Microphone Makeover: Improving Sound While Staying on Budget
By: Gene Houck
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to improve your church sound and your worship service altogether is unfortunately overlooked more often than not. It is also the easiest and one of the most economical improvements a church can make.
What is this simple action? Improving your microphone knowledge and, in some cases, your microphones. How is this so? Well, consider this—the microphone is the first link in your sound signal chain. Bad sound in means bad sound out. While it may be true that a poor quality mic can be the culprit, bad sound, as it relates to a microphone, can also be caused by wrong mic selection, improper handling, and improper placement.
During these economic times, it is of particular importance to make every effort to look for ways to make improvements without making bills. Many audio renovation jobs have been put on hold indefinitely. While some of these projects may be unavoidable, taking a fresh look at your mic locker can give you a jump start to your renovation without the high price of speakers, power amps, and consoles. Some of the items will cost you nothing but a little invested time. Simply improving your microphone selection and placement can have astonishing results in the impact and enjoyment of your worship service.
First, let’s look at the types of microphones there are and the ways that they are utilized in a house of worship.
There are two types of microphones commonly utilized in churches today: dynamic and condenser. The choice between a dynamic or condenser mic is typically dictated by the distance to the sound source. A dynamic microphone is commonly used as a wired handheld vocal mic. They can also be effective for miking instruments, as well as “close range” speech. They are rugged and generally less expensive than condenser microphones.
A condenser microphone is better suited for distance miking or capturing a larger area (such as a choir) because of their higher sensitivity and output. Condenser microphones require phantom power (provided from the mixing board). They also are a little more delicate and need to be stored properly, keeping them away from moisture.
First of all, before buying more microphones, make sure you know what you already have in your possession. Many churches (especially larger ones) have never taken an accurate inventory count of their microphones. Have whoever is in charge of your sound ministry make your church a complete list. Churches that do this valuable exercise almost always are surprised at what they find. They may find that their mics are in worse condition than they thought, but, in some cases, they discover that they already have what they were about to purchase.
To determine if a microphone is a dynamic or condenser, turn off the phantom power at the mixer (there will be a button labeled “phantom” or “48volt”). Make sure that all volume faders are down before doing this. If the mic only works with the phantom power on, it is a condenser. Engaging phantom power will not damage your dynamic microphones.
Now that you know what mics you have, let’s discuss what mics to use where and how to use them.
The message needs to be heard clearly, so choose wisely.
1. Headset Mic
Headset mics now come in very small and comfortable designs. They have a low profile and can be utilized with wireless systems as well. With a headset mic, the mic element is nearest to the presenter or sound source of all three solutions mentioned. For that reason, a headset mic has a distinct advantage.
2. Podium Microphone
Although there is a big increase in headset microphone use for pastors, most churches, across all denominational lines, still utilize a podium, pulpit, or lectern mic. A condenser podium style mic is recommended since the pastor will usually be at a greater distance than an inch or two (where a dynamic mic works best). This type of mic is also referred to as a gooseneck mic, since it has a small condenser mic at the end of a flexible gooseneck stand. Set the gain structure or volume with a large enough pick up area so that the speaker can communicate naturally. If using a condenser podium mic, a distance of 1 foot away from the speaker is recommended. This will also minimize the nasty pop or plosives caused by being too close to the microphone.
3. Lapel Mic
This is popular for its low profile, as well as its ability to be used with a wireless system. The most common mistake is to clip the mic too far away from the speaker’s mouth. A distance of one perpendicular hand is recommended.
Often the biggest miking challenge that a house of worship has is with the choir. Here is a place you can save money. The biggest mistake when miking a choir is in using too many mics. Believe it or not, most churches are using two times more mics than is optimum. First of all, a condenser mic is the mic of choice. Condenser mics for choirs come in all sizes. A good condenser mic will be able to cover up to 25 people. To avoid feedback issues in choir miking, less is best. Remember, when you double the amount of microphones in a given area, you have a drop in available gain of 3 dB.
You will need to determine whether you are hanging the mics or placing them on the platform. If hanging the mics, there are many manufacturers to choose from. If line of sight issues (such as video screens) prevent you from hanging mics or if your choir is not always in a fixed position, you will need condenser microphones on mic stands. One of the biggest challenges with this is getting the microphones high enough to adequately pick up the higher rows.
Praise Team Microphones
If your church has a contemporary praise team, you will need to consider vocal mics, as well as microphones for all acoustic instruments, including drums (for mix imaging and balance more than volume). A larger church will have an easier time with the challenges of acoustic drums, but, large or small, a plexiglass enclosure with acoustic treatment (preferably with a lid) is recommended. You will need a couple of condenser mics for the drum overheads and a selection of dynamic mics for close miking the other drums. To maximize control, I have seen many churches move to electronic drums, only to go back to acoustic drums and microphones in order to get the sound they want and to make the drummer more comfortable. In most cases, you can equip your church with acoustic drums, a drum enclosure, and microphones for far less cost than electronic drums.
To Be or Not To Be Wired
When choosing vocal mics for a worship leader and/or praise team, you will need to decide whether or not to go wireless for your vocalists. The single largest microphone purchase for a church is most commonly a wireless microphone system. When running multiple wireless systems, this can run into the thousands, even with a “low end” brand or model. If your team and worship leader are stationary, consider staying with wired mics. The performance is always optimum, servicing issues are minimal, and you will save a considerable amount of money.
There are, no doubt, many advantages to going wireless from cleaner platforms to quick changes, so, if you do make the decision to go wireless, invest in quality. If you can only afford a cheap system, stay wired. A “no-name” cheap system will not only be unreliable, but it will produce a poor sound quality.
Lastly, don’t just make a purchase because you have simply heard of a brand. Compare models and brands and, in the final analysis, trust your ears.
Here is hoping that the only feedback you hear is from the congregation telling you how great the service sounded!
Gene Houck is the national sales manager for Audix Microphones, www.audixusa.com, and has been a worship leader for many years.
DPA Headband Microphones
DPA head worn microphones are the industry standard for preaching, singing, and service readings. The 4088 is a high-quality, miniature cardioid headband microphone, and the 4066 is the omnidirectional version. Open, clear, natural sound, combined with elegance, light weight and extreme durability has made DPA the mic of choice for religious applications. Extremely flexible miniature microphone solutions, both mics feature very fast and easy adjustment capabilities. The headband for both models mounts comfortably over both ears for maximum stability, giving the choice of left or right boom mounting.
The Audix Micros Series, which consist of the world’s smallest condenser microphones with integrated preamp and detachable cable, continue to evolve and break fresh ground with the introduction of the M1255B. This latest development now allows the M1255B to be able to operate, without sacrifice to its performance, on phantom power of 18 – 52 Volts. With a stylishly machined brass housing and modular threaded capsule, the M1255B features a smooth frequency response of 50 Hz – 20 kHz, 12 mm gold vapor diaphragm, a selection of 4 capsules, and complete immunity from RF caused by cell phones and GSM devices.
A 2009 TEC Award Nominee, the Earthworks FLEXWAND is a high definition microphone, stand, and boom as a single integrated unit that is adjustable from 1.5 to 7 feet high. It is low profile, with a clean look and the outstanding quality of sound you expect from Earthworks, including more gain before feedback, rejection of sounds from the rear of the microphone, no spotlighting, and an accurate pickup pattern. The FLEXWAND is available in cardioid and hypercardioid models.
The Pearl Vocal is specifically designed to be the ultimate condenser hand-held stage microphone. The newly developed medium-sized single diaphragm capsule provides high acoustic transparency and can handle sound pressure levels up to144 dB without overload. It has been tuned specifically for a modern, detailed vocal sound with extended vocal presence and optimized low-end response. The newly developed suspension system effectively reduces handling noise to an absolute minimum, and the cardioid polar pattern has been optimized for maximum side and rear rejection while providing maximum gain before feedback.
ListenPoint Microphone Kit
ListenPoint provides a simple, affordable way to improve sound quality and integrate multiple audio sources to make interactions more effective and dynamic. ListenPoint is ideal for small ministry or meeting rooms where you can’t justify a large sound system. It is a simple, affordable solution to bring sound structure and expandability into small rooms. The ListenPoint M1 microphone provides unsurpassed audio quality ensuring your message is heard. Simple, intuitive microphone operation makes it user-friendly.
Galaxy Audio has introduced three models of Wireless Microphones: the PSE Series, TRC Series, and The DHT Series. The PSE has 16 selectable UHF channels, whereas the TRC and DHT offer 120 selectable channels. Features include backlit LCD with channel display on transmitters and receivers. Each handheld transmitter features a gain control and body packs have a 0/-10/Mic selector switch. Wireless transmitters can be mixed to work with different rack mount receivers. This allows the user to pick the features desired of each component. The HH64 and HH76 both have the option of a changeable microphone element head from Cardioid to Super Cardioid.