Pick the Right Headworn Microphone

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shuremx153

The Shure MX 153 – a single ear microphone.

Pick the wrong headworn microphone and the pastor will want their old lapel mic back.  Transition successfully, from lapel mic to headworn mic, by picking the right microphone for the job.  They aren’t all the same in fit, functionality, frequency response or even wireless pack compatibility.

The Story

The audio tech grew tired of begging the pastor to, “PLEASE put the lapel mic in the right spot.”  Every weekend sermon had the tech pushing the mic gain to the limit so the congregation could hear the pastor while not hearing feedback.  After hearing the 87th complaint of, “I couldn’t hear the sermon,” he decided it was time for a change.

Walking through the local music shop, the tech grabbed the first headworn microphone he saw.  This would be his happiest moment.  Or so he thought.

The Real Story

No, that tech was NOT me.  I’ve been at churches where I’ve seen lapel microphones placed in non-ideal locations.  The volume would plummet and spike as the pastor turned their head from side to side.  I could only guess what the tech was thinking.  Let’s look at that story for what’s wrong.

Everything about the story is wrong;

  • The pastor should learn how to put a lapel mic in the right spot.
  • The tech should NOT take it on himself to force the pastor to use a new microphone style.
  • Headworn microphones are NOT all the same.
  • Techs don’t have that kind of extra money to throw around.  This ain’t no fairy tale!

Making the Transition

Before jumping into the details of headworn mics, let’s first talk transitioning.  From my experience, pastors either don’t mind using the headworns or they are openly resistant.  The reason for resistance is because they think they look cheesy or because “it’s what an entertainer would wear.”  The mics come in a variety of types, many of which seem invisible from a distance.  When it comes to the “entertainer” mentality, there is only so much you can do.

In either case, approach the pastor with photos of the mics and photos of other pastors using them.  Also, explain how these microphones enable all of their words (the message) to be heard without the problems that your lapel (lavaliere) mic currently presents – if, indeed, you are having problems.

Headworn Microphone Types

Most are condensers with omni-directional polar patterns.  Some offer directional polar patterns.  The biggest noticeable difference, aside from frequency response, is the way in which the mic is secured to the user.

The microphones can have a wrap-around design so they hook around both ears.  Or, they can hook to a single ear, referred to as an earworn microphone.  The Electro-Voice RE97TX and Shure MX 153, shown above, are perfect examples of the single-ear design.

Some manufacturers of the dual-ear design offer the option of placing the microphone on either the left or right side.  The AKG HC577L and Countryman H6, shown below, are two such models.

countrymanh6

Each model of the microphone has a unique feel when worn.  Work with the pastor on finding one they find comfortable.

Colors

LIME GREEN!  That’s crazy, right?  The mics are available in four common colors; beige, black, tan, brown.  The color selections depend on what the maker offers.  You can even find them in lime green, pink, “transparent,” and various shades of tan for matching skin tone.  (I’m surprised Midwest pastors can’t order them in pasty white.)

Standing or Jumping Jacks?

Usage is a consideration when selecting the right microphone.  And since we are talking about usage by pastors, not aerobics instructors, I’ll present this simple idea; the more active (animated) the pastor, the more you might want to consider the full wrap-around style.  I’ve seen the single earworn mics say in place when the pastor was walking around on stage, as the mic should.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Cost – This isn’t a Jazzercise Class

What’s your budget?  These mics run the price gamut.  $100, $200, $700, even under $30.  Peavey offers the PV-1 for $27.99.   Is that what I’d recommend?  No, not for a pastor.  The lower the price, the bigger the head gear and microphone.  Personally, I find these large mics distracting.  If a drummer needs one, that’s ok.  If a jazzercise instructor needs one, great.  If you are going to ask, “Do you want fries with that,” then size doesn’t matter.

The price is determined by more than just the size.  The quality, durability, moisture-resistance, and frequency response all go into the price.

Here’s a small sampling of mic prices:

Be aware the mic wire plug, for connecting to the wireless pack, can use a variety of plug types.  Some headworn mics include adapters as all packs don’t use the same plug style.  Note some mics only work with specific wireless packs.  For example, the Sony ECM-322BC only works with the Sony WL-800 series bodypacks.

