PSM®300: The Story of Two Systems, In Stereo
In recent years, Shure has reinvigorated the high-tier personal monitoring market with PSM®900 and PSM®1000 Personal Monitor Systems. That's huge for musicians and monitor engineers doing stadium gigs, but what about something new for everybody else?
If you're looking for an in-ear solution but don't need a touring-grade system that's as advanced and feature-rich as PSM 900 or PSM 1000, one of the new PSM®300 Stereo Personal Monitor Systems is most likely right for you.
Michael Johns, Product Manager for Shure PSM, explains the story of the two systems, as well as a few other distinguishing features.
What's with the two systems? Can you explain what type of user and application each system is meant for, and say more about the feature differences?
Both packaged systems were designed for entry-level in-ear monitor users such as bands and smaller institutions that own and operate their equipment. PSM 300 is configured in two ways: a standard system with a plastic bodypack ideal for bands just getting into IEMs, and a professional system with a metal bodypack ideal for rental houses and institutions such as houses of worship.Mechanically, the biggest difference between the two systems lies with the bodypack receivers: the P3R and the P3RA. The P3R is a plastic pack with a streamlined user interface, and it can be powered only by AA batteries. When you open the battery door, you'll see a seven-segment LCD that displays group, channel, and MixMode® settings. Then you have Group, Channel, and Scan buttons that, respectively, allow you to manually change the group and channel and do a scan. P3R also allows users to control stereo and MixMode capabilities.
The P3RA bodypack is metal, which makes it perfect for rental and house of worship environments where equipment tends to be handled more roughly. You can use it with either the Shure SB900 rechargeable battery or AA batteries. Also, because it has a menu-based LCD, we were able to offer some additional features accessible via menu-based navigation. For example, there are Radio, Audio, and Utility menus. Within each of these menus there are additional features, like high boost and low boost.
Another difference between the two systems is the earphones. Earphones are a really important part of an IEM system, by the way. A listener can take our top IEM system and use a cheap no-name earbud with it, and audio-wise, it's only going to sound as good as that earbud. At a street price of $699 in the US, the P3TR112GR plastic bodypack system comes with our new SE112 Sound Isolating™ Earphones that we sell as a stand-alone for $49. The SE215, our $100 stand-alone earphones, are included in the P3TRA215CL metal bodypack system, which has a street price of $799. So, for $100 more, you get a more feature-rich earphone, a more feature-rich metal bodypack, and the potential savings from the rechargeability option. The rechargeable battery isn't included, but for about $150, you can get a battery and a charger. If you're a frequent PSM 300 user, then within a year, you'll have saved in AA batteries what you paid for the rechargeable components. After that, it's nothing but savings on batteries for the life of the system, which should be years.
P3RA Professional Wireless Bodypack Receiver
P3R Wireless Bodypack Receiver
Stereo monitoring is a new feature in our entry-level personal monitoring offering. What is stereo monitoring exactly, and what are its benefits over mono?
Generally, people who are using floor wedge monitors are getting a mono mix. In order to get a stereo mix, they'd have to be equidistant between two wedges, one panned hard left and one panned hard right. This never happens in real life. Receiving a stereo mix just isn't possible without an in-ear monitoring system.PSM 300 is our first entry-level IEM system to offer stereo monitoring. Why would you want a stereo mix over a mono mix, though? Honestly, a lot of it has to do with personal preference. For vocalists in particular, there are benefits to stereo mixes that you can build to sound exactly like a recording. If you're able to hear yourself in stereo, then it's easier to make fine adjustments in dynamics, pitch, and so on as you're singing. For keyboards and horn players, too, it's helpful to hear the vocal mix in stereo.
One of the huge technological benefits of transmitting in stereo is that it allows us to offer MixMode functionality on the bodypack for the user to control while performing. MixMode converts a stereo mix into two mono mixes that you hear in both ears. It gets transmitted in stereo, but the receiver treats it like two mono signals and puts them evenly in both ears. From there, you use the pan knob or buttons on the bodypack receiver to blend both mixes, emphasizing either vocals or instruments in both ears. That's probably the biggest benefit to offering a stereo system.
Stage volume is a big concern particularly for houses of worship. How can PSM 300 help with that?
It can help in two ways: reducing the number of loudspeakers in the ambient environment, and allowing performers to play at a quieter level. They go hand-in-hand.Houses of worship tend to have at least a pair of front of house loudspeakers, and sometimes a lot more. When performers use wedge monitors, which are also loudspeakers, the volume increases both onstage and in the congregation. When you're using IEMs instead of wedges, the volume from those extra loudspeakers is eliminated.
Additionally, when musicians hear themselves via custom mixes delivered through in-ears, they aren't turning themselves up to be heard over each other through their wedge monitors, so they're not playing as loud. The same applies to vocalists. When they're hearing themselves clearly and they're fully occluded with a pair of Shure Sound Isolating Earphones, they won't sing as loud, and they won't strain their voices either.In a nutshell, IEMs put loudspeakers in the ears of the performers instead of in the ambient environment, which means reduced stage volume.
PSM 300 features 24-bit digital audio. How is the sound quality different from that of an analog system?
