To Wire or Not To Wire, That Is The Question

18 11 2013

The other day I was talking with one of our Systems Engineers and we came across a picture of a church vocal team on their stage. Many things struck me about this picture, like seeing 7 vocals crammed in maybe a 12′ wide by 5′ deep space (on a large stage) and seeing each singer with their own music stand, mic stand and personal monitor mixer. But the thing that stood out most was the fact that each singer, surrounded by all of this stuff, was using a wireless microphone instead of a wired microphone.

We all know wireless microphones provide a high level of convenience and flexibility, and they certainly can keep a stage looking clean. If your setup features the vocalists out towards the front of the stage and you want to keep wires at bay, I’m totally in favor of wireless mics. If your guitarists don’t need access to any pedals and need to be able to move around the stage, wireless connections totally make sense. Too often people think wireless mics and guitar systems will clean up the look of the stage. That’s true, if you don’t have a bunch of other wired gear in the same space. As most touring guys will tell you, if you don’t have to use wireless you shouldn’t. In this edition I want to look at some of the advantages that come with sticking to wired microphones over wireless

Wired Microphones Might Sound Better
With a wired microphone, what you put into it is what you get out of it. A high quality mic capsule well matched to voice or instrument is the best possible way to get quality sound. With wireless equipment, you are often limited in the selection of mic capsules, limiting your ability to try different mics to find the best match. Many wireless mics use companding to compress dynamic range into a small frequency allocation. While this processing is less noticeable on higher priced wireless systems, there can be a noticeable difference between vocals and instruments on a wireless setup versus a wired one.

Reliability
One well-known microphone manufacturer (of both wired and wireless microphones) had an engineer that used to start off his classes by holding up a microphone cable and saying something like, “The most expensive wireless mic in the world is ALMOST as good as using this.” Wireless technology is not perfect, and even a really great wireless has a higher rate of failure than its wired counterpart. In the world of production, where so much can go wrong, wireless introduces one more finicky area of possible failure. Wireless interference, intermodulation distortion and drop-outs happen for a variety of reasons and can kill a moment when you least expect it. As long as your cable is of decent quality, a wired microphone just won’t have these issues. If you want to go wireless, invest in a well designed antenna and RF distribution system to give your wireless mics the most reliable signal possible.

They Don’t Require Batteries
If you mix audio with wireless equipment for any length of time, you’ll run into the dreaded situation of someone’s batteries dying while on stage. Even for those particularly diligent about replacing batteries, it will happen at some point. Whether it simply has run its course or maybe it came with bad cells, batteries can and will die without notice where a good microphone cable typically won’t. And there is a significant ongoing cost to the batteries you use for wireless equipment. At the first church where I was on staff, we ran something like 10-12 wireless microphones for 3 services per week and had a battery budget in the neighborhood of $1,500 per year! Add a few more wireless microphones and some wireless in-ear monitors and the cost of your batteries per year can double. Do you know how much ongoing expense your wired microphone has? Maybe $25 if you need to get a new cable? It’s not even close. For those situations where you are using wireless, get a professional rechargeable battery and charging system designed for professional wireless microphones like those available from Ansmann.

More Economical
Last but not least, wired microphones simply cost less. Average wired microphones often amount to 1/3 the cost of their wireless counterparts if you compare apples to apples. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t need the mobility, I’d much rather buy two good microphones than one average wireless.

Wrap Up
Make no mistake, I like high quality wireless microphones and love them for many applications. That being said, I think too many churches today go to wireless first when a wired microphone would actually fill the need better. Wired microphones generally sound better, are more reliable, don’t require batteries (saving money and increasing reliability) and are significantly more cost-effective up front. I’ve said it many times before in this newsletter, and I’ll say it again: before you buy anything, really weigh out what features you need in order to be successful, then buy the equipment that will meet those needs. My recommendation is this: don’t buy wireless where wired will do just fine. Take those funds and add versatility and diversity to your wired mic selection. We have wired mics designed to bring out the best in female vocals, male vocals and a wide variety of instruments.

As published at www.ccisolutions.com under Worship Tools

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