Other options include detachable mic cables.  Cable plugs wear out and hey, why replace the whole headworn mic when a cable replacement would be cheaper?

IMPORTANT TIP

Using a headworn mic is more than just putting it on and talking.  The microphone should be adjusted so it’s about an inch away from the mouth, set slightly back of the mouth.  It’s a little easier to explain it like this; if you can hear the person breathing between words, the microphone needs to move back.  Time for the important tip.

Show the pastor how to adjust the microphone – important when it’s not on right and the congregation hears it rubbing skin or a beard.  A simple little adjustment is all it takes.

The Take Away

A handheld microphone fits most any hand.  A headworn mic is not comfortable for everyone and they certainly aren’t all built the same.  Work with the pastor to pick one they find comfortable.  It does take time to get used to using one, that’s part of it as well.  Pick the right color.  And do your research into the various headworn microphones that fit the budget so the pastor will be using the best sounding microphone.

I’ll leave you with this last reminder; pick the right microphone for the pastor but then work on EQ’ing their voice so not only are they heard, they are understood.  There is a difference.

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Comments

  1. says

    Our pastor currently uses a podium mic for preaching which sounds only just okay at best. We can’t get the volume and clarity that we want without feedback. We’re looking at single ear omni headsets either dpa d:fine or Countryman e6. I notice these headsets don’t come with a transmitter and receiver. Where can I find a transmitter/receiver system to go with these headset mics?

    • says

      Susan, it’s a matter of mixing and matching as long as they are flexible. Start with your budget and work from there. Some wireless system come with headworn mics. Also, check the brand / model web site for the cable compatibility. Some will say only comp. with certain brands or mention if they come with adapters.

  2. Mark Hollywood says

    Thanks for helpful posts. I am a pastor who likes the headset but have issues with the headset and my glasses. The part that goes around the ear has a tendency to push up being displaced by the arm of the glasses. Is there an attachment to the arm of a glasses pair or some other suggestion?
    Thanks!

  3. says

    Hi Chris,
    I have a quick question. We are a smaller new church and I use a computer to help with worship as I use cd sound tracks. At times I hear a hum and it seems I only hear it when the slide for the channel that I hook the laptop in is on. I use the earphone jack out of the computer and have it on a channel using a 1/4 inch on the other end.
    I have tried using a diverter box and sometimes I don’t hear it, but occassionally I still hear this humming noise. Is there a different way to hook up the music through the computer instead of using the earphone outlet as I wonder if that is what causes this noise?
    Thank you,
    Nancy

    • says

      Could be a variety of problems. Start by eliminating line noise as a problem. Cut the gain on the mixer channel back and boost the volume on the computer. By doing this, you can get a stronger audio signal and therefore hear less line noise. The problem could also be due to grounding. Make sure both the computer and audio equipment are plugged into the same electrical circuit. That’s where I’d start.

    • says

      Hey Nancy just to add 2 cents here because I have fought the same battle.
      I would also get a noise isolating power strip and make sure the board/laptop are all plugged into it.
      I think we use Tripp-Lite iso bar.
      Even after this I still had some noise between the PC and the board, I went back to my car audio days and picked up a Stinger SGN20 Ground Loop Isolator and put that between the board and the PC.
      Silence is golden! I suspect it may cut your signal slightly but I have never noticed. The only bad sounds we have now are from florescent lighting and the guitar players tube amp and he isn’t going to give that up!

      I hope this helps
      Blessings

    • Randall Bachman says

      I had the same problem and found that using a Beheringer UCA 222 U-Control isolated the noise and eliminated the problem. All of the other ground and power isolations steps did not work, and I still don’t really know what the problem is. But this cheap band-aid did the trick.

      • Anonymous says

        Hi,
        On the unit you have mentioned, do you use the two left right outputs and run the two channels on the board for output or use the headphone output on the unit and run to one channel?
        Thanks for responding to my question.

