Sound Devices and Audio Limited Discuss Their Merger and the A10 Digital Wireless System Launch

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You got chocolate on my peanut butter! Hmmmmm… A tasty idea.

And the metaphors could continue… Horse and Carriage, Peas and Carrots, Yin and Yang, Sound and Picture… Or, since these two companies are so good at keeping a relationship a secret, maybe Hepburn and Tracy? But my favorite in this case is Cheese Curds and Curry (give that one time to sink in). The point is that the combination of the London company Audio Limited with the Wisconsin company Sound Devices, surprising as it was, is a great recipe. It’s great for the two companies, but most of all, great for the professionals who make a living with such products.

Sound & Picture is always on the lookout for collaboration in our industry, so we should have seen this one coming. Both companies are highly respected for top-notch professional audio products: mixers and recorders from Sound Devices and wireless microphone systems from Audio Limited. Both companies are adored internationally for their “customer first” philosophies. Add to that mix the fact that Audio Limited now makes fully digital wireless systems with built-in recorders, and the marriage makes perfect sense.

So, Sound & Picture got together with three of the principals: Matt Anderson, CEO/President of Sound Devices, Jon Tatooles, Co-Founder/Chief Business Development Officer of Sound Devices, and Kishore (Kish) Patel, Managing Director of Audio Limited, to find out what in the world is going on.

Asked when the thought of combining Sound Devices and Audio Limited began, Jon Tatooles recalls conversations with Lee Stone (Audio Limited Technical Director) and Kish Patel as early as 2005 about their audio markets, particularly with regards to digital being the future of wireless equipment.

Jon Tatooles continues: “From our perspective, we’ve always seen recorders and wireless as having a strong connection; they’ve always gone hand-in-hand [in film/video production].

Matt Anderson: “Any time you see an audio bag, there is always a mixer, recorder, and a lot of wireless; so the relationship is obvious; a natural fit.”

Jon Tatooles: “We’ve seen over the years that having a close relationship with wireless manufacturers is important and is beneficial to the customer, as it allows us the knowledge to add new features to make productions easier.”

Matt Anderson: “I was working together directly with Lee [Stone] when we were developing the protocol for our SL-6 [SuperSlot receiver multicoupler] and got to know Lee and Kish from a technical standpoint, and got to know the Audio Limited system well, and was really impressed by it. It’s very important to come together with common core philosophies, which is why we were really excited to get together with Audio Limited. They share phenomenal product design with very high quality and great customer support, and those are the things we built our company on.”

S&P: Was there a eureka moment when it suddenly clicked that the two companies should get together?

Matt Anderson laughs: “We were just talking about that recently, and realized it was such a gradual thing that we don’t remember… it was just a gradual back and forth.”

Jon Tatooles adds: “It’s like any relationship when you realize they’ve got strengths that can help us and we’ve got strengths that would benefit them, and it just got to a point where we decided to move forward and truly explore the idea. And then, of course, there was a lot of work to make it happen, but we did.”

S&P: Sound Devices is renowned for manufacture and service of mixers and recorders, but will you be set up for wireless, as well?

Matt Anderson: “We already are. We’ve hired RF technicians and added some very expensive RF servicing equipment.”

Now… About that A10 Digital Wireless Microphone System
The A10 wireless microphone system is pure digital from the time the audio enters the transmitter. The A10’s exclusive modulation scheme, along with other firmware-driven magic, keeps the audio latency to less than two milliseconds to minimize the comb filtering or “phasing” effect when combining multiple microphones. The internal sampling frequency of 44.1kHz allows a flat audio frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz, which surpasses some competing digital systems. 44.1k, you ask? Yes, and for good reason. 44.1k sampling allows a flat 20Hz-20kHz reproduction while conserving processing power required by 48kHz. Virtually all digital audio inputs these days have sample rate conversion, so blending 44.1k, 48k, and even 32k happens seamlessly. If it were to ever become a concern, remember that the receivers also have analog outputs.

The A10-TX transmitters are mono, and they are also high-quality timecode recorders* (more on that below). The A10-RX receiver is a 2-channel “slot” type capable of receiving two transmitters. Not only is the receiver equipped for two channels, it also has true diversity, which means that it is actually four receivers in a single unit, sharing two antennas.

Using the 3-pin Lemo connector with industry standard wiring, lavalier microphones wired for other transmitter brands should be interchangeable with the A10 transmitters.

Battery life of the transmitter (with two AAs) will typically be about seven hours, which is an ideal interval because it keeps the transmitter working for the entire 6-hour period between meal breaks. Using the “sleep mode” function (available wirelessly with the smartphone app), it is conceivable to stretch a set of fresh batteries an entire 12-hour day.

For a full list of features and specs, click here.

48V Phantom Power and Versatility
The A10 system has much to offer, but a deciding factor for many buyers will be the 48V phantom power and balanced mic input. This allows the bodypack transmitter to be used with a lavalier mic, but, with a Lemo to XLR adapter, it can also be used as a wireless boom transmitter. A very handy feature… Unexpectedly need another wireless boom? Grab an unused bodypack. Need an extra bodypack? Borrow from the wireless boom. Need to plant a studio condenser mic in a car? Plug it into the A10 transmitter without the need for an external phantom power supply. While there are wireless transmitters that have 48v phantom power, no other wireless bodypack can directly accept a lavalier body mic and a phantom powered boom mic interchangeably with only a quick menu selection. This is big. It’s like having a single transmitter for two purposes. Those looking to invest in equipment wisely are probably hearing a money-saving cha-chiiing!

But All This Didn’t Happen Overnight
Kish, who has been with Audio Limited since graduating university with an electronics degree in 1983, gives some background on the A10…

Kish Patel: “We started down this digital road about 15 years ago and had some very specific targets in mind. We achieved most of our goals then but decided to not go to market until we could achieve a 2-millisecond delay or less, maintain the audio quality that Audio Limited was known for, and have a distance range that was equal to or better than our analog wireless system. About seven or eight years into the design, after studying existing modulation schemes, we realized there were none that allowed us to meet the targets we required for our core market. That created quite a challenge because we wanted to have all of the aspects that others had achieved, but also create a product that had all of the improved qualities we had originally targeted, so we designed our own [modulation scheme]. We also realized that regulatory standards were changing with the reallocation of RF spectrum, so we began working to squeeze more channels together to make much more efficient use of that spectrum. The result is that our modulation scheme is completely new with no outdated legacy, so it not only fits the requirements of today’s market, we believe it will also meet the requirements well into the future.”

Jon Tatooles: “When Kish came to us and said Audio Limited had solved ‘all the problems of digital’, we were truly skeptical. I mean, we were very aware of what other manufacturers and developers were facing, but when we saw what Audio Limited had achieved, we were very encouraged, and that got Matt and I thinking that this was something really valuable.”

Matt Anderson: “You know, to have a description of a product, and even having schematics, we could get a certain feel for [the A10 wireless system], but the real proof was when Kish sent us a unit and we did a shootout comparing all of the other products out there —a blind comparison— and the Audio Limited A10 came out on top in both range and audio quality.”

Recording Transmitter: They Did It Their Way
Recording transmitters is not a new idea anymore, but the A10 system records timecode-stamped files Audio Limited’s way. They developed their own data reduction file called “.MIC”, which allows three times more recording time on the SD card than an equivalent .WAV file. For converting to .WAV files, the Mic2Wav conversion utility is a free download for Mac or PC.

Now Available and Shipping
*The Audio Limited A10 Wireless Systavailablealable and shipping everywhere in the world, though the recording feature is available everywhere except the USA.

Curds and Curry? Bon Appétit!

-S&P-

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