December/January 2022

by Jarni Blair

Review: Sennheiser EW-D 835 Digital Wireless Mic System

by Jarni Blair

Review: Sennheiser EW-D 835 Digital Wireless Mic System

I still remember a brief conversation I had with my dad about Sennheiser back in my early years as a musician, in which he said wisely, ‘Yeah they’re good mics… German engineered you see.”

I hadn’t a clue about the brand or specific models, nor him probably… but the name intrigued me. Today Sennheiser rates as one of the leading brands in sound equipment, so it turns out Dad was very right!

Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to trial and review Sennheiser’s new Evolution Wireless Digital package. There is an instrument version (rrp $1390) and a handheld mic version (rrp $1500). I’m reviewing the latter.

Expanding just a little on my father’s nominal expertise, Sennheiser is a German audio company that specialises in the design and production of a wide range of high fidelity products, including microphones, headphones, and other communication accessories like aviation headsets, for personal, professional and business applications. The company was founded in 1945 by Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser and is still run as an independent family business, with two of the founder’s grandsons in charge since 2013.

Can’t say I’ve used a whole lot of wireless equipment, so have to take Sennheiser’s promotional word when they say their new Evolution Wireless Digital is a UHF system that improves upon its competitors in a few areas. Firstly, the company touts its 134dB input dynamic range as the highest of any wireless mic system currently on the market.

Secondly, the 1.9ms latency is stated as the lowest of any digital wireless system currently on the market.

There’s more of course, including the supplementary Smart Assist app meant to demystify smartphone-based wireless frequency management to the point where anyone can set up and manage several EW Digital channels, even with no previous RF knowledge. Appealing for not-so wireless savvy people like myself.

The neatly laid-out box contains three main items being the receiver, microphone and attaching transmitter, along with a power supply adaptor, rackmount kit, mic clamp, two antennas and a pair of AA batteries plus a manual.

The MMD 835 microphone is black and has a decently-sized mute button. The flat-topped dynamic cardioid mic capsule is optimised for vocals and speech intelligibility. Though slightly chubby it is lightweight and seems of sturdy construction. Two double AA batteries easily slot into the transmitter inside the mic, and can last up to 8 hours, or 12 if you use Li-on ones.

The EM receiver units have a clean and modern look. Six rubber buttons let you navigate functions on the clear and concise screen display. As with most half-rack receivers, both antennas lock into the RF Inputs on the rear of the unit, or you can take cables from here to a paddle receiver.

Rack mounting plates and accessories are included should you want to mount a single receiver in a rack space with front-mounted antennas via the RF inputs, or two receivers side by side.

Once you’ve plugged in the power adapter, you have both XLR and 1/4-inch jack (balanced/unbalanced) output options. I easily plugged in my Wharfedale Pro powered mixer, and away we went.

Power up involves a single button press on both receiver and transmitter. They found each other in a moment, indicated by the Link LED lighting up on the receiver unit. Amber shows the transmitter is muted, green unmuted.

To check the battery level on the transmitter press the power button once while it’s turned on, and the LED will flash green, yellow or red to indicate remaining power. The receiver displays a four-bar battery readout too.

App functionality can be gimmicky or poorly implemented in this type of product but the way Sennheiser has incorporated app control of the EW-D system leaves little room for criticism. Smart Assist is available for iOS and Android, and connects with an EW-D system via Bluetooth, offering real-time setup, management and control of all wireless channels you have set up.

Renaming a receiver in the app immediately reflects on the receiver’s physical screen. You can colour code each receiver, adjust the gain, toggle the transmitter mute lock, sync a transmitter, fine tune frequencies; basically perform most functions on the receiver’s menu from your smartphone.

Clearly one of the most useful of these functions is the ability to centrally manage a number of receivers simultaneously for the purpose of giving each channel its own frequency.

Once all receivers have been added to the app (a simple Bluetooth pairing process), you activate an auto-scan for the app to decide where to place each channel in the RF spectrum, and from then you’re guaranteed to have no interference, due to the automated separation of frequency.

The Smart Assist app has a Support Hub so you can get answers to any questions you have. Maybe it’s that German engineering but the app is presented impeccably in a clear, ordered manner that I found super easy to navigate.

Being a digital system means less susceptibility to interference and signal degradation as UHF floats through the air. EW-D transmitters convert analogue audio inputs into digital 1s and 0s then fire this digital signal off to the receiver units via UHF where it’s converted back into analogue audio at the receiver’s outputs. All this happens in the 1.9ms mentioned above, which speaks for itself.

In first use, I was instantly struck by the clarity of sound this system produced, nothing short of the promised high standard. I plugged my mixer into two Australian Monitor passive 15” speakers, and the clarity was impossible to miss – I happily jammed for hours with my acoustic.

One thing I’ll say is to make sure you set the gain right on both your mixer and the EW-D (below 24db was safe), otherwise you’ll lose that clarity and distortion can happen. Also very easy to whip off the mic clip to fulfil any lead singer desires.

Who is it for?

You can’t deny that not having a mic cable attached makes for a super clean and attractive look on stage, but with a price tag of nearly $1500 I’d find it hard to justify buying one of these for my own solo performances. For the band I play in though, Summer Thieves, the system would offer performance benefits for our lead singer, for instance, crowd interaction and the ability to use the entire stage including the audience themselves. According to Sennheiser though, the EW-D was conceived with a different sound habitat in mind… AV installations.

“For corporate or school events, AV teams don’t have the bandwidth to do extensive frequency scans or battle with settings for wireless systems. These users want a microphone system that is reliable and just works right away without needing to become, or call on an RF expert. Evolution Wireless Digital is all about simplicity and ease of use, so even administrators with no formal training can plug-and-play their microphone system using their smartphone and achieve excellent, wireless audio.”

Tradeshows, conferences, workshops and other presentation spaces, are also likely scenarios where having a system that does the frequency scanning and coordination for you will be welcomed.

In my view, this is the big selling point that Sennheiser is trying to get across and also the market they’re trying to hit. That you don’t need to be tech-savvy to operate it, and due to the auto scan and sync features there’s no need for anyone else to help you make everything work in harmony.

For those of us working on smaller stages it mostly offers the time- and anxiety- saving confidence of simplicity, reliability and quality. That, and a distinct cleanness of sound and look.

Having not run into any noticeable fault I’ve no real complaints about the EW-D system at all. Literally, the only thing I can think of is the batteries chewing up a bit more power than normal, but I’m scraping the barrel there. I thoroughly enjoyed dissecting this epic piece of Sennheiser equipment, which is certainly establishing new boundaries of vocal set-up convenience. And there’s a matching instrument set too.

Auckland musician Jarni Blair plays guitar with pop act Summer Thieves as well as performing solo.