  4. Robert Juric says

    I had a question thats related to ear-worn mics. On our mixer they sound much more hollow or removed on the PFL or even the AUX Send we use for recordings. Going through the house it sounds ok, but directly on the board or in the AUX the sound is barely there. Could this just be our brand of mic, or is there something different I could look at?

    Thanks,
    Robert

    • says

      Robert, the feed going to a set of headphones or a recording device lacks one huge thing; the room acoustics. It doesn’t seem like it would make a difference but it really does. That why larger churches have an audio tech who mixing just the live recording. If you are talking about the signal level, that might be a gain issue. Fader at unity, turn the gain up until the signal is strong. If it starts to feed back, turn the gain back. If you try this but can’t seem to get enough signal then the gain on the wireless mic pack need to be turned up.

    • says

      Robert, I added 2 inexpensive condenser mics pointed out from the stage towards the congregation.
      This took our pastor from sounding like he was in an “acoustic box” to a much more live sound, you get that room ambiance. Make sure you do not send these mics to the FOH mix though or you will have some undesirable effects.
      You can listen to our sermons on our website if you want to get an idea of how it will sound.
      Currently we are waiting to get that digital board so we can remix our broadcast sound.

  5. Alex says

    Thanks for the article! Do you have a picture of how far back and to the side the mic should be?

    We are having issues with the mic picking up subtle mouth and tongue clicks especially when the pastor’s mouth is dry.

    • says

      Some earnworn mics are so small they only extend a few inches past the ear. Check out the links to the mics listed as they should have a couple that show placement. You don’t need to be right up on the mouth. Even behind the mouth works.

  6. says

    Please don’t throw things at me for what I am about to recommend.

    We were in need of several wireless mics for a musical play our teens were doing. Last thing I want to do is give kids our $400 Shure headsets. I found something on Amazon called Pyle-Pro PMEMS10
    Now typically i would never recommend that company for audio but we were pleasantly surprised.
    The headset does have more noise and is a bit hot but with the right adjustments they work very well.
    We now keep several on hand for guest speakers and such, at $15 they are practically disposable.
    You can buy them with Audio Technica or Shure connectors.

    • says

      Mike, I love your solution for the teens. Yeah, the mics are cheap but considering the abuse they are going to take and the “almost” one-off use, they are perfect.

  7. Pete says

    I also transitioned from lavalier to headset for the pastor, and saw the one we currently use for the pastor and all our childrens productions wasn’t included. It is the Samson airline micro earset. The transmitter is built in to the earpiece, and has a great response rate. I know, some like I was might discount samson as inferior, but we have used it for over 3 years now with no issues, while resolving the clothing rub issues, broken wire issues, dedicated equalizer issues, and cumbersome hiding the wire issues. It simply clicks on the ear, and our sound booth is over 50 feet away with no issues, although we recently moved the receiver to the platform. The customer service has been great, and and the cheaper price compared to other mics made it my best choice so far. And no, I don’t work for Samson, I just know when a product actually makes my life easier!

    • says

      Pete, thanks for the plug for the Samson Airline. I’ve talked with a Samson rep before and looked over their product line. They’ve got some good stuff. The Airline is definitely different with the transmitter built into the earpiece. Imagine how small this stuff will be in twenty years!

  8. Michael "Scott" Gordon says

    I really appreciate your posts and sharing your knowledge. I have been mixing sound for nearly two decades and I find your posts helpful and informative. I always say if you’re not learning you’re probably going backwards. I appreciate you!

  9. Zach Boyd says

    I recently helped my church transition to a headworn microphone, we ended up going with the dpa d:fine and couldn’t be happier. I don’t have a done of experience using “headworn” vs “earworn” but the limited time I spent with headworn designs revealed the earworn to be (generally) a lot easier to deal with.
    The other big determining factor for us was the location of the pastor/teacher when they speak. Our church is small so the sermon/teaching often has a bit more of an intimate feel and they are closer to the congregation and consequently in front of the speakers. Result: DIRECTIONAL MIC = GOOD, OMNIDIRECTIONAL MIC = BAD. When testing I definitely noticed a bit more clarity in sound in the omni mic, but that definitely wasn’t worth the dramatically reduced feedback issues.

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