Now I see these questions pop up on forums all the time; is my current microphone good enough, I’m on this frequency and is it safe, what brand should I be using, and these are all great questions. So let’s cut through the chatter, debunk some myths, and hopefully, you’ll come out being better informed on what choices you should make.
Now I see these questions pop up so often on the forums; “should I be changing my microphone”, “is my current microphone good enough”, “I’m on this frequency is this safe”, “what brands should I be using”? Let’s clear the air a little bit, let’s debunk some myths that are out there you know get some clear facts straight and hopefully you’ll end up making an informed choice when you decide to purchase a new microphone.
A quick preface on this. While there are a lot of facts presented here, they are still wrapped up in my personal informed opinion and experiences. You should research and draw your own conclusions on it.
So first let’s start talking about microphones and the tiers that they live on. I would dare say that there are basically three tiers that most mobile DJs would ultimately consider.
Tier 1 Microphones
For Tier 1 microphones you’re typically talking around the $100 per-microphone mark for a single microphone and generally in the $350-$500 range for up to quad-channel microphones. Branding wise there are a lot, the more popular being GTD and AKG. Now depending on your use case, these may be ok to use. As an up-and-coming wedding DJ I first invested in a single-channel AKG WMS 40 microphone. It sufficed for a short period of time but as demand for ceremonies grew I moved into a 4-channel GTD 1U Rackmount mic. Given its low price point I was able to snag a bunch of handhelds, a few lav packs, and this massively large over-the-ear microphone. I used it for a full wedding season and about 80% of the time it worked well as long as it was a very clear line of sight, and no potentially frequency conflicts.
But it was that 20% that I ran into that became a real headache. Even with features like antenna diversity, the implementation left a lot to be desired, many times having an audible noise when it switched. Add to that some mediocre distance issues and it made me realize that I wanted to upgrade. Not that these failures were showstoppers, but they were enough for me to not want to deal with them, and potentially harm my brand.
Now if you are a karaoke DJ that is more concerned about the damage that the microphones will take, then these are more than acceptable. While they don’t match the vocal quality or range of higher quality mics, they make up in their ability to take abuse and low cost to replace. But as a wedding DJ, I would not recommend going down this path. I do wish I would have just focused on the higher quality brands earlier on.
Tier 2 Microphones
Tier 2 microphones are a bit more pricey, usually averaging in the $550-650 range for a single channel mic or lav pack. The most known brands in this segment are Sennheiser, Shure, and Audio-Technica. All of these brands are really proven in the field of mobile DJing and even concerts. They aren’t cheap (compared to Tier 1 mics) but they more than makeup for it in excellent quality. I don’t want to be worried about how the mic is going to sound because of a decision in cost, and for my ceremonies, it’s become even more critical now that I record my events and hand off those files over to the videographers to give them the best from-source quality that they can get.
Tier 3 Microphones
So this is where the zero-compromise policy lives. Some mobile DJs go this route and probably one of the most popular mics in this range is the Shure ULXD4Q which is a quad-mic option in a 1U chassis. Very convenient, but at ~$10,000 price tag for the receiver, and mics, and lav packs its a bit on the high side. Now personally, I’d love to do this especially going from a 3U space needed for my 4 mics and an antenna combiner down to 1U, but the price is a bit too much to justify purchasing right now.
If you deal in critical microphone needs, like weddings, I highly suggest the Tier 2 or Tier 3 microphones. Sure, you can get away with Tier 1 mics, most of the time. And there are plenty of DJs that swear by them. It’s not that the Tier 1 mics are bad, there isn’t really bad solution perse, but you do introduce more risk with the lower quality mics. You’ll have decreased range, vocal clarity, and more anomalies to deal with. Once you step up to Tier 2 mics you generally gain frequency scanning to find the clearest channels automatically (and with the Sennheiser G4 mics, if you have multiple units, you can link them up and scan all of them simultaneously.
Bottom line, if you are less concerned about quality, Tier 1 offers you a strong value proposition. Otherwise, stick with Tier 2 and Tier 3 options and recognizable brands.
600MHz. What You Need To Know.
600MHz, it ends July 13, 2020 officially. Unofficially T-Mobile, who won the spectrum in an FCC auction, has been turning up towers in a lot of areas and chances are you are going to be competing for spectrum space soon if it’s not already happening. The good news is that some microphone manufacturers are offering incentives to change over. So take advantage of that while you can. Operating in the 600MHz spectrum will soon be illegal in all areas, and if T-Mobile has lit up in your area it’s illegal to interfere with their signal.
500MHz. It’s What’s In.
Now let’s talk about what’s available actually in the 500MHz spectrum and let’s talk specifically on a discussion that both Ben Stowe and I had with this one Facebook user on one of the forums. This person’s argument was that you should only worry about using the A band, and that is all, no matter where you live. This is an inaccurate statement so let’s make sure we clear the air on this one. The “500MHz spectrum” actually goes a little bit beyond that swath of frequencies. The total usable area for us users is 470MHz – 608MHz. In the case of Sennheiser, they have cut up these frequencies into 3 bands, A1 Band (470MHz- 516MHz), A Band (516MHz – 556MHz) and the G Band (566MHz – 608MHz).
Now this users argument that “just choose the A band” may work in some areas, and not in others. This is why you go to professionals like Ben Stowe and NLFX to buy your microphones and they will investigate what bands have the most available channels available to use. For instance in LA, the A band would be a poor choice, and G even worse, while A1 appears to have the most options.
Location matters a lot, and other factors like if you are using an IEM will play into the decision-making process to try to not have these devices compete with each other. Think of it as a road. Would you want to jump onto a crowded highway or a road less traveled?
2.4GHz. If You Like Fighting For Space.
There are a few brands, even the likes of Sennheiser and Audio-Technica that offer microphones in the 2.4GHz spectrum. While these are available for use, and some DJs will swear by them, this is one of the most crowded frequencies to be on. Phones, Bluetooth, wireless routers, microwaves, garage door openers, security systems, and others all live on this space. I just can’t personally recommend someone operating microphones in this space. There are too many examples of people having poor performance. The range is decreased over 500MHz equivalents. And frankly, the cost savings going to 2.4GHz is not that great so why introduce more risk?
As a wedding DJ I am still rocking my Sennheiser G3 mics and a G3 IEM. I’ve always been impressed with Sennheiser’s quality in all their products, and these mics have not disappointed. If you go new, just jump right into the G4’s. Models from Shure and Audio-Technica in the same price range are really solid too. Frankly, you can’t go wrong with any of these Tier 2 or Tier 3 options (as long as you pick the right band(s) to be on. If you have money to spare, the Shure ULXD4Q is just beyond impressive.
Biography: Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres and became a wedding DJ in 2012. Coincidentally, Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background and if you find this content interesting contribute to my Patreon.