Something that many musicians don’t really think of is wire management during a live performance. Why? Because it can be boring. It’s like thinking about a gas bill. Actually, it’s more like thinking about someone else’s gas bill. With that being said, like many of the boring parts about being a musician wire management can actually be pretty important. Having a messy stage that looks like it’s covered in black spaghetti looks pretty unprofessional, as does face planting into the groupie in the front row after stumbling over your mic cord. The latter is also a good way to lose groupies, which would be a shame considering that’s why 90% of us got into music in the first place.
While wire management involves the majority of your gear, an easy to clean up your stage is to invest in a wireless microphone system. The only question is, how do you go about figuring out how to select the best wireless microphone system for your needs?
- Wireless Microphones 101
- Wireless Microphones Sound
- Potential Flaws of Wireless Microphone Systems
- Top 5 Wireless Microphones
Wireless Microphones 101
We would say that wireless microphones are a bit like modeling amps. They’re more complicated than traditional wired setups, but at the same time once you get comfortable using them they’re a lot less hassle to work with. Essentially, once you get the technical part of it down all you have to do is plug everything in and your good to go.
It should also be noted that you get a lot more freedom of movement with a wireless microphone than you do with a wired setup, which is a benefit that should not be understated if you’re primarily a vocalist.
Wireless Microphones Sound
Wireless rigs have the potential to sound worse because you’re not noticeably tethered to the receiver, unlike with a wired set-up. For example, Kenny Wayne Shephard pretty famously stands by his wireless rig as sounding purer than a wired set-up when he’s within a proper distance to the unit.
Think of your signal a bit like water coming out of a squirt gun. If you’re aiming at something five feet away you’re going to be able to get most of the water on whatever/whomever you’re trying to hit. Likewise, if you’re 40 feet away you’re probably going to have a hard time getting all of the water to go where you want it to go.
This also isn’t a limitation of wireless setups, because wired setups experience the same phenomenon. It’s just that with a wireless setup you’re not constrained by the limitations of a cord, so you can potentially move outside of the area where the receiver will be able to easily pick up your tone.
Potential Flaws of Wireless Microphone Systems
The only objective flaw with a wireless microphone system is that it can be subject to interference. Generally, wireless systems that use a VHF (very-high frequency) are subject to more interference than those that use UHF (ultra-high frequency).
With that being said, wireless systems are becoming less and less prone to interference overall due to something called companding. Essentially, companding compresses the signal from the device that sends the signal and then restores it at the receiver. The receiver can then remove some noise to give you a clearer sound.
Your experience with wireless microphones is largely going to be dependent on the area in which you’re using them, but judging by their widespread adoption odds are you’re not going to experience too much in the way of interference in the majority of venues.
Top 5 Wireless Microphones
As always, our recommendations are selected with widespread applicability in mind, and we highlight products that prove valuable at a variety of price points.
BLX288/PG58 Wireless Vocal Handheld Microphone
Founded in 1925, Shure is one of America’s most influential manufacturers of microphones and microphone systems. The company has produced products including they’re venerable line of microphones, wireless microphone systems, phonograph cartridges, mixers, headphones, monitors, and digital signal processing units.
A little-known fact about Shure is that they actually got their start selling radio kits. At the time, manufactured radios were pretty expensive. So they marketed the kits as a way for people who weren’t able to afford a fully manufactured radio to still be able to own one. However, as the technology advanced and radios became cheaper Shure’s niche was gradually filled.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the company started manufacturing microphones, with the first being the Model 33N Two-Button Carbon Microphone. Shure was actually one of just four microphone manufacturers operating in the United States at this time. After the first microphone the company introduced went on to experience financial success, the company fully embraced the market; gradually introducing the microphones that are still so highly regarded and sought after to this very day.
The subject of this review, the Shure BLX288/PG58 Wireless Vocal Combo with PG58 Handheld Microphones, is a perfect representation of the quality that the brand has always maintained.
This wireless microphone unit is that includes both the receiver itself as well as two microphones. The microphones included, Shure PG58s, are well received in their own right. This unit has a radius of 300 feet (91 meters), so assuming you’re using it for small to medium sized gigs you’re not likely to run into any issues in this department. However, the unit does require line of sight. This is pretty standard for most units in this price range but it should be noted nonetheless. Also, keep in mind that this is a two-channel unit. So if you need more than two channels you’re going to either want to purchase a different wireless microphone system or purchase an additional BLX288.
The BLX288 also comes equipped with a few features that make it easy to check the status of the unit at a glance. There are 2 LEDs, one for each microphone, which display whether or not the unit has an adequate supply of power. The microphones are powered with two AA batteries which offer roughly 14 hours of continuous use depending on the battery utilized. The BLX288 also comes with an adjustable gain control.
