What’s your biggest frustration with wireless microphones?
I posed this question to the huge Behind the Mixer community on Facebook and received a host of responses. Many repeated the struggles of others. I’ve compiled their responses and summarized them into 11 areas of frustration and challenge and then presented ways to fix/overcome/defeat each of them.
1. Poor battery life
Wireless microphones quickly suck battery life. Think about it, as soon as the wireless transmitter is turned on, it’s sending a signal. The key to a good battery life is to pick the right batteries.
If you have to use single-use batteries, check the microphone manual for what the manufacturer recommends. These will usually be Alkaline. I prefer the rechargeable route. You pay more upfront but the batteries will last for years and that’s less batteries going in the trash or recycling bin. In this case, look to Ansman or Horizon rechargeables. Check out this page from Horizon on rechargeable batteries:
If you run multiple services on the weekend, turn the microphones / battery packs off between services. Once you have reliable batteries that can last five or six hours then it’s not a concern. We use rechargeables that can last throughout a Sunday morning from 8:30 AM until 12:15pm.
If you want to read up more on battery types and selection, check out this article by Audio Technica:
2. Difficult frequency coordination with multiple microphones.
Wireless frequency configuration is easy with a couple of microphones. Most modern microphones have an auto-scan to find a clear frequency and when you’re working with more than one of the same model, the manual can include frequency settings for multiple microphones to prevent intermodulation.
If you’ve got a lot of microphones, then it’s helpful to go a bit more high-tech and check out the Shure Workbench 6 system control software to help navigate what is available and it also networks with many of the Shure microphone receivers for easier control of frequency selection. Check out this site for details, including the free download and video tutorials:
3. Off/Mute control inadvertently activated.
The Shure Axient system has remote control over the wireless microphones so if they accidentally mute them, you can turn them back on – which is great unless they do it during a song or mid-sermon. But that’s a high end system so let’s look at more common options.
See if the wireless microphone/pack has a locking option to lock the device in the ON position. When this is the case, you don’t have to worry about fidgeting fingers. Those that don’t have the locking option can use black electrical tape of gaff tape to secure it in the ON position.
As a tip, record the channel frequency settings the microphone uses in case it’s accidentally reset or changed. I’ve had one reset itself for no apparent reason. While newer systems enable device-pairing (as long as you are within about three inches between the two devices), sometimes it’s faster to use the controls to reset it yourself – especially when you are backstage such as at a larger church. You might even write in on a label inside the battery compartment. Some allow for disabling the mute button such as with the Sennheiser EW300 G3 handhelds.
Sometimes a pastor might say they want to keep control of the power to their microphone. When this is the case, remind them they will have a delay between when they turn it on and when they can use it. I’ve seen a microphone with a ten second delay time.
4. Poor microphone technique
Ok, so this isn’t limited to wireless microphones. But if no one on stage knows how to properly use a microphone, it’s your job to show them, be it handheld usage or head-worn mic adjustment and placement. If it’s a struggle with only one person, talk with them or in the case of a band member, talk with the worship leader if you don’t feel the musician would listen.
5. Upcoming FCC regulations
This isn’t a wireless problem unless your microphones are in a range the United States FCC is taking back. We lost the 700-800 band a few years ago and now we are looking at 600 MHz up to 698 and possibly lower. Check out this article from Sennheiser for more information
If your wireless equipment is in the 600-700 range, start planning for replacements but wait until the FCC finalizes the auctioning off of this airspace so you know exactly what range is now prohibited for wireless microphone use as they might not auction off the whole band. Also, check with microphone companies for possible rebate offers as they offered back when the 700-800 band was lost.
6. Poor design
Poor design comes in a variety of flavors, from cheap plastic parts prone to breaking, to poor design such as when 9V batteries are twisted when the handheld’s base is screwed on. If you’re dealing with some sort of design problem that hampers your ability to create a problem-free service, it’s time to look at replacing the equipment. In some cases, check with the manufacturer in case it’s a design defect and the manufacture can provide a solution.
When it comes to buying a new wireless microphone, check them out in the store. Are batteries secured? Does anything use light-weight plastic? I prefer metal transmitter packs but when price is a concern that becomes a trade-off. I recently tested out a microphone system by CAD that I really like but there was a difference between the two available packages and it came down to metal versus plastic.
