By Rev. Paul Wooley
If you are not able to hear or properly discern the voices of the preacher, the readers, or the intercessor, there is a possibility that the microphones are either inadequate, improperly installed, or just simply the wrong type for the application.
Microphones have the difficult task of changing sound waves into electrical signals. If a microphone is deficient in any way, nothing in the rest of the sound system can correct the situation.
The flip side of this is that a moderate investment in microphones can make a considerable improvement in sound. And the good news is that decent microphones, like most electronic devices, have fallen in price over the last number of years.
The three most common types of microphones used in churches are dynamic microphones, full condenser microphones, and electret microphones.
Dynamic microphones, which operate on the principle of having a diaphragm connected to a small coil of wire which moves in a magnetic field, and thus generate a signal voltage, are recognized by an ‘ice cream cone shape.
Dynamics require the speaker to be close to the microphone, but the closer you get the more bass and muddled the sound, with a loss of higher-pitched sounds.
Full condenser microphones, extensively used in recording studios, have a super thin gold-plated diaphragm closely spaced from a metal back plate and have a high voltage charge across these surfaces. As sound waves cause the diaphragm to move a signal is produced.
These microphones have electronics within the microphone body and require microphone mixers to have a ‘phantom supply’ or require an auxiliary power box.
These microphones can pick up sound from quite a distance and most faithfully reproduce high-pitched sounds, thus preserving consonants, a requirement for accurate reproduction of speech.
Electret condenser microphones, work on much the same principles as full condensers, but employ a material called an electret that can hold a static charge therefore not requiring a high voltage supply. However, they still require some electronics within the microphone body that require either a small battery or an external voltage supply. Generally, the performance lies somewhere between dynamics and the full condensers.
They are often the least expensive devices. Headset microphones generally use electrets, and they are found in all sorts of electronics. There are two common types of microphone patterns, omnidirectional, and cardioid.
Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound from all directions equally, whereas cardioids favour sound from in front of the microphone and reject sound coming from behind the microphone. Therefore a cardioid is preferred since it will reject sound reflections from the walls, floors, and ceilings, which can cause annoying feedback.
The general principle guiding microphone placement is that you need to pick up sound from the person speaking or singing and not from anywhere else. This simple fact is often forgotten.
So, if you think that your church's sound reinforcement system can use some improvement, particularly if parishioners are complaining, consider a, probably low-cost, improvement to microphones.
Questions: If you have questions about church sound systems, email Paul+ at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will try to answer them in future issues.
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Rev. Paul Woolley is a retired priest in Huron. He has 55 years of experience working with audio equipment of every description for varied venues.