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AMT Roam 1 Elite wireless microphone outfit

Origin: USA & Japan (www.appliedmicrophone.com)
Guide price: £500
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2006
Date reviewed: July 2006

The ultimate in wireless mic technology for a broad range of instrumentalists

Miking up musical instruments has, for the most part, always been a battle of compromises. There's a need to balance the quality of the sound with the needs of the player to express themselves - and more often than not that expression is translated into movement. The basic problem is that for quality of sound you need to capture an instrument's entire output, and that requires highly sensitive kit (typically bulky) and very particular positioning. For freedom of movement you need something small and portable that remains in position as you move. There's an instant conflict.

In recent years microphone technology has evolved to such a degree that even quite small microphones are capable of providing excellent sound quality - but the combination of miniaturisation and quality comes at a hefty premium, and attempts to limit the cash cost generally results in the balance swinging more to making the unit more portable rather than maintaining the quality of sound.
The AMT Roam Elite does away with this compromise by virtue of being bloody expensive.

The 'business end' of the outfit is the AMT mic cartridge mounted on a shock-absorbing and acoustically tweaked ring coupled with a Samson UHF wireless transmitter - all fitted on a single versatile clamp.
I was quite surprised at how small the unit is as a whole. The transmitter itself is positively dinky.
The beauty of this system is that there are no bulky body-packs or trailing wires - the whole shebang sits on the clamp.
What surprised me was the size of the receiver. That too is quite compact - I was expecting something more robust...less easy to tread on or knock off the top of an amp cabinet. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a nice needle gauge and a box that looks like it can handle a roadie's boot.
As it is, the receiver has very little on it at all - a power switch, a single tiny aerial, a volume knob, a squelch screw (for eliminating noise problems) and a couple of LEDs to indicate signal/power and peak signal. There are two outputs on the rear; one XLR format, one jack socket. There's no output lead supplied with the kit and the unit is powered via a transformer.
The receiver works on a single channel. This could potentially be an issue if other people in the band use radio transmitters - so you need to check whether there's likely to be a frequency clash. The receiver is available set to one of six frequencies, which you might need to specify at purchase.

The transmitter is powered by a single penlight battery. This is obviously great for size-related issues, but just how much grunt does one of these little batteries have? Well, clearly enough - as we'll see - and I'm informed by another Roam user that this battery lasts plenty long enough. So much so that's it's as well to keep a spare close by as you'll most likely forget that it'll need changing at some point. Naturally the life of the battery will vary according to use, so I'll keep my eye on it and report back when I've established how long it lasts if I feel it's an issue.
Whilst I'm on the subject of power, the transmitter has two small switches; a power on/off and a mute switch.
I felt the mute switch to be a bit superfluous, until I tried switching the transmitter on and off. There was a distinct 'thump' through the PA. Granted, it wasn't anything dramatic but it's clearly audible - and you wouldn't want to switch on the mic while the MC was announcing the band...
I guess that's what the mute button is for, which means leaving the unit powered on (or switching it on and off when there's sufficient background noise to cover it) and that will obviously affect battery life. I'm not an electrical boffin, so I don't know whether or not a quiet on/off switch is feasible in such circumstances...but it would have been a nice touch.

The clamp is comprised of two distinct arms - a long and short one.
I soon found that I didn't need the long arm, and equally quickly discovered that you need to completely remove it if you want to adjust the short arm with any degree of ease.
The long arm is clamped with the aid of a long bolt, the short arm uses a small but strong spring and a locking bolt.
I had some trouble getting the locking bolt to work and found that the foot of the spring was fouling the screw. It's a meaty spring, so it wasn't at all easy to bend the foot out slightly to allow the locking bolt to screw fully home - so I'd knock point off the factory setup for that little oversight.
The transmitter and mic is affixed to a flexible arm. You can adjust the position of the transmitter on this arm, and its flexibility allows you to position the mic to best effect.

Once the mic is attached to the horn you can set about the business of adjusting the sound.
Much is made of the Roam's lack of 'key noise' - which describes how a mic attached to the body of a sax will pick up the noise of the keys hitting the cups as the shock gets transmitted through the body. The Roam's shock resistance comes chiefly from the way the mic is suspended in its mounting ring on two rubber bands.
My immediate impression wasn't all that favourable. I turned the unit on and ran my fingers down the keys, and could clearly hear the sound of the mechanism through the PA.

