Sennheiser Evolution G3 Wireless Review : Updated

The G3 wireless units from Sennheiser have been out for a while now. I decided to try a set out since one of my Lectro 195 transmitters bit the dust a few months back on a shoot. I’ve had the G3 unit now for a good month or so, and used it on a couple of real shoots. I’ve also done some simple but I think real word testing that shows both the good and bad in these units.
Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic Review from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
What got my attention with these units was the price and reputation for being considered the low end of pro quality wireless, at least for the G2 series.  I figured the G3 must be better as a newer generation product. I’ve spent a little bit of time using the G2’s in the past, but I have used a lot of Lectrosonics units. I’m quite familiar with how Lectro’s just work and sound great, once you get past the price. The G3’s certainly have their compromises to hit the price point that they do, but still offer solid performance. Lets take a more detailed look at them.
Audio Performance
The overall sound quality of the G3’s is very good. You can certainly get more then usable dialog sound through them. They have a lot more bottom end then I am used to, mainly because the transmitter lacks a LF cut filter. Its really pretty amazing that they left this key feature out. Low frequencies can make for all sorts of badness in the audio gain chain when its not usable sound such as mic or wind rumble messing with your limiters. Even so, I didn’t have any problems with overall signal handling with the units.
The G3’s have quite a bit of headroom overall when used with mics. The transmitter has a large range of adjustment which runs from -60db mic level to line level, adjusted via a menu. While I didn’t get to try running a true line level through these units, I’ve always found a -10db or -20db pad was required when using the G2 transmitters because it was easy to push them into clipping. The closest test was running the headphone jack from my laptop into the transmitter. Once I got the level trimmed, it worked great without any problems. This was a very handy way of running music and dialog through the transmitter to test its overall performance using uncompressed and original sound files.
On a shoot with a lot of air handling noise, I didn’t hear any compander noise. Quite room tests also seemed good. I did my test with a Sanken COS-11 lav.
The Included ME2 Lav Mic
If you don’t have a lav mic, it will get sound for you. If you want to have a mic you don’t care about for use in situations where the mic could be damaged, its fine. Its overall sound quality is very bright and its not anywhere near as good as the sound the G3’s can transmit. I had Trew Audio make an adapter for me to go from Lectro wired TA5 to 1/8″ mini jack. With this adapter I can use my Lectro wired lavs on either transmitter. With a good mic in place, I found the sound quality was somewhat better them my older 195’s. There was more bottom, and more HF. Overall it was better, fuller sound. However, if you don’t put a good quality mic onto the G3, you won’t hear it. So I’d very much recommend that you save the ME2 as a back up mic, and use something better.
The transmitter also has a weird control called “cable compensation”. Reading the manual, this is supposed to be used when simulating a certain length of guitar cord when used on an instrument. My educated guess is that this adds some capacitance to the line cutting HF. I’ll certainly say that the unit does sound brighter then my 195’s with it off. I’d recommend leaving it off.
The receiver’s specs indicate line level output levels of +11dbm. In reality, I have no idea where that number comes from. Setting the receiver to +12db on its output is still a low line level signal that required opening up the channel level higher then you would normally want. The receiver really is a mic level output, and it works best this way. Used with a quality mixer or recorder, you’ll get the best and cleanest gain structure this way. Trying to run at line level will not result in a quiet clean signal.
This brings me to a key point with this sort of lower priced compromise product, every adjustment is done in a menu. There are no external controls on these units such as a easy to get to a trim level. The transmitter does have a MUTE switch, but thats it. This means you must flip the battery cover door down to fiddle with the adjustment, then hit enter to make it stick. I do dearly wish that they had an external level trim control.
On the receiver, its the same thing – no output level, no head phone level, or a headphone jack at all. I’ll note that the 1/8″ output jack will not drive a standard set of headphones, at least not to a useful level. Having a headphone jack is handy simply for checking your signal at the source, as well as having a spare output when you need it.
The receiver is not bag friendly at all. First is that the menu display is on the side of the unit where you can’t see it, and second you don’t have any controls to work with on the top. More annoying is that the output jack is on the top of the unit. If this wasn’t enough, there is also the lack of a real external power connection to run on bag power. There is a charging connection for use with the Sennhieser battery packs, but I don’t know if it can be used to really power the unit.
Can you use it in a bag ? sure. Will you like it ? probably not. My Lectro receivers simply live in the bag and never get moved, the G3’s would require constant removal to adjust them, change frequencies, power them on or off, and change the batteries. If you can find an odd way of mounting them so you can see the display and not over flex the 1/8″ output jack, this might work for you.
The receiver certainly works fine on camera. I had a bracket they were able to grab, or you could remove the wire clip and velcro them on where ever they fit. The kit also includes a plastic hotshot adapter mount. The mount works, but I would not call it a long term mounting solution. It works best as that once in a while problem solver.
The mounting clip is an odd piece of spring steel that is identical on both units and the same as G2’s. Out of the box its way too stiff to slip into most people’s clothes. Bend it out a bit and it looses its grip, but if you don’t, you won’t get it onto thin light fabrics. Sennheiser seriously needs to redo the mounting clip to a more conventional spring loaded clip like those of other brands have. The mounting clip is a serious failing, I’ve seen G2’s bent up and useless way too many times. Perhaps there is an aftermarket bracket that can be found and mounted with double sided foam tape.
The 1/8″ or 3.5mm  Jacks
I’ll say it, of ALL the connectors they could of used – TA5, TA3, Lemo, they choose the worst possible connector. I’m sure this was in part to keep the costs down. Now the 1/8″ jack does have a screw collar to lock the plug in, and its the toughest looking 1/8″s jack I’ve seen, but either way its a poor choice. If anyone could mod these units for TA3/5 connectors, they would have a very steady stream of customers getting their units modified.
Exceptional Battery Life
Using a set of new 2500ma AA’s I got 12+ hrs of continuous use on the transmitter. The receiver went maybe 18hrs or so. Compared to my power sucking Lectros, is is great. It should be noted that the transmitters are only 30mw. This is typical of cheaper units. The lower power of course translates into longer battery life compared to other units at 50, 100 and 250mw.
As much as you may want to argue that great receiver design is critical, and it is, having more RF power always helps. RF power is especially important when you want to go for some distance, because the inverse square law applies now matter what brand of wireless you are using. Put more simply, a hotter RF signal at any distance always wins in my book.
RF Performance
The new G3’s are diversity receivers. There is one antenna sticking out of the top of the unit, and the ground of the output wire is used as the second. Does it work ? yes.
The receivers can scan their frequency ranges for in use channels. It seems to work ok, even when I tried them in a major US city as well as more rural locations. Whats very cool is that once you setup the receiver, and select a frequency, you can transmit your setup info via infrared to the transmitter. This feature is brilliant and works great.
There are 1628 channels in the frequency band my unit covers. They are separated into banks with sub channels. You can use all the frequencies in the bank’s subchannels safely together without worry of intermodulation problems. This is a great feature to have and makes multi unit use much simpler. There is also a user programmable bank as well. You can also manually set frequencies if you want too.
I ran my urban RF performance test. I setup the transmitter and fed it from my laptop’s headphone jack playing itunes. I also used a Y splitter to feed my lectro 195 transmitter for a side by side comparison of a unit I knew well.
I was able to easily transmit through sheetrock and wood walls without a problem inside the house. Outside of the house generally worked fine too. I then went for a walk around my neighborhood. I”ve run my lectros 500 to 1000 feet or more with this test.This warm summer night I was testing, neither unit wanted to go much further then a few hundred feet outside the structure. The lower RF output power of the G3 certainly seemed to limit the distance it would go compared to the Lectro at 100mw of RF power. I think that result was to be expected. However, the diversity design did generally give me better reception then I expected while I was in range.
My conclusion is RF performance is fine for close range work. Walls shouldn’t present much of a problem. You could certainly use these units for mixer to camera hops if you wanted to, and feel safe you were not going to have major problems. Sure I know purists will argue you should be using a digital type transmitter for a camera hop. However not everyone can drop $5k for a digital wireless setup especially if you don’t need it everyday. Sometimes issues of safety, convenience, and the need to move fast in congested situations mean you do what you need to order to get the job done. I think that for close use like this, the G3’s are good enough quality for most people’s needs and reliable enough. I”ve certainly used G2’s a couple of times like this for broadcast gigs and no one has every complained.
UPDATE : Using your Lectro 195 transmitter with a G3
This isn’t supposed to work, but it does. I was able to tune a G3 RECEIVER to 475.375MHZ manually to match a Lectro 195 transmitter, and guess what ? it works ! The G3 receiver was happy to see the 195’s pilot tone, and open up. Sound worked ! This means that G3 receivers can be used as spare or backups for 195 transmitters if you can get every one tuned the same. It did seem like the audio performance wasn’t quite as good, but it worked. OTH, using the G3 transmitter would not get the lectro 195 reciever to work. If I had time to fiddle I could probably of turned off the pilot tone on the 195 and gotten it to work.
