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For all the convenience that comes with using a wireless microphone, setting up the system can be a huge pain. Coming across signal interference from nearby TV and radio stations is one of the most common issues when dealing with a wireless system, but it’s something that can be avoided with the right tools, knowledge, and setup.
Often, people hire professionals to do the work for them, and most of the time, this is a valid option especially if you can’t afford to have any technical issues once the production goes live. But knowing how to set up your own wireless systems can be a huge asset and save you a lot of money down the line.
For today’s blog, we try to demystify the wireless world and explain how wireless systems operate, how to set them up depending on your location, and which frequency range is ideal for your particular situation.
Wireless microphones are some of the most prized inventions when it comes to the world of recording, production, and sound engineering. Not only do they look professional and sleek, but they are also highly reliable and allow the user to engage with the audience without physically limiting them to one spot.
Wireless mics are designed to operate on certain frequency bands in their location. These are unused parts of broadcast TV bands. Certain frequencies work well for some digital systems and analog systems, while different frequencies may be more beneficial to other devices. Every single wireless device you own works within its own frequencies, whether they’re wireless intercoms or headsets used in fast food chains.
Most wireless systems for audio in the United States operate within the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum which is around 470 to 608 MHz. This allows both digital and analog wireless systems operating within their desired location to obtain an uninterrupted signal and therefore produce clear audio through their transmitter devices.
If you’re operating a wireless system in a busy area, there is a big possibility that others are fighting for a spot in the same location, or there could be other transmissions going on at the same time. Operating in a clear and optimal range not only ensures fewer interruptions but also prevents signal drops and static.
In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned off a broadcast spectrum for public TV channels, which limited the scope that wireless microphone frequencies could use – specifically on the 600 MHz frequency band and the 700 MHz frequency band.
Here’s a statement from the FCC website:
“In 2010, the FCC prohibited the use of wireless mics and devices on unused broadcast channels on the 600 MHz service band and on the 700 MHz band – specifically the frequencies between 698 and 806 MHz. It did so because such use could cause harmful interference that disrupts or degrades communications in the spectrum bands that had been repurposed for use by public-safety networks and licensed commercial wireless services.”
This recent transition has rendered many wireless mics outdated in terms of available frequencies now occupied by TV stations. It can be hard to determine which devices can still operate as this largely depends on your location.
Some cities have implemented the new restrictions right away, while others can operate on the same frequency without interference, most likely because they have yet to comply. The best way to find out is to simply contact your microphone’s manufacturer.
When it comes to wireless microphone operation, finding one that works within the VHF TV bands (174 MHz to 216 MHz) is a tad difficult. This is because those frequencies tend to receive more interference from other broadcast stations, TV channels, and other systems that may be using the same band. Because of this, operating below the 600 MHz frequency range is not recommended for anyone who wants an interference-free signal.
Most wireless microphone systems operate within the standard range of frequencies called the Ultra High Frequency or UHF TV bands. This is the ideal operating range for both old and new wireless microphones because, unlike the VHF systems, UHF broadcast TV channels are less susceptible to interference or overloaded frequencies. Always make sure to check if your device works within the 600 MHz operation line to ensure the best audio output.
We’ve gone on and on about domestic frequencies, but what about when your work requires you to travel across the globe?
Unfortunately, wireless system frequencies are different in other countries because the TV channels available for use vary. The best way to ensure your wireless microphone works is to contact your manufacturer and ask for specifics regarding your mic’s operation in foreign places.
Another way is by using a 2.4 GHz frequency mic, which we’ll get into below.
Apart from the VHF and UHF TV channels which operate at most around the 600 MHz lines, some wireless mics work within the 2.4 GHz frequency. This frequency band offers less speed compared to the 5GHz, but it covers a much longer distance. If you’re unsure about what transmitter range your wireless microphone system should have while you’re traveling, getting one within the 2.4 GHz TV channels will be your safest bet.
The truth is, anyone regardless of experience will be hard-pressed to find a one-size-fits-all solution to radio frequency concerns. But certain frequencies are better for operating certain systems than others – the trick is to know what works for your specific gear.
Setting up a wireless system can be tedious, but its advantages outweigh the cons. This blog is meant to help you understand the basics of setting up your own wireless mic without the hassle.
If you’d like to see more, check out our comprehensive guide to the best wireless microphone of the year.