Lav Mics for the Outdoor Stage?
September 29, 2008 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Lav Mics. What about 'em? We encourage our actors to cheat out, to be confident in their lines and to project. And yet, there are times when they need just a little more help being heard. So, here is a follow-up to a question I asked two years ago ... now that we've a little experience, if we decided to add lav mics to our audio arsenal, is there are make and model that you would recommend for theatre? For outdoor theatre? For outdoor theatre in a climate that can shift from nary a drop to downpour in under a minute?
posted by grabbingsand to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Back when I did sound in college, I almost always used Shure UHF mics. With my very limited budget, I had to rent, though I think the group has since bought a few. Depending on your surroundings, UHF seem to be much more resistant to interference, which is especially helpful outdoors.

For weather, you can protect the transmitter with an (unlubricated) condom. Protecting the capsule (the mic itself) is a bit harder, but actors function as tolerably decent umbrellas.

Unsolicited advice: change the batteries EVERY performance; even though you should be able to sneak 2+ performances out of the batteries, it's not worth the risk. Also, make sure the actors know that they are NEVER to turn the mikes off; you might even want to tape the switches. Your engineer (you?) needs to be very careful about muting off-stage actors, and you need to warn them that they can't talk/make sounds for the first several seconds off-stage. Everyone who has done sound with wireless mikes has examples of actors saying, "Wow, I fucked that up!" (or equivalent) IMMEDIATELY after exiting (that is, before their mic was muted).
posted by JMOZ at 10:26 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: AKG, Shure and Sennheiser are good brands, and they offer a range of products, some of which are lower quality in order to be lower cost. Now is a difficult time to purchase wireless mics, because the frequencies they have always used (unused analog television bands) are being auctioned off by the FCC as we transition to digital TV. More info about the frequency interaction here, and current FCC fun here. It is important to coordinate the frequency ranges you purchase with local TV stations, like with this Shure utility.

There is one wireless manufacturer who uses the 2.4 GHz range instead. This has its own challenges (lots of potential interference from microwaves, phones, WiFi, etc) but I have used these mics in the Atlanta area with good results. The sound quality isn't always the best, but adequate for many uses, and an innovative approach to the frequency problem.

No matter which wireless system you choose, you can attach a headworn mic like this which will provide the best sound because the mic is always the same distance from the person's mouth, in front of their mouth rather than above/below, and there is less chance of clothing movement noises. Regarding rain, I second the non-lubricated condoms to protect the bodypack, and mics are available that are sweat/moisture resistant. Note that some mics will stop working when wet; check the specs.
posted by one at 11:35 AM on September 29, 2008

Shure are the ones I work with most often, and they are truly bulletproof. Go for the ULX series if you can't afford the UHF-R.

Avoid the Sabine like the plague - not only do they have potential interference like one said above, but if the transmitter antenna is covered by flesh, they will drop out. 2.4GHz is close enough to microwave that it is significantly dampened by, say, a body.

One also links to the Countryman 6 series microphone which is a fantastic mic. The one linked is an over-the-ear model, but if you need something hidden, you can get lav versions of the 6 (their smallest) which can be clipped in hair, or taped in costume. They come in different fleshtones and black and white. Of course, they're pricey.
posted by tomierna at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2008

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