Question on wireless headsets

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by zan, Dec 8, 2015.

  1. zan

    zan Active Member

    Greetings fellow audio engineers!
    Noob here, I hope this post is relevant to this forum, whatever, here goes:

    Me and the wife are performing artists, and we are looking for a 4-channel wireless bodypack headset microphone system to use in our shows. What we really need is 2 headsets and 1 lavalier (to attach to a guitar), but since I cannot find a system with 3 channels, 4 will be fine. I found several systems that include 4 headsets and 4 lavaliers. Who knows, maybe our 2-year old will decide to enter the family business soon! :)

    The price is an issue. I would like to go for $220 tops. I know this won't get me very far but it's all I can spare right now.

    I found this one:

    I've had many people try to discourage me from buying Chinese stuff. Is that justified?
    Please notice the red letters near the end:
    Please tell us the frequencry you want, if not,we would ship it random.Thank you.

    What does that even mean? Do they configure the frequency of each channel before shipment? What "frequencries" should I request? I'm from Greece and the system will be used here, if that's in any way relevant.

    Do you have any other suggestions on models on that price range?
    Do you have any advice on what to look for on this type of gear? Which characteristics should I look for and which to avoid?
    The particular model is UHF, which supposedly is good, since there are less chances of interference, correct? I haven't found a UHF system in that price. But perhaps the other characteristics do not cut the mustard?

    Looking forward to hearing from the community. Thanks in advance!
  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    For the price you want to pay, none of the pro gear will fit. (Shure AKG and Senneheiser) Even the price of one pro headset would exceed your budget.
    Even for live situation, I wouldn't go cheap on Wireless mics. Not only the quality could be bad but the risk of signal problems and feedbacks are frequent.

    Note that a lavalier is not a guitar mic. What you'd want instead is a pickup (unless one is already install) and then a Wireless guitar pack.

    I've been doing live sound for the past 30years and I only see problem risks with going cheap like you want to do..
    I strongly suggest using cables or considering renting pro équipements until you can invest more.
    DonnyThompson and dvdhawk like this.
  3. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    My sound/video system installation business serves mostly churches and schools, and wireless mics are a big part of that. I'm with PC 100% on this. My advice would also be, save your money until you can afford something worth having. In my opinion, if you buy wireless below a certain price-point you are simply throwing your money away. This is one area I think you really do get the level of quality you pay for.

    The only possible way to justify throwing away money on terrible wireless would be, if the rest of the sound system is so horrendously bad it would be impossible to tell the difference between a good mic and a bad mic.

    Which raises some relevant questions:
    What other equipment do you have to connect the mics to?
    How essential is it that the microphones be wireless?
    How important is the physical size and appearance of the microphone capsule?
    Does it need to be very discrete and nearly invisible, or can it be a large foam ball?
    Are you performing in, or aspiring to - concert halls, coffee houses, busking?
    Could you please be more specific about what kind of 'performing artists' you are?
    Based on the clues, perhaps a singing duo with an acoustic guitar? (As PC has said, a lav clipped to a guitar really would be a last resort. If your guitar has a pickup built-in there are specific guitar wireless systems with ¼" instrument cables attached - which would give much better results)

    I understand not everyone can spend $500 - $1000 on a wireless system. So every once in a while when I come across a manufacturer offering a new headset mic that is relatively low in price (under $100 - for just the mic, no wireless) I'll buy one as a service to my customers. I'll test it paired with a respectable wireless system (Shure, Sennheiser, A-T, Audix, AKG), just to see if anyone has had any sort of technological breakthrough. If I can provide my customers with a less expensive alternative, that doesn't sacrifice too much performance, I'd be happy to give them that cost vs performance choice and help them maximize their budget. Unfortunately, through these A/B comparisons I have not yet found any of these discrete earset/headset mics (the nearly invisible kind small enough for theatrical or house of worship use) that I would want my name associated with. Besides being poorly constructed from flimsy materials, with poor fit & finish, the audio quality has been just awful on all of them so far. I've been able to return most of them, and ended up giving several away to folks who already owned old wireless systems with broken lavaliers. These cheapos may be better than literally nothing, but not by a very wide margin.

