A while back I wrote an article about wireless vs. wired microphones, and more recently I wrote a piece on various handheld mics used for vocalists. Now it’s time to dive into mics designed for speakers. If you’re a pastor or someone who is speaking on the platform every week, this is one you don’t want to miss.
When it comes to mic’ing up a pastor or other speakers, you have three basic microphone options: handheld, lapel, or headset. I use all three and switch between them depending on the venue, event, or if the speaker has a personal preference. I’ll go through each of them individually and list their pros and cons.
Wireless Handheld Microphones
This is by far the easiest for an audio engineer. The chances of something going wrong with a handheld are slim to none. It is extremely unlikely that you will ever have to deal with feedback when using handheld mics, they also just sound a lot better than a lavalier or headset. You can also get a considerable amount of gain out of a handheld that you cannot get out of a lav or headset. I know a particular pastor who loves handheld mics and won’t ever use anything else because he can get extremely dynamic and animated and the microphone will be able to handle it. The downside with handheld microphones is in the name: they are handheld. If you are the type of pastor that likes to talk with your hands, you don’t want a handheld. A lot of pastors don’t want to have to deal with holding a mic, and that’s ok. Luckily there are two other options…
My least favorite of the three, lav mics have been around forever. You’ve seen them and you’ve probably used them. They are incredibly small and can be inconspicuously hidden on your shirt or tie. They are great for having a decent sound with minimal visual impact. In previous years they were widely accepted as the standard for theatre use. Theatre audio engineers would wire the lav mic (without a clip) through the hair or wig of an actress, or even tape them to their cheek like a headset! These mics are not without their disadvantages. I am a heavy nose breather, and as such, when I wear a lav mic on my tie and heavily exhale, it blows air directly into the mic making a very annoying noise through the sound system. Lav mics also don’t pick up as much sound as other microphones. Some of them have such a wide pickup pattern and such sensitive elements that instead of picking up your voice, they pick up everything else in the room and feedback like crazy. I’ve seen people use some lower quality lav mics that are so sensitive that even seasoned professional audio engineers can’t get them to sound natural without it feeding back. Also since lav mics stay on your shirt, if you turn your head to the left or right but keep your torso facing forward, your voice will drop considerably. They also tend to pick up cable noise as you move around, to avoid this you need to tie the cable in a loose knot or loop the cable through the clip. At $100-$200 lav mics have been an industry standard for so long, every venue in the nation, from churches to theatres to rodeo arenas all have lav mics. They do the job, but I avoid them like the plague. Depending on the brand, mic quality, pickup pattern, placement on clothes, and input sensitivity, there are just too many factors for my taste. I have had some luck getting good sounds out of the Sennheiser ME 2, which runs around $140. To my fellow audio engineers, if you must use a lav mic, get to the venue before anyone else shows up and spend some time with the mic on yourself, ring out any problem frequencies and try to get as much gain before feedback as you can.
I love headset microphones. However I must be clear, I am not talking about the kind Madonna, Britney Spears, or Justin Beiber use. I am talking about the low profile ones that hook under or over your ear. These are perfect for any speaker for a vast array of reasons. They come in many different skin tones and can easily be hidden along the jaw line of the wearer. They also give a much more natural sound than a lav mic. They are a bit higher in price than their lavalier cousins. You can pick up a Countryman E6 for around $400 or go with a top-of-the-line mics, the DPA d:fine for around $600. One of the tricky things about these headsets is that they can come as a single ear or double ear set. A double ear is where the mic will come down one side of your face, but the ear piece will go around the back of the head and over both ears. This keeps the mic in place when moving. The single ear models can tend to move around slightly as a person turns their head. This can cause a small drop in signal but nowhere near the drop you get from a lav mic. For that reason, some pastors who use the single ear will use first aid skin tape and will tape the mic to their face or just behind the ear. While it keeps the mic from moving around, it can also look a little ugly to have tape on your cheek. I use Nexcare flexible clear tape, it’s latex free and does not leave any sticky residue. One problem I have run into while using a headset mic is that sometimes if it is not placed correctly on a person’s face, the element can come too close to the mouth and pick up puffs of air or pops. I worked a kids’ choir event recently where soloists had to wear headsets, and since they are children, their craniums are smaller. I learned quickly that the mic boom was too long and sat more in front of their mouth instead of just along their cheek. They were popping like crazy. Luckily most microphone manufacturers make mics with short booms in case you need them for that reason.
Jordan Tracy hails from Overland Park, KS and has been a church Audio and Tech Engineer for over 12 Years. He’ll take Sandals over shoes any day of the week and loves spending time with his wife. Follow Jordan on Twitter.