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Wireless audio systems are great for music venues and concerts, special events (particularly for events where a mic is passed around), public speaking, houses of worship, education, business, commercial uses, and more. Since the factors of quality and reliability of wired vs. wireless are relatively equal, going wireless boils down to two main benefits: Musicians or speakers have more freedom of movement, without worrying about accidentally unplugging any gear, and cable complications are reduced, delivering an uncluttered look with fewer tripping hazards.
HOW TO FIND A FREQUENCY
The first stage in setting up your wireless system is finding out what frequencies are available to you. This information is usually gathered by the wireless receiver itself:
1.Power on your wireless receiver.
2.Most receiver models provide an automatic scan feature that can be accessed by its own designated “Scan” button or easily accessed via a main menu on the front display or panel.
3.The receiver will scan for available frequencies.
Once you’ve found an available frequency on your receiver, the next stage is to synchronize it to your wireless transmitter to ensure they’re operating on the same frequency. You can do this in two ways:
The Manual Method
This method entails manually adjusting the frequency of your transmitter to match the information displayed on the front of your receiver.
Many newer wireless components boast a feature called Infrared Sync. For this method, locate the infrared eye on both the transmitter and receiver, as well as the “Sync” button on the receiver. Hold the transmitter 4-6” away from the receiver and press “Sync” on the receiver.
The receiver’s display should indicate when the process is complete—at which point you’re ready to go!
Coordinating Wireless Frequencies
If your wireless system uses more than one transmitter, you will need to coordinate frequencies. Each channel’s frequency must be sufficiently spaced apart to avoid interfering with each other’s signals. Higher-end wireless systems are more efficient and can pack separate channels tighter together, but you’ll still want to provide some margin, so the signals don’t bleed together and cause dropouts, noise, or other audio problems.
(If you’re setting up larger systems of 10, 15, 20, or more wireless units, this process can be more complex. Call the experts at SoundPro if you have any questions about setting up a larger wireless system, or if you want to learn more about wireless audio.)
A Few Notes about Frequency Selection
The availability of frequencies will vary depending on your location. Different cities, counties, and even countries have various local regulations. For instance, the United States has the 600MHz spectrum set aside for use by phone companies, so those frequencies are off-limits. Additionally, some locations have assigned frequencies for public safety communications. Before you make your purchase, do your research to ensure you get gear that will be a good fit for the available frequencies and that you won’t accidentally utilize a reserved frequency.
WHICH FREQUENCY TYPE IS BEST?
Determining the best option between the common wireless frequency types depends on several factors. Whether you’re setting up a brand-new audio system or upgrading an existing one, you’ll need to research the options to determine what will work best in your situation.
VHF – Very High Frequency
VHF radio frequencies range from 30 MHz and 300 MHz, with a further subdivision of frequencies as “low VHF” and “high VHF.” VHF is well suited for applications that require fewer channels, and where a wider operating range is a higher priority than audio quality—such as two-way radio or intercom.
VHF can reach long distances, but this makes it vulnerable to interference from other signals, as well as susceptible to signal interruption by solid obstacles; thus, it’s usually better in an open-space environment (such as outdoors) where the risk of signal interruption is reduced.
UHF – Ultra High Frequency
Approximately three times higher in frequency than VHF, UHF operates in analog or digital and has a range of 300MHz-3GHz. Its greater bandwidth, optimized reliability, pristine audio quality, and available frequency agility—plus the fact that UHF works better indoors than VHF—makes it great for achieving the best music and vocals.
While its higher frequency transmission allows components to communicate through obstacles such as walls, UHF has a smaller operating range. This popular spectrum is increasingly crowded by wireless use, which makes it challenging to find an open channel. Additionally, due to their greater power capacity, UHF systems tend to consume more energy, so components may need to be charged more often.
2.4GHz – Wi-Fi
With the shrinking availability of UHF frequencies, several newer wireless models of wireless audio systems have been designed to operate in the 2.4GHz band. Operating in the 83 MHz spectrum between 2.400-2.483GHz, 2.4GHz offers less bandwidth than UFH. However, 2.4GHz is popular because it’s unrestricted by frequency band and thus is a wireless solution that works no matter what region or country you’re in.
2.4GHz competes with other Wi-Fi sources, such as smartphones, wireless laptops, and other mobile devices, as well as Bluetooth-enabled devices—which in turn increases the risk of signal dropouts or interference. Additionally, the operating range is shorter, and the 2.4GHz bandwidth can only fit about 12 channels in a wireless system. In the end, this option is typically better for applications that don’t need a lot of channels and is set up in a small space with minimal obstructions.
What about Bluetooth?
Bluetooth operates on 2.4GHz bandwidth but minimizes interference by transmitting weaker signals—which limits operation range but also reduces interference—as well as Bluetooth’s technique of continually switching frequency channels. Because each Bluetooth device relies on an internet connection and must be paired to create a wireless network of audio gear, this method is best suited to small-area networks, although advances in the technology have led to longer operation ranges, improved battery life, and more robust features.
CHOOSING A WIRELESS SYSTEM
- Application – Knowing what sort of receivers and transmitters you’ll need for your specific application will drastically narrow down the options to a much more reasonable selection.
- Channel Count – Assess how many channels you’ll need. It’s a good rule of thumb to then shop for a system that provides a few extra for some margin. This also offers a bit of room to expand if you need to scale up your system slightly in the future.
- Ease of Operation – Remember to consider who is going to be operating your wireless system. Many wireless systems are designed with an intended user or skill level in mind. If it’s for a professional application, likely you’ll want something robust and feature-packed; but if you’re setting up a system that will be operated by volunteers, you’ll probably want to look for something simpler and more intuitive.
- Range – Choose a system with a range of at least 100 feet (a little over 30 meters), or twice the distance you need…whichever is greater. Even if your space is much smaller than that, some wireless systems with short operating distances may have interference problems. Wireless systems with a wider operational range are more robustly designed, making them better equipped to meet your needs.
- Environment – No matter what type of RF you’re using, you can optimize your audio quality and minimize interference by arranging the placement of your transmitters and receivers so that there are as few obstructions as possible. Consider where walls, doors, windows, furniture, and other stationary objects are located, and remember the people that will be in the space—the human body contains salt water which insulates electrical signals, and humans all generate a small electrical field…so that your listeners can be disruptive, even if they’re sitting in silence!
With versatility and flexibility at their core, wireless audio offers great potential to myriad sound scenarios of all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re a singer, speaker, or musician, wireless microphone systems can take your audio to new heights of quality and reliability.
Whether you’re tackling your first wireless system, upgrading to a new set of gear, or need to troubleshoot interference challenges, the experts at SoundPro are here to help! Contact 800.203.5611 or email@example.com for answers to these or any other questions about purchasing or setting up a wireless microphone system.
A graduate of UW-Whitewater, Laura Strommen has over seven years of experience as a content writer and copy editor and has been part of the Sound Productions team since 2021.