Shure EC2/58 radio mic
Sounds without the cables
Radio mics are fast coming down to street level, with even the lowliest pub bands considering going wireless. In the first of a series of radio mic reviews, Bob Dormon looks at the Shure EC2/58 transmitter and L3 Receiver...
Shure microphones take some beating when it comes to exposure. They linger in studio cupboards in varying states of graceful decay, and any PA rig without at least one or two to hand somehow seems incomplete.
Of course alternatives exist, but perhaps it's because models such as the ubiquitous SM58 last so long that you can't fail to come across them. Whether or not you like the sound they make, if you're operating a club, rehearsal facility or full blown touring PA, then giving a vocalist an SM58 seems to have the same effect as putting a dummy into a baby's mouth; they stop screaming and start cooing!
Could it be the ice-cream cone shape, or the reassuring wire mesh dome? Maybe. Or perhaps it's because the SM58 is likely to be the first decent microphone an up-and-coming vocalist comes across after using Dad's old 'music center' mics. Try one after that kind of trauma, and you're instantly hooked. It doesn't matter how good the competition is, nothing else will do.
Having such a devoted following, Shure do their best to keep them happy. They have dozens of mics to choose from in their catalogue, so when the issue of producing their own breed of radio mics came to the fore, adapting their existing range was going to be a surefire crowdpleaser.
Many wireless microphone manufacturers already use Shure components, by fitting the capsule (the business end of a microphone) to their radio mic bodies. With Shure's ECL series of wireless mics, it's possible to exchange capsules if desired. The main cost lies in the radio circuitry itself, and what's on offer should satisfy the budgets from pubs to Pink Floyd. The EC2/58 microphone (transmitter) and L3 (receiver) are aimed at a mid range application.
Together weighing in at a little over £600 (RRP), you may have to think hard about how much you need a wireless mic. They look good, and this model certainly sounds good, but so do five versions for the same price. And besides looking dead cool, some situations are much better served by a wireless set-up.
The L3 (AQ) wireless receiver can only be used with one microphone or instrument. The model suffix denotes its operating frequency, which is set at the factory. A table in the manual lists those frequencies, so as to avoid mix-ups in a multiple set-up. Unscrewing the EC2/58 mic body also reveals this ident, 'though the equipment is generally supplied as a complete system.
Individually, each unit weighs about a pound, the mic having a detachable, flexible, 3" rubberized aerial, while the L3 receiver's antenna extends from a UHF plug that screws into the L3 chassis. At 16" long, the 1/4 wavelength sheathed stainless steel antenna can be rotated for the best reception. The L3 has an optional rackmounting kit, so it could be connected to an aerial mounted outside the rack, or a larger high gain antenna such as Shure's 1/2 wave WA380.
About the size of a box of chocolates, the L3 receiver is uncomplicated. You can plug and go without the aid of the manual, and far quicker than with a conventional 'wired' microphone. Just make sure the mic power is on first, or you'll get an earful of white noise. The front panel bears the Shure logo, and beneath it are three status lights for power, RF and audio peak. A large plastic volume knob and similarly styled power button complete the picture.
Around the back, a 1/4" unbalanced jack socket provides the only audio output. A 12-18VDC external power supply brings the L3 to life, and besides the UHF aerial socket all that remains is the recessed 'squelch' trimpot. A trimming screwdriver is supplied, to alter the squelch circuit.
Anyone intimate with VHF radio receivers will have come across the curiously titled squelch facility, yet its name is almost onomatopoeic in describing its action. Squelch automatically quietens or mutes the receiver when there's no signal being received. Adjusting the squelch effectively changes the threshold of what is considered signal, and what is just noise. If you set it too high, then a weak signal might not penetrate the squelch circuit. It's best to start low and work upwards.
"Giving a vocalist an SM58 has the same effect as putting a dummy in a baby's mouth"
The EC2/58 is a Shure ECL series transmitter with an SM58 capsule. Many radio mics have been criticised for not approaching the quality of their 'wired' counterparts. The EC2/58 might not be as dainty as its SM58 sibling, but turn on, tune in and talk into it, and those familiar warm tones and crisp definition will rea-shure (sic) you that we can comfortably look forward to a wireless world... albeit for a price.
The mic's body is larger than a normal SM58, as it has to accommodate a PP3 battery (standard fare for radio mics). Unscrew the metal casing, and the battery housing is revealed (Shure recommend that you change the battery for every gig - even 'though they last about nine hours - and use only alkaline batteries).
Also inside, a small hi/lo gain switch alters the mic output, so that loud signals don't overload the L3. At the base of the mic are two switches for mic and power on/off. A lime green LED indicates the battery condition, dimming when power is low. Turning the power switch on first, is a prerequisite for earhole-friendly operation. As mentioned earlier, the L3 needs the mic to be powered first for noise-free operation. The mic can then be turned on for use. In general, leave the power on when setting up, and unmute the mic when ready.
Due to EC restrictions, over here we can't crank up the wattage on radio systems as they can in the States. The problems we encounter with wireless mics over here, hardly exist for an American sound engineer. For some systems, a licence is needed to operate them but thankfully the EC2 transmitter with L3 receiver are free from that.
With only 2mWatts to play with, hassle-free use is best achieved by having the mic and receiver within 'line-of-sight', with no obstacles that may cause interference. Used in this way, you can enjoy a range of up to 400ft, enough for any venue. The mic itself is very resilient to such problems, and soon lets you know the places to be avoided.
I asked roving Vox reporter Phil Strongman to go for a stroll while I had a quick squelch..! As the L3 sat next to my Mac computer (not recommended) without complaint, Phil muttered outside from an average 75ft radius, transmitting through bricks and mortar. Only a couple of noisy nasties occurred as the mic tried to beam up to the second floor, through a lift shaft and two old-aged pensioners. I was impressed.
The squelch did kill the signal altogether at the extremes of building density, but apart from this rather over-the-top test transmission, the noise characteristics of this radio mic set-up are excellent. The only real problem comes from the source itself (no, not you Phil), as the bulk of the mic does tend to induce more handling noise as you need a tighter grip round its larger circumference. Despite its bulk, it's a well balanced, if somewhat traditional sounding mic.
Like it or not, there is a premium to be paid on wireless systems. Nevertheless, what you get with a system such as Shure's ECL is a cleaner and more robust signal. Pay that little bit extra, and you can enter the world of MARCAD, Shure's Diversity receiver systems that allows digital switching between two antennas, and the combination of both signals (when usable) so that the best signal integrity is maintained.
There's always the cheaper ECTV58-D for the budget-conscious. A wide range of instrument mikes and body-packs for the mobile muso ensure that nobody is left out... except out of pocket. Ah well, what price quality?
Price inc VAT: £605
More from: HW International, (Contact Details)
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