“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are,” proclaimed the great Jim Morrison. Was he talking about wireless microphones? Probably not. But we’d like to think that the Lizard King would’ve embraced them if the technology had been available to him all those years ago – and would therefore have lapped up this guide to the best wireless microphones.
Jim was an incendiary presence live, lighting up venues around the world with his wild stage antics. But imagine how much closer he would’ve got to being the ‘real him’ had he not been shackled to the stage by a short, curly mic cable.
Freedom to express yourself – that’s the real point of wireless mics. Yes, they’re more convenient. Yes, they stop you from tripping your bandmates up, and yes, you’ll no longer pull your drummer’s kit apart every time you run to the opposite side of the stage.
That’s just practical stuff, though. We became musicians because, just like Jim, we wanted to reveal our creative handiwork without boundaries. The whole world is a stage, so why limit ourselves to just 25ft of it?
Wireless mics used to be unwieldy, noisy and unreliable. These days, though, the quality – even at the budget end of the market – is almost as good as what the wired alternatives offer.
Many different microphones, including lapel lavaliers and specialist broadcast shotguns, can be teamed up with an almost endless number of receivers. So, to keep things simple, this buyer’s guide will be looking at the best receiver and wireless handheld mic kits, from cheaper options that are ideal for bands on a tight budget, right up to pro systems that can be expanded to equip entire concert halls.
- Best live vocal microphones: the finest gigging mics you can buy today
- Best cheap microphones: budget mics for the studio or stage
Best wireless microphones: Our top picks
Shure is a dominant force in this market, so it would be foolish not to recommend one of its kits. If you’re looking for a wallet-friendly wireless mic setup, its double-mic BLX288/PG58 kit is very tempting – but we’d urge you to spend a little more if you can. The GLXD24R/SM58 kit is your entry ticket to Shure’s pro wireless infrastructure. It features the iconic SM58 microphone, is very straightforward to use and can be easily expanded into a very sophisticated multi-unit system if that’s what your future demands.
Sennheiser is another market leader, and you really can’t go wrong with the EW 500-935 G4 kit. Beautifully made, impeccably designed and ultra-reliable, this is a bundle that will serve small groups and soloists well but can grow into a monster system if needed.
Best wireless microphones: Product guide
This kit forms part of Shure’s GLX-D Advanced ecosystem, which is where the US brand starts to get serious with its wireless products. The bundled mic capsule is from an SM58 – perhaps the most iconic live microphone of all time – so you can have total faith in the sound quality.
The housing is molded ABS, which is fine, though it doesn’t have the substance of some of the mics reviewed here. It’s a discreet-looking unit with just an on/off switch and a multi-coloured battery-status LED breaking up its functional lines. Range is quoted at 30 metres and battery life is up to 16 hours using the supplied lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged via the tidy dock that’s accessed via the front panel of the GLXD4R receiver.
The GLXD4R is a neat-looking unit featuring an easy-to-read LCD screen that displays channel information, gain levels and remaining battery life. It’s well-built from cast metal, so should give years of reliable service, especially if mounted in a rack cabinet. There’s a one-touch button for auto setup, or you can enter a channel and gain settings manually.
So far, so good. But life without wires gets more rewarding if you hook the GLXD4R up to other products in Shure’s GLX-D Advanced ecosystem. Add a Frequency Manager and you can shove six receivers into a rack and manage them centrally. Add further Frequency Managers to up the receiver count by half a dozen at a time. This central management functionality is an absolute boon for busy stage managers and FOH engineers working in larger, more demanding venues.
Buy one kit safe in the knowledge that the 2.4GHz frequency won’t disappear at any time soon, and that you can grow your fledgling wireless setup into a larger system as demand increases and budget allows.
Sennheiser is one of the most respected and trusted names in wireless mics. You’ll find its products everywhere that professional audio is a must – from theatres and concert halls to festivals and TV studios.
The EW 500 G4-935 is an excellent place to start if you want to buy into the manufacturer’s pro-level G4 architecture. Your initial investment will enable you to dip into its huge portfolio of mouth-watering accessories, which covers everything from headset mics to wireless guitar and bass packs.
This particular kit comprises an SKM 500 G4 handheld transmitter (the mic body) armed with a dynamic MMD 935-1 cardioid capsule. This capsule can be swapped out for any of the others in Sennheiser’s G4 range, whether that be a condenser or a supercardioid. Better still, because Sennheiser owns Neumann, you can even slap one of its condensers on for that legendary Neumann sound.
The EM 300-500 G4 rack-mountable receiver is a thing of beauty – especially its large, clear OLED display. It’s a powerful beast, too, one that can output RF signals at up to 50MW if local laws allow. You shouldn’t be lost for usable frequencies, either – with up to 88MHz of UHF on offer, there are 3,520 of them to play with.
The unit constantly polls both of its independent receivers, choosing the one with the strongest signal. This is way more advanced than units that just swap between two antennas, and guarantees exceptionally stable performance.
If you want to expand your wireless rig then the EM 300-500 hooks up to Sennheiser's Wireless System Manager software for advanced frequency coordination in multi-channel setups.
Electro-Voice specialises in sound systems for studio and stage, along with a range of drool-worthy microphones. It doesn’t do consumer stuff – its kit is purely for the pros.
