Big though some of the brands in the MI trade might seem, rarely do retailers get to tangle with the real giants of the consumer world.
Which is why our attention was grabbed at this year’s MIRC, when SCV London revealed that Sony is about to aim a new range of products straight into the MI market.
The products in question comprise a new wireless system and we are not talking about professional hire company touring systems here, but a licence-free handheld mic and guitar/bass wireless system priced to go head to head with mass market products from the likes of Line 6.
Scheduled to be available from October through SCV, the kit comprises the DWZ-B30GB guitar pack and DWZ-M50 vocal system. Both carry the sort of Sony chic that we are familiar with as consumers – they look classy straight from the box. To find out more we spoke with Markus Warlich, Sony’s product specialist.
Sony isn’t exactly a newcomer to the MI field, as Warlich pointed out – introduced its first VHF wireless system back in 1972 having become a major force in the analogue wireless era, before transitioning into the digital age prior to the major shake-up of frequencies that has recently taken place. But this is the first time that it has gone for the semi-professional, schools and local club market.
“We see this as the beginning of a new engagement with this market area. To give you some idea of that, while UK prices are yet to be fixed, the EU list price of the guitar pack is 314 Euros plus VAT, so I think about 420 Euros – in that sort of area.
“There are three things that make this product stand out. The first is that its a full metal-clad product – not plastic – and for stage use, particularly for a guitar player, that is very important. The second is that it is 24bit/48kHz linear PCM, not compressed, so it sounds very good and the third is that, for people around you, it doesn’t destroy your wireless connection.”
This last point may not be important for all users, but for those who are affected it is going to be significant. Some of the biggest selling wireless mic systems actively suppress wireless activity in the locality so as to operate (and do so by sending ‘shut-up I’m transmitting’ messages every few milliseconds), which means audiences cannot use laptops, mobiles or other Wi-Fi devices in the vicinity. The Sony is better behaved and will allow other devices to work unhindered, which it does by switching channels, allowing free timeslots for other devices to operate.
Beyond the audience’s needs, of course, this could have a bearing on other wireless items being used by a band or solo artist, or even the venue itself - perhaps a gig in a hotel for example, where wireless systems must be able to function whatever the performer’s demands.
Moreover, guitarists and bass players will be intrigued to find that Sony’s receiver for the guitar pack is actually a foot pedal, which can be fitted securely to a pedalboard, takes the same voltage as an effects pedal and can become an integral part of a guitarist’s portable system, rather than being just one more thing to get stolen or lost at a gig.
And what of those vocalists who just cannot tear themselves away from their beloved SM58? More evidence of Sony having researched the market to the Nth degree is that the handheld will happily take an SM capsule, if that is what a performer prefers to use. In fact, it can take any Shure or Electro-Voice capsule.
Sony also offers a high quality service arrangement to end-users, Warlich says, which means in the event of a failure or a product getting damaged, the end-user can deal direct with Sony to get it picked up and repaired quickly.
Couple this with the extra confidence endowed by a brand like Sony and the sophisticated styling, which means the ZRX-HR50 has that familiar Sony high tech hi-fi look to it, and you have an appealing package that seems likely to pull customers in to the store and send them on their way with a box under their arms and the sort of post-purchase glow of satisfaction a customer gets from buying a top brand.
Is this is the start of a movement from Sony back into the MI consumer market, we asked?
“It is a start and we have a hundred ideas of what we could do,” Warlich says. “It’s a question of what makes sense for the market. If we are successful with this, and I think we will be, it could be the start of more products in this market; perhaps the microphone market – Sony has a long history with high quality microphones – and there are other places in the MI market where we can see spaces for us.”
Here in the UK, SCV’s Andrew Stirling is going to be responsible for making sure retailers know about this new Sony range and that consumers come in to stores already aware of the Big Beast and its offering. He says SCV has plans to promote the newcomers via the consumer guitar and general MI press and he is very optimistic about its potential.
“There has been so much confusion in the wireless market about the new rules and regulations – for example, that Channel 38 is only going to be with us maybe for another year or two and then might change again – that having this technology, where it’s completely free with no licence required, makes it a perfect product for small bands, schools and the education market generally.
“Sony used to be a major force in the industry and now they want to be back in it and they do get behind their products. There’s a good comfort factor in buying Sony. Sometimes it can be a little more expensive but they always add extras.”
The bottom line will, of course, be the key to the success or failure for retailers, and Stirling says that Sony has started from the principle that retailers must make money selling the range.
“Tony Begsrove is our product manager for Sony. He’s well known to retailers and is their point of contact with us and I think the smaller guitar shops will find this an ideal product for them to stock and sell. The big boys sell whatever they want to sell, but this is a quality product, ideal for the smaller retailers and High Street music shops, enabling them to sell a good brand with other elements to it like high quality headphones. It’s something retailers can get their teeth into not a ‘me too’ product, I think this is an exciting development for everyone involved.”