audiofile speaks to Stuart Moots who is an Associate Director at Shure UK.
Stuart discusses the use of wireless microphones and how the industry continues to grow at a rapid rate.
Hi Stuart, nearly 100 years old looking good! Obviously we are talking about Shure who celebrated 90 years in the industry 4 years ago, 9 decades of innovation in creating some fantastic microphones, what for you has been the reason for their long and successful lifespan?
Listening to our customers, first and foremost. Putting their needs first, and striving for excellence across all aspects of our business has helped us build a huge amount of trust with our customers over the years.
There is a culture of innovation at Shure that stems from our founder, Sidney n. Shure, who famously proclaimed that ‘We know very well that absolute perfection cannot be attained but we will never stop striving for it.’ To this day, we have never stood still as a company, and we’ve always put our customers at the heart of product development. It’s a constant process of iteration that ensures that our products consistently deliver on the needs of our customers at most critical moments. Take the development of our most recent pro audio products, TwinPlex and Axient Digital, for example. Key production houses and engineers were involved in the development of both products, from early conception to the final live testing. At times, the feedback we received involved going back to the drawing board, but at the end of the process, we could be certain the product would deliver on market expectation.
This open approach to product development has allowed us to grow into new markets—such as broadcast, theatre, and corporate audio—to help usher in a new period of remarkable growth for the company globally.
The Shure Vagabond 88, one of the first practical wireless microphones introduced in the 50’s, what have been the major milestones along the way arriving at Shures famous Axient Digital wireless systems?
The use of wireless microphones has exploded over the last 20 – 30 years, to the point where they are now essential to modern production values. It’s difficult to imagine any professional production not using wireless microphones to some level, be it for live performance, television production, corporate events, or broadcast. Wireless microphones are everywhere, and the amount of channels on air only continues to grow.
Parallel to this growth, we’ve also witnessed the birth of our current digital age, and with it the rapid rise of other devices operating within our preferred UHF wireless spectrum. The long and short of it is, we’ve got more channels of wireless on air than ever before and a decreasing amount of space in which to operate. As a manufacturer, we’ve acted at the forefront of discussions with government and regulators (such as Ofcom) to ensure that the needs of our industry are heard. At the same time, we’ve continued to develop new products designed to operate in an increasingly congested RF environment to ensure that we’re ready for the productions of today, and tomorrow.
The original Axient wireless system pioneered a range of technologies, including interference detection and avoidance, advanced power management, and networked control to deliver a purpose-built system for difficult RF environments. We combined extensive research, industry consultation, and our knowledge of wireless systems spanning over 50 years to develop the most advanced wireless system possible.
The development of Axient formed a platform and standard by which all of our subsequent wireless systems would be judged. We quickly rolled out as many of the advanced features across our entire range of wireless microphones, from entry-level to advanced, and continued to push the boundaries of what was thought possible.
Within five years, our entire range of wireless systems were transformed—including a great shift to digital transmission. Digital wireless offers much in the way of spectral efficiency when operating in very congested RF environments, and this is why the technology has shifted in this direction. An additional benefit of digital wireless systems is the potential for improved clarity; we are now closer than ever to audio that sounds like a wired mic, thanks to full 20hz-20MHz frequency range, and the fact we’re not limited by traditional analogue wireless restrictions like companding and limited dynamic range.
In 2017 we launched our flagship Axient Digital wireless system. Developed from the ground up, Axient Digital incorporates the most innovative wireless audio tech in the world—including a next-generation digital modulation scheme for maximum signal stability. We’ve taken everything we’ve learnt to-date to make the most comprehensive system possible that can handle the most challenging RF environments you can think of. Features pioneered in the original Axient are developed further, with the inclusion of further protection from RF interference thanks to features like Quadversity. With Quadversity, the engineer can assign four antenna outputs to a single channel, adding greater resistance against dropouts for those absolutely critical performances.
