Wirelesses: How to do them right.


Active Member
Last night I attened an unnamed comedy at an unnamed high school. The show was great, but the sound was less than stellar. There weren't many characters and all of them had lavs. They were very well hidden and you couldn't see them unless you were really looking. The thing that bugged me the whole time was the comb filtering, less than stellar EQ, and the occasional mechanical noise. Watching the FOH engineer, it was obvious that the actors turned their beltpacks off once they exited the stage. The voices sounded very unnatural. For the most part, it sounded like there needed to be a cut around 800. Line by line mixing would have been helpful as well. Moral of the story:
1. Take advantage of on board parametric (of sweepable if you prefer, since it isn't truly parametric in most of the consoles we work with) EQ to get the most natural sound of the actors voice you can possibly get.
2. Mix line by line. Sometimes a script is helpful.
3. Make sure lavs are secured well so they don't make mechanical noise.
4. Do not allow actors to turn their beltpacks off until the end of the show. (I like the Shure SLX transmitter because I can lock it.)
No offense to any fellow sound humans, I strive to give the world the best sound I can in any way possible. We facilitate the transmission of energy from the stage to the audience and doing it effectivly takes practice and dedication.


Well-Known Member
My personal opinion.... Live legit theatre in a house smaller then 2,000=No body mics.
Yes, but if you're doing a musical and the orchestra is off stage-right, then you have no choice, unless your doing opera. The theater I worked at seated less than 375, and it had such good acoustics, that during our plays (read: not musicals), we didn't need the lavs. But, during our musicals, the orchestra vastly overpowered the singers, so out came the lavs. I left the wireless muted during lines, and used them during songs.

Maybe the person behind the console at your show was just apathetic and didn't care how the show turned out (how's that for redundancy?). Others take pride in their work and try to make it turn out the best they can. Or it's also possible they were doing the best they could with the equipment they had. I know the gear I had to use sucked, and I was constantly bringing in my own gear just to get the PA to sound decent.


In my opinion, LAVs suck. Outright. Almost as much as actors who use the buttons on their transmitters.

I'm all about headsets, or handhelds. SM58 wireless. That's my boy.


Well-Known Member
For music, I agree with you, but in the theater world, it looks a little taky (not sure how to spell that) when the lead character is singing into a wireless HH. The lavs are much easier to hide. They may take a little more work to sound as good as a HH, but they aren't hard to use. In a perfect world, we wouldn't even have to use mics.

As far as pushing buttons, get transmitters that lock, or gaff over the buttons. I'm not sure what kind of problem there is with the button pushing actors on Boradway, but usually if I explain why they shouldn't be pushing them (and I don't mean telling them it'll make your life harder), they usually get the hint and don't.


CB Mods
Premium Member
I've got to back Footer on this one. Personally I hate the modern ideal of amplifying everything. There is no such thing as sound re-inforcement anymore, it all amplification. How is it that for hundreds of years actors and singers were able to perform night after night and be heard by everyone in the house. Do we really think the orchestra is a modern invention ? Singers, opera and musical, were singing over the top of an orchestra for a long time before the first P.A. systems were invented. I don't buy the argument of, " this person can't project well enough.", either. in the words of one of my favorite costumers, " If you want cleavage, You gotta cast cleavage !". There is absolutely nothing I hate more than going to a theatrical production and listening to all the dialogue comming from the center cluster.
< ok maybe spiders, I hate spiders more than that, but that's it >

:twisted: Sorry hot button topic for me.


Well-Known Member
For theater, we never use lavs. Our theater is too small to use lavs. It's loud enough as is. For musicals, the countryman earset mics come out. They work beautifully. At my high school, the lavs were used for everything, and the room was so acoustically screwed and the mics NEVER got back on right after costume changes, so we always had problems with the actors sounding artificially amplified. We recently had an opera company concert in the 1,200 seat performing arts hall here, and we used lavs for the singing, but made them transparent in the audio system, just for intelligibility.


Well-Known Member
Makes for an interesting discussion

Couple of opinions
Re the question of why for hundreds of years we did not have to use sound reinforcement.

