Cordless Microphones: Buying Guide

Cordless microphones (wireless microphones) have obvious benefits. They allow a speaker or performer to move on stage freely; the user is not encumbered by a microphone cable; there is no need to worry about tripping on the wire. Also, you avoid cord problems caused by constant stress and movement. But how do you know what to buy? How much should you spend? This article will help you arrive at a decision.

Traditionally, UHF has been the preferred frequency band for higher-end cordless microphone systems. It has the reputation of having greater transmitter range and for being more resistant to television interference. Many people have assumed that UHF is better than VHF but this is not exactly true. There are other factors to consider before deciding what cordless mic is right for you.

Shure cordless microphone

Let's take a closer look at VHF and UHF cordless microphone systems. Wireless microphones operate on either VHF or UHF frequency bands. A VHF wireless system operates between 174 to 216MHz range, while currently, a UHF system operates between 470 to 698MHz. You may be familiar with the terms VHF and UHF, thanks to TV. On a television, VHF would be the range of TV channels 7 to 13, while UHF would be channels 14-51. It used to be channels 14 to 69 and the range was 470MHz to 805MHz. But since 2009, to facilitate digital TV transmission, the 700MHz band (covering TV channels 52-69, from 698 to 806MHz ) is no longer available for wireless use. There is another UHF band, 902 to 928MHz being used by a wide variety of applications such as, garage door openers, amateur radios and home-use cordless telephones.

We spoke of UHF cordless microphone systems having less interference, but the situation is changing. Since parts of the UHF range has been assigned to public safety communications, the band is becoming more crowded.

The maximum allowable transmitter output for VHF is 50mW, while for UHF it's 250mW. Higher output power from the transmitter increases operating range and helps overcome dropout problems. But, it also means that there's less battery life. Since the actual effective radiated power is greatly affected by the antenna of the individual transmitter, a higher output doesn't automatically mean greater operating range. Most high quality VHF transmitter produce the allowed 50mW, and will give you reliable operating range and good battery life. As for UHF transmitters, the output power varies much more widely between brands than VHF transmitters. If maximum operating range is the main concern then the maximum range of 250mW for UHF units is very useful. If you're looking to balance battery life and operating range, choose a 100mW UHF transmitter.

UHF microphones generally cost more than VHF. But VHF mics have more battery life. If interference is an issue you're better off with UHF. When choosing cordless microphones, lot depends on your budget.

Digital wireless systems are relatively new and have many advantages over analog systems. The main advantage is that there is no need for companding and the signal degradation caused by such processing. Digital transmission avoids RF interference. A digital wireless system equipped with 24-digital converters will give you greater dynamic range than an analog.

If your cordless microphone system is analog, the 902 to 928MHz band is not a good choice. But for digital wireless systems like the Line 6 XDR series you would have no problems.

Let's take a look at different types of cordless microphones and which ones are popular among different users.

Instrument systems are most often used by guitar and bass players but can be used with any electric instrument. Instrument systems generally consist of a receiver and a bodypack transmitter which is connected to the instrument by a short cable.

Lavaliere microphone systems are popular with presenters and in TV broadcasters. They are similar to instrument systems in that they employ a bodypack transmitter. A cable connects a lavaliere clip-on mic to the transmitter. You can chose between omni and cardioid lavaliere mics. Omni lavaliere mics are less directional than cardioid ones.

Hand-held microphone systems are ideal for lead singers. They combine a receiver and a microphone with either a built-in transmitter, or a separate transmitter that plugs directly into the microphone. There is no cable or bodypack transmitter with either type. I like the latter type because of the fact that you can use the system with any cordless microphone you prefer. You don't have to use the one that comes with the system.

Headset microphone systems are perfect for singers who want to keep their hands entirely free. If you are a singer-instrumentalists and your hands are already full, this is the way to go. Since the microphone is on a small boom and held in place by a headset, it is constantly in position. This is a great advantage. You don't have to be concerned about volume or tone change caused by being too close or far away from the mic.

Clip-on microphone systems are similar to lavaliere systems, and are designed for use by brass and woodwind players. Each system includes a receiver, bodypack transmitter, and a clip-on mic that attaches to the instrument. As is the case with a headset mic, since the clip-on mic is always in the same position relative to the horn, you don't have to worry about decreasing volume or change in tone as happens with other microphone systems.

The price of cordless microphones varies greatly? How much should you spend? It depends on your intended use and budget. If you only play in casual situations, and there aren't many cordless mics being used at the venue, you can do with a low-priced system. There is no need to waste money on an expensive wireless microphone system. But if you're a professional who sings or plays in a band that uses other wireless systems and plays in various locations, a more expensive, more advanced system would be better.

If you are set on buying cordless microphones though, make sure you find out everything you can about them before you decide which one to purchase. Some will not work at a longer range and some will. You may also find big differences in sound quality and whether they are durable or not. Finally, another microphone option for consumers! You will find a wide range of cordless mics here.

  • UHF versus VHF cordless microphone systems

    Further Reading:

  • UHF versus VHF cordless systems.
  • Wireless Microphones - Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Cordless Headset Microphone.
  • Cordless Karaoke Microphone.
  • Cordless Shure Microphone.
  • Things to look for when buying cordless mics.

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