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Wireless Microphone Buying Guide
By Doug Ducey
12/7/2010 11:46:00 AM

TYPES OF WIRELESS SYSTEMS

Whatever part you play in your musical group, there is a wireless product available to suit your needs. Here are some of the systems you have to choose from.

hand heldHandheld Microphone System

These systems combine a receiver and a microphone with either a built in transmitter, or a separate transmitter that plugs directly in to the mic. Perfect for lead singers because there are no cables to interfere with the singer’s performance and no body pack attached to the singer’s clothing.

 

 

Instrument Systems

These are generally used by guitarists and bass players, but are usable with any electric instrument. A small cable connects the instrument to a body pack transmitter and the receiver “receives” the signal generated and feeds it to the amplifier or sound system.

Lavalier

Lavalier Mics w/Body pack Transmitter

These are like the instrument system in that they employ a body pack to transmit to the receiver. A small mic is clipped to the users clothing and connected to the transmitter when being used. Public speakers, worship leaders, stage actors and presenters use these systems.

 

 

Headset

Headset or Headworn Systems

Fitness instructors, drummers that sing, singing dancers and dance instructors would benefit from a wireless headset system. Again, the headset mic is connected to a body pack transmitter by a small cable. These systems allow increased hand movement as they are mounted by a small boom and held in place by the headset, thus making the microphone constantly in position to be used.

 

 

Clip-on Wireless System Clip On

These are much similar to the lavalier system in concept, but are designed more for use by woodwind and brass players as the clip-on mic is designed to be affixed to a horn. Horn players love these because they are no-longer encumbered by a mic stand and are free to move about if they so choose.

All types of wireless systems have at least one thing in common, they all use batteries. Whenever possible use a good alkaline battery like a Duracel© or Eveready© and keep the batteries fresh. The life of a battery will vary from system to system, so check your owners manual to see what the estimated battery life is for your particular wireless unit.

VHF OR UHF?? THAT IS THE QUESTION!!

Wireless systems operate on either VHF or UHF frequency bands. Most VHF systems operate in a band width of 174 to 216MHz. This would be in the same range of television channels 7-13. UHF uses a frequency range from 470 to 805MHz (the range for TV channels 14-69). Higher priced wireless systems are usually a UHF system because they have a higher transmitter range and offer less interference from TV signals. UHF also has more transmitter range than their VHF counterparts because UHF signals move through the atmosphere more easily.

The interference issue is changing. This is due to the FCC assigning parts of the UHF range for public safety communications. The band is becoming more crowded still because the higher end of the UHF spectrum (above 900MHz) is a general purpose range for cordless phones, ham radio and garage door openers. Wireless use in this range is not advised because interference problems are very likely. The VHF band is becoming more crowded because digital TV transmissions have recently been added to this band. Even though the UHF band is more crowded that it used to be, there is still more open space here than on the VHF band, which is why it is still the most preferred band.

RECEIVERS, DIVERSITY, FREQUENCY AGILITY, AND ALL THAT STUFF!!

A wireless system is only as good as its sound quality. You don’t want a system that “drops out” frequently or is prone to outside interference. You will want a wireless system that has a good “distance range” and ultimately sounds like a wired system. A well designed system with easy to use controls and easy to read displays is a must. If you are a musician that gigs every weekend or a full time player that travels a lot, a durable, ruggedly built system is a must.

Diversity is all about reception and freedom from dropouts. One external sign of diversity is two antennas, although not all dual antenna units are true diversity receivers. Usually, diversity means that two antennas are monitored and the one receiving the strongest signal is selected automatically. Reception is in part a function of position and is influenced by the locations of the transmitter and receiver. Using two antennas, you reduce the chance of dropouts occurring and get a much stronger, clearer signal. In a live performance setting, the fewer dropouts the better. Diversity circuits can be a simple, passive two-antenna system or they can be complex systems using two receivers, systems that add antenna phase switching, and the list goes on and on. You need to decide if you need diversity in the first place. If you need a system that will operate in a stationary location, an open location like a church, you probably would not gain anything by having diversity.

