Review: Sennheiser AVX

This new range of wireless kit is designed to ensure “totally stress-free audio capture," but does Alistair McGhee agree?

Even before you unbox the AVX you can’t fail to notice two things: first, the petite packaging, and secondly the symmetrical positioning of the word Video in the same font and size as the product name. The AVX system is aimed firmly at the video market, where Sennheiser’s analogue G3 systems have long been big players.

Sennheiser’s website explains: AVX has a different target group compared to ewG3. G3 offers more options and flexibility for the professional user with an audio and RF background; AVX is for the self-contained videographer who needs to focus on capturing a story.

So if you are self-contained and working in video and focused on capturing a story, what might attract you to the AVX? Well first, brand and build. Sennheiser is the biggest name in wireless for a reason, and the build quality of the AVX (I had the handheld kit) is excellent. The transmitter features a standard e835 cardioid capsule (replaceable) in the same – externally at least – package as the D1 system. And like the D1 there’s a smallish LCD screen that I find a little hard to read, showing system name, battery life in hours and signal strength.

There’s a power switch with LED that doubles as a pairing indicator and pair button. Pairing is key to the AVX – you don’t worry about frequencies; all you do is press the pair button on the TX and the RX and let the system do the rest.

The real joy though is the receiver – a well-finished metal box with a smaller footprint than a credit card, designed to fit a camera. Jutting out at right angles is an XLR and the body of the receiver is rotatable through almost 360º to accommodate local obstructions. Basically, the receiver is small enough to be directly plugged into most cameras and you also get an XLR to mini jack lead if your camera doesn’t have an XLR input.

The receiver has a plastic slip-on battery pack, rechargeable via a standard micro USB connector. Press the power button while the receiver is powered up and the four LEDs will glow green with the number lit indicating battery status. My receiver recharged in a couple of hours from a PC USB port. Pressing the AF output button provides access to four audio output levels in 10dB steps, the selected step being visible across the four LEDs – now red for audio level setting. At full whack I needed to give the receiver about 10dB of gain at the line input of a Nagra LB.

The handheld also has a rechargeable battery pack and this features a micro USB charging port, though you have to remove the pack to gain access to the socket. Fully charged the handheld will run over 10 hours, while Sennheiser claims over five for the receiver. The sharp-eyed will have clocked that this means you won’t get a full filming day out of the receiver, but remember you are not limited to fixed internal battery packs as you are in some systems, and changing the one in the receiver is a snap. Plus, because the charging connector is externally accessible you can recharge the battery without removing it or indeed power your receiver externally, for instance from a portable battery pack designed for phones or media players.

If you have the lavalier system (which I didn’t have to test) the transmitter battery pack can be charged in use or powered by an external micro USB equipped battery pack. One extra power trick: the receiver can be switched on and off via phantom power. Plug the AVX into a mic input and when it senses the application of 48V phantom it will power up and if you switch the phantom off the AVX will also switch off.

In Use

What about range? Well, in the real-world testing I did, the AVX had better range than the D1 – the AVX works at 1.9GHz so will be less directional than the D1 operating at 2.4GHz. As you get close to your range limit, these systems suffer noticeably if you put your body between the transmitter and the receiver – remember the wave length is a few inches at these frequencies so diffraction isn’t going to help much.

The RF performance of my Micron Explorer kit (lavalier) was better and Sennheiser recommends its own analogue G3 kit for more professional applications but you should get 30m outside from the AVX. The AVX units offer antenna diversity and both devices ‘talk’ to each other, exchanging the information required to establish and maintain the radio link. Like most radio systems the AVX has some dynamic processing going on – in the situations I used it I never found it intrusive.

For simple video shoots the range shouldn’t be a problem, and as a bonus the 1.9GHz band is much quieter than 2.4GHz (only DECT phones to contend with) and is usable across the world. So what is the downside? Well the niggly problem might be latency. The AVX has a fixed codec related latency of 19mS, which is considerably longer than the 4mS figure for the D1. This means you won’t want to mix AVX systems with analogue systems or even D1s for any job where you are mixing the audio (unless you have delay compensation on your mixer), although you might get away with multitrack iso recording, accommodating the delay in the dub. The good news is that the delay is fixed and therefore one fixed adjustment at the start of the edit will ensure synchronicity.

For a foolproof radio mic kit for video the AVX is hard to beat. In fact I’d say two or three of these in a kit would cover a lot of simple doc work for someone starting out and at a price well below most professional systems. The portability is truly amazing and the plug-and-playness of both the RF link and the receiver hardware make it a joy to use.

Key Features

  • Operates in the license-free 1.9GHz range
  • Automatic On/Off function
  • Handheld and receiver will pair straight? away and search for a free frequency
  • Powered by lithium-ion batteries,? rechargeable via USB
  • Available in three different sets

RRP: AVX Handheld Set: £810; AVX Lavalier Set: £810; AVX Lavalier Pro Set: £946.80 (inc VAT)

Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.