Roam clampInspecting the clamp I could see that it wasn't positioned quite correctly, and there was metal-to-metal contact on the part of the clamp that sits over the bell rim and remains uncovered by thin rubber. A bit of careful repositioning resolved this, but I wonder if perhaps the channel for the bell rim shouldn't be a tad more generous, especially as some players might find it hard to find a part of the bell rim that isn't bent and buckled! Once secured in place the clamp didn't seem to want to move, so that's reassuring.
I still noted some slight key noise - but then it occurred to me that I don't often stand in front of a live mic and rattle my keys. This is essentially what happens when you use one of these 'fitted' mics - it's always there, you're always on it.

You'd be lucky to get a great sound instantly out of the unit. It has a very different response pattern to a stand mic, especially if you use (as I do) a vocal mic. I use the same desk from gig to gig - same channel, same settings - which means that the most I ever need to do is give the settings a tweak at the soundcheck. Using the Roam on the same settings as a vocal mic resulted in a very unpleasant, boxy sound. This was easily resolved by dropping out the midrange gain on the desk - and with a few tweaks involving a little more low end and a little less top I was able to achieve a very crisp but full tone from the mic.
The PA engineers decided to DI (Direct Inject) the output from the receiver in order to counter a little instability in the output levels. Can't say I noticed it through the speakers, but the engineers felt the output was a little jumpy - and their meters are probably rather more sensitive than my ears.
I should note too that we placed the receiver right next to the bass player's Audio Technica receiver to test whether there'd be any bleed-through problems. Not a sausage. Excellent.

Between myself and the soundcrew we established that there's an optimum position for the mic. I initially set it dead centre on the bell, about four inches above the rim - but by moving it up to six inches and angling it in towards the body slightly we got a much better all-round response.
The ultimate test for a mounted mic is the bell notes - you can set it for a perfect sound down to around low C, but as you go lower than that the tone starts to balloon, ending in that characteristic 'foghorn' effect from the low Bb. The reason for this is simply that you can't 'play' the mic like you can with as stand-mounted one.
This is a technique as important as playing the horn - and if you look at any half-decent singer you'll note them constantly moving on and off the mic as they vary their volume and pitch.
I've used mounted mics in the past and have often had to make compromises in order to be able to use the low notes, but the Roam fared very much better. For sure, there's still some 'bloom' to the bell notes, but not so much that it isn't easy to just back off the power when blowing the bell notes.
To some extent this will also depend on your setup and your tone - a close-set mic and a warm tone is going to require more technique tweaking than a distant mic and an open tone.
With a decent sound desk you should also be able to compensate for any low-end bloom quite easily, and I found the necessary blowing adjustments to be very easy.

Once I'd set the mic up there were two things I wanted to check. Range of operation and feedback potential.
The latter was easy enough to test - I just stood in front of the PA stack and blew.
Not a hint of feedback. Nothing. Not a squeak.
We're not talking a pub rig here either...this is a six way rig standing eight feet high.
Very impressive - I wouldn't have got within ten feet of the stack with a stand mic.
This might seem a somewhat extreme test, but if you're going to do any wandering about with one of these mics it's as well to check whether there are any no-go areas. It also bodes well for monitoring - I've seen plenty of players with mounted mics drop a clanger as they go to place the horn on its stand.'.swinging it right in front of a monitor as they do so. Makes quite a howl...
I have a client who uses an earlier model Roam, and they noted problems with feedback in certain situations - but looking at AMT's blurb I note that the polar pattern (effectively the mic's directional capabilities) of this updated model has been tweaked.
That in itself is a trade-off...if you tighten the polar pattern so the mic is more directional you lessen the chances of feedback, but then you potentially cut down how much of the horn's body sound the mic picks up.

The range test involved me leaving the stage and walking as far away from the receiver as possible whilst still playing.
I managed to walk out of the venue (a marquee) and right up to the perimeter of the grounds...about 100 yards away, and the mic never missed a note.
I'd imagine this would be more than enough range for most people. I mean, let's face it...most sax players rarely stray more than 20 yards from a bar...and need a lie-down after more than 50.
I successfully tested the range again under working conditions - much to the surprise of the caterers, who found a sax player giving it large in the middle of their kitchen halfway through the gig. I figured that placing an entire dance-floor full of punters, plus a rack of ovens and assorted metalware in the way of the receiver would be a decent enough test. Even managed to blag a cup of tea, which is about as good a recommendation for getting a Roam as I can give.

Walking through the audience was a breeze. With the mic mounted on the rear of the bell it wasn't as exposed as some I've used before, and when the inevitable knocks came the mic's sprung mount arm and rubber shock absorber matrix worked perfectly.
The lack of trailing leads was a boon too - I can't over-emphasise the sense of freedom the mic-mounted transmitter gives you, especially when it comes to picking up and putting down the horn.

