Axient Digital was several years in the making before its release late last year, with Dubai rental house SLS Productions investing in the region’s first Axient ADX system. In an exclusive for BroadcastPro ME, Dan Dignan, Head of Audio at SLS Productions, gives us his verdict on the wireless system
SLS Productions took delivery of the first Axient ADX system in the Middle East late last year, from NMK Electronics. The system included ten ADX2 with KSM8 capsules, sixteen ADX1, four AD4Q quad receivers and four AD4D dual receivers.
I had recently joined SLS over the summer as the Head of Department (HOD) of Audio and was given the challenge of bringing the department up to date. I had some key criteria for any equipment I was adding to our inventory. It had to be future-proof, high-end, able to make a quick return on investment (ROI) and, most importantly, redundant.
Axient Digital was high on my list. I was familiar with the AD series. The ADX had been demonstrated at CABSAT the previous year, and we immediately saw the benefits of such a system. Many companies in the region were waiting for Axient Digital as a suitable, affordable upgrade to their ULXD or UR4D systems. My timing was perfect, as ADX was released just a couple of months after I joined SLS Productions. I felt it appropriate to wait for what proved to be a fantastic product that we have used on every major event we have done in the last nine months.
The key selling point of the ADX series is the redundancy it offers. When your AD4Q receivers are networked with an AXT600 spectrum manager and an AD610 showlink access point, you can create a system with your microphones and belt-packs that allows you to set multiple back-up frequencies. The AD610 monitors the room you are in, and if a conflict arises for any reason, the system will automatically switch (if set to) both the transmitter and the receiver’s frequency, with almost no noticeable audible switchover – certainly not one that will be noticed by your audience.
This really appealed to me due to the region we are in and the lack of communication between clients and suppliers on certain high-end events. We often have all sorts of new frequencies coming into an event, with TV outlets and news broadcasters, royal protocol and other event companies all showing up after doors open to the public. The large corporate events in the region do not allow for mistakes. The region often plays host to political leaders and VVIPs on our stages. The budgets for these events are huge. Issues of any kind are not acceptable for a rental company; you are only as good as your last show.
I used to have to run around the press pits checking what transmitters were there and what frequencies they were operating on, with a list of available frequencies on a sheet of paper if anyone was close. It used to be a source of unnecessary stress in what is often a highly-strung atmosphere on comms already. The redundancy of ADX is a highly sellable item for clients for this exact reason, along with obvious back-ups such as a UPS on the power and a redundant loop on the consoles and the system. To be able to offer a microphone that can’t be interrupted has been a fantastic selling tool to some of our clients and a great relief from unwarranted stress for my crew and me.
The 2018/19 season has seen the exponential growth of the Saudi Arabian market. SLS Productions, with its partners at 360 Productions, has been at the forefront, catering to many of the country’s first and largest events. From corporate events talking about future cities and Vision 2030 to international artists playing all over the country, Axient Digital has been used at all these events – and 90% of the time, along with PSM1000 and the P10+ IEM system, this has been the rider’s choice product.
With the rate of growth in Saudi Arabia, SLS is dealing with international artists so regularly now that my purchase decisions have become heavily rider-driven, and there isn’t another wireless product more rider-friendly on the market. I am impressed with how Shure has managed to fit onto the back of the AD4Q with analogue, AES and Dante options. We often run Dante and analogue, allowing the use of all four channels with a secondary source.
With Dante running over our Luminex network, we have the option of taking the lines into a different rack than the analogue lines. Over the past few months, our ADX system has been used by the likes of Mariah Carey, Pitbull, Shaun Paul, Deadmau5, Tiesto, Martin Garrix, Marshmallow, Tyga and Rick Ross, as well as Arab superstars like Balqees and Amr Diab.
Another impressive feature of the Axient system is Quadversity. This allows me to have four antennas per AD4Q. This does limit the number of channels on the receiver to two, and you do need to have an appropriate distribution amplifier if you want to use more than two channels, but in certain scenarios it proves extremely useful.
