Preliminary Report: More Wireless Channels May be Taken

This is only a preliminary report, but that’s appropriate, as the information described here is still not finalized.

The FCC is giving pretty suggestive indications that they’ll be taking more bandwidth away from our range of available wireless microphone frequencies. Nothing is firm yet, but it appears that they’re targeting part of the 600 MHz range

The clearest indications are suggesting that the change wouldn’t happen until 2017 at the earliest, though that may be an early date. Those sources are also suggesting that the frequencies being considered are the 658 MHz to 697 MHz.

You’ll remember that the FCC sold 698 MHz to 806 MHz in 2008, largely to cell phone companies, though much of one block was purchased for television broadcasts. The sale generated $19.592 billion; that’s a lot of money, and it appears that they’re motivated by the same goals again.

There are some significant differences this time around:

·         The preliminary reports are that they’re looking at fewer frequencies (658 MHz to 697 MHz), though that decision, like all the others, is still up in the air; it remains possible that they could expand the auction.

·         There has been some not insubstantial noise made, largely by Sennheiser, to require the winning bidders to compensate the existing bandwidth users (that would be you and me!) for the loss of the use of the frequencies.

·         There is apparently discussion going on about re-opening some of the frequencies that had been previously removed from availability to wireless microphone use. The rumors center around frequencies “adjacent to digital TV channels.”

·         Last, but certainly not least, the FCC appears to be working with a more transparent process this time around. This is, in reality, pretty advance information: much better than last time!

While discussing these changes in the RF spectrum, and the growing demand for the very limited amount of RF spectrum that’s available (a limitation of physics), we discussed other options for the demand for wireless audio devices. We discussed infrared technology, Bluetooth, and WiFi as potential options among those technologies currently available. Nobody admitted to be working on completely new technology.

Disclaimer: This article is a summary of “not authorized for public announcement” conversations about public information. While the individuals in the conversation are very familiar with the industry, much of this is rumor and none of it is an official announcement (as far as I know) yet. This article is merely discussing rumors in the field.

And even the most alarming rumors are certain that nothing will happen until 2017 at the earliest. This is not (this time) a rush project.

A Skeptic Looks at the Behringer X32

You want my perspective on the Behringer X32?
This is the place in the conversation where I generally hesitantly ask, “Do you want the polite answer, or do you want my honest and politically incorrect answer?” 

But I know which one you want. So here goes:

Behringer is marketing this, as some have said, as “a Midas design wrapped in a Behringer blanket.”
When I first heard it, I discussed that concept with Midas factory people, and in the process, I learned some fascinating new swear words. . . .

The first report was “The X32 has Midas preamps,” which also generated substantial “highly colorful invective” from Midas.

The second report was, “Midas helped us design the preamps” which, I’m told, is enough closer toward the truth, so that you can even see the truth from there (“ *cough!* They made a phone call.”), but still brought colorful invective into the conversation.  

At that point, it appears that Uli Behringer’s name was brought into the conversation, and the Midas guys were reminded who it was that signed their paychecks…. Now they try so very diligently to stay out of that conversation, but they do toe the party line when you push them.

From an outside-of-Behringer perspective, the X32 board is kind of confusing to me: it is actually far better built than Behringer analog boards, and it both works and sounds better than the previous Behringer digital board (which gave new scope and clarity to the term “hot mess”).

A friend whom I trust (and who drives an Avid SC48 regularly) may have said it best: “Huh. It doesn’t suck. Who’da thought?” And now he recommends the X32 to small churches.

The board sounds pretty good. I can’t comment on “better than the other guys” because I don’t have that comparison data, though I do know that Behringer has earned their reputation for over-statement (see above).
A better question for the entry-level digital board world is, “Does it sound pretty good?” And yes, it really does sound pretty good! It doesn’t suck! 

Does it sound better than the other guys? No, but it's not unusable. 

It’s not as easy to use as some others digital consoles; in fact, they actually are consistent with Midas on that issue: neither digital console is very intuitive! But it’s not ridiculous. It can be learned.

The more important question is whether it will last as long as the functionally bulletproof industry leaders (who have asked not to be named in an article about Behringer). The answer to this one is as yet unknown, but I haven't met a single person who was willing to even entertain the idea that it might.

The X32 doesn’t have the legacy of durability on its side. Behringer analog consoles have had a rough failure rate (in my experience) over the past year, and the first shipment of X32s had a 50% fail rate (my experience; I’m told it was closer to 30% nationally), but they seem to have fixed that; recent shipments have not had failures: none. I confess that I am going to be very interested to see how long they DO last.

Behringer has got a few things incredibly right:

·                     Price point. ‘Nuff said. Ain’t nobody does price point like Behringer does.
·                     Moving faders. I don’t know that most churches need moving faders, but some a lot of sound guys want to have ‘em just to have them. (One of my concerns: moving faders strike me as the best candidate for the first break point on an economy-built board.)
·                     Gadgets: It’s easy to add Behringer personal monitor mixers and (“AND!” Are you listening, Soundcraft?) their digital snake. No, I know that nobody in their right mind, buying a board in this price range needs a digital snake. But they want one.
·                     It doesn’t suck! Either in sound quality or in usability. Again: that’s worth noticing. This is a very usable board.
·                     Price point. Did I mention that? This is an awful lot of digital mixer for $3k. Wow.
·                     Durability: This is the scary part of the conversation.

The thing that scares me the most is what I call the TT24 Syndrome: There was another price-point-driven digital mixer a few years back that comes to mind. I won’t mention the brand name, because that’s not polite, but it was a great mixer, when it came out of the chute! It sold well and performed well over the first couple of years. They were wonderful!

And then the factory had some challenges: they had done quite well in developing the board and selling the board, but they didn’t do as well supporting it. And pretty soon, the firmware updates were fewer, and there was more time between them, and they didn’t solve as many of the outstanding issues… Eventually, the whole project was kind of swept under the carpet in the back of their unnamed Woodinville warehouse, and nobody ever talks about it any more.

Behringer can smile and point to features all day long, but the real-world success of the mixer won’t actually be determined in 2013, and probably not in 2014 either.

On the other hand, for a $3000 mixer with all these features? You know, it doesn’t suck. I think I'm impressed!