The Shure wireless catalog is growing, which is great news because it means more options. By the same token, if you’re shopping for a wireless system, it can be a challenge to figure out how much system you need, and which features are the most important. So, the more choices you have, the more confusing things can get.
QLX-D™ Digital Wireless, our newest digital wireless system, is now available, so I sat down with Mu Yang from the product development team to get a sense of who it is (and isn’t) for, and how it compares to some of our other systems.
QLX-D is for corporate events, live music performances, higher education, high schools, houses of worship, hotels and conference centers—lots of applications. Then again, so is ULX-D® Digital, our higher-tier system. Who should use which system is a question of scale, so that’s where the “mid-size venues and installations” designation becomes important.
In a corporate context, mid-size would mean that you’d want to use all the receivers on the same floor of a building, and on the same network. QLX-D is the right solution for that context. If you have multiple floors and each has its own network, or you’re dealing with multiple corporate or university campuses, then that’s a larger scale operation for which ULX-D is a better solution.
For live music performances in a small- to medium-size concert hall, QLX-D is appropriate, but if you’re talking about a live music performance in a huge stadium, then UHF-R® or Axient® are more appropriate solutions because they’re designed with larger venues in mind. In designing QLX-D, we cut the features for large-scale systems while retaining the same audio quality, reliability, and RF performance.
Even though it’s streamlined compared to ULX-D, QLX-D has a richer feature set than competitor wireless systems at its price point, including AES-256 encryption, IP networking capabilities, and rechargeable battery technology. Those features are huge for this tier product.
Thank you for asking this question! This is so critically important. In terms of audio quality, reliability, and RF performance, as we said, they’re the same. The key differences fall under two categories: network sophistication and RF flexibility.
Let’s start with network sophistication. If you have a third-party control device, most likely AMX or Crestron, then you use a console to control projectors, lights, microphones—everything—in your corporate board room, for example. If you want to use that system to control devices across subnets, then you have to use ULX-D. What does “across subnets” mean? It means across multiple networks, like if you have two floors each on separate networks. QLX-D can only communicate within the same subnet: one network on one floor.
An example in the education context: say you have a centrally located control room for all the devices on multiple campuses of a university. You have to use ULX-D for that since each building will have its own network. QLX-D only allows you to control devices within the same network. Also, ULX-D offers dual and quad receivers with audio summing, Dante™ digital audio networking, and dual Ethernet ports. QLX-D doesn’t have those advanced features. But, if you have a simpler network environment, with your gear on one rack, on one floor, using one network, then QLX-D is the right choice.
A few other differences related to network sophistication: ULX-D receivers have a very flexible user interface. Without having to look at the user guide, you can change all the parameters, like IP address, subnet mask, and gateways, on the receivers themselves. The display on QLX-D is simplified, so you can change the IP address and subnet mask, but you’ll probably need a user guide to know how. Also, with QLX-D, you can’t change the gateway, which is why the control string cannot communicate across subnets.
RF flexibility is the other key difference between QLX-D and ULX-D. QLX-D transmitters have two levels of output power: 1 and 10 milliwatt (mW). ULX-D bodypack and handheld transmitters offer a 20 mW output option in addition to the 1 and 10, so three options total. ULX-D at 20 mW output can give a 3 dB hotter signal than QLX-D. That’s useful in exceptionally rough RF environments because it gives you a better carrier-to-noise ratio.
Additionally, ULX-D offers a High-Density Mode feature that’s not available with QLX-D. High-Density Mode allows ULX-D to use up to 47 channels in a 6 MHz TV channel in the US. In Europe, it can use up to 63 channels in an 8 MHz TV channel when in High-Density Mode. Who needs that? Anyone running large-scale corporate conferences with a central location and breakout rooms—say, 30, 40, or 50 breakout rooms in which everyone is simultaneously using wireless microphones. In that scenario, ULX-D is the ideal choice.
