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Church Microphone help choosing

Hi. I record the sermons at church. A definite upgrade I'm looking for is the microphone. The mics we currently have sound fine enough in terms of quality, but their pickup is awful. Also, they make a TON of noise when even remotely touched anywhere, even on the handle!

  • I'd like a microphone that doesn't make noise when you're merely holding it from the handle. I recently thought that the noise emanating from the mic when holding it was due to it being so old and dropped so many times. Thus, I've recently purchased a new mic set (…"] Behringer ULTRAVOICE XM1800S Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphones, 3-Pack: Musical Instruments[/]="…"] Behringer ULTRAVOICE XM1800S Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphones, 3-Pack: Musical Instruments[/]), but these do the exact same thing!
  • I'd also like for the mic to have a strong pickup. I'm thinking a cardiod pattern, so that the congregation isn't heard in the recordings. But my main concern is that the speaker(s) often walk a couple of steps away from the mic, and the pickup drops substantially (obviously, I know). But I've seen sermons on TV and other speeches (e.g., the Presidents speeches) where it seems you can walk a decent distance from the mics and still obtain a strong signal without picking up too much unwanted noise from the audience.

I've tried simply turning the gain up on my mixer, but this can easily cause audio overload (clipping) because sound levels vary drastically during the service. My mixer has a compressor built in, and this helps a little, but not enough. I'm thinking that finding a microphone with the characteristics detailed above will be the most help.

Any ideas on what mic I could buy? Thanks.


dvdhawk Mon, 06/04/2012 - 20:14
Unfortunately, handling noise is one of the biggest problems with inexpensive microphones. They have little or no internal shock-mount and will rumble every time they're touched or the person even changes their grip slightly. They won't fare much better on a stand either, because of the vibrations coming through the floor and rumbling/rattling up through a typical mic stand.

The Shure SM58 has been the industry-standard handheld cardioid vocal mic for about 30 years for good reason. Although they will cost significantly more than your latest purchase - they are considered a bargain workhorse mic at about $99 each with outstanding quality and durability.

The preachers you see/hear on TV these days are wearing a very tiny wireless lavalier mic, or a very discrete headset - which is what I recommend to my church clients. The consistency in sound from week to week you'll get from a headset mic for sound reinforcement and recording purposes is by far the best way to go if you can get your pastor to go for it. The good ones (Countryman / AKG / Shure) are so small they are difficult to see from more than 10 ft. away.

A good pulpit mic will have interchangeable capsules to vary the width of the pattern. I have installed a lot of AKG CK31 capsules (120˚ wide) on a GN50 gooseneck (roughly 18" long) with good results as a fixed mic on a pulpit or lectern. It picks up wide enough to cover two people standing side by side, as well as tall and short folks without moving the mic around. Different capsules are available with narrower or wider patterns as needed.

If you're recording the sermon without amplifying it into the room through speakers, that will be an advantage because you can crank up the volume without worrying about causing feedback. But, there will still be limitations to what you can do with a stationary mic - that's why TV talkshows etc. have the hosts/guests wearing lapel mics, plus a mic on the desk, plus a guy just out of the camera frame with a shotgun mic boomed in from above. That way they have separation between the broadcast/recording and the live show, plus redundancy and they are ready for anything spontaneous that might happen.

I hope that helps. Best of luck.

jgiannis Tue, 06/05/2012 - 12:53
Excellent advice, thanks!!

You nailed it on several issues. Problems I'm often having are:

1. The microphone picks up too much vibrational noise. Whether it's being held by hand or securely clipped on a mic stand, it's always picking up some rumbling. Hand noise can create some pretty awful pops and low-frequency rubbing noises, and leaving it clipped within the mic stand allows for foot and other vibrations to run up the pulpit and go straight into the mic. Either way, the noise is very annoying and distracting (to me anyway).

2. There are various speakers. There is one main pastor, but there are very often guest speakers, solo singers from within the congregation, little kids who want to read some verses, various testimonials, etc. Thus, an earpiece mic wouldn't be a good solution for me because there would be way too much interchanging of the earpiece, and that would get super annoying. On top of that, I'm dealing with lots of people who don't realize that you must speak towards the mic in order to be heard. That means that I, or someone else, would constantly have to assist and direct people right in the middle of the service. I'd go for it if there was only one preacher, but that's not nearly the case here.

3. Regardless of who's giving the message, I'm always dealing with someone who likes to go from shout to whisper and back again with no fair warning. And regardless of how loud they choose to be at any given moment, most of them like to go from speaking into the mic from a few steps back to rubbing their lips on it. Volume levels are all over the place!

4. Audience noise is often picked up. We often have babies crying and the noise of people simply moving around getting picked up (the room is not designed with audio considerations). I realize this can be fixed with a simple cardiod pickup pattern as opposed to an omnidirectional pattern, but then the pastor won't be picked up at all when he takes several steps away from pulpit (which is not a rare occasion). With the omnidirectional, I can at least capture his voice within the recording when he steps far away from the pulpit, albeit the quality will suck.

5. I am recording the service and amplifying it within the church simultaneously. Many times the differences in loudness levels mentioned above will be quite tolerable within the room itself, but I'll get either terrible signal-to-noise pickup in my recording DAW or blaring levels with overkill amplification. The built-in compressor doesn't solve the problem--although it can help in some areas, it can hurt in others by making the noise floor more audible.

There are probably more issues I'm dealing with, but that's the bulk of it for now. I know that professionals who are being recorded, such as musicians, actors, news anchors, etc., know proper microphone etiquette, and that alone eliminates tons of potential problems in-itself, but those aren't the conditions here. So, I'm thinking of going with the $99 SHURE SM58. From what you're saying, I'm guessing it will at least eliminate #1 on my list (the internal noise from physically being handled with hands or vibrations).

With the AKG CK31, can you simply screw it on top of the SHURE SM58 in order to alter the pickup pattern? Looking at photos of it, it appears to be an accessory to a mic, rather than the fundamental.

And how do you handle #3 on my list (the wide range of volume levels)? Is this something that the mic is responsible for, or the other gear within the recording chain?

Thanks again!!

dvdhawk Tue, 06/05/2012 - 18:21
I can sympathize with you on all counts.

#1. Most churches I've worked in have a raised platform, which is usually hollow and resonant enough to amplify every footstep. It's audible without amplification, but even worse once it vibrates up through a mic stand. - Two things that will help. 1A) If the mic stand rattles and you can hear the inner pipe rattling inside the outer pipe, it usually means the inner pipe doesn't have a cap to prevent the rattle. If you disassemble the clutch and pull the inner pipe out and find there's no plastic cap - a few wraps of electrical tape until it's just shy of the ID of the outer pipe will provide enough of a cushion to keep the two pipes from banging into one another. And 1B) If your mixer has a high-pass (low-cut) filter on the channels use them on all of the handheld mics. The only content below 100Hz (or whatever it might be preset to) is unwanted rumble and noise. When I do an installation we engage the high-pass (low-cut) filters on every channel except those that need real bass presense, such as a bass drum, bass guitar, electronic keyboard, CD/Computer playback of pre-recorded tracks, etc.

#2. Welcome to church. We try to provide pastors with their own wireless lapel mic, earset mic, or headset mic - in addition to a wired pulpit mic for lay-persons to read announcements, scripture readings, prayer requests, testimonials etc. And whenever possible, we would suggest at least one or two handheld mics (wired or wireless) for the soloists, children's choir, etc. A lot of churches like a wireless they can pass to someone in the congregation for the prayer requests and testimonials so the everyone can hear without the person needing to leave their seat. It's a constant struggle teaching amateurs how to use a mic properly.

#3. Welcome to church (again). Pastors can shift from a very intimate conversational voice to fire and brimstone preaching in the blink of an eye. The only way to tame the range of a whisper to an outdoor 'you kids get off my lawn' voice in one sentence is compressors, compressors, and more compressors. (And even then you may have to ride the fader a little bit.) I don't know what mixer you have with built-in compressors - but they rarely work nearly as well as an even mediocre outboard compressor. I use numerous dbx compressors to keep the service volumes on a nice even keel.

#4. Think of how much room noise you could eliminate if the primary source was a tiny mic two inches from the corner of the pastor's mouth - regardless of which way his head turned. Whether he's looking left or right, up to the heavens, or down to read his Bible - a headset mic is always in the right place. (even a lavalier mic changes with each of those scenarios) Headsets eliminate other variables too - regardless of whether he's wearing a suit & tie, a robe, a sweater, or a Hawaiian shirt you get consistency with a headset mic that even a normal lavalier mic can't match. And the lavalier is miles ahead of the stationary pulpit mic unless you have a pastor that is glued to the pulpit from start to finish. Also on a mixer that has mutes, I mute every unused input until it's needed to keep residual room noise to a minimum.

#5. If your mixer has Auxiliary Outputs you can send a separate mix to the recorder that is independent of the mix amplified into the room. Or, if you can beg or borrow a wireless lapel or headset mic - you could feed it directly to the recorder since I presume the pastor's message is the main thing you want to record. *Word of warning though, if you Aux a mix to the recorder that is completely independent of what you hear through the speakers, you will have to make sure the recorder doesn't hear anything that might embarrass the pastor or anyone else - before, during, or after the service.

Regarding the AKG CK31 and similar mics with interchangeable capsules - I may not have communicated that very well. They only work with very specific [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]AKG gooseneck modules[/]="…"]AKG gooseneck modules[/]. We would select a gooseneck of the appropriate length, then determine which capsule best suits the application (omni, cardioid, or hyper-cardioid). They are smallish condenser mic capsules, so they are in no way interchangeable with anything like a Shure SM58 - which is a big ole dynamic mic. And to the end, you would need a mixer with Phantom Power to operate the AKG goosenecks since they are all condenser mics. If you don't have phantom power, there are add-on devices, or I have seen other manufacturers that make dynamic gooseneck pulpit mics - but none immediately come to mind.

Once again, I hope that's useful.

sara Mon, 05/04/2020 - 06:54
Choosing a microphone is hard. Generally, they have long cables so that the whole choir area can be covered, and the performers can get the best output coming from the choir mics. Apart from that, it is also important to have a robust design that can give protection against the interface.

paulears Mon, 05/04/2020 - 07:20
The trouble with varying level, and it's not remotely just a church thing is that compressors need setting up properly so they do the job, without making the user sound worse, and it's not just level, but tonal quality of the speaker that makes your life hard. Live sound is a compromise between fail and pass. A quick finger on the fader is still the best and quickest solution if the operator is good and prepared, but unexpected things often mean the workload is too high, so compressors can make operator latency more handleable. For me, a compressor that is in circuit but not compressing much is very workable - secure that if the user suddenly puts the mic on their lips and bellows, it will perk up and squash it, but for the most time, it's just sort of ticking over, doing very little. Setting that correctly takes a bit of experience. If you have two users who talk like this at the same time, your workload goes up by about 4 - when they start to fight with each other. 4 speakers and it gets hairy. When you have a stage full of whispers to belters, you really have to work hard, so compressors can save your bacon - for me, just coping with the mistakes I didn't predict.