As a child, I found my passion for the audiovisual world. Working as a sound engineer in my father’s church, I figured out how to utilize different technology to take the congregation higher, both musically and spiritually. Years of running the sound board at church transitioned into consulting with houses of worship (HOW) on the audiovisual, with an emphasis on the audio.
While consulting, I worked with two very different positions: the worship leader and the account. At times, I was playing peacemaker. They both had the same goal of improving the house of worship but came at it from very different angles. One wanted to create the ultimate worship experience. The other wanted to do the same—but within a strict budget.
Oftentimes, others joined in this spirited debate; the pastor would prefer one type of microphone but the lead vocalist had her own request, and, at the same time, you can’t forget the band, which had its own wants and needs.
This was always an exciting challenge, but a time-consuming one. After years of back and forth, I perfected my formula for choosing the right microphone to install in a HOW using three key components.
When installing a sound system in a house of worship, it’s crucial to choose a microphone early in the concept stage, according to Alan Johnson, sales manager at DPA Microphones. “The microphone is the first point in the signal chain after the sound source, and is one of the most important pieces of equipment as it can completely alter the sound of what you’re trying to amplify.”
In most cases, the pastor is the main person delivering the message to the congregation; he’s speaking with the audience every week. It’s a logical choice to start with him and work your way down the chain of users—musicians, readers, etc. Not all pastors like lavalier microphones, and not all pastors stand behind a podium throughout their sermon. Finding out how each source will use the microphones to create each experience is vital in selecting the right microphone to install. Typically, in most live sound environments, you will see dynamic mics deployed because they’re less sensitive and can handle louder sounds.
“The proper choice in a microphone can make the difference between the congregation feeling like they’re listening to the pastor or worship band on speakerphone, or experiencing the service right there in front of them, being fully immersed in the sound and feeling like the pastor is two feet from them having a one-on-one conversation,” Johnson said.
After mapping out all your sources, the fun begins. It’s time to start digging into the different types of mic characteristics, why they matter, and how to leverage these tools to address the goal at hand. It’s a fact that dynamic mics are seen more often in live sound settings, but there are various types of dynamic mics and they all get the job done differently.
There are two main types of microphones used in live sound: condenser and dynamic. According to Michael Moore, market development at Shure, condensers have traditionally been utilized in studio environments, where they’re the ideal choice due to their high sensitivity and more linear response. After years of technological developments, condensers are finally built to withstand the “rigors of live production.”
Dynamic microphones have traditionally been the go-to products for live sound, including in houses of worship, he continued, “due to its less sensitive pick-up and ability to survive the children’s choir!”
Now, with two choices of microphone types, you also need to consider the various pickup patterns. “The Cardioid pattern is the common choice for most dynamic handheld mics,” Moore said. “Although, sometimes a tighter pattern, such as a super-cardioid, is preferred when trying to focus tighter on the sound source. The omnidirectional pattern is normally reserved for the pastor’s headset.”
Polar pattern is another attention-worthy factor. Each polar pattern has unique characteristics that play a major role in how the source is received; installers should always be mindful of the frequency response of a microphone. Having a flat frequency response produces the most precise sound, which is extremely helpful in the mixing process, and also in presenting a clear and clean output.
“When doing a sound design or simply making improvements, it is always helpful for the integrator to convey the message to not compromise the transducers,” said Gene Houck, director of sales, Audix. “When it comes to microphones, a general rule is: good sound in, good sound out.”
Good sound can and should influence purchasing decisions; end users should strive to obtain the best microphones (wireless and wired) their facility can afford. Understand that any microphone for podium use or area-capture use, such as choir microphones, requires the sensitivity of a condenser microphone. When miking a choir, less is more—one good condenser microphone is able to cover up to 20 voices.”
As with everything else in the audiovisual world, there are more than a few choices out there. Integrators and end users have to work together to find what will showcase best, and what will present the most value when it’s time to deliver to their HOW.
Possible Complications of Wireless Mics
This year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made some changes to 600 MHz frequencies, which cut the amount of TV band spectrum for wireless microphones. With the rapid expansion of the megachurch market and high wireless microphone system usage, will we still be able to get the job done?
Not to worry—wired microphones get the job done just as well as a wireless mic, whether you’re in a large space or not. End users and integration pros just need to determine which system will work best for that specific venue.
The first step in determining wired versus wireless is to take a channel count, according to Moore, as there are various tiers of wireless systems available, and each of these systems has a finite compatible channel count. He continued, “It is important to find a wireless system that will work within your available spectrum and allow your house of worship room to grow.”
Once the total channel count is established, you need to verify your geographical location to help determine which radio frequency (RF) bands you should purchase, taking both personal monitor systems (PSMs), in-ear monitor systems, and handheld/body pack wireless mic systems into account. Finally, Moore said, use RF coordination software “to properly coordinate all wireless devices that are free from local DTV and intermodulation [to] ensure successful operation.”
So, with all these considerations, if you choose to go wireless, make sure you have a way to manage all of these systems in one place. There is plenty of free software out there to help manage these systems.
When choosing a microphone for an HOW install or upgrade, be prepared to find and highlight each source; collaboration (and lots of it) is the key to a happy customer. Working with the end users and doing your research will lead to finding the right characteristics to ensure each source sounds its best. Remember, if that choice is wireless, there’s no shortage of prep work that needs to be done. Follow these three key components and you’ll have a solid plan for a successful install.