The topic of “wired vs wireless for guitar” Has always been a highly controversial topic among guitarists, and even more so among bass players, with aspects such as radio frequency ranges, sound, dynamics, background noise, range, dropouts and battery consumption being the focus, but the safety aspect is completely left out .
This is exactly what a radio technician named Leo Fender had on his screen when he presented the world’s first wireless system for guitar in 1961. The TR-105 wireless remote unit, as it is officially called, was primarily intended to protect musicians from electric shocks that were almost the order of the day at the time due to poor electrical installations and lack of grounding.
The Fender prospectus also addressed electric bass players, acoustic guitarists and even accordionists. Visually, the TR-105 hardly differed from today’s systems: a bodypack transmitter in cigarette box format with a permanently attached guitar cable, which also served as a transmitter antenna, and a compact receiver without visible antennas. A Mercury battery gave the transmitter 100-150 operating hours, the frequency response was already 20Hz-20kHz, but the range of action was only around 15 meters.
The highly sensitive FM tuner enabled either FM radio reception (!) Or distortion-free reception of the instrument signal from the bodypack transmitter. As so often, Leo Fender was way ahead of his time. In the absence of interest, the fairly reliable TR-105 disappeared from the Fender program after just one year. The most popular systems came from the US manufacturer Nady in 1976, but were rather un-affordable. We brought the first affordable wireless guitar system to the market in 1981 with the Ibanez TR-2, which at that time was approx 459 (recommended retail price).
It can hardly be denied that good-sounding and practice-oriented wireless systems, especially for performance on stage, actually only have advantages. Nevertheless, many guitarists and bassists do not trust roasting and prefer to trust “their” cable. In any case, the security aspect no longer plays a major role in view of VDE regulations and EU standards, at least in our regions, although in the case of ground loops, the good old Gaffa tape is still used to mask amplifier earths.
Today, a number of providers offer relatively inexpensive and well-functioning isolating transformers. However, if you are traveling abroad, especially in countries where electrical installations are not as precise, will surely want to entrust its own security to a wireless system. The advantages of stage performance also outweigh the advantages, because neither you nor your bandmates can climb on the cable. Plugs, jack sockets or frame panels made of plastic, in the worst case also broken ceiling or frame sections can be avoided, just like cable knots and trip hazards.
Others shy away from the transmitter’s dependency on batteries or rechargeable batteries, although power consumption has been drastically reduced in recent years, and today three gigs including sound checks are already possible with two AA alkaline batteries. Some manufacturers even offer transmitters with environmentally friendly and more cost-effective lithium-ion batteries and quick-charge function (Line6, Shure, stageClix, etc.), whereby the current battery or battery status is usually displayed on both the transmitter and receiver side to indicate that the battery needs to be recharged at an early stage .
Since the Dutch stageClix system has by far the smallest and lightest bodypack transmitter of all competitors, it initially worked with two AAA batteries that could only be replaced by the manufacturer, which includes shipping, Time and relatively high costs were involved. In the meantime, stage-Clix also offers a special battery for – even if tricky – self-replacement.
Modern wireless devices today work with digital technology, the sound and transmission quality of which depends on the quality of the AD and DA converters and their computing speed. Latencies of 1.5-3 milliseconds are standard today. To clarify: In dry air at 20 ° Celsius, the speed of sound is 343.2 meters per second, according to Adam Riese or calculator, 34.32 cm per millisecond.
With a cable connection and a distance of 1 meter from the loudspeaker, a latency of 3 ms should be perceptible. But it’s not, is it? The information on the range of the systems can only be seen as a guideline, since the guitar / bass signal hits the ear with a delay of almost 58 ms, 20 meters away from the loudspeaker, and you get really into swimming in terms of groove technology.
The hacking around the radio frequencies assigned to the music business has meanwhile subsided somewhat. the following frequencies are available free of charge:
* VHF band = Very High Frequency (174-230 MHz), reallocated
* UHF band = Ultra High Frequency (823-832 MHz, LTE center gap, ML 800, valid until at least December 31, 2025)
* UHF band (863-865 MHz, ISM band = Industrial, Scientific and Medical, valid until at least December 31, 2023).
