Hands-On Review:AKG WMS 40 microtools series.
by Dominic Hilton
From laptop computers to MP3 players to digital modeling processors—personal electronics aren't just getting better, they're getting smaller, too. Ironically, as technology has improved, these and other products have become more affordable than ever. Nowhere is the trend more evident than in the world of wireless music technology. Gone are the expensive and bulky, interference-prone guitar transmitters and microphones of yesterday, replaced by compact and dependable UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) wireless devices that are priced within the budgets of most performers.
Now AKG has reduced the size and price of wireless technology even further with its new WMS 40 microtools range. Consisting of the MP 40 micropen, the GB 40 guitar transmitter and the SO 40 microphone, the microtools series operates in the UHF band using highly selective filters and advanced circuitry that provides interference-free operation. Like the rest of AKG's WMS 40 range, each microtools unit operates on a fixed frequency, making setup extremely easy. And because they draw their power from a single AAA battery, microtools components have the lowest operating costs of any wireless systems in this class. We decided to take a closer look at the tiny GB 40 microtools guitarbug and SO 40 snapon transmitters, which we employed in conjunction with the company's WMS SR 40 receiver.
WMS SR 40
Built into a light but tough plastic case, the SR 40 receiver occupies just a single half-rack space and has an uncluttered layout. The front panel has a power button and volume control, with LEDs to indicate power and signal presence, and a single, permanently attached antenna. Although the SR 40 is not a true-diversity receiver (which uses two antennas and two receiver circuits), it vanquishes interference by means of AKG's integrated SAW filters—the same circuitry found on the company's high-end WMS 80 systems. A small colored dot on the panel represents the unit's fixed carrier frequency and is useful for identifying between receivers in multiple setups. The SR 40's rear panel has balanced XLR and unbalanced TRS outputs, a DC adapter jack and a squelch trim pot complete with adjustment tool clipped alongside.
GB 40 guitarbug
If Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt ever needed a guitar transmitter, chances are good he'd be given the GB 40 guitarbug. Sleek, and cute as—well, a bug, this tiny device is just a couple of inches long, with a tail-like antenna of about equal length. The spring-loaded, gold-plated plug can be rotated through nearly 180 degrees, allowing it to fit snugly in the output jack of anything from a Les Paul to a Stratocaster. The guitarbug's controls consist of an on/mute/off slider switch with an LED indicator and a tiny squelch control, which can be adjusted with the supplied mini screwdriver. The unit runs for 11 hours on a single AAA battery and has a color-coded shell that indicates its carrier frequency. Should the color clash with your guitar's finish, AKG has thoughtfully included a black replacement cover that makes the guitarbug all but invisible.
SO 40 snapon
As petite as the guitarbug, the SO 40 snapon plugs into your favorite dynamic mic's XLR jack to turn it into your favorite wireless mic. The device packs all the necessary wireless circuitry into a case the size of a disposable lighter, and is capped with a locking female XLR socket. Like the guitarbug, the snapon allows 11 hours of usage from a single AAA battery, has a color-coded cover and features an on/mute/off switch and squelch control.
For the evaluation, I connected the balanced XLR output of the SR 40 to the mixer of a compact P.A., raised the antenna and powered up—it was that simple. Next, I connected the guitarbug to a humbucker-equipped Strat. After very little knob twiddling, the unit produced a strong, clean signal. Even without the safety net of true-diversity reception, the system performed perfectly within my club- sized test area, delivering good tone with minimal background noise.
I tried out the snapon with a Carvin CM 50 dynamic microphone. As with the guitarbug, the snapon maintained a strong signal with minimal background noise. I tested the unit's tone reproduction by comparing the wireless signal to the signal produced by the mic when hardwired to an XLR cable. The result: absolutely no discernible difference.
Both transmitters are inconspicuous in use, and the absence of bulky packs and trailing cables is very liberating. The only downside of their diminutive design is the rather fiddly slider switches, which can only be adjusted with a strong fingernail and a little dexterity.
The Bottom Line
There is quite a lot to like about these wireless systems, not least their simplicity, low price and virtually imperceptible transmitters. Although they don't feature true diversity, the WMS 40 microtools systems provide strong, interference-free transmission at a very keen price.