The Sennheiser G3 has been the dominant wireless mic system for budget-minded video people for many years. Before the G3 was king, the Sennheiser G2 was the most popular choice. When a specific line of products is the leader for so long, it makes you wonder what will come next. The answer is the new Sennheiser AVX digital wireless microphone system, however, I don’t think it’s destined for royalty.
The AVX is innovative, but it’s also a bit of a letdown. Sennheiser deserves credit for coming up with new ideas for the design of the EKP AVX wireless receiver, but, as much as they deserve praise, they also deserve criticism for making a poor decision: both the EKP receiver and the new SK bodypack transmitter require proprietary rechargeable batteries. This is an immediate turn off.
Before I get into the negative aspects of this new system, I want to talk about what’s good about it.
One problem that most wireless microphone systems share is that they’re difficult to operate — especially if you’re using more than one at a time. The Sennheiser AVX has some new capabilities that make it a lot easier to use. If you’re a video producer that wants to avoid unwanted distractions when you’re working, this should really appeal to you.
Sennheiser isn’t the only company that recognized the need for an excellent sounding yet easy-to-use wireless microphone system for video production. The new RODELink wireless mics recently became available, and they also have features that make them easy to operate.
In typical Rode fashion, the new RODELink systems are significantly less expensive than the Sennheiser options. At the time of this writing, a RODELink system costs $399 USD, while the AVX is $899, and the G3 is $629.
Does this make the decision between buying the Sennheiser and the Rode a no-brainer? Should everyone on the planet buy the Rode and forget the Sennheiser options exist? The answer is no.
The Sennheiser G3 and AVX are still viable options. The G3 has a 10-year legacy of dedicated users. There are a massive number of video people that are familiar with using this system. They understand its basic operation, and it has served them well. It makes sense for this kind of person to continue using what works for them.
The AVX will appeal to video producers who have used the Sennheiser G3, but are attracted to the idea of having a similar system that’s easier to use.
There are several reasons why the G3 is popular:
- It sounds great (thanks, in a big way, to its included ME2 lav mic)
- It’s durable (metal construction)
- It’s compact
The new RODELink system, as competitive as it may be, only checks one of these boxes (it’s plastic and bulky). There are a sizable number of people who are willing to spend a little more on Sennheiser equipment, because they trust that it’s going to deliver professional-quality sound. This doesn’t mean that the RODELink doesn’t provide professional-quality sound. It does. It’s just that Sennheiser’s reputation is much stronger.
The AVX EKP Receiver
The new EKP receiver is innovative due to how it connects to your camera, how it powers on and off, and the automated way it wirelessly syncs with the transmitter.
The EKP features a built-in XLR male output connector. If you have a video camera with XLR inputs, you can connect the EKP directly to your camera. This is great, because it eliminates the need to mount the receiver elsewhere on the camera. And, since you don’t have to mount it to a shoe, this means you don’t have to bother with an output cable dangling down and getting in your way.
If you’re shooting with a DSLR, or another kind of camera that doesn’t feature XLR inputs, you will have to use the included XLR-to-minijack adapter. This also means that you will need to mount the receiver somewhere on your camera or rig.
If you’re using a camera with XLR inputs that has “phantom power,” you can turn the EKP receiver on and off with the camera. If you turn the phantom power on, the connected EKP receiver will detect it, and use it as an indicator to power itself on. This gets slightly confusing, because the receiver doesn’t get powered by the phantom power. It still needs to run off of its rechargeable battery. It’s just a way for the wireless receivers to automatically turn on when the camera turns on.
The EKP mounts directly to an XLR jack. On a DSLR, it needs the included shoe mount and XLR output adapter cable.
When the EKP is mounted on your camera, you can swivel it around. This is useful if you need to make space for another piece of gear.
The AVX operates in the 1.9GHz frequency range. What does this mean? It will encounter less traffic than the UHF frequencies (which is what the G3 operates on), and VHF frequencies. Also, the signal it transmits is encrypted. This is a great security feature. It means that someone else can’t tune into your transmission, which can be useful if you’re working with Britney Spears.
The SK AVX Transmitter
If you directly compare the Sennheiser AVX system to the RODELink, it’s obvious which one is the more professional of the two. The AVX is made out of metal components (again, the RODELink is plastic). Another thing that separates the quality of these two systems is how powerful the transmitter is. The SK AVX goes up to 250mW. That’s extremely powerful. Think of it as a tiny FM radio station broadcasting out of your pocket.
How powerful is the RODELink? That’s a good question. I did some searching on the internet, and couldn’t find any numbers. Rode certainly doesn’t share them on their website. Due to the fact that this information is withheld, I’m going to be generous and guess that they’re rated at 30mW.
What I like about the SK AVX transmitter, besides the fact that it has the excellent one-button wireless pairing functionality to sync with the receiver, is that it keeps the two-way communication with the receiver going. If the system senses interference headed its way, it will boost up the transmission power of the SK AVX. The transmitter and receiver will also automatically switch to another channel to avoid interference (the RODELink does this, too).
The Bad Stuff
The two gripes I have with the AVX are its somewhat prohibitively high price, and its lame proprietary batteries. The price is almost understandable. Any wireless system with a transmitter that puts out 250mW of power is going to be expensive.
That leaves us with the batteries. When you buy an AVX kit, you get a single BA 20 battery for the receiver, and a single BA 30 battery for the transmitter. This gives you four hours of power for the receiver, and over eight hours for the transmitter. Currently, you can buy an extra BA 30 at B&H for $49. I searched around and couldn’t find any stores selling the BA 20 yet. Not good.
The batteries do feature mini-USB ports on them, so you can connect a separately available portable power pack to keep shooting. That’s a nice perk. (The RODELink system has this feature as well.)
Proprietary batteries are always overpriced. If you loose one, it’s gone. You can’t run to the nearest drug store or supermarket and grab a fresh set. When your system runs on AA batteries, you can find power anywhere.
Gripes aside, the new Sennheiser AVX is still compelling. The powerful SK AVX transmitter looks like a winner. I love the metal construction, small size, and its short, stubby, and tough-looking antenna. Apparently, it even has a decent sounding automatic level control feature (but everyone who shoots video still needs to fully understand how to set audio levels).
The EKP receiver is extremely compact, and its auto-sync features will make setup and operation a lot easier. It’s impressive how it connects directly to an XLR input and almost becomes part of the camera itself. It’s a forward-thinking design, and the blue tip on its head even looks cool. Bravo!
But those proprietary batteries… yuck. On the bright side, they might prevent some disposable batteries from ending up in landfills. On the dark side, you could end up on a shoot with dead AVX batteries, and dead mini-USB powerpacks. In this situation, you better hope there’s a back-up RODELink kit in your bag.
Purchase Links: AVX with ME2 lav mic - Amazon USA, Amazon.de AVX Combo (hand mic, SK AVX, ME2) - Amazon USA