The Making of GLX-D Digital Wireless: An Interview
Smart rechargeability. Audio quality that sounds like wired. The first Shure guitar pedal receiver, with an integrated tuner to boot. There’s a lot to get fired up about when it comes to our new GLX-D® Digital Wireless systems, so I sat down with Mike Nagel and Erik Vaveris to capture the big picture, plus some of the small but crucial details…
How It Begins
Allison Wolcott Innovative, customer-focused products like GLX-D don’t just enter the world overnight. What was the initial goal of the project? How does the development process begin for a project like this, and how do you know when you’re done?
Mike Nagel We wanted to develop the ideal wireless system for musicians on the go. By this, I mean people who are running their own sound and need something that’s easy to set up and use, sounds great, and delivers the awesome wireless performance that people expect from Shure. We have a long history of wireless microphones in this market, so we’ve learned a lot about what our customers like, and that informed the decisions we made with GLX-D.
Erik Vaveris In recent years, we’ve made great strides in wireless technology and digital audio quality, as well as in power management with smart rechargeability. We wanted a way to offer all those advancements to the type of customer Mike described. So, we took a hard look at how customers were using wireless, and how we could make their experience better—where the opportunities were. Once we nailed that down, we were able to start making decisions about the features GLX-D would include.
AW What’s involved in the testing process while you’re developing a new wireless system?
MN How do you test ease of use, for example? Let gigging musicians in the target market try it out, and see where they succeed and where they have trouble. We also test it out internally with associates who are musicians. Then we make tweaks until we’re sure it’s intuitive enough that users don’t have to think about wireless issues. We wanted the system to take care of all of that automatically, without the user needing to know what an RF coordinator knows. Also, we had to ensure that the audio quality is what users expect. Users have told us that GLX-D sounds exactly like a wire. So, that’s one of the things we’re particularly proud of.
The Benefits of Smart Rechargeability
AW GLX-D offers unprecedented rechargeability via a custom intelligent lithium-ion battery. There are also multiple recharging options, including in the transmitter with the wall, car, or USB charger; in the USB dock, or using the receiver’s integrated charge port. How did you determine which power options to offer?
EV One thing that everyone should know: GLX-D features the same rechargeable battery technology for wireless microphones that we pioneered with the Axient® Wireless Management Network. It has the same battery chemistry and same intelligent circuitry managing the health of the cell over time and giving you the same accurate runtime information.
First of all, going rechargeable has clear economic and environmental benefits. It saves you an enormous amount of money over the life of the product. If you use AA batteries with a wireless system a few times a week, that adds up to a huge expense. People doing that end up spending more on batteries in the first few years of the life of the system than they did on the wireless system itself. So, GLX-D’s rechargeability feature pays for itself in a short amount of time. Also, with this technology available, there’s no reason to throw away alkaline batteries. A lot of our users gravitated toward rechargeable AA batteries for environmental reasons regardless of the economic advantage.
Our challenge was to put this together in a package that musicians at this level would feel confident using. The economic and environmental arguments are easy, but it’s gotta work. Going rechargeable can’t create extra tasks for people that they’re not going to be able to handle. So, we included a battery that provides 16 hours of runtime right out of the gate after a full three-hour charge. That alone can get you through a lot of gigs and rehearsals without you having to remember to recharge. We also have a USB port on both transmitters. So, if you put the battery in the transmitter, you can plug the transmitter into any USB power source. That gave us an easy way to provide a car charger as well as those other options.
Another convenient feature is the slot in the receiver. This means you can pop the battery in there right before the gig starts. If you leave yourself 15 minutes, you’re going to get 90 minutes of runtime, which should get you through the first set and then some. Also, if you’re interested, you could buy a second battery. We sell them individually. If you do that, then you can have one charging in the receiver while you’re using the system, so you’ll always have a charged spare battery. Essentially, you don’t have to remember to recharge ahead of time.
An additional feature that definitely builds user confidence in going rechargeable is the runtime that displays in both hours and minutes. There’s no guesswork to figure out how much runtime you have left. You don’t have to look at the display and wonder, Well, I have two bars. Does that mean I can get through the gig? With GLX-D, you can see clearly in hours and minutes how much time you have left, so you’ll always know when you need to take a sec to swap your spare and your main battery, or recharge your main battery if you don’t have a spare.
In a nutshell, the amount of runtime from the get-go is fantastic, and that alone relieves most of the worries people might have about using a rechargeable solution. Having the status information represented so accurately adds reassurance. Plus, the fact that we have so many ways to recharge puts everybody’s mind at ease. Users can confidently experience the benefits of rechargeability without hassles.
AW The car charger seems particularly inspired.
EV Well, [Mike] came up with that.