UPDATE : Using your modern Lectro Transmitters or Receivers  With G3 or G4’s
If you set your Lectro reciever to compatibility mode of 3 it will work with a G3 transmitter just fine. Likewise if you set your Lectro transmitter to Mode 3 it will work with a G3 receiver.  This is really handly if a camera has a slot in lectro receiver, but all you have are G3 transmitters.
The only real downfall of these units is the lack of top mounted displays and controls for bag use and the mount clips. If you can work around this, the price is right, the quality of the audio is very good, and RF performance is decent. The very long battery life is great for any application where its critically important. If you can deal with the quirky ergonomics of the units, they are a bargain. They are great starter units if you have nothing but spend a little extra and get a better lava mic. The G3’s are also good secondary wireless units for backup or extra channels when you use up all of your primary premium brand wireless.
Special Thanks to Guy Cochran at for special support on this review

DR-680 Hands on Review : Field and Sync Tests

UPDATED : Feb 14, 2012 and May 2019
tascam DR-680 Review with SM57
The DR-680 from Tascam is being offered at a very irresistible price. It claims to be a full 8 track recorder for under $660 street price. The question is, it worth adding to your gear ?  Does it really perform or is it overspec’d and under performing in reality? Here is my take.
First you can check out my video review of the device. I used it to record my sound while shooting on a EOS T2I. I went a full 12 minutes so you can see how it starts, and how it ends. You can also get an idea of the sound quality of the unit as well. Video Review On Vimeo of DR-680
Tascam has released V1.2 Firmware – More Here
Review of the Tascam DR-680 8 Track Audio Recorder from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
Its really a 6 analog channel recorder with option to mix down 6 to 2 stereo. Yes it can record 4 digital channels on the TRSinputs making the total 8, but how many of us have stereo or even mono AES mics yet ?  or are connecting to AES/SPDIF 2 channel feeds ? not many. So lets count the inputs you can actually use: 4  dual XLR and 1/4″ TRS Mic or Line Level inputs, 2 1/4″ TRS  mic or line level inputs all with phantom power. You can use TRS->XLR adapters for powering mics that need power. The unit specs do not state what the total phantom power available is so I can’t say if you can really plug 6 phantom power mics in at the 20ma max power spec and Be Happy™.  Since most mics only use about half of that, you might be ok. I don’t have 6 phantom power mics to confirm or deny if the unit can power them. I had no problems powering up 2 mics. All inputs can take line level. Each input set to mic level also has a High-Low switch. As far as I can tell this is a -20db input pad which is handy to have when working with loud sounds.
Does anything get audio people more animated in a conversation besides the quality of preamps ? probably not. When I first powered the unit up out of the box, I was not thrilled. It seemed noisy, and some quick test recordings somewhat confirmed this. My first tests were done with a Sanken COS-11 powered via Emule XLR power module plugged directly into the unit.
Now having been around gear for a long time, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and send the DR-680 back. Instead, I put the unit into pause record over night. This forces the preamps to be on. The good news is that the unit will stay in pause record indefinitely which is great. I truly dislike gear that drops out of pause record after a certain amount of time, which is usually 30 seconds less then what you need. The DR-680 will go into record almost instantly by just hitting the record button. I will say the Pause button acts far more like a Record Cue then pause button. its a little bit weird how it works. Last, the unit does have a pre-record function you can engage in a menu for just in case.
So back on topic, despite all the digital parts, there is still an analog front end here. What I have found from many years of experience is that gear right out of the box often isn’t quite hitting spec. It needs “on” time to burn the components in. Various parts settle into their ideal values, and suddenly the unit is hitting its specs. The DR-680 was no different. After an nearly 24 hour burn in, I redid my tests and got much better results.
The preamps are really pretty quite. They aren’t Sound Devices quite, but they are more then good enough for most people’s needs if you aren’t working ultra high end broadcast or film work. For web, corporate, cable TV type productions, its more then good enough to use direct. I’d say that its preamps are better then most cheaper cameras have which are shooting half of these shows in the first place, so you are ahead of the game here.
I’ve been using this unit for almost a year now. The 1.2 firmware update has helped a lot as noted throughout.
