Making the Most of Your Microphones


By: Edward Mc Nulty

In pre-electronic days, preachers who wanted to be heard could only raise their voices. Not so today. A host of inventions helps us spread the Word, not the least being the common microphone.

Problem: A microphone is one of those instruments we take for granted until something goes wrong. Understanding a little of how it works can prevent a lot of grief.


A microphone changes sound waves into an electrical signal, which is then transmitted to an amplifier and then to a tape recorder or speakers.

Microphone pickup patterns.

There are three common patterns:

* Omnidirectional. This mike picks up sound waves from all directions. Advantages: It is useful if the speaker likes to move around – the pulpit or if the room is “dead” acoustically.

Disadvantage: Such a mike picks up every sound equally, which can be distracting if the congregation is noisy or the room reverberates sound back to the mike.

* Unidirectional. As the name implies, this mike accepts sound basically from one direction, usually in a cone-shaped pattern of about 120 degrees.Use: Generally this kind of mike is suitable for a pulpit or lectern – if speakers remember that when they move outside the conical pattern, their voice will drop off in volume.

* Cardioid. A cardioid microphone is a common type of unidirectional mike. As the name indicates, it picks up sound in a heart-shaped pattern, strongly from the front and about half as loud from the sides.

* Testing a microphone. Before the service, ask an usher or sound person to help you test the mike to determine its pattern and prevent unpleasant surprises. First: Speak in front of and to the side of the microphone head. What to listen for: If the sound is fairly even from all sides, you have an omnidirectional mike, but if your voice fades when you speak from the side, you are using a unidirectional one.

* Microphone placement. Mount a mike so that it will be about eight inches in front of the person speaking. Advice: A bendable gooseneck mounting adjusts easily.


Wireless mikes have become increasingly popular in churches. Advantage: You can move about freely, untangled in mike cords. Here are the types:

* Hand-held. Resembling other larger microphones, but with a thin wire antenna trailing from the handle, these mikes have a tiny FM radio transmitter built into the handle.

How it works: The mike acts like a miniature radio station, broadcasting a signal to a receiver connected to the amplification system.

* Lavaliere. These mikes work like the hand-held models, but the microphones themselves are much smaller and are clipped to the tie or robe, or hung around the neck. The microphone is attached by a thin wire to a transmitter clipped to one’s belt. Advice. A lavaliere mike should be unidirectional to cut down on extraneous noise and prevent screeching feedback should you happen to wander too close to a loudspeaker. Drawback: A unidirectional mike may pick up more clothing and cable noise.


When you purchase a new microphone, keep these ideas in mind:

* Enlist the help of people in the congregation who have knowledge of audio equipment. Suggestions: Ham-radio operators, electronics salespeople, musicians, theater-arts buffs, and broadcast technicians.

* Ask around among fellow pastors about the kind of equipment they have, where they purchased it, and the experience they had with the sales and support technicians.

* Visit more than one audio-visual dealer, not only to compare prices (which can vary greatly), but also to evaluate the personnel. Reason: Some talk down to amateurs, but others will gladly explain the mysteries of the equipment without making you feel like a dunce.

“In the beginning was the Word…” and the Word continues to be communicated through our words and music – as picked up by the properly used microphone.


Microphones will serve us better is we keep these rules in mind:

* Do not blow into a mike to discover if it is on. The sound is annoying, and you might blow harmful moisture into it. Better: Tap it lightly with your finger.

* Do not speak directly into a mike. Neither should you hold the mike too close to your mouth. You’ll probably create a popping sound, especially if you hit a P or T hard. Better: Speak across the mike rather than into it.

* Do not place a clip-on mike under clothing. Although out of sight, the mike will pick up rustling noises as clothing rubs against it, and it will muffle sounds. Better: Clip it on a lapel, or use a cord to wear it around your neck.

* Do not wear or handle a mike when you step into a baptistry. It can become a shocking event. Better: Mount a mike above your head or close-by in front of the baptistry.

For more information: Three booklets by microphone manufactures help churches use mikes effectively:

* Microphone Selection and Application for Church Sound Systems, by Tim Vear of Shure Brothers, Inc. in Evanston, Illinois. Phone: 800/257-4873.

* A Brief Guide to Microphone Selection and Use for Churches, by Audio-Technica in Stow, Ohio. Phone: 216/686-2600.

* Crown Microphone Application Guide for Houses of Worship, by Crown International in Elkhart, Indiana. Phone: 219/294-8000.

(The above material appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of YOUR CHURCH.)

Christian Information Network