MN That was just one more option that would help increase the user’s confidence in going rechargeable. It’s there if people need to use it. When people give us feedback on GLX-D, by far, the two things we hear most about are the audio quality and the rechargeability. Those are the things people appreciate the most.
The First Shure Guitar Pedal Receiver
AW GLX-D wireless includes the first Shure guitar pedal receiver. What drove the creation of this? What are some of the advantages of this over a guitar wireless bodypack?
MN Guitarists who use pedals have asked us, “Why not put the receiver in the same floor environment that we’re already using?” So, our receiver powers off a traditional pedal board, and it’s in a nice small form factor that’s easily portable. The antennas are robust and low profile, so you can step on the pedal without worrying. The display’s really large, so it’s easy to view even though it’s down on the floor. Subtleties like that make it really user friendly.
Then, we took the extra step to build in a tuner, and it’s really the only tuner a guitarist would need. It’s extremely accurate, thoroughly tested by performers, and fully customizable, so people can adjust the reference pitch and tune in different methods unlike with a strobe tuner or a needle tuner. Literally half the people on the pedal design team are guitarists themselves. The engineer who did most of the work on the tuner is an awesome guitarist and performer, and he really went the extra mile in designing and testing that aspect of the pedal receiver and making sure it would meet customers’ needs. In fact, the entire team really put their hearts into this product, and it really shows.
EV There are other guitar pedal receivers on the market, but when we go about making one, we have to be certain that it’s going to deliver the type of durability that people expect from a Shure product. The guitar pedal receiver is built like a tank. Metal construction, really rock solid. And, we always wanted to put a guitar tuner into a wireless system, especially now that the signal is already captured digitally, but we knew that it had to be a really great tuner, not an afterthought. If the customer still needed to have another tuner on top of ours, then that wasn’t going to be good enough. There was a ton of passion among the development team for this, given how many guitarists were involved, and it was really exciting to work on. I even got to test it out [on bass guitar]. I could have played with it all day.
Worry-Free Frequency Management
AW LINKFREQ is a new automatic frequency management technology that is designed to deliver the highest quality audio on the clearest frequencies available. What’s new about that? And how does it work, in layman’s terms?
EV Mike mentioned that, when we started out, one of our primary goals was to make this the easiest system to set up and use. Because of the way that we implemented the wireless technology in GLX-D, there are a lot of things that are automated, so the customer doesn’t even have to think about them. So, if you’re using this wireless system, you plug it into the wall, insert the battery into the transmitter, turn it on…and then you’re up and running. The transmitter and receiver automatically find each other once they’re on. If you have multiple systems, then you can press a button and make sure that the right ones are paired up. If you’re just taking one system out of the box, then the receiver, which has frequencies and backup frequencies on each usable channel, assesses the environment and automatically puts you on the best frequencies available. Because the transmitter and receiver have an automatically linked relationship, whatever the receiver does after assessing the environment, the transmitter follows. To make all of that happen, the user only has to power on the system. Now, if you’re using multiple systems together and you want to make some adjustments, there’s a feature set that can let you do so very easily. But, in most cases, you’re not even going to have to take that step. We’re excited that, with GLX-D, users can experience great audio quality without us asking anything more of them than to power it on and connect it to the guitar or mixer or whatever’s next in the signal chain.
MN If there’s ever an RF issue, the receiver will seamlessly switch frequencies in the background to ensure that the user is always on the cleanest frequency available. There’s nothing the user has to do to make that happen.
AW What are some of the challenges in developing wireless products at this level?
EV We can’t control everything that’s on the air wherever someone’s using one of our wireless systems. So, that’s the big challenge: coming up with a robust and reliable product for an unpredictable world. That’s why GLX-D was designed to constantly analyze the environment, and, should it change mid-performance, seamlessly switch frequencies without requiring any user intervention.
AW Now that the product is available, how does it feel to see customers experiencing it onstage?
MN It’s really exciting, actually. I’ve been to shows where people are using it, and it’s neat to see something go from concept drawings on a sheet of paper to hearing audio and seeing a performance, the crowd reaction to the performance. They’re completely unaware of it because everything’s working the way it was designed to, and that feels really awesome.
AW Anything else people should know about GLX-D that we haven’t discussed?
MN One seemingly minor but important detail: the carrying case. There’s a dedicated space for the receiver, microphone, and power supply. It allows you to easily pack up at the end of the day and ensure your system’s not going to break in transportation. A good wireless system is an investment, so we like to provide a solid case to help protect it. This doesn’t apply to the guitar pedal systems because people usually mount those receivers to their pedal board rather than store them in a case. But, the guitar systems do include a premium cable, which guitarists really appreciate.
Visit the GLX-D Digital Wireless page on shure.com to learn more.