A tip on equipment that uses 9V batteries. The plus terminal, the larger one, can widen from use. If the battery isn’t fitting as snug as before, use a small pair of plyers to gently squeeze it a little to decrease the gap inside.
7. High cost
This is a tough one because you get what you pay for. There’s a reason that high-end Shure’s and Sennheiser’s are as expensive as they are; build-quality, stability, automations, and audio quality. For example, a cheap microphone can carry less of the audible frequency and/or use a poor-sounding form of compression.
There are several options and much of it depends on your budget. Buy high quality when you can. If you can’t, either go wired or prioritize. For example, spend the extra money for a wireless microphone for the pastor and the worship leader and then then buy wired or lower-priced wireless for all other uses. If budget’s a problem, I’d go wired unless wireless was necessary.
If you’re looking for a reliable lower-price wireless solution, look to Samson.
8. Interference / signal drops
Let’s start with wireless limitations. I’ve known churches located next to electrical power stations and radio towers – these can force a church to go the wired route. Next, when it comes to interference and any sort of signal drop, this can take a bit of work but the problem can be solved.
Make sure there’s a direct line-of-sight between the transmitter and the receiver.
If interference or signal drops occur on a regular basis, use the auto-scan feature to find a new transmission frequency. Pick a different one if it first gives you the same one. Make sure there aren’t other microphones in the same area that use that frequency channel. For example, if you have two wireless systems in the same building, such as one in the sanctuary and one in the youth venue, by turning one on, it can block the other or you pick it up instead.
If you still can’t get a consistently clear signal, look into an RF analyzer (or call someone who has one) and run it for a few hours to find out what’s going on. Only then can you find out what wireless frequencies are really safe for use.
Over on the Behind the Mixer Facebook Group, Michael Miller had a great suggestion to check for RF problems, “A quick check for radio sources outside of your system is to leave the mics off, and then check the receivers for RF activity.”
9. Lav’s with feedback ring
A complaint I hear about lavaliere microphones is they can produce a ringing sound. This is a problem associated with a few things. A lav microphone is usually the most sensitive of microphones found on stage in a live setting. Because of this, they can be prone to causing feedback when they are near a loudspeaker or a monitor. With the monitor, a pastor should NOT have their vocals in a monitor.
Also, a wireless microphone has a gain control on the transmitter and if the gain is set too high, the console’s channel gain might be set to zero with the signal still bleeding through. Or, the transmitter gain could be set too low and therefore require excessive gain on the channel and thus either dealing with feedback or excessive line noise.
When a pastor is using a lav microphone on stage, make sure their channel is not routed to the monitor and that all stage microphones are muted if not in use. Also, review the gain structure during the sound check by setting the fader at 0 and the gain at the 10 o’clock position if on analog (on digital, go with about a 30% gain to start – or wherever the console suggests if it indicates a preferred range). Then have the pastor speak on stage. If it’s too loud. Turn back the gain on their wireless transmitter. If it’s not loud enough, boost it. Repeat until you get a strong signal and sound without feedback or line noise. If you still get a little feedback, notch it out with an EQ cut – it might have to do with the room.
10. User constantly readjusts their headset.
I get it, you spend the money on the ear-worn or headset microphone and the pastor or musician seem to constantly mess with them. This is a combination of training and time. They need time to get used to them but they also need trained on how to place them on their head and make sure the microphone is in the proper location.
A huge tip that will help is make sure each person has their own dedicated head-worn microphone. You don’t want the pastor to wear it one day and the next weekend they’re on vacation and someone else is bending the wires to fit their head. Too much wear and tear and you’ll have to replace the microphones but also, when someone has their own microphone, they can bend it to fit and then never struggle with it except for the occasional adjustment.
I know this is a minor complaint but the truth is wall-warts can take up a lot of space and cover up other usable plugs. If you’ve got a wireless receiver with a wall-wart plug and you’d like another option, consider the 1 foot cord cables perfect for freeing up plugs and space with wall-warts. You can grab them for cheap here:
As you can see, wireless microphones come with a host of potential problems but all can be overcome. And if you aren’t a member of the Behind the Mixer community, join for free here.