In this Buyer's Guide, you'll learn how easy today's wireless microphone systems are to use and how their performance has dramatically improved compared to their predecessors. Best of all, you can now get a new handheld, bodypack or lavalier wireless microphone for way less money than you might have thought.
Five things to consider when buying a wireless microphone:
- Operating Range
- Sound Quality
UHF (400 MHz and up) has been the standard for many years now and typically gives the strongest and best performance. In recent years, the FCC has placed restrictions on the frequencies of operation for wireless microphones, but wireless frequencies can still vary. The best combination of long transmission distance and clear frequencies is in the 470 to 548Mhz bands.
You can also find a number of wireless microphone systems that operate in the 2.4GHz band. Be aware that the 2.4GHz frequency band is the same as your computer Wi-Fi and is potentially subject to interference from microwave ovens. Their operating range is also much shorter. Use 2.4GHz wireless microphones only in smaller rooms with no obstructions between the transmitter and receiver antennas.
Another frequency band that professional wireless microphones use is 902-928Mhz. For people replacing old and outdated 600-700Mhz wireless microphones, this has been a popular replacement frequency range. Remember, old 700Mhz wireless microphones are now illegal and 566-698Mhz will be illegal by 2020. You must discontinue using these wireless systems and replace them with new wireless microphones operating on legal frequencies. Some manufactures will also be offering VHF in the 169 to 216Mhz range. With new digital technology, this may become another viable choice.
2. Operating Range
A good rule of thumb is to choose a wireless mic system with a stated operating range twice the distance you think you need. Your wireless system must have an operating range of 1,000 feet or more. Although your operating space may only be 900 square feet and have few obstructions, we've found that wireless mic systems that have short operating distances generally have interference problems.
Additionally, short-range wireless systems typically cannot transmit very well through slight barriers such as pulpits, desks, doors or sound booths. This is something to consider when you are looking at 2.4Ghz and VHF systems as they will not typically have the range a UHF system will have.
3. Wireless Microphone System Reliability
With wireless microphones, like most things, you get what you pay for. Of course, you want to purchase a reliable system, but how do you know which systems are reliable? Cheaper systems can contain components that are unreliable and could even cause compatibility issues. Research the mic systems that are low-noise, low-static and low-dropout. Find out if the noise reduction used in construction is the true companding type. Companding refers to the compression of the signal as it goes into your system and expansion of the signal as it comes out. Noise reduction used by some systems generates a pumping noise which your listeners will be able to hear and could find very distracting.
4. Sound Quality - Digital vs Analog
Though there are many reasons to look at digital wireless mic systems over analog wireless systems such as battery life (which can be up to 40% longer) and spectral efficiency (meaning you can pack more units into a given frequency range), the biggest benefit is improved sound quality.
Analog wireless systems use a compander (compander is a contraction of the words compressor and expander) to squeeze the entire dynamic range of a voice or instrument into the narrow frequency allocation provided for wireless mic use.
Digital systems can simply transmit a consistent digital signal that provides full dynamic range without companding. This results in a more natural sound. Price drops in digital wireless microphone systems have made digital affordable for almost everyone. Some mic systems will even allow you to make adjustments to the transmitter from a computer networked to the receiver.
5. Wireless Microphone Features
Pick a wireless mic system with features and future expansion capabilities that will benefit you most.
Separate Mute and Power Switches
One of the most requested features in a wireless system is separate mute and power (transmission) switches. When your receiver and transmitter are talking to each other, the two are "locked on" to the same frequency.
During this communication, nothing can interfere with that system, except another system on the same frequency. However, when your receiver is on and your transmitter is off, no signal is being transmitted, therefore your receiver is able to pick up any transmitted signal on its specified frequency. Even just one stray signal can destroy a performance or message.
With the addition of a separate mute switch, a pastor can mute his audio signal when he does not want to be heard. His transmission switch can still be left on, locking his transmitter on to his receiver and avoiding unwanted stray signals.
Insist that any wireless microphone system that makes your shortlist has two antennas. Single antenna systems are prone to dropouts. True diversity twin-antenna systems use two antennas so if the signal at one antenna drops out the other is there to pick up a signal. A sure sign of a true diversity system is detachable antennas.
Low Impedance, Balanced Line Output
Commercial and professional wireless microphones have balanced outputs from the receiver to connect directly to your mixing console. Balanced connections reduce or eliminate noise and hum problems with the audio signal once it leaves the receiver.
Newer systems have high-performance rechargeable batteries that last 10 hours on one charge. They can go through 1,000 charging cycles, saving you thousands in battery costs! High-performance digital systems monitor these rechargeable batteries both during the charging phase and while being used. Some systems will even tell you how many hours are left on the battery before requiring a charge.
If your mic system doesn't come with an integral rechargeable battery, we can equip you with a high-performance rechargeable battery system manufactured by Ansmann. Ansmann batteries are used by top technical directors in their wireless microphones for major events worldwide. They are the best wireless microphone rechargeable battery available!