In regards to the preamps, I’lm still sold they are great – quite, clean, warm, able to handle peaks gracefully with the limiters. I have on 2 occasions had an assistant  let levels record lower then the should of been. In both cases adding 12db of gain in Prem Pro  didn’t add any noticeable noise from the preamps or the mic, a CMC-64. Here’s a shot from that shoot.
if you want just a little bit better, has a $300 mod for all 6 analog inputs and claims an extra 12db of goodness in noise reduction in the already clean preamps. Also add in buzzwords like “more transparent”  if you check them out. That said, since I haven’t tried it so I’m not saying anything because I’m sure what they are doing probably helps ( hint, send me a review unit guys ! ). These days I’m almost always recording 48K 24bit for whatever extra bits I can get with limiters on and get very clean sound every single time. The DR-680 powers my Schoeps CMC-64 just fine with its built in phantom power in case you wanted to know. It always helps to have a great mic to start with, but I also have been using a couple of Sennheiser G3’s also reviewed here with great results as well, except I’m using MIC level with the G3’s because their line level really isn’t that hot, literally its like 20db shy of real line level, so just use mic level.
I do have a FP-33 I run on a a 28V custom battery system, but I’ve never paired the two up so far because my bag would just get too crowded. I’m sure that will happen at some point, or maybe I’ll just break down an upgrade to a SD-552 at some point :).
Ok, I did get a 552 and ran with that for a couple years before moving on to a 664 and 633.
One Knob, Many Channels:
It works. Ok, lets be clear here, it works fine for reasonably controlled shoots where you don’t need continuous level fiddling on everything. You can certainly use the one knob to ride one channel without a problem. If you really need to ride the levels of 4-6 channels at once, then you need a mixer that lets you do so. With some practice, you could get a bit quick hitting the input channel selector ride levels if things aren’t too crazy.
UPDATE: Firmware V1.2 lets you gang inputs together and run their levels via the one knob. This makes stereo pairs easier to deal with. The firmware update also adds M/S stereo support as well.
Limiters :
They are there, but don’t work great. I could yell into the mic up close and clip input levels. It seems the limiters may stop a peak or two, but if you are hot on your overall levels, they won’t save you. Then again, lets ask the question, how much does this thing cost ? perhaps some firmware update might make for better limiter handling.
UPDATE: Recording 24bit can buy you extra headroom by setting an overall lower record level to accommodate peaks while staying out of the noise floor. This unit is plenty clean in 16bit and I don’t use 24 very often except in these cases.
Lowcuts :
The low cuts are settable for 60/80/120hz. The LC can be enabled for each input, and seems to work ok. I left it at 80hz which seemed ok when using direct ins.
Out of the box I had 1.0 firmware. A quick trip to Tascam’s web site had me downloading firmware 1.1, and updating the unit. Good to know its updateable, lets see what they might add going down the road to add value and functionality to the unit.
Stereo Mix:
You can mix a stereo output with a separate set of menu levels. This is something like a bus mix where you can adjust each input channel into the final mix level, then go to each channel adjust the somewhat mislabeled channel trim which is really input level. You can also disable the recording of the stereo output if you want.
Timecode :
There is none. This is the one single major flaw of the DR-680. You could feed timecode into one of the audio channels and use your NLE to read it, but I dearly wish the DR-680 had some sort of TC chase lock / read / record ability. Working with dSLR’s this may be a moot point anyway since dSLR’s don’t have TC either, unless you feed it to them as an audio channel loosing the in camera sound as a scratch track to sync against. Either way its pretty abysmal that timecode support is such an after thought with lower priced gear when there is no good reason it should be.
There is nothing like doing a simple slate clap to check sync at the end of a long roll to check sync. One frame at 24FPS is about .041 sec long. The drift I measured at about 72F between camera audio and the DR-680’s recording was about 560-620 samples across several takes, or .012 – .013 sec. This is less then a 1/4 frame of drift. I’d say more then good enough for most of use. This would mean about 1 frame after 40 minutes or so. Pretty solid performance considering there is no timecode, word clock, or video sync locking the unit.
Interesting facts I found along the way with sync :>
The  audio  on the EOS 550D is a full frame early from the picture!  Put another way, the picture is one full frame late. This is most likely caused by processing of the image, but the delay hasn’t been compensated for in the audio processing. Hopefully a firmware update will fix this. I confirmed this with many slate claps.
For comparison, I also ran a testing rolling my JVC HD100 in 720p24 mode. The HD100 shooting in 720p24 also has early audio as well, but only by about 118 samples which isn’t enough to normally worry about.
I used Premiere Pro CS5 for my analysis. The big reason for doing so is that if you toggle the timeline into audio samples, you can literally edit, measure, and even slip / slide / nudge edit audio down to the sample. This made things very simple for measuring drift and aligning things. In order even this out as best I could, I slipped the audio of the EOS 550D 1 frame forwards, and then nudged by samples to get the audio waveform lined up to the slate close on sample one of the slate close frame. I then aligned the DR-680 with the JVC perfectly.  Both cameras now had the slate closing in the same visual frame, and the audio as lined up  within a few samples for an even start.
Lets go to the 12 minute mark and see if sync is there. Drum roll please ! at 12 minutes,  both cameras closed the slate visually on the same frame.  What about the DR-680 ? it was 500-600 samples off from the slate close. That’s a total drift of about no more then 600 samples in 12 minutes ! at 23.976, there are 2002.002 samples per frame, 2002 for quick math. That means a total drift of about 1/4th to 1/3rd of a frame, or way more then good enough for just about anyone.
Ready for a shock ? Audio on both the JVC HD100 and EOS 550D where different ! they had actually drifted internally despite the expectation that once they were locked at the head, they should come out perfect at the end as well. The HD100 was 1009 samples early, the 550D was about 780 samples early. Remember I had locked the waveform together at the start to match the close frame. So the bottom line is the DR-680 is more accurate for for recording than the cameras ! No one has complained about the camera audio drifting around which it clearly does, so the DR-680 is safe for 12 minute takes for sure. I’d guess you’d probably be safe out to 30 minutes for a total drift of 1200 samples or so, this is  less than 1  frame at 24FPS. At 60i (48,000/59.94) its 800.8008 samples per frame, so your drift would be 1.5 frames which might become noticeable. Even if it was, it would be simple enough to make one or two edits in dead spots, slip the sound a few hundred samples and be back on. However this would only count with video cameras since none of the dslr’s shoot this long.
Its a steal ! the DR-680 runs accurately enough for any dSLR user to be happy. Sound quality is respectable, and the overall ergonomics of the unit are tolerable. Please understand that there are differences between the DR-680 and something like the SD 788T or even 744T, but are they worth 5-10X the price ? That entirely depends on the project, your day rate, and the stakes at hand. In most cases, this is a great unit for  low to medium budget work unless timecode is critical. If you have to have BWAV files sync’d to external TC to get the gig, well then you don’t have much choice unless you want to use one audio track to record TC and post can deal with that ( FCP + 3rd party plugin and Avid MC ). For the rest of us, the DR-680 should serve as a great audio recorder at a super reasonable price.
Rich Mays sent these comments that I’m reposting with permission : As Says Rich –
I bought the 680 to do “hit-and-run” small concerts but have gradually expanded its role. Since day one I was not thrilled with the metering (-10dBFS is difficult to estimate) but the sound makes up for the squinting.
The real test came last fall when I was doing a CD job consisting of 6 mechanical action organs in Nashville for an international CD label. My primary setup was to be a Prism Orpheus (I owned three at the time), a pair of Sennheiser 800 Twin mics, an Instasnake (CAT5 with balun) and my laptop– a Macbook Pro 2.33– all feeding Sequoia (my DAW of choice). The goal was quick setup/teardown and light weight but first-class sound.
At church #1 I could tell I had problems– low-level clocking ticks that I was 95% sure could be removed– but I needed to be 100% sure. The recording schedule (2 churches per day) left no room for “scratch-the-head and try THIS” activity.
Thank God I had brought the 680– which was originally to serve as the data backup while recording. I really did not want to use it to actually record but had no choice. It was use it and ignore whatever sonic consequences there might be (probably inaudible to the client and other customers) or probably scratch the project, lose the client, and possibly face a lawsuit (there was a contract). Merely shifting things one day to sort it all out was a luxury the schedule did not permit. Recording times had been negotiated months before and HAD to happen when scheduled.
So into the 680 went the 4 channels from the Twins. I was not worried about noise as they are high-output mics. I continued to dislike the headphone output I am using the Sennheiser HD600) but that’s life.
After post-production the results were most satisfying. I put this Dropbox link up on Gearslutz with the offer that the first person to identify which tracks were Orpheus and which were 680 would get a $100 check from me. So far no winners. No, there are not any tracks where both pieces of hardware were used– the schedule did not allow time for that. But really– the basic difference between the $4k Orpheus and the $600 680 should be apparent– right?
Obviously not. The listening link is  NO LONGER WORKS
Just thought that you and your readers might like to hear about this experience from someone doing high-end location music recording!
Thanks for the input Rich confirming this recorder is not just very affordable but also sounds great too !