In the business world, architects create workspaces that are practical, yet inspirational. If aesthetics didn’t matter, we would hold teleconference meetings in anechoic chambers and virtually eliminate the acoustical struggles we have in real-world boardrooms. But alas, we work with what we’re given—and if the budget permits, we call for sophisticated solutions tailored uniquely to the space. If the budget won’t fund an invisible system that magically delivers distant voices into the room as though their owners were sitting right there, we look to turnkey bundles to get the job done. Recently, we’ve seen packaged products that get closer than ever before to our criterion of magical sound, while also pleasing the sensibilities of the designers who want a harmonious vibe in the room so as to infect its occupants with ingenuity. Shure introduced its Microflex Wireless Systems at InfoComm 2013, and these systems meet that description. Microflex Wireless is similar to a very popular and successful system introduced by another manufacturer in the past decade. Considering that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Shure’s quality and reliability are very solid, I expected that the system would deliver excellent results. I was not disappointed.
I evaluated a Shure MXWS4G15/C system, consisting of four MXW8 gooseneck transmitters and MX415LP/C mics, an MXWNCS4 networked charger, an MXWANI4 audio network interface, and an MXWAPT4 access point transceiver. The transmitters are small—roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, and shapely. Each has a power button, mute/active button, earphone jack, low-battery indicator LED, a USB 3.0 port, and a socket for a Shure Microflex gooseneck mic. They also feature a removable battery compartment door that houses the unit’s replaceable Li-Ion battery. The MX415LP/C mics included with the system feature a bi-color ring LED to indicate the transmitter’s active/mute/standby status, along with RF, charging, and power status. These flexible-neck cardioid mics are 15in. long. The transmitters’ USB ports are used for two purposes: providing power to charge the unit and linking the unit with the receiver. This is accomplished with the MXWNCS4 networked charger, a charging base with four bays to accept various Microflex Wireless mics and transmitters. Each bay has two vertical slots with USB connectors, and a USB connector at the front of the base. When an MXW8 transmitter is slid into the bay, it connects via this horizontal USB connector. Up to four MXW8s can be charged simultaneously, and up to eight of the additional Microflex mic/transmitter packages can be charged at once with this base. It can also be secured to the surface; a feature I really like.
The MXWANI4 audio network interface is a 1RU box with controls, indicators, and a headphone jack on the front panel. Phoenix-type audio and Ethernet network connectors on the rear, along with an IEC AC power inlet, power switch, and reset button. Front-panel buttons determine channel selection/mute toggling, input and output level pad toggling, and output attenuation (0dB to -24dB in 1dB increments, -24dB to -72dB in 3dB increments). Front-panel LEDs indicate selected channel, audio signal strength, selected channel level, and system status information. A recessed headphone level knob pops in and out when pressed.
The MXWAPT4 connects to the MXWANI4 via Ethernet, and serves as the physical RF hub for the entire system, receiving audio from all deployed mics, decrypting it, and passing it along to the MXWANI4. It also transmits control information and data, along with an encrypted audio signal to the headphone output of each mic in the system that offers one (e.g. the MXW8 gooseneck base). Inside that plastic enclosure are multiple directional antennas that work together to create a cardioid-shaped RF pattern. Multiple units can be used if a gigabit DHCP router is available. It also contains an embedded web server to provide access to the control software used to manage the system. Underneath is a reset button, an Ethernet port with speed and status LEDs, and a cable routing path. It also includes a plastic shell that can be painted to blend in with the surface upon which it’s placed.
Once I set up the four gooseneck mics in their four transmitters, plugged in the networked charging base, and slid the transmitters to charge their internal batteries, I established the Ethernet connections to the charging base, audio interface, and APT. Knowing that port one on the interface provided power over Ethernet (PoE), my gut instinct was to connect the APT to that port, since it is the only device in the system with no battery or power supply. My instinct was correct. I then connected the MXWNCS to port two and my computer to port four, per the instructions. I powered each device with a power switch, and then installed the Shure Web Device Discovery Application on my computer. I ran this application, and confirmed that all the hardware was properly connected and acknowledged by the system.
The MXWAPT GUI has four main tabs: monitor, configuration, utility, and preferences. The monitor tab monitors signal and status for each of the four channels in the system, including name, remaining battery charge, audio and RF levels, and activity status. It also facilitates channel naming, remote identification of transmitters, control of mic gain, insertion of high-pass and low-pass filters, muting, and gooseneck configuration. Shure includes a spectrum scanner function, which scans to determine how much RF bandwidth is available and how it can be allocated, based on whether signal confidence or more channels is a priority. The configuration tab simply facilitates the system setup and signal routing. The utility tab identifies all system hardware and displays detailed information about each element. Finally, the preferences tab facilitates, for each transmitter (and/or microphone), control over switch and LED behaviors and initial status upon removal from the charger. Muting, RF, linking, and language preferences are also set in this tab, along with password security and saving/loading of configurations and settings. The MXWANI GUI has only two tabs, I/O and preferences. The former indicates levels and muting and pad status. The latter controls GUI language selection, networking mode, and front-panel security for the unit.
The system hardware is very solid, which is what I expect from Shure. Setup and configuration were straightforward, and the charging and deployment of microphones (which could be handled by non-technicians) is easy. A professional would handle the installation and configuration, and likely not even return to make adjustments, leaving the day-to-day operations to the business professionals who use the system. Shure really nailed the browser-based GUI. It makes sense to the user, and its cross-platform functionality is truly a breath of fresh air. The system is scalable, with the capacity to control a large installation from a single computer. The choice to adopt the Dante protocol was very smart. Overall, the system is simply solid and meets our standard of integrating aesthetically into modern business environs. In terms of dollars, it is not as economical as other competing products, but the Shure badge allows me to relax, knowing it’s very solid in performance and longevity.
Pros: Excellent quality audio, easy user setup and recharging, Dante networking, encryption
Cons: More costly than another manufacturer’s product with which it competes
Applications: AV conferencing, boardroom, multi-purpose room, auditorium
RF Carrier Frequency Range
USA, Canada, Mexico: 1920–1930MHz
Europe, Asia, Middle East: 1880–1900MHz
Working Range: 50 meters (160ft.)
Audio Frequency Response: 50Hz–20kHz (+1, -3dB) (Dependent on microphone type)
Dynamic Range: >99dB, A-weighted
Latency: 18ms, nominal
RF Sensitivity: -87dBm, minimum
Network Addressing Capability: DHCP, link-local, static
MXWANI4 Audio Network Interface
Audio Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+1, −1.5dB)
Dynamic Range (20Hz–20kHz, A-weighted, typical)
Output Noise (20Hz–20kHz, A-weighted, typical)
THD+N: <0.05% (20Hz to 20kHz@ +4dBu analog in, -10dBFS digital in)
Analog Connections - Outputs
Configuration: Active Balanced
Clipping Level (minimum)
Analog Connections - Input(s)
Configuration: Active Balanced
Clipping Level (minimum)
MXW8 Gooseneck Transmitter
Gain Adjustment Range: -25 to +15dB (in 1dB steps)
Maximum Input Level (Mic gain @ -16dB): −9dBV
Headphone Output: 3.5mm (1/8”), dual mono (will drive stereo phones)
Battery Life: Up to 9 hours
Battery Type: Rechargeable Li-Ion
Charge Connector: USB 3.0 Type A
Microphone Connector: 6-pin connector for Shure MX405/10/15
Input Impedance (@ 1kHz): >20kΩ
John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz., and produces and co-hosts a top-rated morning radio talk show in Phoenix. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast and voice production services.