Interpretation Transmitter Review
Many of us have been down that path: we’re starting in interpreting and think it’s time we get equipment of our own. We want an easy interpreter starter kit. If you are a beginner or are not tech-savvy it might be a bit of a problem. Where do I even start looking? you might wonder.
Portable is everything
Let’s face it, most of us will not be organizing 2000-people events with interpretation right away. For one thing it would be very expensive to do it with your own equipment. So the first thing we plan is how to manage small interpretation jobs. After whispering interpretation and voice over have reached is limits, you need some simultaneous interpretation equipment that you can take anywhere and use in field visits. And let’s face it, if you are in interpreting you are expected to cover different situations and have some flexibility. So you need a portable transmitter with a decent microphone and at least a few receivers. I recommend starting out with at least 5 translation receivers… but this article is about the transmitting side.
RF not IR
Once portable is the objective then RF, radio frequency is the way to go. IR, infrared equipment is impractical to use in a moving situation. We will discuss IR in another article.
Basically an RF interpretation transmitter is a small radio broadcast station. By now most transmitters have the ability to work with different frequencies, so you can use several at the time on different frequencies to accommodate different languages. Here are two main portable interpreter transmitter options:
Williams Sound PPA T46 portable interpretation transmitter
The Williams Sound PPA T46 pocket transmitter is a wonderful little piece of equipment. It offers 17 different channels on the 72-76 MHz range (most equipment we’ve ever used, works on that frequency range). It has a LED display with volume level , frequency and battery information. It has a mini jack 3.5mm for microphone input and also a 2.5 line input –so you can input a music source for example, while people wait for your interpretation to begin. A great feature is an illuminated on/off button that also acts as a mute button and shines red when the transmitter is muted. The PPAT46 comes with a belt clip. At around 500.00 USD it is not a cheap piece of equipment, but it will be the most important component in your interpreter kit. It operates with two AA batteries.
Listen Technologies LT-700
This transmitter is very similar in functionality to the Williams Sound one, if not as stylish looking, since, for example it has an LCD display instead of a LED display. It is a slightly more affordable option at 439.00 vs 500.00 (at bhphoto.com). It boasts the ability to transmit in 57 different channels within the same 72 to 76 MHz frequency range as Williams Sound, but at the same time warns at most 6 can be used simultaneously. If budget is a concern go with this one. We probably would have gone for this unit if we had known about it before.
Choosing your interpreter’s microphone
Interpretation transmitters usually don’t come with a microphone and, in our opinion, it is important to choose one based on two main features: comfort and sturdiness. Sound quality is not something to worry too much about. We recommend headset or head-worn microphones; lavaliers or clip-on microphones present some problems like feedback and handling noise that you will want to avoid.
The WS option
First let’s look at the unit Williams Sound makes for its transmitter. The Williams Sound Headworn microphone retails from 80 to 120.oo USD online. It is the microphone we use with our transmitter. It does seem a bit expensive for what it is, but we’ve used it for a few years now and it fits comfortably enough around your head and is sturdy. It has a few bits of padding, so it hangs from your ears and gets some support from your cheekbone, but if you don’t get used to wearing it it, you can actually wear it around your neck and raise its boom as it can get bothersome after long hours. It comes with a windscreen, but this won’t do much to prevent bothersome breathing noises unless you move the microphone boom or neck away from your mouth and nose. We wear it to one side and it still picks up your voice fine. The unit, of course has a 3.5 mm (mini) jack so it works with the aforementioned transmitters.
The middle ground?
Audiotechnica makes a more affordable microphone, also with a non-lock 3.5 mini plug. This one looks a bit bulkier than the Williams Sound one, but is as comfortable –if you don’t mind foam– and it has a nice solid windscreen, so you don’t have to worry about losing a foam windscreen. It does not require any phantom power so it can be used with any unit with a mini jack. Audiotechnica is a brand that does high-end and consumer products and is, in our experience quite reliable. The little pieces of foam you see are not headphones, they’re just there to help you fit it to your head.
The affordable option
Pyle Pro makes this cheap unit which has a the required (for the transmitters we mentioned) 3.5 mini plug. At around 20.00 USD it’s as cheap as you can get. In interpretation you don’t really have to worry much about sound quality since the listeners’ headphones won’t usually be great and the audience only needs to understand what you say, not to have hi-fi surround sound. With moderate and careful use it might last you a good while, but it is not a sturdy unit that will withstand rough handling. This unit does require power (check the specs, the Williams Sound transmitter does seem to provide power).
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