Must-Have Mics for Small HOWs

In reviewing pro audio gear in house-of-worship (HOW) environments, I’m often asked by staff members at small churches, “What microphones do we really need?”
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In reviewing pro audio gear in house-of-worship (HOW) environments, I’m often asked by staff members at small churches, “What microphones do we really need?” Indeed, it can be a confusing world of options out there for the fledgling audio team member at a church. After all, in spending funds gleaned from tithing and donations, no one wants to authorize a less-than-useful purchase.

Shure’s SM58S featuring an on/off switch Here, I recommend approximately a dozen for those HOWs just beginning to build a useful microphone locker, suggesting a few specific makes and models, too. That said, many brands available today can cover these applications highlighted below, yet categorically, most every small modern church can easily employ what I’ve recommended below.

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WORKHORSE DYNAMICS

Relatively inexpensive and rugged (and thus ideal for the rigors of multipurpose applications), common cardioid handheld dynamic microphones are great initial investments for fleshing out a comprehensive HOW microphone locker. In non-traditional churches, they are a must; the instrumentation of contemporary worship generally includes amplified guitars, drum kit and more, so a half-dozen similar or identical workhorse dynamics—such as the venerable Shure SM57 ($99 street)—are invaluable to have on hand.

I’d recommend having at least a pair of handheld dynamics featuring on/off switches, as common HOW applications can include handing off a wired mic to guest/special speakers, and an easy-to-reach switch for performers has always been valuable. For example, four SM57s and a pair of SM58S (pictured, at $104 street, with switch) would be a great starting point.

LARGE-DIAPHRAGM CONDENSERS

Left to right, beyer’s MCE 86 II and Sennheiser’s MK 8 The recording studio is generally where you’ll find most large diaphragm condenser (LDC) microphones in professional applications, as they are well-suited for key sound sources—lead vocals, full-frequency instruments such as piano, and ensemble/room capture. However, most churches today record sermons, services and special music weekly for web-based distribution, broadening the HOW audio engineer’s job to covering at least basic recording tasks and sometimes full-fledged recording sessions.

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I would recommend investing in at least a pair of multipattern LDCs for the growing contemporary church; there are many affordable and great-sounding, classic-rivaling models on the market today. Examples that I’ve personally reviewed within the last year include the direct-order Mono-price 600850 Lollipop-Style LDC ($349), a 2.25-lb. pressure gradient condenser with a large 1.26-inch capsule and three selectable polar patterns (cardioid, omni and figure-eight, the fewest number for a multipattern to be useful), and Sennheiser’s superb and remarkably accurate German-made MK 8 (pictured, at $699 street), featuring a gold-plated 1 in. dual-diaphragm transducer and five patterns (cardioid, wide cardioid, super cardioid, omni and figure-eight). Depending on budget, I’d recommend either pair, leaning towards the Sennheiser for a litany of reasons, including its extra patterns, user-friendly form factor and respected pedigree (bolstering resale value, which should always be a consideration when shopping for the ebb and flow of institutional use).

For extra insight on choosing in LDCs from the higher-end of the price range, read Pro Audio Review’s Session Trial evaluations in “Large Diaphragm Condensers”: http://bit.ly/1Rsyuop.

While tube or valve microphones would fall into this category when considering options, I would recommend investing in a tube LDC only after having a pair of comparably colorless, low-maintenance, solid state models first, along with the other recommendations in this column.

SMALL-DIAPHRAGM CONDENSERS

DPA’s Necklace Microphone Similar to having a pair of LDCs on hand, investing in at least one pair of standard small diaphragm condensers (SDCs) will provide ample coverage of percussion, acoustic/stringed instruments, stereo-miked piano and other such sound sources. To LDCs, SDCs are also comparably easy to position, allowing for tight, unobtrusive placement. Most SDCs also offer a full frequency response, making a pair valuable in stereo room/ensemble capture, too; due to their sleek form factor, an SDC pair may also be the best choice to capture choirs from overhead. While cardioid models will likely be the most useful across a broad range of applications, I would recommend purchasing SDCs with switchable/swappable capsules in order to utilize omni and figure-eight pickup patterns, especially useful in drum kit and other multi-source sound capture.

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Within the SDC category also exists boundary microphones—small omnidirectional condensers with capsules positioned flush with or near a flat surface (boundary). By design, the boundary provides a directional pickup pattern and delivers a notably phase-friendly signal. The result is a natural sound and flatter, more accurate frequency response. As such, realistically balanced room capture on sanctuary or drum booth walls, and even underneath the lid of a piano, is easy using boundary mics. For more choices in SDCs, read Pro Audio Review’s Session Trial evaluations in “Small Diaphragm Condenser Pairs”: http://bit.ly/1Lgg0q5.

