Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What type of microphone should I get for my meeting?

The easy answer is…it depends. But that’s not very helpful, is it? Let’s take a quick look at the types or styles of microphones that are common for meetings and what they are typically used for. Then, you can make a better guess as to which kind would work best for your meeting.

Essentially, there are two kinds of microphones (from a planner’s perspective): wired and wireless. And, there are two varieties of each of those: handheld or lavaliere.

Wired microphones are those microphones that are connected to the sound system be means of a wire or cord (simple, huh?). The speaker’s range of movement onstage, for example, is limited by how much play or slack exists in the wire. If the cord is only 10 feet long, he won’t be traveling very far from the unit it is plugged into! Most “table-top” mics and podium or lectern mics are wired – they don’t need to travel very far (if at all) from where they are set up. On the plus side, inputs from wired mics are very strong and only on extremely rare occasions will they pick up signals from another source. This is very good when a clear signal is mandatory or if there is the potential for interference from structures or other broadcast signals.

Wireless microphones, on the other hand, are not constrained by a physical attachment to the control/input unit. A speaker can wander anywhere in a room and still be connected to the sound system. The microphone transmits signals to/from the control unit by way of a pre-set frequency. If you have multiple wireless mics, they will each be on a separate frequency. The mobility of a wireless unit does come with a price, however. If other wireless units are operating within range of your receiver, you may pick up those signals instead of the ones from your own microphone – or someone else may pick up your signal!

Handheld microphones are by far the most common. It can be mounted on a stand or actually held by the person speaking. When speaking at a podium or a lectern, you are most likely using a handheld-style microphone that is being held by a stand. Wired handheld mics are most often used for podiums/lecterns, audience mics, and table-top mics for panelists. A wireless handheld unit, though, is more often used for what I call “talk-show” or interview-style presentations.

Lavaliere microphones clip onto the presenter’s lapel – which is why these types of mics are also called lapel mics. This frees up the speaker’s hands, allowing them to gesture, play instruments, or do any number of other things with their hands while presenting. Wired lavalieres used to be quite common and are still used when maintaining a strong signal input (perhaps for a recording) is paramount but, most of the time, ordering a lavaliere microphone means getting a wireless lavaliere. This allows for maximum range of movement by the speaker as well as leaving their hands free.

To determine which one is best for your setting, consider how the microphone will be used. A single, highly mobile, and energetic speaker would most likely need a wireless lavaliere microphone, whereas a series of speakers delivering their presentations from a lectern would probably just need a wired mic mounted on the lectern. There are many other types of microphones out there, some of which fulfill highly specialized needs.  However, knowing the difference in capabilities between wired and wireless, and between handheld and lavaliere, microphones will suffice for most meetings. When in doubt, though, I consult with my audio-visual techs. These are the guys I’ve hired to provide the equipment and, since they deal with this topic on a daily basis, I will go to them for advice when I am not sure which approach is best. However, the basic review above should give you a place to start.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises