Dipoles in the Bag?

Antenna setups in a mobile sound bag for the location sound mixer vary between bag to bag, and the choices are plentiful. For a long time, I hesitated to integrate dipole antennas into my bag due to their size, additional weight (even if just a little bit) and the requirement that an antenna distribution system was necessary to use them in a bag setup.

Now, after integrating them into my bag with my Zaxcom wireless systems (TRXLA2.5s & QRX200, plus MicPlexer 2) I am in fact a proponent of dipole antennas and I encourage every bag mixer to consider their use.

Why? Because they work incredibly well. 

For many years I used Lectrosonics wireless systems as my primary wireless. They are outstanding wireless systems which use a Digital Hybrid Wireless technology for their audio transmission. The range on these hybrid systems is excellent, and using the supplied whip antennas that come with the receivers in the bag has always been sufficient for my purposes. I still use this setup in the smaller of my two bags, which contains a Zaxcom Maxx and two (2) Lectrosonics wireless systems (UCR411a & SMQV). I remain happy with this system and setup to this day. 

That said, when I recently made the move to an all-digital wireless setup for the larger of my two sound bags which now uses all Zaxcom wireless, the first thing I noticed was a decreased capacity for range compared to the Lectrosonics units. It's important to note that this was to be expected, and something I had known about long before making the move to Zaxcom wireless. The technology between the two systems is not the same, and an all digital system will at times experience 'drop-outs' before a hybrid system will. However with a digital system, the audio is either ON or OFF. If it's working, it's working to it's maximum capacity, whereas with a hybrid system you may experience a decrease in the quality of the audio being received at the bag, however the signal is still 'usable' depending on who you ask and their perception of what they hear.

Regardless, the loss of range with my new system required two things for my purposes: 1.) An antenna distribution system to filter out unwanted noise around the frequency spectrum I would be working in, and 2.) The ability for the antenna distribution system to work with dipole antennas, which are far superior to simply using whips in the bag. 

This is where Zaxcom's MicPlexer 2 came into play. The MicPlexer 2 has a 35MHz front end filter which basically nukes all of the radio frequencies (RF) above and below where you set the 35MHz window. You can do this according to preset RF Blocks, or choose to customize where the center of your 35MHz window sits. The unit also has +6dB of RF gain for antennas attached to the unit, as well as overload LEDs to let you know when you're too close to a transmitter, possibly desensitizing your receivers and potentially causing you intermodulation issues. 

To pair with the MicPlexer 2 I chose a set of Lectrosonics SNA600a Dipole Antennas. I absolutely LOVE Lectrosonics' build quality, and the dipoles are quite common amongst sound mixers integrating dipoles into their bags. The SNA600a dipole antennas are also user adjustable and can be tuned between 550MHz and 800MHz by adjusting the physical arms on the antenna. This combination of robust build quality and user friendly customization was the primary factor in my using these antennas in the bag. They can also be integrated into a sound cart if required. 

In sum, the combination of the MicPlexer 2 and a new set of Dipole antennas has radically increased the range for my Zaxcom wireless units, and has made such a difference that I will not go back to whips unless the new ZHD modulation from Zaxcom improves the range so much for their wireless systems that I no longer require Dipoles in the bag. I'll get to ZHD later, but it is a promising new technological achievement from Zaxcom, and another of the many reasons I'm happy to have integrated a full Zaxcom system into my primary audio bag.

One final note: The robust feature set and complex workflows I do on a daily basis require Zaxcom wireless' outstanding feature set. In other words, I simply cannot perform my job the way I perform it using any other gear. The MicPlexer 2 and Dipole antennas in the bag are absolutely worth the small additional weight, and the usability of my sound bag has never been greater. 

So, if you're a sound mixer on the fence about dipole antennas in the bag, don't be. My suggestion is to integrate them into your bag right away.