When we talked to audio pros around the world who use wireless systems in mid-size venues and installations, we discovered that their knowledge of RF frequency coordination varied widely. So, we quickly realized that we needed to make a product that customers could successfully set up and use, and that would make RF decisions for them automatically.
For example, users may have a general understanding of what the Scan feature does on a receiver, but they may not know what to do with the information provided by the scan. QLX-D can perform a scan on a single receiver and find the compatible channel for that receiver. The user only needs to press a button two times: Menu, Enter, and done. This takes two or three seconds, and the product makes the RF decisions for the user. Compare this to a major competitor’s product, which has a Scan feature that includes five or six steps, and requires the user to make three or four RF decisions along the way. This product requires a much greater understanding of RF coordination, and it takes longer to set up. On the other hand, using QLX-D is as easy as using your TV, or radio, or cell phone. You press the button. You don’t have to make RF decisions.
Relatedly, Network Scan allows users to coordinate the frequencies of up to 60 channels in about 15 seconds. This is excellent in live performance applications in which you find the open channels and assign all the frequencies to the receivers the day before. Then, a half-hour before the show, you find that some frequencies don’t work anymore because the RF environment has changed with all the new devices in use by security personnel, TV stations, and others who weren’t there the day before and who are now creating a lot of RF interference for you. If you do a network scan, the receiver automatically coordinates the frequencies in about 15 seconds based on the new RF environment. This is a huge time-saver.
About rechargeability: QLX-D can use both AA batteries and the SB900 Shure Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery. You can charge the SB900 at any time without discharging it first. There’s no memory effect. Also, there are a variety of charging options: we offer an eight-bay charger, a single-battery USB charger, and the dual docking station to charge the transmitter with the SB900 installed. It charges quickly, too: 15 minutes of charging gets you an hour of use. One hour gets you halfway charged (approximately 5 hours). Three hours gets you to the full charge of 10 hours. With AA batteries, you get up to 9 hours of use, which is slightly less, but say your SB900 is dead and you have zero time to recharge, you can pop the AAs in and be good to go.
Besides the longer runtime and the cost savings on batteries over time, the rechargeable battery has another advantage over AA batteries. The receiver displays remaining runtime in hours and minutes with an accuracy window of 15 minutes, so you’ll always know exactly how much juice you have left in your SB900. Which is just. So. Cool. When you use AA batteries, there’s a five-bar display, but if you’re down to one bar, you don’t know if that means 30 minutes left, or 60 minutes. That could mean the difference between getting through an event and not. With the SB900, you’re armed with much more knowledge of how much runtime is available to you.
In the US, where QLX-D has a 64 MHz tuning bandwidth, we’ve put 67 preset compatible channels in the system. If you use Shure Wireless Workbench® software with QLX-D, you can easily tune to more than 100 channels. The QLX-D customer most likely won’t need to use that many channels very often, but the capability is there. In the US, with QLX-D, you can use 17 channels in 6 MHz of spectrum, which is a lot, and plenty for the mid-size venue and installation types we discussed earlier.
More and more users need this. For example, in boardrooms where confidential information is being shared, users need to know that no one else can hear their conversation. Same thing in government applications in which sensitive information is being discussed. Universities have gravitated toward using this feature too. AES-256 encryption has been around for over 10 years, and nobody has successfully hacked the encryption. It’s the highest standard of encryption available. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, has validated the encryption technology in QLX-D and ULX-D, so users should feel reassured by that.
The metal construction of the bodypack, handheld, and receiver chassis and front panel make them more durable than if we had used plastic. [In the interest of full disclosure, the handheld has a plastic battery cover and antenna dome, but otherwise, it’s metal.] Also, the new rackmount gear is very sturdy and is included with the system rather than sold separately. We shipped the rackmounted receivers all over the world as a test, and they came back just fine.
Visit the QLX-D Digital Wireless page on shure.com for a complete product description, specs, user guides and more.