by Kirk Eberhard
The Relay G50 Wireless Guitar System is a recent offering from digital instrument pioneers Line 6. Operating on the FCC/DTV compliant 2.4 GHz band and utilizing a 24-bit ADA conversion system, the G50 boasts 10-20KHz bandwidth and 120 db dynamic range. Since I don't own expensive scopes and test gear, I'll leave the validation of these specs to someone with a more scientific bent and instead give a hands-on, rubber-meets-road type of review. I tested the Relay G50 in a variety of venues and locales, and it delivered flawless performance with outstanding fidelity and remarkable battery life. At a street price of just under $400.00, it's an unqualified winner.
When I first received the Relay G50 I plugged the transmitter into my Jazz bass, and gave it a shakedown run through a favorite hi-fi practice amp. The system passed the unadulterated sound of my beloved bass with no audible noise or phasing. In spite of the proximity of my Wi-Fi connected laptop, nothing I did generated anything like interference or static, so I headed out my back door for a stroll around the yard. Putting over 100' between me and the receiver did not cause any unwanted sounds or diminish the clarity and dynamics of the audio signal. Of course, there were only the usual household EMF fields and Wi-Fi networks that might present potential interference, but this superb performance would later be confirmed on many stages, from 500-seat nightclubs to 2,500-seat theaters and huge outdoor festival stages. Furthermore, the Relay G50 has seen duty in several different cities and states without a single rizz, pop, or dropout, so my concerns about the effects of high data traffic over the widely-used 2.4 GHz band were put to rest.
Features and Details
The Relay G50 transmitter and receiver are both quite solid and substantial, and inspire immediate confidence...
... in the durability of the system. Both are made with a metal casing, and the receiver's form factor is about the size of a medium-sized effect pedal. The RSX12 receiver features a smooth, contoured shape, with two recessed control knobs on top, two BNC-type detachable antennae connectors on the right side, and two output jacks on the left. The top of this unit also features several status LED's, including a single blue LED for power and single green LED to indicate the presence of an audio signal, and also two multiple-LED arrays, one for transmitter signal strength and one for transmitter battery status. Placing a battery power status display on the receiver allows the user to monitor battery life without having to look at the transmitter, which is usually out of the user's line of sight. It also offers more than the basic 'low battery' LED: it has 5 degrees of battery status, ranging from 'Full charge' to 'Very low charge', so there should be few unexpected power failures. Line 6 claims 8-hour battery life in 'Hi' power mode (more on this later) and 11 hours on 'Lo', and I can confirm these as fairly accurate numbers.
The TPB12 transmitter is compact and rugged, and mounts firmly on a guitar strap with a sturdy metal clip. It had a bit of a tendency to slip around on my webbed nylon strap, so I used a small piece of gaffers tape on the clip to keep it in the desired position. The unit plugs into the instrument via a standard 1/4" phone plug on the end of a detachable 24" cable. Switching the recessed power switch to the 'On' position illuminates a blue LED labeled 'Batt', which changes to red when power is low, then flashing red when very low. A nearby green LED labeled 'Audio' indicates audio signal presence, and in conjunction with the 'Audio' signal present indicator on the receiver makes it easy to visually verify that the wireless system is passing audio. The small LCD display on the face of the TPB12 transmitter lights when the unit is switched on, when engaging the 'Mute' function, or when changes are made via the simple two-button programming setup. The backlight stays on for a few seconds, then goes dark to conserve battery life. The aforementioned LCD display defaults to displaying the channel number and battery time remaining in 'hours:minutes' format. The two programming buttons are used to change channel assignment, switch between 'Hi' and 'Lo' power modes ('Lo' conserves battery life, 'Hi' promotes maximum transmission power in a crowded RF environment), or assign a name to the unit to distinguish it from other similar transmitters where many are in use. The 'Mute' function is engaged by pushing the 'Mute' button once, which displays the word 'Mute' on the LCD screen, and is un-muted by pushing the button a second time... Voila!
The RSX12 receiver offers 12 channels to choose from, controlled by a detented 12-position knob, and a 'Cable Tone' sound modeling feature. This 12-position control utilizes Line 6's extensive expertise in amp and effects modeling to simulate the effect of an instrument cable on your tone. In other words, if you miss the slight-to-moderate loss of highs due to cable capacitance, you can attenuate the highs to simulate cable lengths from 5' to 100'. As a fan of the ol' reliable guitar cable, I really enjoyed this feature, especially on my active basses. The Relay G50 has such a full, transparent sound that it may reveal more treble than you've been used to hearing with a cable, no matter how much you paid for it. I've never been one to buy into the super-cable hype, but have noticed varying audio properties in cables since I first bought a curly-cord in the 70's. The G50 simply has the most clear, uncolored sound I have heard, from a wireless or cable.
Channel selection is stone-simple: first set the desired channel on the receiver; next, press and hold the 'Select' button on the transmitter for two seconds, press the 'Value' button until the desired channel appears on the display, and press and hold 'Select' again for two seconds. These same two buttons also allow the user to choose between Hi and Lo-power modes ('Lo' to conserve the already remarkable battery life, 'Hi' to maximize transmission in a crowded RF environment) and to assign a name to the transmitter in order to distinguish it from other Relay G50 units where many are in use.
The TBP12 transmitter uses two easy-to-change AA cells, and does not need to be removed from the strap for battery replacement. According to the user manual, alkaline is the preferred battery type, but any type is acceptable, with performance varying accordingly. It's my usual practice to follow the manufacturers recommendation, but it is reassuring to know that other battery technologies will work in a pinch. The low current drain of the TBP12 transmitter can be attributed to the nature of digital wireless transmission, which I have observed in other digital devices. The RSX12 receiver comes with a sideways-oriented wall-wart transformer, which takes up a single space on most power conditioners. The RSX12 draws 300ma at 9 volts DC through a 5.5/2.1mm barrel-style coax power jack, a nearly universal standard in the pedal world. Though I didn't try it myself it, should work well with a pedal board power supply system like the Visual Sound 1 Spot or the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power. As mentioned previously, the receiver's small form factor makes it a great candidate for mounting on a pedal board. This arrangement enables a minimal line-of-sight distance from the user for maximum range, and is how I've been using the system most often.
The RSX12 receiver features two outputs, one labeled 'Main' which is muted by the 'Mute' function on the transmitter, and one labeled 'Tuner/Aux' that passes signal regardless of the 'Mute' status. This second output certainly would come in handy when silent tuning is desired, regardless of whether an inline self-muting tuner is used.
Out In The Real World
A guitarist I work with regularly had been using a Relay G50 unit for several months before I began using one. Like me, he has extensive experience with many wireless instrument systems; between us we've used Sennheiser, Shure, Telex, EV, and Yamaha. His experience with the G50 was so positive that I began to think about trying it on bass. The G50's cable modeling feature turned out to be very practical, and our guitarist loved the ultra-clear sound and enhanced battery life over his previous unit. When I began using the Relay G50 system we were able to test how multiple digital units might react to each other, which is to say they didn't interact at all. Once my transmitter and receiver were set to a different channel than the guitar unit, they never interacted with each other in any way. In environments with other wireless technologies present, and also around open Wi-Fi networks and devices, the G50 behaved as if it was the only wireless in the room.
The user's manual for the Relay G50 comes in the form of individual 'Pilot's Handbook's for the transmitter and receiver. They are concise, graphics-intensive, and informative, and contain all the information you'll need to set up the unit and understand the various features and indicators. One small complaint: the 'Pilot's Handbook' for the RXS12 receiver refers to a 'Relay (tm) Wireless Advanced Guide' on the Line 6 website online manual archive for additional details of features. Try as I might, I can't find this document anywhere on their site, though I did locate an informative 'Relay G50/G90 Series FAQs' document. I'm a bit of a specs guy, so I was curious about the output impedance and details of the implementation of the 2.4 GHz technology regarding signal protection. None of my questions directly affect the immediate operation of the system, and I'm willing to wait for the answers. I've sent a message to Line 6 regarding the missing document or errant instructions in the user manu... er, 'Pilot's Handbook'.
Line 6 offers a one-year transferable warranty against defects in materials and workmanship (visit line6.com for details). However, with the build quality of this unit and Line 6's reputation I seriously doubt this warranty will come into play under normal use.
I've been using the Line 6 Relay G50 instrument wireless unit for about 3 months now, and have no hesitation about recommending it for any mono instrument with a 1/4" output jack - guitar, bass, keyboards... what-have-you. During this time it it has yet to make an audible hiccup of any kind. It makes great sound when I want it to, and no sound at all when I don't, no matter where I'm performing. Great tone, flawless transmission clarity, and rugged durability are my final words on the Relay G50.
Kirk Eberhard is a Nashville-based music pro.