The unit doesn’t create much digital interference with the end sound, if any at all. The microphones themselves offer a very crisp tone that isn’t impacted in any noticeable way by the inclusion of the wireless system. The Shure BLX288/PG58 Wireless Vocal Combo with PG58 Handheld Microphones is a great fit for any musician looking for a wireless microphone system to use during small scale performances.
Sennheiser EW 135 G3 Wireless Microphone
Founded in 1945 just weeks after WWII, Sennheiser is one of the most influential producers of high-end audio equipment. This German based company is the equal to any American equivalent, and during its 72 years in operation it has never failed to produce quality products.
A little known fact about Sennheiser is that the company’s first product was actually a device known as a voltmeter, which measure the difference between the electrical potential of two different points in an electric circuit. The shift to microphones, the company’s next major product, didn’t happen until the following year.
By 1955 the company was producing dozens of different products in the field, such as: geophysical equipment, the Noise-Compensated microphone (filters background noise so it doesn’t interfere with the end signal), microphone transformers, mixers, and miniature magnetic headphones.
Proof of Sennheisers’s commitment to quality, as well as a worthy continuation of the legacy they’ve spent so long establishing, the Sennheiser EW 135 G3-B-US Handheld Cardioid EW System is a great fit for any musician looking for a quality wireless microphone system.
The most notable feature of this wireless microphone system is that if has an auto search function. Essentially, the auto search evaluates which channel will be the best option in a given situation. This will make setup a breeze compared to trying to set up a wireless system in an area prone to digital interference that doesn’t come with this feature.
An interesting feature of the unit is that it actually features a digital menu, allowing you to adjust parameters such as gain or the device’s integrated EQ. The utility of this is going to depend on what you’re looking for. Digital displays can be adjusted with a greater degree of control, but on the other hand they do lack tactile feedback. You may also find that you’re able to clearly read the display in a variety of different lighting situations, which you may not be able to do with knobs.
A feature that many gigging musicians will appreciate is that both the transmitter and receiver are secured in a sturdy metal housing. Plastics generally hold up pretty well, but metal lets you transport the unit with a bit more confidence. It’s also less likely to be damaged should it fall.
The included microphones offer a very crisp sound, comparable to any other cardioid microphone. The EW 135 G3 System is a great fit for the musician looking for a mid-priced wireless microphone system that will help make set-up during a live performance easier. The main feature that makes this system attractive to gigging musicians is that the casing of the transmitter and receiver appear to be much more durable than similarly priced models from other companies.
Nady DKW DUO HT B/D VHF Dual Wireless Microphone
Founded by John Nady in 1978, Nady is one of the few manufacturers currently offering budget solutions for musicians who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford pieces of equipment that are generally very expensive.
John Nady, founder and CEO of Nady Systems, was the first to develop and patent a companding (essentially making it retain its properties when wirelessly transmitted) system for wireless products. This drastically improved both the range and sound quality of wireless microphones. Through the process he pioneered wireless microphones became a viable option for performing musicians the world over, which is why he’s generally credited as being the “father of the modern wireless microphone."
During the mid-to-late 80s more than 80% of the world’s top bands were using Nady’s wireless products. The company actually introduced the concept to many acts from the era, such as : Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jove, Aerosmith, Styx, Neil Young, and the Rolling Stones.
A perfect representation of why the company has established the legacy they have, the Nady DKW DUO HT B/D VHF Dual Wireless Handheld Microphone System is a great choice for any musician looking for a budget wireless microphone system.
The first thing to know about this microphone system is that the maximum range is only 150 feet. This means that for larger shows (fairs, or theatre shows) this unit may not be the ideal choice. However, the unit would work well in a bar or open mic. It’s also cheap enough that it’s not a huge loss if it’s dropped or stolen, whereas other systems (which can run more than $500+) would be harder to easily replace.
The unit itself is very simple, featuring just two variable gain controls and an on/off switch on the front panel. The back panel only features the power jack and two antenna. It’s not a very feature rich device, but it does come with the majority of what you’ll need to get the job done. It does also have an LED to show whether or not the unit is receiving power, as well as a flashing light to display whether or not a battery is getting low.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this unit does only have two channels. So if you’re looking to move to a completely wireless setup you may find that a different wireless microphone system may end up being a better fit for your needs.
The unit sounds good for a starter system, especially when considering the price.
Audio-Technica System 10 ATW-1102 Wireless Handheld Microphone System
Founded in 1962 in Tokyo, Japan by Hideo Matushita, Audio-Technica has become a fixture in high-end audio circles. The company actually began life as a manufacturer of phonograph cartridges, though it did quickly move to producing unique products of its own. One of the first products launched by the company were the aforementioned stereo phonograph cartridges, though they’ve also produced a variety of microphones, studio monitor headphones, high-end consumer headphones, as well as in-ear monitors.
The winner of numerous industry awards, Audio-Technica is considered one of the most reputable brands in the industry. Their products have been used in professional capacities the world over, including but not limited to: live sound tours, houses of worship, and government installations such as the U.S. House of Representatives.
Audio Technica’s System 10 ATW-1102 Wireless Handheld Microphone System presents a solid value to any musician looking for a wireless microphone system. To learn more about the product, as well how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.
The most notable feature of this wireless microphone system is that it features an automatic frequency selector. This isn’t really a unique feature in the industry, but it is something that a lot of similarly priced units seem to lack. Basically, an automatic frequency selector scans different channels for interference and then automatically selects the best one for you to use in your given location. This makes setting up the unit a much easier task then it would be otherwise, especially if you’re consistently gigging with it. It also features peak indicator lights, which can come in handy if you’re trying to figure out the maximum volume you can achieve before you start to experience overload in a signal.
Something that this unit offers that sets it apart from a lot of the competition is that it’s actually able to support 8-unique channels simultaneously. This is incredibly useful for a full band, because it means that the entire ensemble can perform wirelessly. You can purchase it in a variety of different configurations, which support both clip on microphones in addition to transmitters used for instruments. This allows you to purchase specifically what you need for your situation, rather than having to mix and match products from a variety of different manufacturers.
The unit is the best in this price tier at delivering consistent reception. Some units have a tendency to drop signal depending on the venue in which they’re used, so it seems that this unit would be more dependable for performers. The sound quality of the unit is top notch, producing a crisp and clear tone that is indistinguishable from the more traditional wired setup.
The Audio-Technica System 10 ATW-1102 Wireless Handheld Microphone System is a solid option for gigging musicians. It’s also priced very reasonably, so while it may not have a ton of features on hand it is a product that is a very useful addition to a professional musician’s rig.
GTD Audio G-733H 2x800 Channel Diversity UHF Wireless Microphone Mic System
Established in 1990, GTD Audio has quickly gained prominence due to their manufacture of high-end audio equipment. The brand has designed and marketed a pretty impressive collection of products, including but not limited to: high performance power amplifiers, mixers, microphone, and PA sound systems. They’ve also marketed products all over the world, establishing a collection of distributors, retailers, and wholesalers that extends throughout the entire United States as well as major market in other countries.
A perfect example of why the company has gained the reputation they currently enjoy, the GTD Audio G-733H 2x800 Channel Diversity UHF Wireless Microphone Mic System offers a great value to musicians who are looking for a simple and affordable wireless microphone system. To learn more about the unit, as well as how it stacks up to the competition, check out the specifications below.
The first thing to note about the GTD Audio G-733H 2x800 Channel Diversity UHF Wireless Microphone Mic System is that it has an impressive amount of features for the price point. The first you should be aware of is that it comes loaded with a Built-In Tone Lock Squelch circuit. Essentially, this is intended to reduce the amount of RF interference.
The device also utilizes an automatic frequency scanner. The function of this is to find the best channel available for both of your microphones based on your current location. This helps to eliminate some of the guesswork most of us have to do when we’re trying to set up a wireless microphone system before a gig. The G-733H also comes with automatic transmitter and receiver synchronization. As you would probably guess, this helps to make syncing the microphones to the wireless unit a lot easier.
An important thing to know with this unit is that you can use up to 15 receivers and 30 microphones in the same area simultaneously. So while you will have to purchase more wireless systems if you want to your entire ensemble/band to be wirelessly amplified you won’t have to worry about the devices interfering with one another.
Lastly, both channels on the unit have individual volume parameters. The unit also has LEDs on the included microphones, with a red light denoting that it’s muted and a green light meaning that the microphone is live.
For the money they’re a really solid investment for any performer. Considering the low investment required these mics do offer a pretty high fidelity of sound. While we would wholeheartedly recommend this product to hobbyist musicians or those of you who rarely gig, we can’t say for sure whether or not these mics will offer a high enough quality of sound to be a good fit for professional situations.
The GTD Audio G-733H 2x800 Channel Diversity UHF Wireless Microphone Mic System is a good value for those of you who aren’t making your livelihood from playing music. However, if you are you should probably look at a brand that is considered to offer a higher quality of sound.