Choosing Wireless or Wired Microphones for Church Activities

by | Audio, Production

The difference between using a wired and wireless microphone for a specific job is no longer about sound quality. It’s about a group of other factors, many of which users should consider before making the choice.

Since the development of wireless microphones some 60 years ago as a novelty-convenience item, their performance and use have grown tremendously.  As with most everything in pro audio, there are advantages and disadvantages to both wireless and wired microphone systems. The choice should be determined by the user’s specific application. Some make the decision simply to reduce the amount of cable clutter, while others look deeper into other issues. 

Here are a few considerations.

A wireless microphone, combined with the right public address system that can receive a clear signal from the microphone and broadcast the sound strongly and without signal interference, can be a major asset to presenters and performers in church settings.  The pastor or priest who wants the freedom to walk away from the pulpit to engage his congregation, the choral director who wishes to have every choir member’s voice clearly heard, or the youth director who wants to broadcast loud, clear directions to widely dispersed children outdoors while he/she moves among them…each of these individuals benefits by using a high-quality wireless microphone paired with a powerful PA system.

Today, there are more microphone options than ever, but also some new challenges, such as increasing signal interference encountered from the proliferation of today’s wireless devices.  

A big thing to consider is cost. A single wireless microphone channel will probably cost about four to 10 times as much as its wired counterpart. Modern digital wireless systems are highly accurate and reliable. Quality is no longer an issue.  The majority of issues fall upon the mic cable. If you use the best quality cable and connectors, that is rarely a problem. If it happens, a simple switch of the cable fixes the problem. Wired mics can save on cost and complication.

The FCC sees billions of dollars to make, not from audio companies, but from cell phone companies. So, the spectrum will become smaller and smaller. What we as manufacturers have to do is become more efficient at how we use the frequencies we have.

Also, because of frequency shortages, wireless microphone use in the United States is going to get tighter in the coming years. Because everybody is carrying around a smartphone in their pocket these days, there is less and less spectrum for wireless microphones. The FCC is taking the spectrum away from television stations and wireless microphones and it’s being resold for use with cell phones.

Forty years ago, you might have been able to fit five wireless microphones on a slice of spectrum, we can now we can fit 40. It’s taking whatever they give us and figuring out how best to use it. Over the next five years, it will get pretty ugly as this conflict continues.

Where absolute reliability is demanded, use wired microphones. But if you have the proper technicians, the necessary funds and need to be without cable, wireless microphones are now unmatched in audio quality.

Here are a few of the wireless mics that are available today.

Handheld Wireless Microphones

The handheld wireless microphone was a natural outgrowth of the handheld wired microphone. Handheld microphones don’t have to be handheld; they can also be placed into a mic stand – either floor standing, or on a pulpit, podium, or lectern.

Handheld mics generally have a larger head and thus greater sensitivity to picking up sound than other microphone types, such as lapel or headset.

A common type of handheld mic is called “cardioid,” which is so-named because they have a heart-shaped sound pick-up pattern. It is designed to pick up sound from the person holding the microphone, plus sounds to the side of him or her – such as a choir or musical instruments – but not to pick up sounds from the back of the microphone, which would be audience sounds such as talking, coughing, etc.

Another advantage to handheld wireless microphones in addition to their sensitivity is that they typically contain their transmitter within the microphone. A transmitter is needed because a wireless microphone does not employ a wire or cable to transmit sound from the microphone to its amplifier and speaker.

Headset Wireless Microphones

The popularity of the headset wireless microphone has grown along with their increased use by popular entertainers. Headset wireless microphones also have become an important tool for many individuals who spend long hours on the telephone.

Although headsets were once exclusively wired, the availability of wireless models has enabled more freedom of movement, allowing individuals to roam far from their telephone or PA system.

Headset wireless microphones can provide better sound than handheld mics because the microphone is in a fixed position in front of the user’s mouth, whereas someone not skilled in using a handheld mic tends to move it away from their mouth at times, thus diminishing the sound quality.

As with wireless handhelds, wireless headset mics require a transmitter. Since typically there’s no space in the microphone itself, it is connected by a small wire to a “body pack” transmitter, which is typically worn on a belt or placed in a pocket.

Some people do not like to use headset microphones because they interfere with their appearance, hairstyle, etc.

Lapel Wireless Mics

Wireless lapel mics are less obtrusive than handheld or headset mics. Typically, they are placed in the presenter’s lapel or a buttonhole. As with a headset wireless mic, they require a body pack transmitter.

A disadvantage to lapel mics is that they tend to be sensitive to the distance placed from the presenter’s mouth, and if the presenter turns his or her head too much during a presentation, sound quality can diminish.

Over-the-Ear Wireless Mics

As the name implies, over-the-ear wireless mics are worn over the ear rather than on the head or in a lapel. They, too, require a separate body pack transmitter. Some over-the-ear wireless mics are flesh tone colored to make them less conspicuous.

Any wireless microphone tends to be only as good as the wireless system that it is paired with. Some wireless PA systems are engineered so they work well as a system for the particular application the user is looking for – audience size, indoor or outdoor, voice only or music, one presenter only or multiple presenters, portability, etc.

Many PA systems also feature a Bluetooth receiver so that the devices can receive wireless Bluetooth transmissions – music or voice – from a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone.

One of the challenges with the popularity of today’s wireless communications is channel interference. Look for a PA system designed to be worry-free from this problem.

One of the key advantages of using a wireless mic is having the freedom to roam far from the PA system, and today’s wireless mics are extending the range of pick-up ever farther.

Wireless mics are a great hands-free convenience for instructors and coaches, and there are additional accessories available that are designed for special applications.

From the sanctuary to the meeting room, gymnasium, swimming pool or athletic field, wireless microphones and PAs are perfect for transmitting worry-free sound in today’s churches.

Like everything in the audio world nothing is simple, everyone’s building is different, everyone’s system is different and everyone’s needs are different.  Researching your products before purchasing will help guide you along the way.  Many companies offer house of worship help in designing and product offering, make sure you take advantage of this, it will take you in the right direction to spread the word.

Bill Di Paolo has worked in live production for over 30 years, He is the owner and technical director of Entertainment Services, a production company based in upstate New York that handles lighting, audio and video for events of all sizes in the Northeast. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at bdipaolo@worshipfacility.com.

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