Ask the Expert – Advice on headset mics

Teresa Novak asks:

Hello! I really need some advice on what type of headset mic would be best for my needs. I’m primarily a lead vocalist in a band, but I now play keyboard, as well. Since a neck injury and surgery last year, I can no longer use a handheld mic in on a boom stand, because it hurts my neck. That leaves me with a headset mic, which isn’t ideal for lead singing, from a vocal quality standpoint.

So far, I’ve used a wireless Audio Technica M-75, but the sound techs usually can’t get a bright enough or powerful enough sound from it, and I still have feedback issues. (I once tried a Countryman E6D wireless, and found out the hard way that all the open monitors onstage made it feed back viciously, and we couldn’t use it.)

Now I’m looking at other headworn mics. I’d prefer a wireless, but I’m wondering if a headset to XLR would give me better sound. Looking at these mics, I see that many require phantom power. Does phantom power have anything to do with the vocal clarity I’d get from the mic? Would I get a brighter or more powerful sound will less feedback than I would with a non-powered mic?

Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Geoff Boswell, our resident sound engineer advisor replies:
Hi Teresa

Most probably the best headset mic to use is a DPA 4088 (pictured above). The DPA mics are very good quality and the 4088 is the directional [cardioid] version of the 4066 which is omni-directional. The 4066 is a lovely natural sounding mic and the 4088.

Don’t know where you are but find a sound supplier who will arrange for a demo or loan one for you to evaluate. If you are happy then buy from them. If they charge more than others its most probably because they are supplying a service. Don’t try from one and then buy from another cheaper. That’s not very honouring.

A good mixing desk and as little EQ as possible should sort out on stage monitors and give you good FOH sound. Also a good radio system is needed to cope with the levels and also pass on the same quality that the mic gives out [as it were]. A mic like this will cost circa £400 and then you will need a decent mid to top end radio like a Shure ULX or Sennheiser EW300 system.

I understand the preference for wireless. With any wireless system there are good and not so good. Spend as much as you can afford, go for a known manufacturer that can give you a demo [via a dealer] and can support. Also if you go for a mic like a DPA check the system with the mic. Quality of the radio system is mainly twofold: 1) ability of radio signal to be received without noise or interference 2) the audio quality or ‘transparency’ of the wireless system [hopefully whatever the wireless manufactures do to make the system work well [companding] will not unduly affect the sonic audio quality.

Phantom power has absolutely NOTHING to do with audio quality or how good the mic is. It has NOTHING to do with vocal clarity and finally Phantom powering for a mic has absolutely no bearing at all on brighter sound, more powerful sound and less feedback.

Whether a dynamic mic [non powered] a ribbon mic [non powered] or a condenser mic [phantom, T powered, battery powered or powered from its own power supply] results from ANY of these will be affected by the type of pick up pattern, design of mic, type and quality of input stage of mixer, type and phase coherence of the EQ on the mixer and then on to the types of speakers, speaker placement and then your singing style and the acoustics around you and finally the proximity of other loud instruments and more !!

Sorry for that long list, do I sound like a teacher telling you off? HOPE NOT. But it needs to be said there is a lot of ‘misinformation’ out there especially to do with sound !!!

Blessings and all the best to you, let us know how you get on.

Geoff Boswell is a bass player and professional sound engineer who worships at St Georges Ashtead Surrey UK.

Geoff also works part time for B&H Syscom Ltd as sound designer and consultant working primarily for churches. His main work is in the UK Broadcast industry mixing live TV sound. Geoff also rents out sound equipment.