On is that the spaces for performances were designed for that purpose, do day most of the audience spaces are designed for multi use, and also for amplified and unamplified. In another thread I was commenting on the issues with a space designed for music, unamplified, and the problems that brings with control spaces in the back.

Second is in most of the past when you had an orchestra and singing it was opera, and opera is a totally different way of projecting the voice using the head and the entire body capacity. Modern music has a totally different way of singing, that tends not to project the same way. It is interesting to have a trained opera singer, starting singing in a normal modern way, and then switch to the opera way and hear the massive increase in volume, but it does sound different.

Today especially at school level productions, the emphasis is on participation and performance and many of the performers are not trained and probably are not physically capable of sustaining a long performance.

Most of the poor sound situations IMO are a result of poor space design, poor equipment, leaders who take the position that you cannot touch anything etc, and also lack of training and accomodation for the sound person. It is an art, it takes practice and also training and experience to know what to change to make things sound the way you want them to

Many of the wireless systems that school purchase are really speach orientated for meetings, and not theatrical or musical. Placement of the mic is critical, and eq of the system and the input channel is important also.

I tend to find a combination of poor placement of the mic and poor eq and poor selection of the mic being major factors.

Rycote for instance has a little tab that you can use to place the mic on person and cover it over to reduce clothing noise.

Just as different instruments in lights are used for different purposes, and placement and operation etc are important, it is the same way with mics, just sticking it on the person, tapping it with test test test and getting a sound out of the system is not going to get you the best sound.

It would be like just sticking a bunch of pars fresnels and lekos's up turning them on and seeing if they light up and then thinking that was all you needed to light a production.

Sound is a combination of art and science and takes a bit of effort and understanding and practice and a trained ear to detect the problem and then fix it. One of my pet peeves is the isolated sound booth, where the mixer is working at best over small speakers with no real hearing of the sound in the audience space. We wonder why the sound is bad, just think if you were asked to set up thelights and your only way to see what was happening was a simple black and white tv camera connected to s survellience tv in another room, how well would you do.

Just some thoughts



Active Member
Premium Member
I've got to back Footer on this one. Personally I hate the modern ideal of amplifying everything. There is no such thing as sound re-inforcement anymore, it all amplification.

That's quite the overgeneralization. While certain "name" designers, even on Broadway, take an attitude of, "I don't care if it sounds like it's coming from the actor or not, all that imaging stuff, if you can hear it clearly, I've done my job," there are many others who fight tooth and nail to be able to reinforce subtly. I know more often that not recently I've mixed shows where the producers and composers, thankfully, understood this, and in fact complimented the designer and myself on how natural the show sounded. Some people do still strive for the aesthetic of not being able to tell the show's being amplified until you mute everything.

How is it that for hundreds of years actors and singers were able to perform night after night and be heard by everyone in the house.

Music styles and arrangements, my friend :) Back then, composers/arrangers wrote and arranged around the human voice, bringing tonally conflicting instruments into the arrangement in between sung lines, and holding them back during the verses. Today, most shows are much more pop-oriented, and just are more densely arranged.

In addition, amplification, done right, opens up a much wider dynamic range. You wouldn't see somebody from Ethel Merman's era singing a soft, sweet, gentle ballad the way actors can today. When Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World appeared off-Broadway, it was in a small enough space that the designer and the creatives decided to just use minimal area micing for subtle reinforcement. When they told the cast, however, the cast insisted on using wireless, not because it was a crutch, but because it was a tool. With wireless, they could easily move from belting to singing at a near whisper, and with a good engineer and designer, it would all sound natural. Try doing that without reinforcement.

Modern sound reinforcement is a tool that can be used to the supplement or detriment of the show, but let's not go writing off an entire field just on the guys who don't care to do it well!



