, which stands for Micro Pen, and this is something that no business presentation should be without. It is essentially a C55L capsule fitted via a retractable cable to a micro-transmitter that sits in your top pocket just like a pen, with the added advantage over a pen that it won’t stain your best Pilaco. Now you can have a lavalier radio with you wherever you go, with a PR40 mini receiver and selection of output cables (supplied) primed and ready to rock! David Brent would love this.
With MicroTools, AKG has come up with some great gadgets for filling certain wireless market niches, and I think that these will go a long way to helping the Pro 40 range sell very well. But there’s one thing that I must say from a personal view that counts against them. For some reason, which I imagine is to do with consistency of product recognition, AKG has chosen to deliver MicroTools surrounded by enough packaging to break the fall of a Hollywood stunt man. Yes it’s recyclable, but it’s unnecessary and large companies need to take responsibility for the energy and resources they use. I would like to think that AKG might reconsider this decision, because that aside, here is a product range that is modern, well designed, very attractively priced and has a great brand name on it – a recipe for success.