My route to the UWP-D11
Ever since the new regulations on radio microphone frequencies were introduced in the UK at the end of 2012, the days were numbered for my trusty old Sony UWP series radio mic system (consisting of the URX-P1 UHF dual-diversity receiver and UTX-B1 transmitter). Whilst super-reliable and excellent quality, this combo is limited to channels 67-69 which the government sold off to expand the frequencies available for mobile phones (cheers!).
After the new regulations came into place radio mics had to switch over to channel 38 if they were capable of doing so – and the old UWP series were not. Apparently there are ways to upgrade this receiver/transmitter system but it entails changing the main board in each unit (way beyond my technical skills) – but I’d already made up my mind that it was time to move on to something new with some additional features that would make wireless microphone use even more adaptable and reliable.
There have been many new and compliant radio mic solutions on the market since these changes were announced but I’d resisted them all for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d managed to carry on using my old UWP series without interference or conflict with the authorities. Naughty I know but when needs must the devil drives! Secondly, I was so pleased with their performance that I was reluctant to change to anything new and untested. To me, Sony have always represented belt and braces technology so any move away from this brand was a turnoff. Any replacement would also have to have the same dual-diversity capability, be robust, compact, easy to use and within the same kind of budget as the original UWP series (sub £500).
Introducing the UWP-D11
I first set eyes on the new UWP-D11 at BVE 2014 where I was filming interviews with various exhibitors about their new products aimed squarely at professional videographers. This included filming an interview with Álvaro Ortiz at Sony about the various bits of technology they were showing for the first time in the UK – which included the UWP-D series (http://vimeo.com/87877656). I knew there and then that I’d found my replacement so it was only a matter of time before I got one.
The complete UWP-D series includes:
- UWP-D11: Belt-pack transmitter, portable receiver
- UWP-D12: Handheld microphone, portable receiver
- UWP-D16: Plug-on transmitter, belt-pack transmitter, portable receiver
The D11 package is a direct replacement for my old system, though I have to admit that a UTX-P03 Plug-on transmitter (part of the D16 package) is still on my wish list. Whilst the vast majority of my work is adequately covered by the D11 package (which includes an omni-directional lavalier microphone, windshield, belt clips and cold-shoe mount) there are occasions where I use a wired handheld reporter-type microphone and it would be great to go completely wire-free between mic and receiver. Having said that, the D11’s portable transmitter (URX-B03) has a mini-jack input, with adjustable attenuation, allowing you to connect other microphones with differing sound pressure levels. The input can also be switched between mic and line level so I could, for instance, feed the transmitter with an output from my Tascam DR-60D mixer-recorder enabling me to feed up to three microphone inputs into the URX-B03 and transmit that back to the receiver (URX-P03).
The UWP-D11 difference
The UWP-D features Sony’s Hybrid Digital Processing which combines the sound quality of digital audio processing with the reliability of analogue FM modulation. This helps improve the signal exchange between transmitter and receiver resulting in a stronger and more natural sound recording. As a true dual diversity system, continuation of signal is maintained by the URX-P03 always using the strongest signal picked up either of the two independent receivers.
The D11 package offers wide frequency coverage with up to 72 MHz bandwidth across a wide range of channels. The Sony website lists seven different carrier frequency versions of the D11 so it’s important to source the right model from an authorised Sony dealer for the country/region you are using it in as regulations do vary. This should result in a product that works out of the box, without fear of interference or causing interference to others on restricted channels/frequencies.
Ease of use was high on my list of priorities and the D11 achieves this will some very useful features. The large, bright display panels (11.5mm x 27.8mm) on both transmitter and receiver give you an instant indication of status. This includes channel and bandwidth settings, battery strength and audio level meter on both units. The transmitter also includes a mic or line setting indicator, a transmission indicator and transmission strength setting indicator. The receiver also has signal strength status (showing the dual receivers ‘a’ and ‘b’ independently – and which one it is presently using) – so at any one time you can see what each unit is set to and whether there’s communication and signal passing between the two.
The audio level meter also includes a peak indicator which displays solid black on the screen when you overload the input. Both units also have two light indicators on the top edge of the body – one for Power (Power/Muting button on transmitter) and another marked ‘RF’ on the receiver and ‘Audio’ on the transmitter. Under normal conditions the transmitter’s Audio light will flicker green to reflect the movement in the audio level – but if you do manage to overload the input on the transmitter this light will temporarily turn red which is very easy to spot. If you lose signal at the receiver your green light will go out altogether – otherwise it remains on constantly.
The power lights will also give you further information on battery condition (each unit takes two AA batteries) – with a solid green light displaying under good battery conditions, flashing green when the battery power is getting low, flashing orange when the audio is set to muted/disabled (switched on and off using a short press of the power button on the transmitter) and, finally, solid orange when the batteries are being charged.
This is one of the major advances on the UWP-D series in that you can charge Ni-MH batteries within the units by connecting them via their USB connectors (Micro B type) to a suitable supply (for instance, a laptop or any other standard USB power supply). In addition, you can also use the USB connector to power the unit without the need to have batteries installed – plus this USB connection is also used for updating firmware.
UWP-D11 Menu Controls & Settings
Changing the parameters is carried out through a very simple menu system which is navigated via the ‘Set’, ‘+’ and ‘-’ buttons. Besides the power button these are the only controls on the units. There is an advanced menu setting which enables you to change the commander settings, lock power switches, alter screen brightness, battery type etc. – but for normal operation the simple menu mode gives you everything you’re likely to want to change in the field.
Both units also contain an infrared red detector. By default the UK model comes set to channels 33-35 so you’ll need to change this to channels 38-40. You do this by selecting the ‘Band’ setting in the menu on the receiver (using the ‘+’ ‘-’ and then ‘Set’ buttons) and toggle through to the desired channel set. Once adjusted you’ll see that the RF signal is lost between the two units until you click menu again and then the ‘Auto Set – Yes’ mode – at which point the RF light will flash and the unit will go through searching mode and communicate with the transmitter via infrared. Once coupled via infrared the transmitter display will show the channel setting on the receiver and ask you if you want to sync the units. Select ‘yes’ and the transmitter will change to the same channel/frequency and two units will connect via RF again. You’ll see the signal strength indicators return on the receiver and the audio level will match that on the transmitter.
If you are in an environment where there’s a number of radio devices being used the receiver also has a function that allows you to scan the channel band to see if there’s anything being used on the same frequency – and then select a frequency which is unused. Within the advanced menu you can also use the ‘Active Channel Scan’ function, which allows you to tune in multiple receivers to the same transmitter. In addition you can also manually adjust the channel/frequency by holding down the ‘Set’ button on the receiver and then pressing the ‘+’ ‘-’ buttons. Again, once set you’ll need to select the ‘Auto Set’ button and go through the syncing process with the transmitter.
This all sounds complicated but in practice the D11 package allows you to be operating on a clean, interference-free and legal channel very quickly.
UWP-D11 Ins and Outs
Besides the USB connector the transmitter has only one mini-jack connector which also carries power to the supplied microphone. This has a screw-on collar fitting to stop the microphone becoming inadvertently disconnected from the unit. The receiver has two standard mini-jack connectors – one marked ‘Output’ for connecting to your camera or recording device and the other marked ‘Phones’ for headphone monitoring. You can adjust the level on the output via the menu to match your recording device (±12dB) – as well as changing the monitoring level on the headphones. The receiver also has and additional multi-pin auxiliary connector for connecting accessories – but I’ve got no idea what these might be!
There’s lots of things that I really like about the UWP-D11 package – but the two things which jump out at me are its robust build and ease of use. The main body is made of metal and feels like it would fair well in the often drop-hazard world of ENG production. In other words, they’re tough little buggers but weigh in at under 180g including batteries. They’re also slightly smaller than my old retired UWP system making them ideal for use on DSLRs as well as traditional video cameras.
The other major advantages are the USB power supply or, more importantly to me, the ability to charge batteries within the unit whilst in the field. Not only could this save your bacon but it also means you do not need to buy yet another charger unit. I’ve not had to put this to the test yet but I’m sure I will.
I’m also really looking forward to coupling the system with my Tascam DR-60D mixer/recorder – which will open up a whole new range of wireless audio solutions for me. I do a fair bit of conference work and often there’s no AV technical handling audio – or when there is the feed from their desk is not exactly perfect. Faced with these situations I could add get up to three mics placed on stage, mixed through the DR-60D and out to the transmitter once set to line input – and then wirelessly transmit this back to the receiver at the camera without the need to run and gaffer-tape cables. I can imagine this feature/combination to be highly appealing to wedding videographers filming top-table speeches too.
The UWP-D series are also compatible with Sony’s WL-800, UWP and Freedom series systems, allowing you to switch between different commanding modes. Like any bit of technology you’re going to have to read the manual (supplied on CDROM) but, thankfully, not religiously and only when you want to dig deeper into its capabilities.
So, I’m legal at last – and ready to deal quickly with any audio situation that might arise without interference of other devices. Well done Sony.
Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Note: Check out the Sony website for your nearest authorised dealer.