How to Choose a Wireless Microphone System

A wireless mic system is just like the name implies – it’s a wireless system for getting your microphone signal to a sound board or PA system. All are not created equal and you’ll want to do a little research before spending your hard earned gig money (or lack thereof) on one.


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    Decide where you are going to sing or speak. Think about how many obstructions will be between you and the receiver. Walls and columns count, but don’t forget that a drum set has enough metal in it to make cheap wireless systems cut out. How far you will be in line-of-sight from the receiver? Most are pretty good these days, but in the off chance you are hoisted a few hundred feet in the air like Gene Simmons, make sure you have the range you need. Don’t count out a wireless mic system if you only play small stages. The smaller the stage, the easier it is to trip on a cable – or multiple cables.
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    Decide if you can live with some sound drop-outs. There is a chance your signal could drop out. No one wants this, but it happens just like a bad cable happens. If you are playing all ages shows at the local VFW and barely making gas money, maybe you can take a few shortcuts. If you make your living doing a Cher tribute in Vegas and a bad show will lose you your gig and send ripples through the whole circuit, maybe spend a few bucks. There are two things that determine drop-outs – antennae diversity and what band of frequency they are operating in. From worst to first in the drop out rank: Single diversity—this means there is one antenna to get a signal. If it doesn’t get one, it drops out. Two antenna systems are called true diversity and the receiver picks between the two for the stronger signal. True diversity systems have come down in price and are nice option.VHF systems—operate on a bandwidth competing with cabbie's and a thousand radio stations. There are a few bands that don’t even work anymore – the FCC took them away. Anything currently made in this frequency is going to be the lowest-of-low quality. Probably best suited for home karaoke and such. UHF systems—operate on higher frequencies, which are less crowded. Try to find one that has an option to switch channels. If you perform in different cities around the country, you’ll definitely want this option. Every city has different frequencies being used by TV and radio stations. Digital systems – these operate on the 2.4GHz frequency at the top of the UHF band like WiFi, cell phones and related devices. There are no high powered signals on this band – most of these devices operate on one-watt or less – so the chance of interference is low. No system is perfect, but these are your best bet for drop-out free performance.
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    Decide how good the sound quality needs to be. All systems have come a long way in sound quality. The quality of sound in wireless microphone systems could be listed exactly like the ranking in drop-outs. In the same way that interference may cause a drop-out, the receiver may not get a clean version of the signal. For true diversity systems, the second antenna helps from having drop-outs, but they don’t really make the signal sound better. Any VHF and UHF system with lots of other frequencies in use could have problems. One high powered wave could disrupt the signal, making the receiver “guess” as to what the signal is supposed to look like. They are designed this way to avoid drop-outs, but the signal really isn’t going to be what the transmitter sent. Digital wireless systems have a slight advantage in this case: they only read “ones” and “zeros”, so they can’t really guess as to the waveform. Any analog versus digital argument wouldn’t apply here. The digital system would have a more accurate version of the original signal. A few digital wireless mic systems have an additional advantage: they don’t use companders. A compander compresses a signal in one direction and expands it in the other. Systems that use them have essentially one more place to lose signal information. As a paper copy of a copy loses something each time, the signal for those may as well.


  • Buying Used gear may not be the way to go. Firstly, there is no “they don’t make them like they used to” with wireless microphone systems. They just get better every year. Secondly, being a complex and fragile system compared to other electronic gear, you may want to get a new unit with a full warranty.
  • It’s all about specs. If you are buying online or can’t find a store that will let you demo – or you can’t hear the difference between systems when you do demo them –check out specs online or on the packaging before you buy. Checking out the range, frequency response and number of channels is a good start.
  • Try before you buy. Some stores will demo a wireless mic system for you. If you find one that will, definitely give them a shot.
  • They don’t have to be expensive. Some of the best digital wireless microphone systems are around the same price as UHF systems.

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Categories: Hardware