Wireless microphones let performers move freely onstage, unrestricted by cables. Musicians, teachers, corporate meeting spaces, and houses of worship can all benefit from the freedom of a wireless microphone system. If you're thinking about adding a wireless system to your school, theatre, or karaoke bar, this wireless microphone buying guide can help you find the system that's right for you.
The Basics -- Transmitters and Receivers:
Every wireless mic system has two components: a transmitter, typically worn or held by the performer -- and a receiver, which collects the radio signal from the transmitter, converts it to audio, and sends the audio through a cable to your mixer or power amp. We've organized this buying guide by type of transmitter: handheld microphones, lavalier/clip-on microphones, and headset microphones.
Running Multiple Simultaneous Wireless Mics:
If you plan to use several wireless microphones at the same time, each microphone must operate on a different radio frequency so their signals don't interfere. Look for frequency-agile systems, which allow you to choose from a range of frequencies to find an open channel. For two-mic setups, it's a good idea to choose a "Dual" system that's designed to run both microphones simultaneously.
VHF vs. UHF:
Analog wireless mic systems operate in the Very High Frequency or Ultra High Frequency bands. UHF systems are less susceptible to drop-outs or dead spots than VHF systems, even over distances of 200+ feet, due to their shorter wavelengths (typically 400 - 698 MHz). However, it's worth noting that the FCC plans to repurpose at least part of the 600 MHz band,
and within a few years, those frequencies may no longer be available to wireless microphones, so to be on the safe side, look for systems that operate below 598 MHz.
Digital Wireless Microphones:
Digital wireless systems avoid UHF and VHF frequencies altogether -- they convert audio to a digital signal before sending it through the air via the 2.4 GHz ISM band (2.400 - 2.483 GHz). These systems are much less prone to noise or interference, since the digital receiver is "listening" for a specific stream of ones and zeroes. High-quality 24-bit digital wireless systems can deliver a wider dynamic range than traditional analog systems. However, don't expect to run more than 4 to 8 digital wireless channels simultaneously -- the 2.4 GHz band is crowded with Wi-Fi devices, and in many corporate settings and venues where Wi-Fi is the priority, you're better off sticking with UHF.
Fixed-Frequency versus Frequency-Agile:
Fixed-frequency wireless systems are just that: they always run on one set frequency band. Frequency-agile systems can hunt around for an open channel. If you're installing a wireless system in a venue, a fixed-frequency system will do the trick. If you're planning on bringing your wireless system on the road to use in multiple venues, a frequency-agile system is more likely to work in more places.
Handheld Wireless Microphone Systems
Perfect for reinforcing singers, handheld wireless microphones look similar to wired microphones, but with a slightly larger handle to house the transmitter's antenna and battery. Most wireless handhelds have cardioid or hypercardioid pickup patterns that reject sound to the rear of the microphone, making them less susceptible to feedback on stage. If you need to mic up multiple singers, "dual" systems give you two microphones and a multiple-channel receiver.
Analog UHF and VHF Wireless Handheld Systems:
Lavalier/Clip-on Wireless Microphone Systems
Wireless lavalier microphones are designed to be worn on your lapel, which makes them perfect for presenters who need their hands free. These tiny, inconspicuous clip-on microphones can even be hidden in a performer's costume or hair. Lav mics with an omnidirectional pickup pattern are very easy to place, since they pick up in all directions. Lavs with a cardioid pickup pattern offer higher gain before feedback, but for best results, they should be carefully aimed at the performer's mouth.
Due to their small size and delicate electronics, lavalier microphones require a separate transmitter. The transmitter is typically housed in a "bodypack" or "beltpack" about the size of a deck of cards, which is worn on the belt or in a pocket. The lavalier microphone plugs into the bodypack transmitter with a short, thin cable.
Analog UHF Wireless Lavalier Systems:
Headset Wireless Microphone Systems
Headset microphones are worn over the ear or around the back of the head. They vary in size and appearance, but they can be very small and inconspicuous. Head-worn microphones are great for fitness instructors, or any presenter who can't hold a handheld microphone or clip on a lavalier mic. Since head-worn microphones can be placed so close to the sound source -- the performer's mouth -- they can deliver higher gain-before-feedback than a microphone clipped to the chest. Most headset microphones come with a bodypack transmitter, but some models incorporate the transmitter into the headband.
Analog UHF Wireless Headset Systems:
Combination Wireless Microphone Systems
Can't decide between a handheld, lavalier, or headset? "Combination" wireless mic systems include at least two types of transmitters -- like a handheld/lavalier combo, or handheld/headset combo. And some combination systems have one wireless microphone, plus one instrument wireless system: a bodypack transmitter with a 1/4" cable that can plug into a guitar or bass.
See all single-channel and dual-channel combination wireless systems »
Single or Dual? Single-channel combination systems are perfect for venues that want to offer the performer the choice of a handheld or clip-on mic. Don't forget: single-channel systems only let you run one microphone at a time, not both together. If you plan on using two or more wireless mics simultaneously, choose a "Dual" combination system with a dual-channel receiver.
Combination Wireless Systems: