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Automated Systems Fuel Ongoing Wireless Boom

Apr 20, 2006 8:00 AM

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Wireless microphones, always popular with preachers and musicians for their mobility and flexibility, are increasingly winning converts among church financial stewards and technical directors as well. That’s because a continuing downward price spiral, along with steadily expanding capabilities, are helping wireless mic systems fit into both more sanctuaries and more budgets.

“Smaller churches and churches with smaller budgets are really getting into wireless,” says Doug Gould at Shure. Worship media design consultant Bill Schuermann also sees more wireless microphones turning up in churches.

Wireless links can replace the cables that have traditionally connected electric guitars and other instruments to their amplifiers. A variety of wireless microphones have also freed pastors from the need to remain at the pulpit, or to remain wary of the thick cable trailing behind them when they walk around with a wired handheld mic.

And although most experts still agree a wired microphone offers the best combination of quality and reliability, wireless systems have made big strides. “There has been a marked improvement,” Gould says. “Churches are realizing that, and they are flocking to wireless.”

The basic, and longstanding, distinction when it comes to wireless systems is between single-antenna and “diversity” receivers. Single-antenna systems were always the least costly and would generally work well in smaller spaces. Diversity systems have two antennas linked to separate tuners. A built-in circuit automatically selects the stronger signal at any given moment.

This approach resolves the most common shortcoming of single-antenna systems, their vulnerability to ”dropouts,” or losses of signal when the single frequency isn’t strong or consistent enough.

Today, though, Gould says, “None of the manufacturers even make those kinds of systems any more.” Instead, he adds, diversity systems that automatically select the best available frequencies are available for less than $500, the same price a single-frequency system was just a few years ago.

What’s more, the new systems are also much easier to use, especially for volunteer sound technicians. Many wireless systems now feature auto-scan capabilities that can identify potential conflicts with other wireless signals nearby and select the frequencies least likely to suffer from interference.

Manufacturers also offer web-based services that can show a church technical staff all of the wireless signal sources in the church’s vicinity, recommending specific channels for the best results.

This kind of local area intelligence doesn’t just produce better performance, it can help the church avoid serious legal consequences. Regulations of the Federal Communications Commission prohibit wireless systems from operating on the same frequency as any television station within 70 miles. Violations can carry hefty penalties.

In addition, wireless systems require licenses, a step often overlooked by churches.

All of these factors argue strongly for churches to consult experienced installers or designers before implementing a wireless system, even if the technology itself seems simple enough for do-it-yourself. A professional can also provide some of the basic training that might otherwise be overlooked—for example, warning wireless mic users of all the new opportunities for feedback that arise when sound sources start moving around the sanctuary.

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