AV (Audio Visual) Rental basics Part 1:Microphones

The basics of AV rental are important to understand for anyone planning a meeting or event. My name is Josh Reitan I own AV for You an AV rental company in Minneapolis MN. I will explain the equipment required for events along with the how and why of the equipment. Let’s start with the A of AV. People do not realize how important good audio is until they experience bad audio. Audio primarily is either vocal amplification or pre recorded sound being amplified. For vocal amplification microphones are used. The main categories you will decide between is a wired mic or wireless and then handheld, lavalier(clips on lapel) or over the ear mics.

Wired vs. wireless is a pretty straight forward question. Wired mics are almost always handheld mics that are hard wired to the mixing board. The classic example is the Shure SM58. This is the industry standard for voice amplification if it is spoken or sung. There is an incredible variety of microphones but to keep this simple a SM58 is good for all basic applications. It can even be used for instrument amplification though this is where specialized mics are more common and necessary. Wired microphones are very reliable and cost effective.  A typical day rate for a wired mic is between $10 and $20. The drawback to wired mics is the cable connecting the mic to the mixer can be cumbersome and not practical if the cord will be a tripping hazard or restrict the movement of the microphone too much.

Wireless mics are a great alternative to wired mics when the wire posses an issue. Wireless mics can either be handheld or lavalier style. A wireless system consists of both a transmitter with the mic element and a receiver which is a box that receives the signal and plugs into the mixing board. For both the quality of the wireless mic system is paramount.  There is no place in AV where the adage “You get what you pay for” is truer.  A cheap wireless system can ruin a show as it can drop the signal and pickup interference.  A good wireless mic system costs around $800 and typically rents for between $50-$80 a day. The wireless handheld mic is seen all the time on TV by hosts who are holding a mic. They provide great sound quality and are versatile because there movement is not restricted and they can be shared by multiple people.  The other styles are hands free mics, Lavalier and Over the ear mics are wireless mics in which the speaker wears a belt back that is the transmitter and the mic element. The mic element either clips on to their lapel (lavalier) or goes around the back of their head and over their ear (over the ear) these mics are great when the speaker needs both of their hands free.  The lavalier is the most common of the two as it is basically unseen by the audience many speakers do not like the look of the over the ear mic on their face.

Lavalier mics can be very tricky to get to sound good. The reason is that the mic element is so far away from the sound source (the speaker’s mouth) that they are much more susceptible to feed back and background noise. There is a reason you never see a singer using a lavalier microphone. If sound quality is paramount then the handheld or over the ear is the way to go. Lavalieres should also not be used outdoors as they pickup even modest breezes and amplify them through the system.  For ballrooms with a decent sound system Lavalieres can be very effective and are commonly used. One important thing to watch out for that tends to get lavalier mics in trouble is when you use the house sound system in a ballroom. With ouse sound systems the speakers are in the ceiling of a ballroom. The problem that they pose to lavalier mics is that if you think about the mic position of the lavalier mic it is pointed straight up from the speaker’s lapel pointing at the ceiling. If the speaker stands directly under one of the speakers in the ceiling the mic can create a loop in which it hears itself being amplified by the speaker directly above and then it captures that sound which in turn gets amplified. This happens very quickly and the sound result is a loud squeak which is known as feedback. It is best to have a sound tech setup lavalier microphones because they can cause more problems than other mic styles.

The over the ear mic gives the speaker the hands free experience of the lavalier but offers better sound quality. The reason it sounds better is the mic element is much closer to the sound source.  The mic is attached to a small boom that wraps around the head over the ear and extends out along the cheek getting the mic right next to the mouth. The draw back to the over the ear mic is that it is more visual to the audience and some speakers to not like the appearance of it. Also, it cannot easily be shared like a handheld between multiple speakers.  We tend to use over the ear mics for the officiant’s at outdoor weddings and indoors when the speaker needs to be hands free and sound quality is paramount.

That is a basic primer for microphones. The next area we will cover is the amplification of the audio. From mixers to speakers and the factors related to them.

Josh Reitan

Owner AV for You