Feature Design Digital Wireless Microphone
[ 2011.6.16 up ]

Seeking tomorrow's legendary products today

Over time, many Sony broadcast and pro audio products have become legends. One day, these new digital wireless microphones may well enjoy the same status. Soon after release, they appeared in national singing shows on TV and became the favorite microphone of renowned artists. Read how in Sony professional audio, the baton has been passed.

Hiroki Oka
Hiroki Oka
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Chief Art Director
Naofumi Yoneda
Naofumi Yoneda
Sony Creativeworks
Senior Designer
Satoshi Suzuki
Satoshi Suzuki
Sony Creativeworks
Senior Designer

Design work that stands the test of time

Oka: Sony has been developing professional microphones for more than 50 years. Some have truly transformed the industry, such as the C-38 series in 1965. Still in production today, these mics have been used by most sound engineers at one time or another. They're what many people think of when you mention professional condenser microphones. Meanwhile, many artists swear by the C-800G/9X, developed for recording studios. Through these landmark models, Sony microphones have earned an enduring reputation in pro audio as a brand to trust.

It's the same in wireless microphones. In 1999, WRT-867 systems offered uncompromising wireless mics that withstood tough conditions in the field. They're still in use today at concert halls and other venues around the world. Unfortunately, some limitations were unavoidable. Analog signal transmission supported only 20 channels at a venue, and interference or noise may occur under some conditions.

Our interest in eliminating these issues-by updating our wireless microphones for a digital age-motivated us to take on this project. It would be the first attempt anywhere to make a digital handheld mic for live stage. Digital circuits promised several advantages, including support for more channels at the same time (up to 12ch in 6MHz or 16ch in 8MHz), better audio quality, and stronger security.

Such a drastic system overhaul is rare in the history of microphones, however. It would surely be another milestone in design, not only for Sony professional audio, but also for the broadcast, entertainment, and recording industries in general. We geared up for the challenge and set to work.

In focus in design: what's in the camera eye

Oka: In managing product design, I wanted to leave no doubt about the mic looking reliable and inspiring confidence. Another goal was to ensure its Sony heritage was clear. We had to keep in mind how, in vocal performances, nothing is closer to an artist's face than the microphone. Mics are always visible to TV viewers or to audiences watching the screens at live shows. Of course, artists must play the starring role while their mic remains "best supporting actor," but when the mic comes into view, it should be distinctive enough to be recognizable as a Sony product, with the dignity of reference equipment.

This is truly difficult, however. Of everything Sony offers, I think no product is more frustrating to design than microphones. The simpler the shape, the harder it is to give products character. And TV viewers or audience members only catch an occasional glimpse of the bottom of a mic. I decided that three of us should brainstorm about it. I hoped that even a project that might challenge a designer working alone would be easier with a few people collecting and refining ideas, looking for design inspiration.

Suzuki: Already, almost 20 years had passed since the last generation of Sony designers had released mics that became legends. As a new generation of designers, we wanted to redefine what's important in microphones. We began by casting aside our preconceptions, and soon we were exchanging ideas freely. Using rapid prototyping, the three of us created quite a few mock-ups.

As we brainstormed, we were also busy conducting research. Audio professionals rely on this equipment as tools of the trade. We wanted to understand user needs and opinions in the field. This included people who manage PA systems at entertainment venues or rehearsal studios, sound engineers at recording studios, and obviously the artists themselves. We spoke with many people, heard valuable accounts of their experiences, and received feedback on our mock-ups.

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