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Church Soundguy: Rechargeable Batteries For Wireless Microphones

We welcome a new blogger to the PSW fold - David McLain, a.k.a. "The Church Soundguy." David's a veteran audio professional who runs a great blog of his own about audio and church sound related topics, and he also works with CCI Solutions in Olympia, Washington.

By David McLain June 24, 2010

David McLain

I was asked recently about using rechargeable batteries for wireless microphones. I discovered that I have two completely different opinions on the topic:

1) What I say I believe: There’s no two ways about it: batteries are expensive; 9v batteries are the worst, but even AA batteries aren’t cheap in the quantities we need for a largely wireless church stage. Current professional rechargeables are up to the task, and NiMH is a competent technology.

Consumer rechargeables only produce about 7½ volts on their best day, so we don’t go there, but pro batteries can power nearly all wireless well for at least a couple of hours.

I never really liked the memory challenges with NiCad batteries, but with nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, the batteries are more reliable.

However, some manufacturers like Shure and Lectrosonics, still don’t like using any rechargeable 9v batteries, though they’re not as fussy about rechargeable AA batteries; apparently there are enough differences in the batteries and in the wireless technologies that use them that AA rechargeables aren’t so evil. Fortunately, many wireless manufacturers have moved to AA technology.

2) What I really believe: I don’t use rechargeables for my own church’s wireless, and I have six or eight wireless systems. (I just did a quick survey: nobody here uses rechargeables in their own or their church wireless systems.)

Some of our reasons:

a. Power curve: Rechargeables drain non-linearly. Alkaline drains linearly. That means that an alkaline battery, when it nears the end of its lifespan, is still usable. You know it’s getting tired, because you’re getting a few dropouts. It’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the service.

When a rechargeable battery starts to go, you have a few seconds until it’s completely dead. If that happens 5 minutes before the service is over, you’re toast, whereas with an alkaline, you can easily cope for that last few minutes.

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b. Battery life: Because of the non-linear power curve, an alkaline battery lasts for up to 5 or 6 hours in a wireless. Since my church can run 3 hours (including sound check), rechargeables are a challenge. (Consumer grade rechargeables last a matter of minutes.)

c. Convenience: To make rechargeables work, you need to be more disciplined than I am. You need to take batteries out of all wireless after every service and load them into the rechargers (professional rechargers, not Radio Shack toys), and then re-load back into the wireless before the next service. If you don’t use pro rechargers, they’ll overcharge the batteries left in them for the intervening days; this is not a minor detail, but it’s outside of this conversation.

In addition, you’ll really need to plan on replacing the entire lot annually. They might be good for a couple months more, but I hate the uncertainty.

d. Redundancy: If you use rechargeables, you still need to have a handful of alkalines handy for when (not if) the rechargeables fail.

e. Cost: If you’re comparing consumer grade rechargeables to retail alkalines, there’s a huge advantage for rechargeables, but that’s not the comparison for us. We need to compare pro grade rechargeables (including pro chargers) vs. bulk industrial grade alkalines such as CCI sells. The cost is much closer, and – at least in our opinion – not enough to justify compromising the services.

CCI sells (and I buy) the industrial grade alkaline batteries, which are essentially re-packaged Energizers (sorry, no pink bunnies included) and Duracells (likewise, without copper tops). I buy them in case lots and they’re less expensive than Costco batteries, and they’re certainly more convenient to use and store.

Check out more from David McLain at the Church Soundguy blog.

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Audioman2000 says

Rechargables are becoming the mainstay of the Broadway touring industry. 30 to 40 channel count productions. Daily 5 hour use times. Virtually 0 failure rate. Rechargables are here to stay.

tech777 says

our church uses 3 shure 9v handhelds (old sc models i forget the exact model)the fourth is used as a lavalier for pastor (alkaline).
i’ve tried nicads= horrible experience because of short life and memory.
nimh=good, decent but no warning of impeding voltage. tysonic, ipower, and powerex.
li-ion=currently using (+1 year), very good results ~4 hours. ipower 520mAh ($$)
if i remember i’ll try to run a fully charged battery for tomorrows rehearsal and see how long they last.

ken Freeman says

We have a high profile industrial tour out with everything running on rechargables.  No failures so far.  The AKG guys were smart enough to put the charger tabs in them so I can just from the transmitter into the charger.

MP25 says

Environmental aspects must also be considered.  A lot of AA & 9V end up in landfill if rechargeable batteries aren’t used.  Then again recharging is probably not very energy efficient either.  I believe the solution is integrated rechargeable batteries, like mobile phones.  This will make the initial cost of the product more so the wireless mic manufacturers are probably reluctant to take initiatives here. Hint, hint, Shure!

George Dougherty says

For AA’s the Energizer 15-minute charge setup you can find at Wal-mart and most electronics stores works very well.  The charger is of the intelligent sort that shuts off after the charge cycle is completed and the charge time is rapid enough to start it fresh during setup for a service.  I replace mine once a year and I’m easily getting 5-6 hours of use out of a pair of batteries.  We do Sunday & Wednesday services so I leave the transmitters on at the end of Wednesday services to drain the battery.

For 9V batteries I go Alkaline.  The charge time is too long supposedly due to the tiny cells and heat issues encountered with rapid charging.  With 9V, you definitely run into all the same issues brought up in the article about needing a pro charger that won’t overcharge the battery.  Just not worth it but thankfully all our wireless operates on AA’s now.

AudioManager says

Tried using nimhs but others using the wireless mics during the week put in fresh alks and tossed the nimhs. Figure that cost in?!!!

Ken Freeman says

Again, if you can charge the batteries while in the packs, the need to throw them away seems to leave.

Aiden Garrett says

I’m suprised you haven’t mentioned lithium batteries… think mobiles!

Robart says

Current professional rechargeables are up to the task, and NiMH is a competent technology.  seo services

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