Add into the mix new innovative transmitter form-factors, such as our new micro bodypack, and you’ve got a system that not only delivers rock-solid performance but also caters to the needs of talent on the ground. Shure have introduced the first micro-bodypack with an internal, self-tuning antenna that is also ergonomic in design. The new design is both easier to place on talent and is also optimised for the best signal performance possible when worn. Also, the unique construction material (Ultem) is heat-resistant, meaning you’ve got the most comfortable, high-performance bodypack transmitter on the market.
At NAB this year Shure unveiled Twinplex, its new line of premium subminiature omnidirectional lavalier and headset microphones, what are the main features and what was the reaction like in Vegas?
Shure has always had a reputation for developing very robust products that also deliver extraordinary sound. In wireless microphones and other wired microphone categories, we’ve held this reputation for many years. With TwinPlex, we’re taking the impeccable standards Shure are well-known for, and we’re taking them into the subminiature lav and headset market. Our main goals here were great sound quality, cable durability and sweat protection.
Firstly, for great sound quality, we introduced a dual-diaphragm capsule design for twice the surface area, which delivers a natural, weighty sound and a more consistent off-axis response.
To ensure sweat protection, Shure went as far as developing a “sweat bot” designed to emulate day-to-day exposure using synthetic sweat to ensure that our applied superhyrophobic coating was up to the job.
Cables are a major point of failure in the lav market. To address this, we went outside of our industry to the medical world to apply a medical-grade cable with dual redundant ground. The result is a cable we far-greater resistance to failure. Never ones to skimp on the testing procedures, we performed extensive comparisons with competitors on the market, using our flex test machine to bend, stretch and smash the cable to ensure the point of failure was one you would likely never reach.
Shure have a
proud history of supporting great music over many decades, and with the
unveiling of the “This Is The Moment Campaign” recognising your focus on
the creative industry, why do you think the Shure products are such a
good fit for these artists?
A great deal of our heritage over the years has indeed focused highly on supporting the great work of engineers and artists working on major tours and productions. This is, of course, still a core focus for our business, but as we’ve continued to grow (particularly in recent years), we’ve been able to take this dedication into new markets. “This is the Moment” is our way of celebrating all the work that goes into making a great theatre production, from the initial concept to that key moment where the lights dim, and the curtains open. It’s an exciting moment that takes countless hours of hard work to achieve. Having spent many years ourselves developing products with significant input from the theatre industry, we understand just how much work is involved on all accounts. Everyone deserves to take a bow, and that’s what “This is the Moment” is all about.
We read lately were again about Shure supporting Little Wing Film Festival, why do you think its so important to us to continue championing emerging talent and supporting young people entering creative industries?
Supporting the industry of the future has always been of the utmost importance to Shure. We have a number of relationships with events and educational institutions that we believe represent the same commitment to excellence that we strive for at Shure. The Little Wing Film Festival is but one example, and we’re proud to champion what they’re doing in supporting new talent and achieving the recognition they deserve. Ultimately, if we want a strong creative industry, it makes good business sense to invest in education and young talent.
Audio was seen as the poor relation for a long time especially in Film & TV industry, finally audio is getting a seat at the top table, must be music to your ears?
For a production to stand up, both elements have to come together. Perhaps it’s just that we as humans are naturally visual and subsequently the video-element of many productions takes centre stage. The same goes in conference audio; how many times have you had a conference call over the internet, where the video was perfect, but the audio lacked clarity? Audio is often one the part of our productions that people don’t consciously notice until it goes wrong. Mumble gate springs to mind from a couple of years ago and here is where education plays a big part in raising the standards , which is something that we’re 100% committed to through our Shure Audio Institute programme. On top of this, developing flawless products that help deliver the best results possible must also take priority, including across TV and film. As an audio engineering company, we’re doing our bit with products like TwinPlex and Axient Digital, which are developed specifically with these purposes in mind.