The 10 Best Wireless Guitar Systems
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in September of 2016. Musicians who wish to perform on stage without the potentially hazardous restriction of cables can do so easily by utilizing one of the wireless guitar systems from our selection. Despite the category title, they can connect to various instruments and provide total freedom of movement to live performers in any genre. We've ranked them by their tonal fidelity, range, and ease of use. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 27, 2020:
For this latest update, we decided to say goodbye to the Sennheiser EW 572 G3, as it was starting to show its age from both a technological and aesthetic perspective. In its place, we added the Sennheiser XSW-D, which, while also being a product of the celebrated German pro-audio experts, provides newer technology in a stripped-down package. In fact, as time moves on, we are seeing more of these dongle-style wireless systems entering the market, and this is reflected in this new addition to our ranking.
While you do see music tech icons that never change (like Shure's SM57/SM58 microphones, which have been in production for decades), wireless technology is constantly being refined, and we included the Line 6 Relay G10S as an example of advanced thinking from this progressive manufacturer. Its stompbox-style design means it can sit on a guitarist's pedalboard right in front of them, where the signal is at its strongest, and its transmitter can be inserted into the integral charging dock when not in use. From a practical standpoint alone, we felt this unit was worthy of a place in our top ten.
July 04, 2019:
Quite a bit of action on the latest iteration of this ranking. We sent a pair of Line 6 models packing as they'd gotten too old to warrant serious consideration, and we replaced them with a newer Line 6 offering that's much more advanced, the G55, which slots in nicely at number five on our list. We also got rid of the AKG model for what many gigging musicians would consider an unacceptable signal to noise ratio, and the company has yet to come out with a viable alternative. The Nady U-1100 was another victim here, as durability issues kept it from sustaining a place in the top ten.
Among new additions, you'll find the Shure QLXD14 at number one, which takes the previous number one entry from Shure and adds an LCD readout on the transmitter, as well as a negative display on the receiver that should be easier to read on stage. At number two, you'll find the Boss WL-20, and this entry warrants some discussion as it falls into a subcategory of systems that are currently among the most popular on the market. By this I'm referring to systems with two simplified pieces, which are both battery powered and plug directly into your guitar and your amp with no bulky transmitters or receiver units. You'll see a lot of these made by companies out of China that are all but guaranteed to suffer weaknesses in tonal quality, interference reduction, and durability. Boss, however, is a trusted name here, as is Xvive with their U2 model, as they were among the first to create a system so streamlined.
Alesis GuitarLink Portable This is a smart selection for musicians on a budget who want a reliable signal, but who don't need too much control over the sound beyond that. Players who rely heavily on effects and distortion likely won't notice any big change in their tone, but it might not be the best option for jazz guitarists or others who rely on clean channels. alesis.com
Carvin UX1200BGT This model's large pair of antennas do an excellent job scanning for the best available frequency and communicating with your transmitter to provide you with good tonal fidelity and few to no dropouts. It has a display that doesn't quite meet the standards of its sonic performance, but it's well priced regardless. carvinaudio.com
Musical Freedom, Innovation, And Expression
Though practical and common, VHF frequencies are more susceptible to audio interference and quality loss than UHF frequencies.
If you're planning to perform on stage with your fellow musicians in front of a large group of people, there are two things to keep in mind. First is the assurance that your performances are loud enough to reach everyone in the audience, thanks to the use of powerful amps. The second consideration involves what you and your band plan to be doing while you're on that stage. Musicians with a lot of energy shouldn't have to worry about the potential hazards of tripping over bulky cords as they move around a stage with a lot equipment. Use of a wireless guitar system will help prevent such dangers and allow you the freedom of movement to perform where you want and how you want.
As a high-tech replacement for the guitar cable, the wireless guitar system is an electronic device that transmits an audio signal from a musical instrument directly to an amp and/or speaker without the need for a physical connection. Leveraging a certain radio frequency band, the system uses a transmitter to send signals from the instrument to a nearby receiver, which ultimately decodes the signal and feeds it into an amplifier on stage.
Depending on the methods by which their audio signals are transmitted, wireless guitar systems are categorized into either analog or digital devices. With an analog system, audio data that travels from transmitter to receiver must first be compressed by the transmitter, converted into a frequency modulation signal, and then expanded by the system's receiver before flowing into the amp. The compression/expansion process is a trademark of the analog system and is often referred to as companding.
Analog systems run on either Very High Frequency or Ultra High Frequency bands. Used by many radio and television broadcasts, VHF frequencies fall within a range of 30 to 300 megahertz, whereas the UHF frequency range extends from 300 megahertz to as high as three gigahertz. Though practical and common, VHF frequencies are more susceptible to audio interference and quality loss than UHF frequencies. Finally, the process of signal compression and expansion results in a certain degree of quality loss and FM noise.
By contrast, the digital wireless guitar system eliminates the need for signal compression entirely by first converting and encoding the instrument's audio signal to digital format and finally transmitting it securely using the same types of frequencies that Wi-Fi routers use. Digitally encoding an audio signal minimizes interference and quality degradation as it travels between the transmitter and receiver, which means that the signal retains the same quality as the original audio input coming from the guitar, even by the time the sound reaches the amplifier.
Jamming Wirelessly And Wisely
One of the most important considerations to make before investing in a wireless guitar system is the device's frequency agility, meaning its ability to both detect possible interference scenarios and avoid them without sacrificing the quality of the audio itself. This is a crucial feature in one's quest for sound precision during a live performance, particularly when a situation involves several musicians on stage trying to be at their best rather than being at the mercy of their equipment. Additionally, the more equipment involved, the more that frequency agility comes in handy to prevent issues like intermodulation. Some wireless guitar systems even have built-in scanning capabilities that allow their receivers to automatically detect and choose the best frequencies to use. This ensures that audio clarity is properly maintained, regardless of whether your band moves around the stage a lot during a performance.
Operation range is another important factor to keep in mind, depending on the size of a venue.
If you think extended jamming sessions are in your future, then look for a system with long-lasting rechargeable lithium-ion batteries powering its components, so you don't run out of juice in the middle of a set.
Operation range is another important factor to keep in mind, depending on the size of a venue. Many options offer up to 200 feet of room to move around a stage without experiencing any signal loss, but it's still a good idea to keep the receiver within a transmitter's line of sight.
Next, consider the durability of the receiver and transmitter. One should look for options with all-metal construction to withstand any potential impacts or drops during a performance.
Finally, think about the size of the venues at which you'll be performing, as well as the number of instruments involved. This will help inform your ultimate decision with respect to how many channels your device of choice will need to handle.
A Brief History Of The Wireless Guitar System
One of the first conventional wireless guitar systems adopted by professional musicians was the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, released in 1975 by American inventor Ken Schaffer. It was the first cordless solution to provide both reliable sound and freedom of movement, making more elaborate performances possible on multi-level stages and in large arenas. The device was eventually adopted by famous rock bands including The Rolling Stones and was adapted for use as a wireless microphone system in 1976. Schaffer also acted as publicist for such famous American rock stars as Jimi Hendrix and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, among others.
John Nady released his own wireless guitar system in 1976 called the Nasty Cordless. This device had the advantages of a lower price point than the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, while being significantly easier to use than its predecessor. Nady's design also delivered an improved signal-to-noise ratio due to his newly-developed and patented companding technology. By the 1980s, Nady's invention was the popular choice of systems among many of the top-performing rock bands of the time.
Today, the digital wireless guitar system is considered the industry standard for professional performances, thanks to its capacity for signal quality preservation at extended ranges, as well as its capability for intelligent frequency management to ensure the highest quality and most authentic sound possible.