Despite its smartphones and visual displays being featured in almost every recent James Bond film, Sony is not a brand I have ever associated with being of particularly high quality or offering great value for money. In fact I’ve always been hard pressed to find any justification in terms of features for their usually higher-than-average price points. Sony is also not a brand that has previously been associated with professional audio products for DJs, so I was surprised to be asked to review their new professional wireless mic system. That said, I always try to have an open mind and so it was with intrigue that I set about putting the new DWZ-M50 system through its paces.
The DWZ-M50 is part of a new range of wireless audio products from Sony that use digital technology to transmit in the same frequency range (2.4GHz) as wi-fi computer products. An advantage of this new technology is that up to six channels of wireless audio can be used simultaneously without a licence.
We are “mobile” DJs, and as such, portability is an important consideration for most. So you can imagine, as I removed the system from its box, how upset I was to find that the DWZ-M50 does not come with any kind of carry case or protection for the handheld unit. Nor does it come with any type of patch cable. Actually though, in the past, I’ve usually found the less extras that are included with a product, the better the product itself normally is. Looking inside the box reveals the handset, receiver, a pair of aerials, a mic clip, CD ROM manual, and power supply.
How a mic feels in my hand has always been a personally important aspect, almost as much as how it sounds, so this was the first thing I picked out of the box. The sturdy satin black metal body has a great look and style. The mic is heavy enough to feel like a quality- built piece of gear, but without being so heavy it would make your arm ache. The weight has also been nicely balanced and the whole unit sits well in the hand.
A small, stubby aerial sticks out from the base of the transmitter section, while a push button for power/mute resides between the mic head and battery compartment, which is a perfect position for thumb operation. Holding the button down for one second switches the mic on, indicated by a green LED. A second short press puts the unit into “mute” mode, which is indicated by the LED turning red and flashing. The mic can then be un-muted by another short press. To turn off the handset you simply press and hold the button until the LED goes out.
To avoid accidental operation, the power/mute button is recessed slightly into the body, which tells me that the design has been thoroughly thought through. Another safeguard is the Lock switch which can be found once you remove the battery cover. When in the lock position, this slide switch disables the power/mute button altogether so an inadvertent press of the button will have no effect. This is a very handy feature if you give the mic to someone else to use, for example for a speech, as it ensures that the speaker can’t accidently switch off or mute the mic.
The battery compartment holds two AA batteries which will typically allow between 10 and 12 hours of use. Also inside the battery compartment is a red 7 segment LED display that shows the channel number. The display is nice and clear, so you can see exactly which channel the mic is on, regardless of the light conditions. A small tactile button is positioned to the right of the display so you can select channels and either a wide or narrow bandwidth. There is also a clearly marked USB port. While I was unable to find any reference to this in the manual I believe its purpose is to facilitate future firmware updates.
The mic head is removable and can be interchanged with others from the Sony range, as well as third party heads such as the popular Shure SM58. The head twists off with a counter-clockwise rotation. Once removed, the three contacts for the head are clearly visible, as well as a three-position attenuation microswitch. This can be set to 0db, -6db or -12db. The idea being that over-modulation, perhaps from a particularly powerful singer, can be adjusted so the level doesn’t push into the red on the receiver display. Personally I’d have preferred it if the attenuation control was rotary and positioned on the receiver which would make access for adjustment a lot easier. The switch is set to 0db from the factory and I found this setting to be absolutely fine for general use.
On to the receiver, which is an externally powered, half-rackspace unit. A rack mount kit is not included, but is available as an option for those who need it. The front features a power button, a large, color LCD display, a combined rotary select and enter control, and an ESC (escape) button so that you can navigate backwards through menu levels. This has to be among the best receiver displays I’ve ever come across. It’s very comprehensive, to the point that even the handset’s estimated remaining battery time is displayed, though you do have to select which type of batteries are being used in the settings for an accurate reading. A large portion of the screen real estate has been devoted to the channel number selection, making it very easy to see at a glance. As this is a true dual diversity receiver there are signal level indicators for both the A and B aerials. Audio level is displayed by the usual ramp scale icon lit from the left in green with red segments on the right to indicate peaks or if the level stays too high. The display also indicates if the mic has been put into mute mode and shows the equalizer status; more on the EQ below.
The rear of the receiver has two bayonet style connectors for the aerials, a 12-volt DC inlet socket, an XLR balanced output with a mic or line level switch, and two unbalanced 1/4” jack outputs. There is also a cable clip for the power cord and a USB socket. I was very pleased to see that the power inlet socket is well insulated from the chassis of the receiver. Other brands of wireless mic that I’ve used in the past haven’t had this, so plugging in the adapter has caused a spark. Again, this is evidence of a nicely thought through design. The menu system is very easy to navigate. Channel selection is simple and you can even have the receiver decide which channel is the clearest for an interference free link. This is handy if you are working with lots of other wireless equipment; however you must remember to make sure the handheld unit is set to the same channel, as this won’t happen automatically. It would be nice if it did–a future update perhaps?
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
Now then, if you were head of R&D at the Sony wireless mic department what feature might you add as a USP? Whatever it was that you just thought of, you’re wrong. They added a built-in five band graphic equalizer. As far as I know this is the only wireless mic with such a feature, though some other brands do offer EQ presets. At first I couldn’t see the point of this, as I imagined that most users would prefer to adjust the EQ on their mixer. Then I remembered that the balanced output can be set to line level. That means you can connect directly to an active speaker and have very good control over the EQ without the need for a mixer. Clever! The EQ has screen- based logarithmic sliders which are simple to adjust using the rotary control. If desired, the EQ can also be easily switched off for a completely flat response.
So how does the mic actually sound? Well, to my surprise, it sounds great. When A-B’d against an industry-standard, corded Shure SM58 with the EQ switched off, there was very little difference between them in terms of sound quality. The only thing I noticed was that the SM58 had slightly more presence in the mid range.
How good a wireless range does it have? While I was unable to find any reference to the expected range in the manual, when testing it at a club where I play, I found that walking through a nearby doorway, which prevented me from being in line of sight of the receiver, killed the signal completely. However, as long as I was within line-of-sight there were no problems at all. I would suggest that, as this system uses the 2.4GHz frequency, it has a range similar to that of a domestic wi-fi network.
Would I buy one? Good question. If I wanted a good quality digital wireless mic system, then yes, I think I would. My opinion of Sony has actually been turned around by the DWZ-M50, which is an impressive and adaptable system. (List price – $699, street price – less than $500.)
Filed Under: Business, Issue #151, Performing, Sound
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