Quantum’s Player Microphones Making Field Audio Ubiquitous

If you think you’re hearing voices more on sports broadcasts these days, you’re right. Paul Johnson, CEO of Quantum5X Systems, which specializes in miniature wireless microphones and bodypacks used to wire players, coaches and officials for sound before during and after play, says use of their systems has more than doubled in the last five years.

In addition to the MLB, NHL, NFL, CFL and NBA teams that increasingly use player audio, Johnson says they’re seeing application of this kind of broadcast audio migrate to a wider range of sports, including surfing competitions, such as the Nike 6.0 Lower Trestles. Surfers were wired using Quantum 5X’s AquaMic system using a Countryman EMW microphone element, with microphones clipped to the collars of their dry suits and transmitters attached to their neoprene belts.

The propagation of on-player audio is evidenced by the proliferation of repositories on the Internet where fans can access this sound, such as this link where fans can hear a montage of on-field banter from St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Fred Robinson, or Redskins defensive back Oshiomogho Atogwe’s interesting self-psyche ramblings at 0:30 here. YouTube is rife with player audio, with sound bites from networks’ growing troves of clips from series like Mic’d Up and Inside Trax.

The amount and degree to which players and leagues permit players and coaches to be wired for sound varies by sport. Johnson says that football was initially leery of the idea due to the extreme physicality of the game. “There was always concern that a player could be hurt if they fell on a microphone or a bodypack transmitter,” he says. That concern has diminished over time, as experience with Quantum 5X’s systems, which Johnson says are a third the size of more conventional wireless bodypack systems, increases. “We also have a lot of padding on the transmitters and their form factor is unlike anything else out there,” he explains.

Quantum’s microphone systems first began appearing on MLB players a decade ago, after a two-year development program in concert with the organization. NHL and NBA teams followed soon after. But the NFL and CFL have quickly added more player audio in recent years, particularly tech-savvy teams like the Rams, which last year revamped their practice facility, implementing an HD IPTV system and a new 10-GB network that comprises 300 data/vox connectivity locations in the 9,000-square-foot campus.

The next market the company plans to tackle is college and high school sports. “The general feeling is that college and high school coaches and schools want their teams to feel as close to the pros as possible,” Johnson says. “We plan to address that through out dealer network this year.”

But major leagues are also incorporating the idea of on-field personnel miking into their long-range strategies. The NHL, Johnson says, is using microphones on referees as a way to help explains hockey’s rules to American broadcast audiences, who often cannot parse the game’s hand signal calls.

That’s a strategy that’s worked well for the NFL for years, where the ref has control over his own transmitter on/off switch. Quantum’s new 2.4-GHz Remote Control Audio System (RCAS) automates that process and more, allowing remote control of on/off, muting, and frequency switching, as well as monitoring battery level and signal strength.

Johnson says that now that player audio has become more ubiquitous, individual players look at it as another way to build their personal brands, along with Tweets and FaceBook pages, just as the leagues are using it to further engage viewers and making it a feature of their web pages.

Player audio has now become as common as other sound effects. “It used to be a novelty,” Johnson says, “but sound on players has now become unusual when you don’t hear at least some player audio.”

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