Once again, Sennheiser proudly waves the flag of German engineering, having upped the ante with its SK 5212, one of the smallest wireless microphone bodypack transmitters in its class. The unit even surpasses its predecessor, the SK 5012, in terms of size, weight, and user-friendliness. The SK 5212 can be used with all of Sennheiser's 3000 and 5000 Series components. A sturdy metal housing keeps the mini-transmitter safe and sound in the tough conditions of theatre and TV productions.

The SK 5212 uses a two-stage, low-cut filter — 60Hz and 120Hz — to filter out wind or handling noise. With an adjustable input sensitivity, the transmitter can be individually adapted to bring out the best in various sound sources, volumes, and applications. Users will also welcome its backlit LCD and the convenient, menu-controlled operation. It features a straightforward jog dial and provides a lot of information, including AF, RF, battery level, and frequency information. A menu-lock function safeguards against accidental setting changes. If you have a need for small and flexible wireless transmitters, then take a close look at — and listen to — the SK 5212.

What It Does

“There are two things that make this product great: its size and frequency agility,” says Joe Ciaudelli, consultant, professional products industry team for Sennheiser. “The bodypack fits in the palm of your hand; it's very small and unobtrusive. With a bodypack transmitter, you are basically trying to hide it.” Hiding the SK 5212 is pretty easy, as it measures 2 1/11"×2 4/11"× 8/11" (53×60×17mm) and weighs in at 4.2oz (120g), including the battery.

Ciaudelli continues, “It is very frequency-agile, in that you can tune any frequency within a 36MHz switching bandwidth. You can switch between any frequency in 5kHz steps, so the user has his choice of operating on 7,200 different frequencies. Not only that, but we can also shift that 36MHz window over a large portion of the UHF spectrum. So let's say that they are doing a show on Broadway with that transmitter. We will pick a 36MHz area that's good for New York City. Then next year, they go to Los Angeles with that transmitter, and we may need to shift that 36MHz from something like 500 to 536 to 584 to 608. We give you freedom to choose and freedom to move, and if you want to move, we will shift your frequency tuning window.” Anyone can do the tuning within the original 36MHz window. Advanced users, such as rental shops, can do the shifting of the 36MHz window over the UHF spectrum. Many shop techs go to Sennheiser for training on the products.

How It Came to Be

The SK 5212 was launched at NAB in April 2006. “It is a unique product, but it came from an evolution of products,” comments Ciaudelli. “We have to credit a lot of sound designers who were looking for a very small bodypack. Tony Meola, in particular, really pushed us to create a smaller bodypack, and we did create its predecessor, the SK 5012.”

Ciaudelli notes that the newer pack has the same size of the 5012, but is much more “frequency-agile.” The unit runs off a single AA battery, and it will run five-and-a-half hours at the 50mW setting. It also has a 10mW setting that will allow it to run for 11 hours on a single AA, “perfect for a theme park,” he adds. “One battery will last you the whole day.”

What's Next

“Although it's pretty small as it is, we will see the packs eventually get smaller,” says Ciaudelli. “I think that the next thing is even more frequency agility — really to address the changing RF landscape, specifically of the digital TV transition and the reallocation of the RF spectrum known as the ‘white-space debate’ [or spectrum sharing].”

Ciaudelli is referring to Congressional discussions about reallocating frequencies within the US so that new services can be introduced. This could affect the frequency ranges on which wireless microphone users operate. “We need to respond by giving our customers products with even more frequency agility and not trade-off on the reliability of the product,” he adds. “There are often some trade-offs between agility and being able to ward off potentially interfering signals.”

What End-Users Have to Say

Tom Young, who is Tony Bennett's longtime sound designer and engineer, speaks about his experience with the product while working on the Tony Bennett: An American Classic TV special. “Doing period pieces, the look and sound of the microphones was critical to the production, as all vocals from the performers were recorded live,” he says. “We used the SK 5212 on all performed segments as a safety for the audio. The ability to hide this miniature transmitter on the performers worked perfectly. Also, the six-hour battery life on a single AA worked great when shooting long days. The quality of the audio using this transmitter with the MKE 2 microphone worked flawlessly to achieve our results, with some great mixing by Dae Bennett. I had several people convinced the singers were working to track after hearing the final product. I highly recommend this product to anyone looking for high-quality results in an incredible small package.”

David Bellamy, owner of Soundtronics with offices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, specializes in wireless microphones and communications. The company works on the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars — “most of the live shows that are on TV, but we also do a lot of legitimate theatre and trade shows,” Bellamy says. He chose the SK 5212 because, he says, “Everything is based on getting as many microphones to work on our stages as possible. That means that we have to use a multitude of frequency ranges. I like the way it radiates — the way it transmits RF — which is a slight improvement over what they have done in the past. But it's never been about what I like; it is always about what my clients like. I have the privilege of working with the best technical people in the business, so when I take 5212s on a show, my clients say, ‘I like this.’ They like the look of it, the feel of it, and the display. We have a lot of confidence with it.”

Vern Binns, wireless technician and head of the department for PRG Audio, adds, “The most important thing about the SK 5212 is that it has a 36MHz window instead of 24MHz, so you get a wider range of frequencies to use for tours and Broadway. Also, to me, it is a better-sounding transmitter. The features that I like are the display and the rotary knob to change the frequencies. You can set the frequencies exactly without having to open up the pack. Unlike the 5012, where you had to lift up the cover to see what number it is on, with the 5212, it is right there in front of you.”

For improvements, Binns would like to see the battery cover re-engineered. “The cover for the battery compartment is very fragile,” he says. “When you open it up, if you are not careful, the springs just pop out and get lost. They could make that a little better.”

Mark Norfolk, theatrical rental group manager at Specialized Audio-Visual Inc. based in Clifton Park, NY, has also tried out the SK 5212. “We chose the product for it size and flexibility — the fact that it is not fixed frequencies, that it's tunable,” he says. “On the 5012, you were locked into presets. The 5212 is tunable in 5kHz steps. We use them for theatrical tours.” At this point, there is nothing that Norfolk would like to see improved or added to the product. “I was eagerly awaiting this product for a long time, and they pretty much answered all of my requests,” he adds.

Brian Ronan, New York City-based sound designer, is the designer for the new Broadway show Curtains. When Ronan put his bid out, the shops offered him the new SK 5212s. “I looked up the specs and thought that it looked good, so I called up some friends who are sound designers and asked if they had any complaints and everyone said no, they all work fine, like any Sennheiser product,” Ronan says. “So I gave it the green light. I love that the input gain is in 1dB steps unlike older Sennheiser products. Unless you had it on a 'scope, it was hard to tell exactly how high you were going on the gain on the packs. Now you can make more intelligent choices when you are setting up your gain structure. The other thing is the frequency agility. Instead of 16 presets, you have the ability to move around. You won't need that much for a Broadway show, but on a touring show, more adjustability will be handy. I like that it is a single AA battery and the LCD; you can write in the talent name‥”

There is always room to improve, and Ronan comments, “I would always say go smaller with it. The size has gotten negligible; it is smaller one way, but a little thicker in another, so it is a lateral move in the size department. I can't think of anything that I would ask it to do that it couldn't do. I think that it is a good step forward and that Sennheiser has obviously listened to end-users, which I think is pretty smart.”

For more information, visit www.sennheiserusa.com.