This is a really important point. PSM 300 is neither a digital wireless system nor an analog wireless system. It's what we refer to as a hybrid system. With PSM 300, we've chosen digital audio architecture being transmitted over analog RF because digital RF typically has latency.For various reasons, latency in digital wireless microphones isn't really an issue; however, with an in-ear monitor, latency is a no-go. When you're transmitting in stereo, any existing latency theoretically doubles. Unlike a microphone, an IEM is for an audience of one. Being just a few milliseconds out of time can affect the ability to sing or play an instrument, so we replaced with an analog scheme the portion of the digital technology that creates latency. Everything else, however, is being done digitally.
Here's how it works: analog audio enters the transmitter, gets converted digitally, and goes into this integrated circuit called an FPGA. The FPGA runs many little digital signal processing engines simultaneously, so it can do the companding, the equalization, the emphasis—everything needed in order to send a wireless signal over the air. That's all being done digitally.
It's not difficult to make really good sounding stereo systems, but it is difficult to make a really good low-cost stereo system because analog components that sound good are expensive. Using a digital scheme, however, to accomplish all the necessary things in the audio domain allows us to offer an affordable stereo system. Some of our competitors are offering affordable analog stereo systems, but they're using low-cost analog components that compromise the dynamic range, the signal-to-noise ratio, and the overall sound quality. Our hybrid approach allows us to offer high quality digital audio with no latency, all at an affordable price, giving our customers the best of both worlds.
People are creatures of habit. They like what they're used to, even if they know there's a better solution. What can you tell people who are teetering on the edge of going in-ear but are nervous about making the switch? What's on the other side of that anxiety that's worth the leap?
There are some really significant benefits that are worth the learning curve. The portability aspect is huge, especially for bands that run their own sound and haul their own gear. You already have your axe, your amps, your drums, your keyboard equipment, and whatever other instruments you have. Wedge monitors weigh at least 45 pounds each. Why lug those when instead you could bring a PSM system with a transmitter that weighs 3 or 4 pounds, and receivers that only weigh a few ounces? It takes up much less of that precious cargo space in your van or your storage space, and it's a lot easier on your back.The second aspect is sound quality. As I mentioned earlier, IEMs are for an audience of one. Providing an individual custom mix directly to the ear of an artist will help him or her perform better. Along with that, there's the benefit of hearing conservation. You don't have to listen as loudly to hear what you need to do your part. You have control over the stage volume because you're fully occluded with Sound Isolating earphones. You can still damage your hearing if you turn it up too loud, so you have to practice safe hearing protocols, but even so, the individual user is in control and not at the mercy of anyone else's volume needs.
The third reason—and for some musicians, this is the most important reason—is the mobility aspect. On today's major tours, like U2 with the stage that moves 360 degrees, P!nk hanging on velvet ropes, and Taylor Swift hanging off a suspended Model T that moves around the entire venue, production coordinators are requiring audio guys to use in-ears. If you're going to hang from a Model T on a truss, you can't have a floor wedge monitor up there with you. Even if you're an entry-level IEM user playing in a band or in a house of worship, you're going to want to move around onstage. If you're using a floor wedge monitor, you're tethered to that monitor. If you walk away from your monitor to go talk to the drummer, for example, and you speak into your microphone, you're not going to hear yourself as well because you're not in front of your wedge.
PSM 300 debuted in October at WFX in Dallas and AES in Los Angeles, and it came away from AES with a ProSound Network Best of Show Award. What was that experience like, after seeing the product through from concept to completion?
This is the third PSM release that I've worked on. Launching PSM 900 got us back in the IEM product category, and following it up with PSM 1000 really entrenched us in the high-tier end of the category. For me, seeing PSM 300 come from its inception all the way to launch completed the metamorphosis of the Shure PSM category, from high-tier to entry-level. Now we have the 300, the 900, and the 1000, which all operate in stereo, and all work with rechargeable batteries. That's a huge technological accomplishment for us, and a testament to Shure's long-term commitment to the IEM category.The hybrid architecture of PSM 300 reflects the technological innovations that we've made with wireless microphones as well. There's a lot of crossover between what we've done with IEMs and what we've done with wireless systems. It was nice to win the Best of Show Award at AES because the manufacturers that exhibit at AES to me represent the best of the best. When ProSound scans all the booths at AES and picks us as one of the best, that says a lot about us, about how far we've come with the IEM category in the past five years. It's cool.
Is there anything else about PSM 300 that people should know?
The new PA411 four-way antenna combiner works with PSM 300. It allows you to combine the RF antennas of, and provide power to, up to four PSM transmitters. That's a really cool feature because with PSM 300, there are going to be situations in which people are using more than one transmitter—for example, a larger band with a dozen members and just as many mixes needs a transmitter for each mix. And you never want a bunch of transmit antennas next to each other in a rack.PA411 is limited in that only works with up to 50 mW of power, but that's fine with PSM 300, which operates at 30 mW. Using it gives you more RF stability, and with the flip of a switch, it allows you to power up all four units, which is a nice feature.
We have a four-way combiner that's feature-rich and touring-grade, but it's maybe double the price of the PA411. You'll want the other combiner for PSM 900 and PSM 1000, but if you're using PSM 300, then PA411 is a nice way to fully kit out your system.
Check out our video walk-through of a PSM 300 system setup and see how easy it is: