Shure’s Axient Wireless Mics Cover Olympics Opening, Closing Ceremonies

Shure’s new Axient wireless microphones were widely used by a number of headline stars at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies during London’s sporting summer. Working together with the UK-based company Delta Sound, Antipodean audio systems supply specialists Norwest favored Shure from early on in the systems design process for the event. The games this summer marked Axient’s debut at an Olympic Ceremony.

Norwest’s Chief RF specialist Steve Caldwell heard about the new product line directly from connections at Shure’s engineering team in the U.S., early in the product development process. Shortly thereafter, the Axient systems were written into the final draft of the London plan by Scott Willsallen, Audio Systems Designer London 2012 Ceremonies and Bobby Aitken, Sound Designer London 2012 Ceremonies.

Willsallen has a long track record of designing audio systems for ceremonies at headline sporting events including the 2004 Games in Athens, the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, and the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Since 2006, these projects have all employed Shure microphones as the primary wireless systems, but for 2012, he had to ensure that the Axient systems, which only became commercially available in the spring, would be suitable for use during summer 2012, given the intense media focus on the games.

“I wasn’t going to take any chances,” explains Willsallen. “You don’t get a second chance at an event like this one. I really hammered Steve hard at the end of last year and in the spring of this year about whether Axient would be ready to do the job.”

Caldwell’s case for Axient centred on several features of the new systems, including audio quality, Frequency Diversity, and the unique rechargeable battery technology developed for Axient (also used in Shure’s ULX-D digital wireless systems and PSM900/1000).

“We used Shure KSM9s as the default standard mics on these systems, swapping to Beta 58s if the artists involved were a little bit more… shall we say… noisy!” comments Willsallen. “An Axient transmitter with a KSM9 sounds like you’re using a wired KSM9; it just sounds great. That’s how it should be, of course, but it’s quite a step!”

“With the Axient handhelds,” explains Caldwell, “we can transmit on two frequencies at the same time, should we need to. We receive on two or maybe three receiver locations for each performer, for redundancy purposes. That has added so much confidence to the business of using handheld wireless mics. The technology that’s gone into the rechargeables is also amazing. At any time, I can see over the network down to five-minute increments how much battery life is left in each of those transmitters; I’ve never been able to do that before. And the time readout on the rechargeable is so reliable. That saves money and time; we’re not constantly throwing away AA batteries that are only half-used.”

“It’s sustainable too,” adds Willsallen. “This was flagged as the most sustainable Olympics yet, and to have something rechargeable that was that good was amazing. We would have used around 26,000 AA batteries otherwise, and they would have been no use to anybody afterwards, and gone straight into landfill.”

Axient’s efficient use of the available RF spectrum was also a key factor. Axient can operate over 20 wireless channels in a standard UK 8MHz TV channel. “The greater frequency efficiency of Axient was a big help,” comments Caldwell. “The spectrum plan was done to be used with UHF-R wireless mics; inserting the Axient was like an added bonus, because you can fit so many more channels into the same spectrum.”

Despite Willsallen’s initial caution, the Axient systems passed their baptism of fire. “I have to be quite uncompromising about these things,” explains Willsallen. “If there had been the slightest hint of problems with the Axient systems, I would have swapped back to using UHF-R systems. But there wasn’t a hitch.”

“I wasn’t disappointed, either,” adds Steve Caldwell. “Everything Axient was promised to do, it did. And most importantly, it sounded great!”

Caldwell’s Shure contacts extend to key members of the US-based Axient engineering and design team — but all on-site support for Axient in London was handled by Shure Distribution UK (SDUK). Nonetheless, according to Willsallen and Caldwell, the Shure Distribution team provided admirable support. “Having the Applications team at SDUK on hand has been like having the Chicago engineering team hop on the tube and coming to see you every day,” concludes Caldwell.

“The Olympic Games on your doorstep is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” comments Tuomo Tolonen, Applications & Product Manager, SDUK. “Everyone involved with the production put on four amazing memorable shows and I am pleased we’ve been able to be a part of it and see Axient deliver on the largest show imaginable.”

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