    Coincidentally, I received a call last night from a church that had a 4 in 1 mic system similar to the one you linked to, with 4 handhelds. A few years ago they called me in for a service-call, even though they hadn't bought any part of their system from me. They were hoping I could figure out why their sound wasn't very good…. hmmmm. I've had some first-hand experience with two 4 in 1 systems. On both, the 4 individual wireless handheld mics did indeed have their own volume control on the receiving unit. One of them had the option of a separate output for each mic. The other sent that mix of 4 volumes out a single XLR into their soundboard. This was a selling-point to whatever church representative bought it, due to a limited number of available inputs on their board. There were a LOT of shortcomings with the rest of their system, but even under the best circumstances, thinking that there is a single EQ setting that will do justice to 4 varied individual voices or instruments is setting yourself up to fail. They had one decent Shure wireless handheld and two wired SM58s, so I knew the limitations of the system, and could coax enough clarity out of the Shures to be useable. The sonic quality of the 4 in 1 wireless was simply terrible. Even though they were running through the same mixer channel, and shared EQ. No two of the mics sounded even remotely alike, and they ranged from muddy & muddier to even-muddier & muddiest. No amount of EQ could give them any vocal clarity. Not surprisingly, the reason the fellow called last night was because 2 of the 4 no longer worked. They're ready to move up to something more worthwhile.

    In almost 20 years of letting my customers hear the difference for themselves, I've sold more of these AKG headsets than any other - and they used to be nearly twice the price they are now.

    The least expensive earset & headset mics I've found that have a passable sound quality are around $169 & $199 USD respectively, for just the mic - not including the wireless transmitter and receiver system. The $169 HS-09 will never put DPA or Countryman out of business, but for a fraction of the cost it's quite useable in many normal situations. In fact, in situations where they are likely to be abused or broken, (like giving them to school-age children) the lower cost doesn't hurt as badly if they do get destroyed. The cable, which usually gets the worst of the abuse, is detachable and easily replaced, or fitted for a different transmitter. If the mic itself gets ruined, it's relatively expendable compared to the high-end leaders in the field. I had a school email me today to tell me how much they "love" the 2 they got last year (paired up with Shure wireless systems), and ask about getting more of them. That school also has quite a few of the AKG wireless headset systems for comparison, so they do know what a better one sounds like through a pretty good sound system.

    That sums up my experience with budget wireless. Maybe someone else has a suggestion that would be of interest to both of us.

    Regarding which frequencies are best for use in Greece, it definitely matters, and may be subject to change as regulations change. You would not want randomly assigned frequencies. Several years ago here in the US, they made wireless mic owners (and UHF broadcast TV stations) vacate the 700MHz band, and they're already eyeing up all, or part of, the 600MHz band. I know they did virtually the same thing in Europe, but I believe it was somewhat different frequency bands. I'm seeing some systems from your region in the mid-800Mhz band. Perhaps our members @Boswell, or @paulears could offer their insight on European radio spectrum allocation, and licensing requirements where necessary. Or better yet, shop locally / regionally / Thomann's / whatever, they should have all of that important information.

    As the world goes more and more wireless with personal electronics, there is a need to free up more of that spectrum. In addition to UHF and VHF, a lot of microphone manufacturers are heading for the 2.4GHz realm where wi-fi, bluetooth, fluorescent lights, and microwave ovens roam free. There's obviously already a lot of traffic up there, but the digital 2.4GHz systems are very agile and can constantly scan the environment to avoid interference by hopping to a cleaner frequency. A friend of mine often tours around the world with another much bigger band he's in, and they've used the digital 2.4GHz systems on several trips all over the world with absolutely no problems in any country.

    If you go low-budget, ask about their return policy. Some retailers will not take a vocal microphone back, due to hygienic concerns.

    Paul also has some experience with some of the microphone manufacturers in China and may also be able to recommend a good one. The truth being, a large percentage of the products by those reputable manufacturers are imported too - but made and tested to higher standards (in theory at least).
    zan and pcrecord like this.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You have to treat each EU country as being different.

    Greece has the additional dimension that the permitted licence-free frequencies depend on the RF power output of your microphones or belt packs. A 10mW microphone is legal to use in many areas where 50mW units are not.

    For EU touring artists, I've always advised local rental as being the best way out of a difficult problem. For residents of Greece who need a permanent set of kit, I suggest you try to find a friendly rental outlet who could tell you what frequencies they use on their own gear.

    The cheapo 4-channel rig that you linked to is not worth considering at least for the reason of poor quality sound, but it's also likely that even when ordered with a specified frequency band, it would not meet the requirements of the (complex) Greek radio frequency allocations.
  6. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Thank you sir, that certainly explains why there was no such chart on the Shure / Greece page. There is simply a 'contact us', regarding choosing your frequency.
  7. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I think these units will be just available on either of those two bands they publish. The important thing here is that they will be single non-diversity receivers and as such, not as good at coping with the inevitable dropouts. Much simpler receiver design, using standard off the shelf parts. For non-critical use, perhaps worth the pocket money price - but divide by four to see the kind of quality level you are getting.

    There are actually less problems with the mic quality than you'd imagine. The Chinese are very good at making cheap electret mics. The usual limiting factor is the tx and rx sections.