* 1G8 band (1785-1805 MHz, LTE center gap ML 1G8, valid until at least December 31, 2025)
* 2G4 band: 2400-2483.5 GHz (valid until at least 31.12.2024)
Registration and thus chargeable radio frequency ranges include 470-608 MHz, 614-703 MHz and 733- 823 MHz. Since the frequencies above 694 MHz are increasingly occupied by the LTE signals from the providers of mobile Internet access, systems that work (also) on lower frequencies are preferable anyway. When purchasing a wireless system, digital systems in the 1.8GHz or 2.4GHz band are recommended in any case, since they not only do without sound-influencing compander, but now also offer transmission ranges from 10Hz-20 kHz and dynamic ranges from 110dBA, which is special Bassists who are likely to take wireless paranoia. The digital channel lock technology sometimes used even encrypts the audio signals and thereby avoids signal interference in the ubiquitous WLAN smog.
Among the supporters of the cable, one talks about the qualitative differences between cables or “sound conductors”, capacities, damping, insulation, flexibility / stiffness and of course jack plugs. Since there are also wireless users who can hear the grass growing, most digital systems today even offer the possibility of simulating cable capacities and lengths, i.e. sound losses.
Most guitarists and bassists still swear by high quality coaxial cables. Especially since the boom of pedalboards, which are equipped with increasingly expensive boutique effect pedals, the interest in high-end instrument cables has increased immensely. These are usually equipped with 6.35 mm jack plugs and should transmit relatively low levels at high impedance,
Due to the low levels of passive guitar and bass pickups, there is a high susceptibility to interference sources, which of course increases with increasing cable length. For this reason, the instrument cables always have a shield made of coiled (cheap cables) or tightly braided thin copper wires (higher quality cables).
In the case of asymmetrical signal routing, as is used in most coaxial cables, the plus pole in the middle and the minus pole are routed as a screen, which largely protects against sources of interference such as fluorescent tubes, TV or computer screens, dimmers, etc. With instrument cables and passive pickups, capacity plays a crucial role.
Two conductors which are electrically separated from one another by insulation material form a capacitor, the capacitance of which is greater the closer the conductors are located. Similar to a sound capacitor, the cable acts as a high pass to ground. The higher the capacitance measured in pico farads per meter (pF / m), the greater the attenuation of the heights. The unit pF / m therefore indicates how much the heights are damped.
The shorter the cable, the less height loss, half length means half capacity. For this reason, the use of the shortest possible cable is recommended. A cable with 50 pF / m sounds very high, one with 200 pF / m on the other hand warm and emphasizes mids and basses.
The choice of the right capacity depends above all on your own sound concept. For crystal-clear sound, cables with low capacities are recommended, for distorted sounds it can even be advantageous to use warmer-sounding cables, since the additional gain increases the treble.
Typical coaxial cables with low vertical attenuation have capacities from 50 to 100 pF / m. Since in addition to the capacity, numerous other influences determine the transmission spectrum of a cable, the capacity is not always the measure of all things, because parameters such as flexibility, quality of the shielding and the outer sheathing as well as the jack plug and its strain relief (preferably according to the collet principle) and kink protection.
In addition to the conventional structure of coaxial cables with twisted inner conductor (plus) and coiled or braided shielding, manufacturers of high-end cables, for which up to! 180 can leaf through the counter, developed innovative concepts for optimizing signal transmission and minimizing noise. First of all, pure copper is used for the conductors. So-called solid-coil cables have a single inner conductor made of rigid wire, that is, solid copper wire, instead of multi-core strands, which of course comes at the expense of flexibility.
In addition, the conductors are internally symmetrical, so there are separate conductors for the hot (+) and the cold signal connection (-). After insulation from polyester foam or Teflon, the whole is additionally surrounded by a dense shielding braid, which does not transmit a signal, but only serves to derive interference. This shield is often only connected at one end of the cable to a marked plug, which indicates the recommended direction of the signal. With other high-end cables, each of the inner strands is surrounded by insulating varnish, so that each acts as a separate rigid wire conductor.
After the spiral cables, popular in the 1970s, completely disappeared in the 1980s due to their susceptibility to faults, they experienced a renaissance a few years ago. Their advantage is of a purely practical nature, since they rarely form trip hazards on the stage and always develop the length that is currently needed. Although the manufacturers were able to improve the cable material and thus the susceptibility to interference immensely, the coil cables are relatively heavy and, together with the tension cable, expose the jack plugs to higher mechanical loads.
Conclusion: Wired vs Wireless for Guitar.
The now first-class digital wireless systems should make it easier for guitarists and bassists to make a pro or con decision. The freedom of movement achieved on stage and the safety aspects (electrics, trip hazards) that should not be underestimated can actually not be countered except for tonal aspects.
On the other hand, the cable manufacturers have also made significant improvements in terms of concept and quality. However, one thing is striking: Most of the guitarists and bassists, who are known for their excellent and dynamic sound, use cables even on large indoor stages. Regardless, the far larger number of popular musicians and bands use wireless systems.