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At The Source

The advantages of earset and headworn microphones in solving myriad church sound issues.

By Curt Taipale September 9, 2016

A Countryman E6 earset microphone, providing high performance and low visibility.

Added Control
The first time I mixed the Dallas Christmas Festival at Prestonwood Baptist, I was delighted at how much control I had over the spoken drama parts and the sung vocal parts. We had E6 earsets on all of the actors with spoken parts or vocal solos.

In particular, there was a duet with Mary and Joseph singing towards each other.

Ordinarily with two actors wearing lapel mics and facing each other, either talking or singing a duet, I would have had to alternately turn off the mic that wasn’t being used at the moment, constantly juggling the two parts, just to keep from hearing the interaction (phase cancellations) when both mics were open.

But by instead using earset mics on each of the actors, the amount of juggling – while still needed – isn’t nearly as critical. In other words, putting earset mics on all of the actors doesn’t make the phase cancellations disappear, but since the sound sources are so much closer to the mics, the amount of phase cancellations is significantly reduced.

The popularity of the CM311 had an unexpected negative impact on pastors when asked about the newer (far smaller) earset mics. They’re now so tiny as to seem relatively invisible, especially from beyond about 30 feet from the platform. Yet to this day there are still pastors who will instantly cry out, “No! I don’t want to look like Garth Brooks!” when an earset mic is suggested.

Numerous options are available with earset mics, including the Audio-Technica BP894 MicroSet available with single or dual mounts.

Goodness. Such fury over a seemingly simple request to use a tool that would immediately resolve the ongoing feedback problems. Shoot your sound techs in the foot, why don’t you? It might hurt them less.

Of course, there are some who hold onto their love of the lapel mic. Actually, it’s probably not so much love as it is disdain for how they’ll look wearing an earset mic. And don’t get me wrong; a high-quality lapel mic, fed to a well-designed, well-funded and properly installed sound system, can be used successfully without problems. But finding those three ingredients in many church sound systems isn’t all that common.

The good news is that the pastors I’ve talked with who have embraced the earset mic tell me how wonderful the experience is for them, how they used to have to strain their voice each time they preached, and how the earset has spared their vocal cords. Based on what we’re hearing (pun intended), the popularity of these mics will simply continue to grow.

This also applies to headworn mics, which offer additional stability in placement.

The lines have blurred on this terminology, though. Manufacturers now seem to be settling on the term “earset” or “earworn” for a mic that clips around one ear, and the term “headworn” or “headset” for mics that clip around both ears.

Advantages & Factors
Regardless, it’s not just the “new thing,” but rather a tool that genuinely solves a myriad of technical issues that church sound techs have been chasing for years. It gives us a clean pickup of the pastor’s voice, consistent sound character no matter how the talker moves their head, excellent gain-before-feedback, significantly reduced phase cancellation issues, and it’s virtually invisible to most of the congregation. What’s not to like?

Polar patterns for two of the drivers of earset mic technology: AKG/Crown CM311 (left) and Countryman E6 (cardoid version at 1 kHz).

Today, one can find earworn/headworn models from several different manufacturers, at retail prices varying from about $100 to $600. Most can also be wired to work with any major wireless microphone transmitter. Don’t want to use wireless? Most models also connect via a standard mic cable. Further, some are available with an omnidirectional or cardioid pattern, and most can be ordered in tan, black or brown colors.

Finally, when comparing specifications of the mics, be sure to consider the maximum sound pressure level rating. Loud vocalists can distort in mics with a lower SPL rating. And make sure the mic comes with a detachable cable. If something is going to break, experience has shown that it will probably be the cable. So having a mic with an easily replaced cable is highly desirable. Otherwise, repair will involve sending the mic back to the manufacturer.

Curt Taipale of Taipale Media Systems heads up Church, a thriving community dedicated to helping technical worship personnel, as well as the Church Sound Boot Camp series of educational classes held regularly throughout the U.S.

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About Curt

Curt Taipale
Curt Taipale

President, Taipale Media Systems
Curt Taipale of Taipale Media Systems heads up Church, a thriving community dedicated to helping technical worship personnel, as well as the Church Sound Boot Camp series of educational classes held throughout the U.S.
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