Frequency Agile Systems that have several frequency patterns that you can select are said to be frequency agile. In any location, one frequency may work better than others and be clear of interference from other signals. Having the frequency agile feature also allows more ease in using multiple wireless systems at the same time. If more than one band member is going wireless, you need to have a choice of frequencies. This feature is not so important if only one wireless system is being used. Some frequency agile systems will automatically choose the frequency with the strongest signal and least interference. This is a great feature known as Automatic Frequency Selection and again is especially useful when more than one wireless system is being used.

What Frequency Should I Get? If you are purchasing a wireless system, especially one that is not frequency agile, you will have to select from several frequency options. The frequencies are designated by a combination of a letter and a number. Unfortunately, each manufacturer uses their own system for this and they are not standardized from one manufacturer to another. The letter designates a particular band range for the unit, while the second part, the number, refers to a specific frequency within the range specified by the letter. You will want to choose the letter that works best for your location, and a number that is different from any other systems that will be used alongside of yours. If you have any doubt about which system will work best for you in your location, contact a West Music Associate, and they will be happy to assist you.

What The Heck is Companding and What Does It Mean To Me? You’ll see this term used in system descriptions, and the term is a combination of the terms “compression” and “expanding”. Each manufacturer uses different companding technologies, and some are much more sophisticated and more effective than others.

The signal is compressed by the transmitter, then the receiver expands it again. The process is necessary because microphones and instruments have a grater dynamic range than transmitters are capable of handling. By compressing the signal at it’s front end, and then expanding it again at the receiver end, the dynamic range of the mic or instrument can be better realized. Companding circuitry is also used in noise reduction systems and can give a wireless system a better signal-to-noise ratio and a higher dynamic range. This is greatly dependent on the quality of the circuitry design.

Since systems from different manufacturers, and sometimes even different systems from the same manufacturer will have different methods of companding, always avoid mixing the components from different systems, even if they use the same frequency. Dropouts, interference and other unpredictable results can occur.

Displays: You need to be kept informed of how well your wireless system is working, so you’ll need a display that is easy to read onstage and one that is well lit. It needs to tell you the channel you are using, signal strength, and a low-battery level warning indicator or battery level meter. The battery level meter or warning indicator is usually located on the transmitter, but some of the upper-end systems have these indicators on the receiver.

Front of wireless receiverWireless Receiver

 

How ‘Bout Those Wireless Monitor Systems? These systems use much the same technology as a wireless microphone system, but it turns it around. The central unit is the transmitter. It takes the monitor signal form the mixing board and sends it to a body pack receiver that uses “ear-buds” that are connected to it. True, you don’t have monitor speakers taking up stage space, the real benefit here is better monitoring. The ear pieces isolate the performer from external sounds and make it easier to hear than with regular stage monitors. Feed back problems are reduced greatly and the monitor mix stays consistent when/if you move around the stage.

Earbud wireless monitor systemWireless Monitor

Again, using a wireless system can make your performances much easier. The “freedom from wires”, the ease of movement around your stage setting, all help to enhance your entire performance. Now, the only question left is how much you need to spend on a system. If you play professionally and travels to various venues, you might want to look at spending more for a more advanced system with more advanced features. If you playing situation is more casual, and you are only using one wireless, a lower priced system likely will serve you well.

As always, do your homework. Analyze carefully what you want the system to do for you and your performance. Research the brands and get all the knowledge you can from manufacturers websites. Do not hesitate to call one of West Music’s associates with any questions you might have.


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Tags: Live Performance, Wireless Performance Equipment, Wireless Sytems, Handheld Microphone Systems, Instrument Systems, Lavalier Mics, Headset Systems, Clip-On Wireless Systems, VHF vs UHF, VHF, UHF, Frequency Agile Systems, Companding, FAQ, Wireless Receivers, Earbud Wireless Receivers
Categories: Live Sound & DJ, Live Sound, Recording & Software
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