One case study is when we used Quadversity back in February, to great effect. Local property developer Meraas was announcing a new large construction project at its City Walk complex and needed coverage of about 1km of roadway for a Brazilian-style carnival where instruments needed to be picked up on the move. Our solution was to use four professional wireless HA 8089 helical antennas, placed fairly centrally and high in all directions of the crossroads – the centre point of the carnival. We had also purchased a professional wireless quad 4×4 antenna distro, which allowed us to have eight channels of Quadversity with four AD4Q in our rack.
I was astounded by the results. The belt-packs were set to high power, but I was nearly 300m away from the antennas and still had clean signal.
I see future applications with SLS and Quadversity, and we are currently looking at options of RF over fibre for sporting events where we need full RF coverage over stadia. We will run antennas long distances from the racks over fibre and place them in corners for effective coverage. This will complete our current plans with wireless microphone systems, unless an event comes in where we need to increase our reasonably sizeable inventory.
ADX also brings in a green element to the product, removing the option to use throw-away batteries. So far, the batteries have performed well. Out of the 20 ADX2 batteries that came with the system, 19 are still going strong, and we have had no failures on the 32 ADX1 batteries. The batteries last for an average of seven hours depending on use and power settings, and the charging stations are convenient and quick. Even if I had to replace half of them once a year, that would still be cheaper than the cost of AA batteries.
We aren’t necessarily a green industry, but the world is moving that way quickly. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be following suit where we can. Thousands of batteries each year per company is certainly a decent start.
There are also items that I haven’t used yet but see a need for in the future. We aren’t as challenged for spectrum space in the Middle East as in other parts of the world, but the high-density feature certainly allows for a squeezing of this, which I am sure will happen in time. Also, the bandwidth Axient has access to is certainly helpful in the matter of the future.
Another feature I haven’t used yet but am sure I will soon is the encryption option you can place on the transmitted digital data. I see this as a sellable item for events that require an element of confidentiality and security, such as government discussions.
Lastly, I see the need for frequency diversity in large corporate events and those that require sensitive handling. This doubles up the belt-packs needed but allows a redundancy to a secondary pack carrying the same signal if there is a transmitter failure. I believe the ADX2FD is coming out in the region shortly, with two transmitters on a single handheld. I like this feature, as people often tend to hold the transmitter at the bottom, which can cause issues. A secondary transmitter near the top of the transmitter solves this.
It’s hard to find flaws in the system. If I was to mention one, it’s that the mini belt-pack doesn’t have a TA4 connector. I understand why – there simply isn’t room for it. But it restricts its use, so I’m not looking to purchase the micro belt-pack at this stage. Arguably, it’s not for rental houses anyway and is designed more for theatre applications. However, when there is a presenter, it’s always handy to have a mini without the obvious clip-on point or pocket, where you end up having to clip it to the back of a dress. I’m also looking forward to a UR3 replacement, which I hope is in development.
Axient Digital is a major upgrade from the ULXD and the UR4D systems, and a much needed replacement from the first Axient system, hitting the correct price point and bringing all the modern-day features I expect from a Shure product, along with some unexpected extras I didn’t know I needed. The product is beautifully crafted and looks the part on any stage or any TV, especially with the KSM8 on top. The chrome option is a flashier alternative, as used by Mariah.
The whole product has obviously been thought about in great detail, even the smaller things like the locking IEC connectors supplied. The RF links are also now on one side to allow easier access to patch. All these little details add up to a very well-conceived product.
To summarise, there isn’t another product in this area that I would purchase at this time. It is priced very well, and I believe we have already received our ROI within nine months. There are obviously competing products that are very reputable, namely the 6000 series from Sennheiser, which is the only other product I see on riders. But for me it was difficult to consider a switch, as all my microphones have TA4 connectors.
Axient Digital ticks all the boxes. I haven’t spoken at all about audio quality, but I think this is an expected prerequisite. It does sound fantastic though. I am a big fan of the KSM8 also, as long as it’s held correctly or is on a mic stand. No microphone likes being cupped, and the KSM8 is no exception.
As we continue to expand over the coming years with Saudi Arabia and Dubai Expo 2020, Axient Digital will be the only wireless microphone product I purchase with SLS. That is the biggest accolade I can give.