    Only you can decide if it's worth a punt?
  8. zan

    zan Active Member

    Thank you to everyone for their replies, especially dvdhawk who really put in so much of his time for my sake!
    I 'll have to give all this some serious thought, it's kind of confusing. We are not musicians, we are puppeteers actually, so sound quality, while important, is not as critical as for a concert, for example. All in all, this is not such a big part of my job (8 out of 10 we play unplugged) that would justify a big investment, even if I manage to save up.
  9. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    So, hands-free is more of a concern than wireless?

    It would save you a great deal of money by eliminating the transmitter(s) and receiver(s) from your rig, enabling you to buy mics that are of better quality.

    Would a wired lavalier or headset mic do just as well for the bulk of what you do during a performance? Or, do you have to physically move around a large area during the performance?
  10. zan

    zan Active Member

    No, no, we move a lot, it definitely has to be wireless.
  11. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    To me this affirmation is one more reason to rent. (or borrow) or make it a contract condition that the venue rent them for you...

    You say quality doesn't mather now but when you get and use them a few times, you may change your mind. I can't see one situation were quality doesn't mather when going on stage. Unless your character only do noises. Words needs to be understood a lot more from a puppet that tells a story than a signer in my opinion.. Last summer I went to an event where 2 story tellers were doing a part of the show. I didn't enjoyed it all because I didn't catch everything they say due to poor mics and sound system. The girl next to me keep asking question to her boyfriend for the same reason...

    Anyway, you alone can decide the quality of the service you want to offer. I'm a person who choose the right tool for the job in all aspect of my life, Audio, mecanic tools, electronics, cooking etc... So it's quite normal that I won't tell you cheap is better ;)
    dvdhawk likes this.
  12. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I agree. Clarity amplifying the spoken word is every bit as important as if you were putting on a concert. When I run sound for a dramatic or musical theater production, I go through the script and try to identify the plot keys. There are usually a few brief moments in the first few minutes that set-up the rest of the story, if the audience can't hear them for any reason - nothing else that follows will make any sense. The performers and stage crew have already heard it 100 times in rehearsal, the audience may only get one chance to hear that key plot point, or the punch line to the best jokes throughout the show. No matter how charming the characters may be, the show will be 10x better if the audience understands what is going on, and goes along for the ride.

    Again, I can only make assumptions based on puppeteers I've seen:
    They were doing 'funny sounding' wildly cartoonish voices, which already makes it more difficult to understand what they're saying.
    They often switch to something closer to their normal voice for a few lines, then get much louder for the next lines in the wild cartoonish voice.

    That scenario would be very challenging for even the best microphones, and would be made significantly worse with a cheap mic and radio system that is typically more prone to distortion. The really good headset/earset mics come in different sensitivities, so you can get one tailored to the volume your voice. And we still have no idea what you have to work with, in terms of a sound system, what sort or size of venues, etc.

    At any rate, best of luck. I hope we've persuaded you to hold on to your money for the moment.
    pcrecord likes this.
  13. pan60

    pan60 Active Member

    i am not a fanof buying Chinese stuff!!!!
    i don't care whos name is on it, i am not a fan of buying Chinese stuff!
    save your money.
  14. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Well - you're in real trouble then, because so much respected well thought of established brand equipment is made in China nowadays. If you cut out anything made in China, the available equipment list shrinks. You are entitled to have your opinion, but frankly - it's silly now, as their pcb quality is very high, failure rate low on quality products. The poor equipment is pocket money priced, so quality on that is obviously low, as it is on cheap kit made anywhere in the world.

    What is important is audio quality. The show I'm on at the moment uses 18 radio microphones. In the audience you can hardly tell they are being used, until one dies - which at £200 a pop is expensive, and this week I have used over a thousand pounds of my budget on replacements. Equally, we did a job at a hotel this morning where the radio mic was probably £20 tops and was simply awful - thin, weedy and distorted. Country of origin is not the issue, it's the price point.
  15. pan60

    pan60 Active Member

    Well, personally I have had enough issues with made in China crap that it is not anything I am interested in any longer.
    I have no issue finding great quality gear not coming form china.
    And those in manufacturing that I chat with tell me when they do have to get something from China because it is the only source they end up tossing more that half. Depending on the specks need sometime as much as 80% is rejected.
    I have personally looked at China on several occasion as recently as last year, and they have NOT been able to meet my standards on my product designs. I would go so far as to say junk!
    So pardon me but it is not just a price point it is fit finish performance and on and on.
    I really don't care how cheap it is, if it is junk I don't want it.
  16. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I totally agree, you are 100% correct. If it's junk don't buy it and don't use it. The behringer plant, I read, run at a failure rate of .5%, and that is being addressed. So much of their output is in products we buy from very reputable brands. Power supplies, for example - their switch mode designs are everywhere. You are probably typing on one of their designs powering your computer.

