When should you use wireless and when wired? My goal is to help you answer this question, so let’s look at the pros and cons of both types of microphones.
Wireless Microphone Pros
Freedom of movement is the first and best advantage of the wireless mic. I recommend a wireless body pack with a lapel or head mic for Pastors who move around when they speak. I also recommend that you have at least one good handheld wireless mic for your church. Recently, I ran sound for funeral and the handheld wireless was very useful to those who wished to share a memory of their departed loved one. It also works well for events like Vacation Bible School, Youth Rallies, church meetings, ect.
Ease of setup is another great advantage of the wireless mic. No plugging in cables, just power up the mic and put it on a stand. You also never have to worry if your cable is long enough.
Less cable mess is a third advantage. Often cables are run all over the stage, resulting in a tangled web and looking unsightly. The wireless mic eliminates this problem.
Wireless Microphone Cons
Higher purchase cost is one of the downsides of wireless mics. This also applies if you need to replace a wireless mic because of damage or the FCC. (More about that later.)
Battery dependence is one of the problems of wireless mics. If you have ever worked as a sound tech, you’ve had a wireless mic go dead more than once because of a battery problem. Batteries are also a recurring expense every week. Even rechargeable systems need batteries replaced occasionally.
RF interference is not a new problem but is an ever increasing one. In the early days we all heard stories of mic interference from CB radios, radio stations, and the like. Today, the government (FCC) is busy auctioning off the former TV spectrum (where many wireless mics operated) to the highest bidder for things like cell phones and high speed data. This means that you may begin to find less and less available channels for your wireless mics, depending on where you live. It also means that wireless mics that you have previously purchased might now or could soon be illegal to operate. (See my article Keeping Your Wireless Mics Legal.)
Failure is a common problem with wireless mics due their more complicated nature. Transmitters, receivers, power supplies, lapel/headset mic cables and even battery doors all break and require repair.
Wired Microphone Pros
Lower purchase and replacement cost is an advantage of wired mics. Often, good mics can be had for less than $100.
Lower failure rate is a plus of wired microphones since they are very simple. Many wired microphones outlast the system that they were initially a part of and can be used long into the future. I’m still using some Shure Unisphere I microphones that were part of an initial system installation in the early 1980’s and even with a couple dents in the grill they still sound great! That being said, there does come a time where some wired mics will need replacing.
Retention of value is one of the interesting pros of wired mics. It seems that even used wired mics tend to bring a good price, especially well known makes and models.
No batteries! This means a cost savings and a reliability advantage as well. You will never have to worry about your mic losing power in the middle of a service.
No signal interference is a plus with wired mics. As long as you are plugged in, you will have a signal. Wired mics also have good resistance to radio frequency interference since their cable is shielded and grounded.
Wired Microphone Cons
Less freedom of movement is a problem with wired mics. They are better suited to fixed locations like a piano, pulpit, ect. A good long cable can and did work for many years but for highly mobile sources, wireless mics are a better option.
More setup time is required to run and connect wired microphones.
Cabling mess can be a problem with wired mics. However, some things can done to keep things neat. When designing a new building, consider where you will need wired mics and place the jacks in various locations instead of just placing a big stage box and running all the cables to it. For existing installations, consider splitting your wiring to the right and left sides of the stage using sub snakes or by rewiring the stage if possible.
So, what should I do? My advice is to limit your wireless to only those sources that will be mobile (Pastor, audience mic, ect.) Everything else should be wired if possible. Consider renting additional wireless for special events if you need it. This prevents you from having to maintain the latest gear that is FCC legal and will cost less in the long run. Just build the rental cost into your event budget. If your feeling confused, don’t go it alone. Proclaim A/V can find the right solution for your application.