CB Mods
Premium Member
You're right it is an over generalization, but I like to speak in generalizations ! No I don't think EVERY sound designer sucks. I have seen one too many tours of this or that, however, that simply go for the shotgun approach, " make sure thay can be heard ". It's unfortunate. Being a trained singer I'm also well aware of what the human voice is capable of. Some of my previous post was meant more as an indictment of the performers rather than the operaters. Not going to names shows here but, I've had, in the past, to mic shows because the person cast in a particular role couldn't project past the third row in a 200 seat house. I applaude the efforts of anyone doing sound design and operation in a proper manner but I will stand by my statement that Most of the time, in this day and age of Louder is better, sound is much more amplification than re-inforcement. I think it might be movie theatres.
Just as a side note, I have engineered sound before, and once had a gig mixing in a venue, when a group, I'll never forget the name, "The Dresden Bommbers" came through. Originally they had their own guy mixing, he was having all sorts of problems. so I thought I'd help. I took one look at his amps, They were all constantly clipping. I went to the board and started bring levels down. That solved the clipping, But everything still sounded like crap, to the point that people were just walking out, it was that loud. So at the bands first break I went up on stage they, the guitarists, had thier amps set at what I beleive was 11. I asked, politely, to turn them down. and was told in no uncertain terms that I," had no Idea what you are asking. How do you expect me to play my harmonics, don't you understand the role of feedback in modern music ? " This was the eighties after all. Anyway after another thirty minutes I told my boss I couldn't take it anymore and that I was damaging a precious commodity, my hearing, and I was going home.
I lived about three blocks away, and you know what ? From there they sounded just fine.

No hard feelings just my opinions, and you know how they are.

"Every one in theatre knows two jobs, thiers and sound "- anon


Well-Known Member
It is unfortunate that today's sound design seems centered on the "get it as loud as you can, that's all that matters" approach. I guess I've just been fortunate enough that the show's I've worked on, I've been the FOH sound tech and sound designer. I strived (that the proper conjugation?) for clarity in my mixes, and thus, they weren't as loud as others. I believe it's Tony Meola who tries to get an invisible PA, both figuretivly (i know that's spelled wong, I'm sorry) and literally. I'm of the same school of thought.

I'll admit that I don't have much experience as some of you esteemed gentlemen have, but I'm learning (most days, i think). And this is an interesting topic, I was just having a discussion with a friend after my audio class today about the very same topic.

BTW, love the quote Van.
I am also one for clarity over volume, even if it means some rather drastic EQing in the mid range.

I have a question for you all.

We have some rather horrible-sounding Shure WH-20 headsets which were unfortunately bought for vocal work. We have one WH-30 condenser which is a much better unit.

How can I EQ/position the WH-20s for best vocal reproduction? I normally have to cut the midrange out a bit, varies slightly for each performer.


Well-Known Member
There are a numbr of situations where somewhat drastic eq in the mids works. Quite often systems are set up with a bump in the mids in an attempt to increase the signal level. In addition a number of systems have quite dramatic drop off in the lows and the highs, and so Dropping back the mids does in some instances improve the clarity and in essence level out the frequency response of the system



Active Member
I work in a high school where, if I say so myself, we put on great musicals that anyone could be proud of. We do not put on High Schools shows!! That being said, a great deal of time and effort is put into getting all kinds of students involved. That means that a large portion of the cast will not be singers, and most definitely have not been trained in the proper mechanics of singing, much less how to project or enunciate!! I have no choice but to reinforce the voice.

But I do agree that putting lavs on the clothing of the cast is a mistake. If they turn the head while singing, there goes the sound. Where I don't have "real" headset units, I attach clear elastic to the lav/mic cable and make a "head band" type circle out of the clear elastic and have the actors put it on their head. It gets placed either in the middle of the front hairline, or near the ear/temple. This way when they turn the head, the mic moves along with them.

I agree that having the sound come out of the middle cluster is less than ideal, it can be done and sound reasonably close to normal. I've had shows where the audience members will ask me what I did with my time during the show because "it sounded so natural that no one could have been wearing a mic." Now that was some of the sweetest music to my ears!!!

Sound reinforcement is a fine balance that takes time to get right. You need to take the time. You MUST take the time!! It is in the best interest of the director, staff, cast, pit, crew, and everyone to give the sound designer and board op the time to get it right!!!


Well-Known Member
it's always hard to strike a balance

im still learning how to eq and the first thing i do is get out my flat responce microphone hook it up to my computer and run a spectrum analyiser i have and try to get feedback when i get feedback i cut the freqency closes to the feedback

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