Another SDC option for those consistently needing room-sized stereo source capture would be a small-diaphragm stereo microphone—such as Audio-Technica’s BP4025 stereo field recording microphone (pictured, at $649 street)—reducing the potential of wrong placement in stereo applications. Having a least one stereo SDC on hand can cover a lot of potential applications.

Left to right, Audio-Technica’s BP4025 and Earthworks’ FlexMic Podium Series. Podium microphones are near-requirements for a HOW, too; these are usually small-diaphragm condensers mounted on a flexible gooseneck between lengths of 12-30 inches. As most pulpits feature a traditional church lectern, a high-quality podium mic may deliver the majority of your most needed audio source, the spoken word. I’ve had great success with DPA’s own podium mics as well and, just recently, with Earthworks’ FlexMic Series (from $559 street), available in five lengths and two capsules, cardioid or hypercardioid.

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Technically falling under the SDC category, shotgun microphones are also another invaluable choice for a small HOW’s transducer collection; I definitely recommend having one available for use. Shotgun mics most always feature a long, multi-slotted tube paired with a supercardioid or hypercardioid capsule beneath it. In use, the desirable on-axis sound reaches the capsule and off-axis sound largely cancels itself out first as it enters the mic’s multiple side slots, essentially “enhancing” the on-axis sound.

I’ve personally discovered several great uses for these “interference tube” microphones in small HOWs. Two areas in which a shotgun microphone will shine include where pastors want their own microphone out of sight (a shotgun can easily be placed multiple feet away, near the floor and hidden in a flower arrangement, for example) and in theatrical productions, holiday pageants and so on, where multiple children have speaking parts and there aren’t enough inputs or microphones (or both) to capture everyone. In the latter example, simply grab a shotgun microphone, mount then actively aim, or “run and gun.”

Notably, the beyerdynamic MCE 86 II (pictured, at $379 street) is an affordable and superb-sounding hypercardioid shotgun. In reviewing the MCE 86 II, I brought it to a local HOW for use and they immediately wanted to buy it; for years, the church had tried to capture small youthful voices, the shy and public-speaking averse, and now finally had an unobtrusive tool to capture them. The MCE 86 II also sounds fabulous and full-range, boasting a rich 50 Hz-18 kHz frequency response.

WEARABLES AND WIRELESS

Radial’s Pro DI passive direct box Especially in HOW applications, sometimes it’s just easier to wear a microphone. Contemporary worship pastors seem to naturally gravitate to lavalier or headset microphones; in these settings, there tends to be a lot of pastoral movement upon the pulpit. Wearable wireless microphone rigs give speakers the ability to move beyond the podium, so having at least one on hand is worthwhile.

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Considering the latest innovations in affordable and user-friendly 900 MHz wireless systems, viable options abound in wireless systems in for small, budget-restricted HOWs. Manufacturers, including AKG, Audio-Technica, Line 6, Sennheiser and Shure, among others, now offer 900 MHz transducer/receiver packages that barely require users to crack a manual, adding to the appeal of tether-free microphones. Buying one flexible 900 MHz system capable of use with several different wearable mics would nicely round out a dozen-item mic locker for a small HOW.

Combining “wearable” and “wireless” options, many lavalier 900 MHz systems are now available for those pastors who want to roam entirely hands-free; outstanding options are available for the aforementioned wireless systems paired with upscale transducers from manufacturers such as DPA—which, for example, offers its unique Necklace Microphone (pictured, from $649). Also, in application, the easy-to-position Necklace Microphone paired with a Line 6 900 MHz pack proved to be an ideal solution for one HOW I worked with during a comprehensive review of both products.

DON’T FORGET Dis

When considering microphones for purchase, many HOWs tend to overlook the need for DIs—direct input boxes—for easy impedance matching of line level unbalanced signals to low-impedance mic level balanced inputs. Bass guitars, pickup-enhanced acoustic guitars and electric keyboards especially benefit from this easy, microphone-free means to amplifying the source signal.

A couple of DIs are always worth having on hand. Standout, proven options include those from Countryman, Switchcraft and Whirlwind. Yet I would personally recommend investigating the many DI offerings from Radial Engineering, who build literally dozens of various DI boxes with a litany of different features.

A solid, frills-free workhorse DI from Radial is the Pro DI Passive Direct Box (pictured, at $99 street), a mono model featuring a custom transformer, built in the company’s Canadian factory. For more choices in DIs, read Pro Audio Review’s Session Trial evaluations in “Trusty DI Boxes”: http://bit.ly/1hoWGLo.