So that pretty much wraps up the good points. Now it's time for the knocks.
The case. The word that springs to mind is unimpressive.
Seriously - this is half a grand's worth of kit, and I've bought ten quid watches in better cases.
The case itself is a moulded plastic affair that exudes cheapness. It's not all that easy to open (which I suppose is a good thing) and it's even harder to close (which isn't such a good thing).
The lining is basic. Worryingly so.
It comprises a flat layer of foam sheet on the base and a dimpled layer on the lid. I can see the theory behind it - the kit rests on the flat layer and when the lid is closed the dimpled lid layer stops the stuff from moving about in transit.
It didn't do so well stopping the arm of the clamp that I'd removed, or a spare battery, or the little screwdriver that comes with the kit.
Modded Roam caseIt really doesn't inspire confidence - so much so that I felt it necessary to mod out the case with another bit of foam into which I'd cut a few rudimentary compartments, as can be seen on the left.
This keeps all the little accessories from rolling about, and provides a bit more assurance that the power supply isn't going to slam into the very expensive and delicate mic in the event of the case taking a tumble.
I'll also keep my eye open for a decent executive-style briefcase..something that's a bit less hassle to open and close.
Overkill? Perhaps - but kit this expensive should come with overkill as standard...and with the Chinese being able to produce entire instruments for less than fifty quid, how hard and expensive would it be to have something as simple as a bespoke case knocked up that did the kit the credit it deserved?

The mic itself is mounted on two rubber bands - but there are no spares provided with the kit. Two would have been nice, one would have been helpful...
I've no idea how long the bands will last - but accidents will happen, and where will you find suitable replacements at 11pm on a Saturday night in the middle of nowhere?
The kit comes supplied with a dinky little screwdriver, which one assumes is to allow you to adjust the position of the transmitter unit on its mount. But there's a problem - two actually. The screws on the unit are crossheaded and the screwdriver is a plain slot type...and the blade is too big anyway.
Just for fun I tried to use the screwdriver, but it appears the blade is made of something slightly less hardy than Parmesan cheese - so in other words it's about as much use as speak-your-weight machine with a speech impediment. I suppose I could always use it to spear a cocktail sausage next time I happen to be playing in the caterer's kitchen...
I'm told, subsequently, by the suppliers that the screwdriver is for adjusting the gain/squelch control on the rear of the transmitter - for which it should be fine...though mine won't be 'cos I've chewed up the blade.

I'm slightly concerned that the unit only works on one frequency.
If you only ever work with one band then there's probably very little chance that you'll ever come across another bit of kit that will clash - but for the average jobbing musician I tend to feel that the popularity of wireless kit (especially for vocalists and guitarists) might lead to clashes. It would have been reassuring to have at least one other frequency setting.
It could be that to do so would necessitate a larger transmitter - in which case having only the one channel is the price of miniaturisation. Fortunately most other radio kit comes with a choice of channels...so if there's a clash, they'll have to move.

I am in no doubt that the Roam does precisely what it sets out to do. It provides an excellent sound coupled with a truly remarkable degree of functionality and freedom. It's a real joy not to be tied to a stand mic, and you shouldn't underestimate just how important the ability to move is to your creativity. It isn't about 'bar walking' or posing...it's about using the horn organically. A slight shift to the left here, a swing to the right there...it just adds a bit of kick to your expression. You can close your eyes and blow your heart out, and no-one will miss a note.
I think what really sums up the quality of this mic is that once I'd fiddled about setting it up and tweaked the sound to my liking, I didn't have to think about it at all after that. I just got on with playing. As anyone who's used an iffy mic will know, you spend all night being constantly reminded of how badly they perform - but the AMT Roam was as transparent a bit of kit as I've ever used.

Up 'till now I'd have said that the main reason for using a stand mic in a gig setting was the sheer quality of sound. I don't believe that's the case with the AMT Roam, and it's only the price that remains something of a barrier.
If you can find the money to buy one of these things I think you'll be hard put to be disappointed by its performance (let's not mention the case).

A quick note re. purchasing: There aren't many dealers in the UK who stock these things, but I bought mine via Phil Parker's, and on the basis of the advice and service I received from them I'm happy to recommend them.

Subsequent to this review, I found another here in which a user noted some frequency bleed-through problems - and whilst this might only be applicable to the US, and in built-up areas, prospective purchasers in that region should take note.

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