    My point is that there is no longer a generalisation that all their products are poor, because the evidence is plentiful and to the contrary. If somebody wishes to buy disposable tat, they will happily make it to that price, but if you want a top quality reliable unit they will also make that.

    Sony make super expensive cutting edge broadcast video equipment, but they also make cheap and nasty stereos - you cannot apply a blanket statement to the world today. The £4.99 stereo fell apart after 6 months, therefore I won't even consider spending £200K on a camera channel.
  17. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I think much of this works in cycles...after the second world war everything that came out of Japan was reputed as junk, then by the 70s' it was of a higher standard than most electronic goods made elsewhere after the US helped rebuild industry there in the post-war years.

    For many years I worked in the furniture industry, the early imports from China were absolute crap, especially their leather used in furnishings like louges and sofas...
    - It was split so many times it was thinner than a cheese slice, the colored dyes in the tanning and finishing process rubbed off, they used formaldehydes and other chemicals that were outlawed in most countries and it fell apart after about 6 months.
    In some cases, customers were getting chemical burns from their new imported leather sofas....I kid you not.

    Then something interesting started to happen in that industry around 10 to 15 years ago, manufacturers awoke to the fact the cost of labour was cheaper there so they started opening manufacturing plants there, and in the case of the leather manufacturers, some of the finest leather producers in the world took the technology and standards developed and applied in countries like Italy, renound for some of the finest leathers in the world, to those new plants in China.
    Things improved greatly over a short period of time, especially in leather production, quality and technology in manufacturing.

    Technology started to transgress borders in that industry, and now they have caught up. But the stigma and reputation of the past takes longer to overcome over time.

    Maybe we will see this with the quality of audio & electrical products coming from China too. I know this is the case with a few of the manufacturers of LED TVs, they have only a couple of component manufacturers located in Asia who make components for all segments in the market place, from the high end stuff from brands such as Sony to the low-end entry point stuff you buy at Costco.

    There is a trepidation to buying Chinese products, especially low-end stuff...but like the food, theres' always good and bad ;)
  18. zan

    zan Active Member

    Greetings again, fellow audio engineers!
    I hope this thread isn't dead, as I have some new developments and need new advice from the community.

    So we have decided to stretch the budget after your recommendations. Here's what a local shop recommended:
    headset (two of them) 121 euros each:
    double transmitter (for the headsets) 190 euros:
    single transmitter (for the guitar) 104 euros:
    For the guitar we will probably use a simple, 15-euro transducer like this:
    (Is this transducer actually a good solution? I know I should probably buy an electroacoustic guitar and I will, soon, but for the time being will this cut the mustard?)

    The whole bunch is around 500-550 euros. What do you guys think? The guy at the shop said these specific products are very reliable. When I asked about frequencies he also said that companies are aware of each country's particularities regarding frequencies and ship accordingly. But he didn't sound very sure, to tell you the truth. So, is this true? Will a guy at AKG look at my bundle and go "right...where does this ship to?... Greece..." and then pull out a catalogue with appropriate frequencies for each country and install the ones under "Greece"?

    The only thing that bugs me is the fact that we need two systems. The guy at the shop told me that no respectable firm builds transmitters for three or four channels, is that actually true? Just to fuel the argument between pan60 and paulears, he actually said "only the chinese do this kind of BS!" :)
    My ideal solution would be a system with four channels from a respectable firm like AKG or Shure or Behringer for which I can later buy a third headset if needed. Any suggestions on that? Or should I just buy two of the above double transmitters? That would be 85 euros more. Not that bad, but still two systems. Whereas if I stick to the original plan but later need a fourth channel, I'll have to buy another single transmitter for 104 euros (and have three systems!) or buy another double transmitter for 190, have two systems and be stuck with a useless single transmitter!

    So, summing up, please tell me
    A. what you think overall about the bundle,
    B. if what the guy says about the frequencies is true and
    C. if a respectable 4-channel transmitter can be found.

    Looking forward to your replies!
  19. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    As a total aside and FYI -

    Recently, for some reason - with some posts here on RO, ( my own included) if you place a dollar sign directly to the left of the number amount, neither the sign - nor the amount - will show after you post.

    I have no idea what's happening to cause this; the current workaround to this is to use the dollar symbol, then leave a space and then insert the number you wish to show.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming....
  20. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    None of the transmitter and receivers are at pro caliber yet but you are gonna get far better results with those compared with what you initially planned...

    It's true that you don't really want 1 unit receiver with 10 transmitter but some pro stuff are made to be put in a rack and share the same antennas :

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