Wired vs Wireless for Guitar, which sounds the best?
The subject of wired vs wireless for guitar is a much debated topic. Opinions vary on how both setups can affect your tone, but the issue is really more about application and signal flow. In this post we’ll cover the basics of good practice for each setup, and draw a conclusion for you to consider based on your requirements.
What makes a good wired guitar setup?
Anything that stands between your guitar and the amplifier will affect the final result. Therefore, it’s essential to invest into good quality cables. The following are some key points to consider:
If you’ve ever purchased or used a very cheap guitar cable, you’ll likely be familiar with the unwanted noise and buzzing typical of inferior cables with poor shielding. Good quality cables will keep noise to a minimum by shielding the conductor from electrical interference, usually with a metal shield, insulation, and a plastic jacket.
Note: No matter how good your shielding is, all guitar cables are unbalanced, meaning they use only one conductor and do not cancel out interference at the other end of the cable. Therefore, it is good practice to keep cables away from any potential source of interference, such as: power supplies, radios etc.
Capacitance is essentially the cables ability to store an electrical charge. For high impedance sources (such as passive guitars and basses), lower capacitance results in better frequency response. The cable length is also important because it is directly related to capacitance. Longer cables have a higher capacitance and signal loss over distance. Keep cable lengths to a minimum for the best results.
As previously mentioned, anything that stands between you and your amplifier will affect sound quality. Connectors are no different. Some higher end cable manufacturers (such as Monster) use gold plating to help improve connectivity. They also have the added advantage of helping to prevent corrosion.
What makes a good wireless guitar setup?
Just like wired, what happens to your wireless signal on the way from pick-up to amplifier will have an impact. Therefore, it is crucial to invest in a good quality wireless system to protect your precious guitar tone. The following are some frequently asked questions from new wireless users:
Will it colour my tone?
Possibly. Analogue wireless systems need to compress the dynamic range of the audio before it can be carried on a radio wave. It is compressed in the transmitter and expanded in the receiver – this process is known as “companding”. Budget analogue wireless systems may have a compander with a fixed ratio and this can make your sound unnatural. Better quality analogue systems have more natural sounding companders and make it much harder to tell the difference between wired and wireless sounds. Nevertheless, an analogue system can never completely recover perfectly the original audio signal.
Digital systems do not need a compander. With a digital system, the first thing your audio signal hits is an analogue to digital (A to D) convertor. This process preserves the full dynamic range of the input signal. The bit stream of 1s and 0s is transmitted to the receiver and is reconstructed by a digital to analogue convertor (D to A) to reform the original audio signal. Providing the units’ AD/DA converters are of a high quality, this gives a completely natural sound and means that your original tone is maintained.
Do I need a license?
Maybe. Most analogue systems operate in the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) spectrum. These systems may require a license, depending on which region you are in, and the frequency range that you are operating in. Digital systems, such as Shure’s GLX-D all operate in the 2.4GHz band and do not require a license.
The bottom line
The question of wired vs wireless and which sounds best is somewhat redundant. Essentially, providing you invest into high quality gear, both setups will deliver professional results. A good quality wired set-up is relatively cost effective. A wireless system on the other hand, does require some further investment to retain the same signal quality. It can be tempting to buy a cheap wireless system as a compromise – not a good idea if you want your live shows to sound great.
Cheaper wireless systems with low quality companders or unreliable RF performance, will only prove to be a false economy in the bigger scheme of things. After all, what is the use of going wireless if your rig no longer sounds like your guitar?
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