Wireless Microphone Buying Guide

Wireless Microphone Buying Guide

In the world of pro audio, cables are a necessity, albeit an inconvenient one. They limit your range of mobility, if not properly secured they're easy to trip on, and when not organized correctly, can create the most tangled of snake pits (pun intended). At the present time, there is no way to completely forego cables in an audio system however you can move closer to the dream by investing in a wireless microphone system.

Are you a singer who wants the freedom to jump around on stage without having to worry about face-planting due to rogue wires? A fitness instructor who needs to be able to move around and demonstrate exercises worry free? A DJ doing weddings who needs an easy way to mic up the bride and groom? Perhaps you are a part of a House of Worship that needs flexibility in addressing your audience? Whatever your application, going wireless is usually a step in the right direction. Before you take that step, let's break down some of the key things to look for in a wireless system.

Shure SLX Wireless Microphone System

Digital or Analog?
Digital technology continues to expand into more and more facets of our daily lives, and wireless systems are no exception. One of the first things you'll need to decide when selecting a system is whether you want to go analog or digital, and to do so, you'll want to consider the following:


  • Some latency
  • No static/interference; if signal is disrupted, it's off completely (Generally less signal competition for digital, unless the system uses the WiFi frequency band of 2.4 GHz)
  • Larger up front investment
  • Typically better dynamic response and frequency response (cleaner sound)
  • More secure (AES-256 encryption on many digital wireless systems)
  • Better battery life (30-40% more on average)


  • No latency
  • Signal degrades over time rather than total dropout
  • Less expensive than comparable digital systems
  • Signal is compressed to allow for wireless transmission, altering tone (Whether or not this is a good thing comes down to personal preference)

Wireless Microphone Parts

What Type Of Mic Do I Need?
Microphones come in many different shapes and sizes, though in the world of wireless, there are only a few different types you need to be aware of:

  • Handheld – The most common type of microphone you'll come across, handheld wireless microphones are best used for lead vocalists or in situations where mics will need to be passed around, like during a wedding toast. Because the wireless transmitter is built into the mic itself, the only other component to the system is the receiver.
  • Lavalier – Commonly referred to as lapel mics, lavalier microphones are clipped onto one's shirt or another piece of clothing and have a cable running into the wireless transmitter belt pack. Actors, public speakers/presenters, and worship leaders are some of the best candidates for lavalier microphones.
    • Less conspicuous than headsets or handhelds but excessive movement could cause noise due to the mic rubbing against the wearer's clothing.
    • Person wearing the lav mic has to be sure they stay on-axis with the mic as turning ones mouth dramatically to the left or right of your body (where the mic is affixed) will cause some degree of drop out.
  • Headset – Similar to lavalier microphones, headset microphones have a small cable that runs into a bodypack to transmit wireless signal to the receiver. Fitness instructors, singers that dance on stage, and anyone that needs both hands free while on stage but moves around too much for a lavalier will feel right at home with a headset wireless system. Headset mics also ensure that the wearer will be speaking into the microphone no matter where they turn their head in relation to their body.
  • Instrument – Singers aren't the only ones who need to move around! For the musician who needs mobility on stage to hit that epic solo front and center, a wireless bodypack is the way to go. Instrument wireless systems either connect with a mic similar to a lavalier for acoustic instruments (ex. brass, woodwind, strings) or connect directly with a standard instrument cable for electric instruments (ex. guitar, bass).

Polar Pattern
A microphone's polar pattern is defined as the three-dimensional space surrounding the mic capsule where it is most sensitive to sound. This determines where it picks up sound from, and just as importantly, where it does not pickup sound from (also known as its off-axis rejection). The most common polar patterns are:

  • Cardioid – picks up sound from in front of the microphone only (unidirectional)
  • Supercardioid and Hypercardioid – similar to Cardioid but with a smaller area of sensitivity and a slight rear pickup
  • Omnidirectional – picks up sound from everywhere
  • Figure-8 – picks up sound from the front and back but not the sides of the microphone

Cardioid Polar Pattern

Additional Considerations
Body copy goes here about the article I am currently working on.

  • Where Will You Be Using The System?
    One drawback of wireless microphones in comparison to wired microphones is that wireless can't be used everywhere. The frequencies used in wireless microphone systems share the same airspace as media broadcast stations and public safety entities (police, fire, and other emergency services). Because of this, a wireless system that works fine in Southern California might be knocked offline by a local television station when you try to use it in Maine and may interfere with the Japanese military if you fire it up in Tokyo. Digital systems can technically be used anywhere, as they operate in the global WiFi band, however this also means that a great deal of WiFi signal in the surrounding area can cause problems.
  • How Many Channels Do You Need?
    A common question I get regarding wireless mic systems is "I've already got a wireless system with a single mic so can I just buy another mic for it?" Well, unless the system you bought was supposed to come with two mics, the answer is no.

Wireless mic systems have predetermined numbers of channels they can operate. Any additional channels will require more systems, and depending on the model and total number of systems, may also require additional antennae distribution hardware to function properly.

Notable Features to Look For
  • True Diversity – when two antennae are used in a receiver to pick up the same signal, switching to whichever has the strongest signal at any given moment
    • True Diversity immensely reduces your chances of having dropouts while using the wireless system.
    • Person wearing the lav mic has to be sure they stay on-axis with the mic as turning ones mouth dramatically to the left or right of your body (where the mic is affixed) will cause some degree of drop out.
  • Frequency Agility – the ability to switch between multiple frequencies
    • Without frequency agility, you run the risk of being left high and dry if the one frequency your system is capable of using doesn't operate well where you're at. Frequency Agility is a must if you travel with your wireless system or are in an area with high potential for interference.

A Word of Caution: You Get What You Pay For (Seriously)
When buying gear, it is always best to take into consider the application and invest accordingly. Just planning on using your mic system for a child's birthday party? Maybe you don't need to get a top-notch model. Getting a mic system for weddings and corporate events?You'll have to consider whether you can afford to have signal dropouts and quality loss or if it's worth it to spend a bit more to get a system. With wireless mic systems, you get what you pay for more so than with any other type of pro audio or lighting gear, and if you are a professional, you need professional gear! Invest in the gear that will perform how you need it to perform and you'll make back the money you spent on your system in no time. Nothing kills your referral rate from happy customers faster than a wireless mic system that cuts in and out at an event!

Wired microphones are still sticking around but wireless microphones have become a staple in live sound reinforcement, and that won't be changing any time soon. If you're looking to get a wireless mic system headed your way immediately or even if you just have some questions to make sure you get the system that's right for you, give us a call at 800-268-5520 and one of our trained Gear Advisors will have you taken care of in no time!