How Does A Wireless Microphone Work

A wireless system is essentially a miniature radio station that replaces either a microphone cable or an instrument cable. The transmitter sends radio frequency (RF) to a receiver, which receives the signal and then sends the audio over to your mixer. 

Wireless systems are very common in places such as houses of worship, fitness centers, sporting events, and concerts because they give performers more freedom. 

Parts Of A Wireless Microphone:

  • Microphone
  • Transmitter
  • Receiver

Wireless mics function the exact same way as wired mics with the exception of their outputs. Instead of a typical XLR cable, wireless mics utilize transmitters (at the mic end) and receivers (at the input end) to send signals wirelessly. Transmitters/receivers transmit audio via radio frequencies.

Microphone

A microphone is simply the component the user speaks (or sings) into. It converts the sound waves into electrical impulses which can then be amplified so listeners can hear it. 

In a wireless mic, the electrical signal passes to a transmitter which converts the signal into radio waves. (It can also convert the signal to infrared light waves, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to radio).

Types Of Wireless Microphones

Typically, a wireless system will feature one of three microphones types: handheld, headset or lavalier.

Handheld Mics

Handheld wireless microphones have built-in transmitters and these transmitters require batteries to function wirelessly. 

Headset

As the name suggests, these are worn on the head, often over the ear, while a discrete arm positions the capsule very close to the mouth. The microphone stays the same distance from the mouth and allows the user to be completely hands-free. Headsets usually use the same beltpack systems as lavaliers.

Lavalier

Also known as ‘lav‘ or ‘lapel’ mics, lavalier microphones are small and unobtrusive, designed to be clipped onto the clothing of the subject doing the talking. This close proximity to the mouth gives them a good signal-to-noise ratio. It also eliminates a lot of the issues involved with achieving good audio quality with shotgun or on-camera mic placement.

Wireless lav mics have a thin cable that leads to a transmitter. Typically these external transmitters are in the form of small belt packs. So wireless lavs aren’t truly wireless. However, the belt pack transmitter allows the microphone to be free of a physical connection to its respective mic input on an audio console.

Transmitter

A transmitter’s role is to convert the audio signal it receives from the mic into a signal that can be picked up by the receiver, then transmit it wirelessly. 

When it comes to digital wireless systems, this process involves converting the analog mic signal into a digital signal, which is then sent as a series of 1s and 0s to the receiver over a radio link.

The transmitters come in three forms:

  • Handheld
  • Plug-in
  • Belt pack

Receiver

The receiver is the box with antennas that you connect to your mixer. It receives the radio signal, changes it back into an audio signal, then sends it to the input of your mixing board using either an XLR or instrument cable.

How Do Wireless Microphones Connect To Speakers?

Although microphones do not require speakers or headphones to function (and vice versa), these audio devices often work together. This is particularly true on stage and in the studio.

The signal flow starts at the mic and ends at the speaker, but there are some devices that are required in between.

The main devices (other than the mic and speaker) are amplifiers and the audio console, mixing board, or digital workstation (DAW).

Can A Wireless Mic Work With Any Receiver?

No. Wireless microphone systems are usually sold in packages for a reason. Receivers by one manufacturer are often not compatible with mics and transmitters by another (or, sometimes, not even with a different receiver from the same manufacturer).

That’s because each receiver and transmitter broadcast on a specific frequency. A transmitter operating on one frequency won’t work with a receiver operating on another, and vice versa. Furthermore, frequencies are often not adjustable by the user.

Written by:
Amit Gupta
Amit Gupta

Hi, my name is Amit Gupta, and I am the owner and contributor at Radaudio. My passions include guitar, bass, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments that I have been playing since school.

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