How To Choose A Wireless Microphone

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Why Wireless?
Wireless systems have an obvious benefit: freedom of movement onstage. Unencumbered by instrument or microphone cables, or the need to stay close to monitor speakers, you’re free to roam the performance space. For active performers and presenters this can be a big advantage. Wireless systems also can be faster to set up, and help minimize the clutter of cables, mic stands, and floor monitors that crowd performers. Of course, their benefits aren’t limited to stages; you’ll find wireless systems in houses of worship, lecture halls, theaters, dance and exercise studios—anywhere presenters, instructors, or performers are looking for freedom of movement.

Wireless systems have grown increasingly popular along with improvements in their sound, reliability, and affordability. In this guide we’ll walk you through the various types of wireless systems and the features to look for in making the right choices.

The History of Wireless Audio Systems
Several individuals and companies have made competing claims that they invented the first wireless system. The earliest wireless mic schematics and do-it-yourself kits appeared in hobbyist magazine such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics in the mid-1940s. From the late ‘40s through the early ‘50s various tinkerers created “wireless radio microphones” that transmitted signals using radio frequencies. These systems showed up sporadically in theatrical and sporting events.

The Shure Brothers laid claim to having the first wireless microphone system for performers. Called the Vagabond, it had a very limited range of about 15 feet. In 1957, a German company called Lab W, later to become Sennheiser, created a wireless system that had a range of about 300 feet.

An American electrical engineer, Raymond A. Litke, developed a wireless microphone system in 1957 that was used in various applications such as the Olympic trials in 1959 and the 1960 Democratic and Republican conventions. He was granted the first wireless system patent in 1964. A version of the system was introduced later that year by Vega Electronics and was marketed as the Vega Mike.

Sony introduced its first wireless microphone system, the CR-4, in 1958, and by 1960 it was the system of choice for many theatre performances and nightclub acts. German manufacturer, Beyerdynamic, was also successful during this era with its wireless technology that was used in 1964 to capture the soundtrack for the filmed version of the musical My Fair Lady.

In the mid 1970s companding technology developed by Nady Systems resulted in wireless systems with a wider dynamic range. This led to their adoption by stadium acts such as Todd Rundgren and The Rolling Stones.

Today, almost every large venue uses wireless systems, dramatically changing the dynamics of performance. In 1996 a joint Emmy Award for “pioneering the development of the broadcast wireless microphone” went to Nady, CBS, Sennheiser, and Vega.

Wireless Microphone System Components
All wireless mic systems, regardless of their applications, are made up of two basic components: transmitters and receivers. Transmitters convert the audio signal captured by the mic into a radio signal. These are then sent to a receiver that converts them back to an audio signal that is then sent to the sound system.

First, we’ll look at the various types of mic transmitters.

Handheld Microphone Transmitters
These wireless mics incorporate the transmitter into their handle so both functions are contained in a single unit. As with wired handheld mics, there are numerous wireless dynamic and condenser mic models to choose from that will match just about any performer’s needs. Some manufacturers offer separate transmitters that can be plugged into the XLR connector of any dynamic mic, making microphone options even more plentiful when going wireless.

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