5 Things Sometimes Overlooked When Adopting (or Not Adopting) Wireless Mics!

It’s almost time to start preparing for the holiday season, and you have decided to move to wireless mics this year.  The decision to choose wireless mics over wired mics might seem like an obvious choice.  Everyone loves the freedom they offer but proceed with caution because, as in the case with most technologies, one solution does not always fit all.  It might be worthwhile to consult a professional.

Ask anyone associated with the live audio industry to share their true feelings about audio cables and you will discover almost everyone from audio techs to stage crews, from performers to audience members alike will usually agree on one thing; cables are gross.  Across the industry there is a universal dislike or even hatred for those ugly, bulky cables that run back and forth across the stage connecting amps, speakers and mics to boxes and snakes.  As a result, more and more organizations, houses of worship and corporations are looking to wireless mics as a possible solution but is moving to wireless mics always the best solution?  Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of wired versus wireless mics.

1.Wireless Mics Introduce New Audio Scenarios And Often, New Issues

Wired Mic Cons:  In a wired mic scenario, the range of movement for any given performer/speaker is limited to the length of the cable and/or permanence of the mic.  A fixed mic located on the top of a podium almost always guarantees that the speaker will remain in place if they want to be heard.  Straying even a few inches in most directions can spell disaster for fixed mics.

Wired Mic Pros:  For all of the constraints mentioned, wired mics do offer the security of knowing that generally they will perform as needed and when left alone, little is likely to change.   Performers or speaker’s standing in one spot with little or no movement may benefit from the reliability and consistent performance characteristics of wired mics.

Wireless Mic Cons: A wireless mic allows the speaker to spontaneously move anywhere he wants as long as the transmitter he wears or holds, maintains a good connection with the receiver.  This freedom of range might sound good to you, but free roaming mics introduce new challenges never faced by wired mics such as potential interference from radio equipment or other wireless microphones, frequency crowding, poor battery management, noise or dead spots, and obstacle interference.  Many of these are discussed below.

Wireless Mic Pros:  As mentioned above, the speaker can choose to walk away from the podium, walk about the stage and go down to the aisles and even leave the building if they so chose, just as long as the connection holds.  A more natural look, wireless mics add to the ambiance of the set without distracting cables.

2.Prepare for Unintended , Unwanted Sound Intrusions

Wireless Mic Cons:  Free Roamers can sometimes be an audio tech’s worst nightmare when they wander into “unchartered audio zones”.   Before wireless mics, the tech never worried about the “dead” zones, feedback loops outside the well positioned mics or poor transmission connectivity.  In addition, wireless mics accidentally left “on” have the uncanny ability to transmit sounds at the worst possible moment.  We have all heard stories about the wireless pastor accidentally transmitting a needed bathroom break over sanctuary sound system.  Unintended transmissions result from crowded channels and untested frequencies.

Wireless Mic Pros:  With that intimidating list of possible problems why would anyone want a wireless mic system?  Don’t worry, the newer systems offer many solutions to help the audio tech maintain a well working flexible system.  With newer systems ability to change the operating frequency of the individual mics, it’s possible to avoid many, if not all, of the problems mentioned above (often referred to as “Frequency Management”).  Some other annoying problems specific to wireless mics can sometimes be addressed by setting policies such as taking control of the “Off” button away from the speaker.  Establish a “hands-off” policy with the speakers and give control to the audio techs managing the mix board.  Also, come up with a well thought out battery replacement policy and let the audio tech be responsible for making sure the mic has been tested with a fresh battery, and is off when it needs to be off.

3.Capture Quality Audio in Once Difficult Locations

Wireless Mic Pros:  Implementing wireless mics also means preparing for the integration of “remote” (even odd) locations once thought unobtainable by the previous mic solution.  No longer do cable lengths matter, we can explore different rooms, floors, outside spots, etc., everything is accessible for the first time and we are literally out of the box.  Anywhere you can maintain connection between the transmitter and receiver, go ahead and make plans to test because chances are that someone will want to try a live feed.   One of my church’s favorite techniques is the off stage, hidden up high in the loft, deep voiced, divine speaking characters, one we would never attempt without a wireless mic.

4.Efficient Setting and Striking the Stage

No doubt about it, setting and striking the stage is a whole lot easier and efficient with wireless mics.  No running cables to the snake, no fussing with gaff tape, no need to mark ends, map connections, label, or maintaining.  The cables that bind us are now behind us.  Also the reduction in the number of cables running back to the mixer might open new possibilities about where the front of the house can be located.  There will always be cables of one type or another to contend with but our goal is to reduce that number.

5.Equipment Maintenance

The cost of replacing cables compared to the cost of a new transmitter/receiver can be a substantially lower up front, but in the long run, a carefully maintained wireless system pays off.  The odds of replacing a cable versus a wireless transmitter/receiver is a lot higher.  Cables are thrown, run over by carts and stomped on by kids, while the connectors are pulled or yanked from components until they become loose and worn.  Troubleshooting wired mic systems is time consuming and difficult without the proper tools and to be honest, easier to just change out.  How many suspiciously bad cables or dirty mics does an organization have laying around?  Troubleshooting cables and wired mics can easily take 20 to 60 minutes depending on the system complexity.

On the other hand, troubleshooting a wireless system can be more straight-forward since it usually involves one of the following:

  • The transmitter’s power switch is off.
  • The speaker is making contact with the transmitter’s antennae.
  • The transmitter battery is dead.
  • The transmitter is not in sight of the receiver,
  • The receiver is set to the wrong frequency.
  • The receiver‘s audio is muted or set too low.
  • The mic’s input channel on the mix board is muted or set too low.

Troubleshooting a wireless mic problem is usually a 5 to 10 minute job.

Don’t laugh but the primary fail point in a wireless system is usually the battery. AV techs must be disciplined to replace batteries no less than weekly in order to ensure optimal strength.  There is nothing worse than watching an AV tech slither across the stage with a new battery hoping not to be noticed by the audience or the not-so-happy speaker.  Keep it Fresh!

Last Word

Moving to wireless mics is usually a great experience.  It opens the stage and gives the speakers a more natural and spontaneous freedom of expression.  The freedom to move about also means the AV tech needs to understand all of the acoustical aspects of the stage and possibly auditorium and to stay alert.  The spontaneity of a live performance creates dynamic and sometimes challenging situations.

One idea is to be blended at first.  Gradually introduce wireless mic technologies and encourage your users to experiment during rehearsals with different scenarios that test the limits and functionality of the wireless system.  Enjoy the new found freedom but tell your Speaker to always remember,

“Approach with Caution and Careful what you Say!  They Roam Wireless!”

The expert technical staff here at Audio-Video Group, Frederick, Maryland would be more than happy to assist you in determining how a wireless mic system could benefit your organization.  We represent several different wireless mic manufacturers and if needed provide rental units to try before you invest.  Different solutions for different needs, that’s how we succeed!  Call us today at (800)668.4988 and let’s get roaming!

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