Name: Holger Stoltze
Title: Senior Product Manager
In the past, the choice to install a wireless or wired microphone was fairly simple because wireless technology at the time wasn’t as reliable or as intelligible as its wired counterpart. Systems integrators only opted for a wireless microphone when they had to, for instance, when the room didn’t have an accessible floorbox under a conference table, or when they had to accommodate flexibility in a multipurpose room. The old wireless mics were risky. The UHF and VHF frequency bands they used were a point of possible failure because they were using the same broadcast frequencies as television and radio stations. The microphones were also in constant danger of dying from their short battery life. With an endless supply of AA and 9V batteries on hand, a good technician operating these rooms knew to change the batteries in those mics every two hours, or else.
Today’s wireless mics solve these issues and add several advanced features, making them a dependable solution in many environments where only wired mics had previously been considered. Now, the batteries in wireless microphones are often rechargeable and last a lot longer than they used to—at least eight hours on one charge. The frequency spectrums are also much more regulated these days. To mitigate spectrum issues, manufacturers, including Revolabs, have developed microphones that use the unlicensed DECT band. For exceptional ease of use, DECT microphones automatically look for and change frequencies themselves. By using new spectrums, channel hopping, and DSP, the wireless microphones of today provide dramatically improved sound quality; and almost all wireless microphones come with a low-battery warning light, so users never have to experience unexpected downtime.
Still, the typical AV consultant or systems integrator has to help the client choose between wireless and wired microphones, weighing the pros and cons of each technology. By walking clients through button, tabletop, ceiling, and beamformer choices for wired mics and tabletop, handheld, beltpack, and lavalier for wireless mics, integrators can begin to narrow down the options for their clients. The biggest difference between the two microphone types is that wireless microphones will always require a battery source, which will need to be charged, and/or changed periodically. However, they also provide the most flexibility and usually the best audio pickup because they can be placed right by the person speaking.
Alternatively, if the microphones are wired, and the microphone wires are not in a metal conduit, they may be prone to noise from lights or power wires. Wired microphones can be more secure, as it’s significantly harder to eavesdrop on a wire, and they are less prone to theft, or accidental loss since they are permanently installed. They’re also less expensive, fitting into a variety of budgets, and users don’t have to remember to charge or replace the batteries. Unlike wireless mics that have to be placed out on the table, wired mics are already in position—albeit not necessarily obtaining the best speech pickup if the person speaking isn’t sitting close enough.
Sometimes the ideal solution is to mix the two technologies, tailoring the installation to meet the needs of the room and the users, while keeping the overall cost lower. For instance, a presenter may wear a lavalier microphone, while the participants sit at a table using installed wired microphones. Some spaces may require such a large number of microphones that using all wireless could exceed the capacity of the system or sacrifice performance. In these rooms, integrators can decide which microphones should be permanently installed and which would benefit from being wireless.
Improved wireless technology and the ability to mix wireless and wired mics have introduced more choices for conferencing solutions. The best integrators will look at each environment carefully to determine which option will produce the best possible audio and end user experience. Despite this guide to key considerations, there is no golden rule. For every customer and every environment, the best microphone solution can be different.
Holger Stoltze is the senior product manager at Revolabs, managing the conference phone and installed audio product lines. Stoltze has a doctorate in computer science from the Aachen University of Technology, and over the last decade, he has presented at numerous industry trade shows and events.