Since the dawn of time, guitarists have longed to break the tether of their axe/amp connection and leap freely across the stage, swing on a harness, fly up to the light truss, or at the very least, not get tangled when the bass player criss-crosses the stage to hear themselves because the venue is too tight to pay for more than one monitor. Wireless systems have been around for decades but they’ve always had their drawbacks: squashed sound, added noise, performance-stifling latency, and the tendency to pick up the sound from passing military aircraft (just ask Nigel Tufnel). Well, Line 6 has come to the rescue with the Relay Guitar Wireless System series.
Line 6′s Relay system is available in three versions: the pedalboard-friendly G30, G50 and the rackmount G90. The G30 has a 100 foot range and 6 channels. G50 has a 200 foot range and 12 channels, and G90 still as 12 channels but bumps it up to 300 feet. Whichever version you choose, the Relay system doesn’t rely on a compander (compression/expander) to compress the signal for transmitting then increase it to full size again like analog systems. Instead you get cleanly reproduced 24 bit digital transmission broadcast at 2.4GHz, where the signal can’t get battered about by interference from high-powered sources like TV stations and cellphone towers. And although it operates in the same range as WiFi, it’s smart enough to tune out WiFi information.
The Relay G30 receiver is made of a polycarbonate material. The G50 is made of metal and has added features including rotary knobs to select channel and cable tone (with 12 cable tone settings compared to the G30′s three), as well as a pair of antennas and a tuner out.
The included TBP06 transmitter is very lightweight and durable, unobtrusively sitting on the guitar strap. In fact it’s so lightweight it’s easy to forget it’s there! Also, unlike most wireless transmitters it’s designed to use a regular 1/4″ plug, so you don’t have to mess with making up or (tracking down) a plug with a 1/8″ plug on one end and 1/4″ on the other. The G50 and G90 come with the TBP12 transmitter, designed to work with the 12 channels and also packing a digital display.
I figured the best way to test the Relay G30′s tone and latency would be to compare it directly to a cable version of the exact same signal. Here’s what I did: I plugged my guitar into a Roger Mayer Voodoo Axe pedal (in bypass mode). The Voodoo Axe has dual buffered outputs, so I plugged one output into a 15ft Planet Waves cable and connected it to one channel of my DigiDesign Mbox 2 Pro. I took the other Voodoo Axe output and connected the Relay transmitter with a short cord, and I plugged the Relay receiver into another Mbox channel. Then I recorded both channels simultaneously while I played a few riffs. I also played the same note (just a garden variety D at the 7th fret of the G string) using all three levels of the Relay’s cable tone feature to compare the tone. What I found was that the pure Relay signal seemed to have more dynamic range, with tighter bass, sparklier highs and more perceived depth. I was able to use the cable tone switch to make it sound much more like a regular cable, and to be honest I think I’d probably still set it at its maximum setting when using distorted sounds just because that’s what my ears are used to hearing. But on clean sounds there’s something quite magical about unleashing that extra level of clarity. To really drive this point home I tried the Relay G30 with a Hughes & Kettner Edition Tube on the clean channel and was in jangle heaven!
So what of the latency? Well, here’s where things get really interesting. When I zoomed in on the wave forms of the cable and Relay guitar tracks I found that… you ready for this? The Relay signal actually reached my Mbox before the cable signal. Wha? That’s not exactly, y’know, possible, according to everything I know about electronics, yet there it is on the screen. Could it be due to the method I used to split the signal (a Roger Mayer pedal with twin buffered outputs)? Maybe. Could it be related to differences in the cables used? Certainly an interesting result and I’d love to know if other users report the same thing when splitting the signal like this. I was expecting perhaps a small latency compared to a cable. I wasn’t expecting them to be equal, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the Relay to outperform a cable. I mentioned this to Line 6 and they weren’t surprised, although I’m still baffled as to how it could happen and I’d love to see a further examination by a professional audio engineer. Observe:
This is where wireless systems traditionally fall down – I remember an old Eddie Van Halen interview in Guitar World from the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour where he said he had to abandon his analog wireless altogether for the song ‘Spanked,’ which used a double-neck guitar/bass, and revert to a cord because the latency simply couldn’t keep up. They actually ended up dropping the song from the set because it was such a hassle to make all these extra arrangements just for one song. Well perhaps if Eddie was to get his hands on a Relay system he might drag that double-neck out again – the Relay is certainly up to the job.
The Relay G30 is going to revolutionise stage performance for guitarists who have previously been scarred by bad experiences with wireless systems. It’s so easy to use, it sounds demonstrably better than a cable (whether that will sit with your conception of what a guitar should sound like is up to your own preference), and it will free you up in performance to do what you do best.
Thanks to Line 6 for providing the Relay G30 for review.