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Wireless Microphones FAQ

Below are some common questions you might have about buying and using a wireless mic. We invited representatives from the Professional Wireless community to help us author these responses so you can hear an authoritative voice address the question. We hope you will turn to us with all your Professional Audio questions.

1. What is included in a wireless system and what is not?

A wireless microphone system is actually a radio transmitter and receiver that you can use to eliminate a long microphone cord.  It simply takes the signal from the microphone and transmits it to the receiver, which is plugged into a sound system. The wireless microphone system is not a complete sound system. It replaces a wired microphone only. There are many different companies making many different wireless microphones and combinations. All told there must be a thousand or more different packages. In fact, the leading company in wireless microphone sales offers over 160 packages plus selling all of the components individually! That is why using a knowledgeable company to provide your wireless system is so important!

What is really important is to understand what you want the system to do and what parts you need. Generally a wireless system will have a transmitter, a receiver, a microphone, and the antennas. You will then need all of the proper accessories to make it work in your sound system. For example, if you want to mount it in your equipment rack, you will need a rack-mount kit. You are certainly going to need batteries for the transmitter. If you need the antennas to go someplace other than on the receiver, you will also need longer cables connecting the antennas to the receiver. The receiver is plugged into the sound system's mixer just like a wired mic. The mixer doesn't care if the mic is wired or wireless.

Try to determine how you are going to use the microphone before you start shopping. Then make sure the system you buy has all of the ingredients necessary for your job. Buying from a company with on-site experts can certainly help smooth the way.

2. Should you use a lapel or headworn microphone?

That depends on what you are trying to do and which one you think looks best. For a minister or an auctioneer or a TV news person or the MC on stage, or a fitness instructor, etc either one will work but there are differences.

A lapel mic is very unobtrusive and doesn't get in the way. However, if you turn your head a lot you are moving your mouth away from the mic and the volume will not always stay the same. By the same token mounting the mic close to your chest may give you a deeper resonance and make your voice sound lower in tone. That could be either good or bad - depending on the sound you want. Another potential problem with a lapel mic is that if your clothes are stiff and rustle close to the mic that will be picked up also. A lapel mic might also be more susceptible to feedback. Feedback is that horrible screeching sound caused by a loudspeaker actually putting it's sound back into the microphone. Most lapel mics are more apt to cause feedback than headworn mics.

A headworn mic does eliminate many of the potential pitfalls of the lapel mic, however, a lot of people think it is much more visible on your face and may not convey the image you are looking for. However, it becoming very accepted today. After all, Brittany Spears, Garth Brooks and many other superstars regularly use headworn microphones. If you are an aerobics instructor or dance teacher, it makes a perfect choice because you can get one that fits snugly and will not come loose when you move.

3. What is diversity?

Have you ever been driving in your car and gone under a bridge or around a large water tower and lost the signal for a couple of seconds? That dropout was probably caused by interference or multipath distortion. You do not need to know what those are, only that they can cause a radio signal to fade or go away a few seconds. Remember, a wireless microphone sends its signal by radio waves and is susceptible to the same dropouts. The easiest way to try and prevent that from happening is to by a wireless system that has diversity.

You can usually tell a diversity system by the fact it has two antennas. I say "usually" because some twin systems use two antennas but are not diversity. With a diversity system, because they are in two antennas in two different places, the chances of both of them loosing signal at the same time is pretty remote. However there are different kinds of diversity and some work better than others. The salesman or write-up description should help you discern the differences.

4. UHF vs. VHF, should I care?

Several years ago, there was only VHF and it worked great. Most professional wireless use television channel frequencies to transmit its signal. You know what the TV channels are in your area and you simply make sure you get your wireless on frequencies not being used by TV in your area. However, most of the better wireless manufacturers have very sophisticated computer programs that allow them to pick a frequency for you based, not only on what stations are there, but also other spectrum users. As more and more TV stations came on the air and more and more wireless systems were being sold, there were not enough VHF frequencies available to handle the demand. So, they started using UHF as well. Remember, VHF is only channels 2-13 and UHF is channels 14-99.

As far as the working properties of VHF vs. UHF are concerned, there really are none. Neither frequency band is inherently better than the other. However, because UHF was newer and usually more expensive, people thought it must be better. It is better only in that it offers more frequency choices. If you are in a very populated market that is good. If you are in a thinly populated or rural market, it should make no difference. One advantage to having all the frequencies to choose from is that you can use VHF and UHF side by side and get more total systems in one space if you need to. What I mean is if you have a situation that calls for 30 or 40 wireless systems, you may consider using both.

5. What is Frequency Agile? Is it important?

Maybe. Wireless systems come in single channel (fixed frequency) or multiple channel (frequency agile) and one of the factors deciding cost is usually how many channels they have. The reasons to have more than one channel are basically; 1. to allow you to go to different venues and cities and always be able to find an available channel and 2. Allow you to easily change channels if a new TV station or another wireless comes in next door. If, however, you are going to use the system in the same place all the time and are not worried about a new TV station coming close, there is really no need to spend the extra money for channels you will not use.

6. Can I use one receiver for two microphones to save money?

No. You cannot have two transmitters going on the same frequency at the same time. That wouldn't work any better than if you have two radio stations in your town on the same freq. Neither would come in clear. It's a law of physics thing. Some companies build a receiver box that contains two receivers in it. There is usually two antennas, one for each receiver. This makes the receiver a non-diversity type and we don't recommend non-diversity receivers. Drop outs are common in non-diversity receivers.