The company’s RE3 range sticks with UHF over 2.4GHz because Electro-Voice believes it offers better reliability and scalability. It enables each receiver to boast eight groups of channels with up to 22 channels per group – enough for the kind of multi-channel system arrays you’ll find at festivals and large venues.
The RE3-ND96 kit is bundled with a large-diaphragm ND96 supercardioid capsule that excels on loud stages and can handle exceptionally high gain before feeding back. But there are four other Electro-Voice capsules to choose from, too, including condensers with cardioid or supercardioid patterns. Not forgetting the body packs, clip-on lavaliers, headset lavaliers, rack kits, instrument cables…
Despite the almost bewildering amount of choice, pros rate Electro-Voice because its products are easy to use. The RE3 receiver will auto-scan to select open frequencies, which can then be connected to the transmitter using its ultrasonic sync function. Unusually, even the transmitter features a large, easy-to-read LCD display that shows group and channel information, together with remaining battery strength. Whether your needs are modest or outrageous, the RE3-ND96 is worthy of your attention.
Line 6 is a pioneer of the modelling scene, so it’s no surprise that its wireless offering comes complete with a modelling mic.
If you’re working with a number of vocalists, chances are that they won’t all be suited to the same microphone. Or perhaps you’re the only singer but you like the creative options that different microphones give. Problem is, cheaper wireless systems tend to come with only one mic, and if you don’t like it you have to lump it. Pricier systems are available with a choice of mic capsules, but buying a whole collection can get expensive.
The Line 6 XD V75 brushes these inconveniences aside with its ten mic models. Need an SM58? You've got it. An AKG D5? That, too, plus another eight famous mics – or at least modelled versions of them – just waiting to be auditioned. Line 6 will even sell you two additional capsules – the Relay V75-SC and the V75-40V – that bring supercardioid and hypercardioid patterns to the game. The V75-40V is a bit special, too, because it was co-developed by the mic maestros at Earthworks Audio.
The receiver is an interesting bit of kit. Line-of-sight range is 300ft, and there are 14 channels to choose from, which also means that it’s possible to run 14 XD V75s or Line 6 Relay products simultaneously. The whole lot can be rack-mounted for a tidy, easily transportable rig.
Shure’s BLX range is aimed squarely at the more accessible end of the market. The BLX288/PG58 kit is unusual, and slightly pricey, because it’s bundled with two mics and a receiver that will handle them both simultaneously. If you’re after something a little cheaper, then the single-mic BLX24/PG58 costs just a smidgen over half as much and shares the same feature set. Of course, this means that if you absolutely need a two-mic setup then this kit is good value.
The supplied mics are a pair of Shure’s PG58s, which sound great if not quite on a par with the iconic SM58 that comes bundled with the manufacturer’s more expensive wireless kits.
The BLX range operates on UHF, but setup couldn’t be much easier. Activate autoscan on the receiver, take a note of the group and channel that it recommends for best reception, and then duplicate this setting on the mic/transmitter. That’s it.
Few bands have only one vocalist – there’s usually at least one other member who’s called upon to sing harmonies and choruses. And, of course, genres such as hip-hop live or die by the quality of their vocal collabs. So, even though it costs a bit more, investing in a system with two mics may be a shrewd move.
Here’s a system that’s best summed up as ‘unplug and play’. Aimed at artists who want to focus on creativity rather than technology, it’s both inexpensive and idiot-proof. The 2.4GHz operation will work fine in most environments, and it travels well too. Channel pairing is simply a matter of pressing a button and you’re done.
For those who do like delving into the technical details, there are no nasty surprises lurking to catch you out. Audio quality is 24-bit/48KHz, transmission is digital and there’s even AES 256-bit encryption, which isn’t much use for vocalists but is appreciated by presenters speaking at confidential events.
It’s unlikely that buyers at this end of the market will want to build a wireless mega-system for a huge festival, but it’s good to know that up to four DMS100s can be synced together for simultaneous use. Two versions are available at the same price – one with a cardioid handheld mic and another with a bodypack transmitter that can be combined with a headset or clip-on mic.
Behringer’s mantra is “double the features at half the price” – and it’s a slogan that fits this wireless kit perfectly.
Double the features relates, of course, to the two microphones. And considering a single Shure SM58 mic – which is already outstanding value in our opinion – costs about the same as this whole setup, you’d have to say that Behringer has succeeded in its quest to halve the price.
Unsurprisingly, the ULM302MIC is not as feature-laden as rival products from the likes of Sennheiser and Shure. But if you’re on a tight budget, it does the job. The 2.4GHz operation is largely trouble-free, and digital transmission means there’s little intrusive interference or hiss – though feedback could be better tamed.
Setup is automatic and line-of-site range is an acceptable 200ft. It’s just a shame there’s no rechargeable battery included, because the cost of AAs can mount up.
Bundled with the RØDELink Performer kit is Røde’s TX-M2 condenser mic and RX-DESK receiver. At this price point, it’s a surprise to find a quality condenser mic included for pristine, transparent sound reproduction. The metal casing feels reassuringly durable, handling noise is well suppressed by the internal shock mount, and its supercardioid pattern rejects any unwanted off-axis sounds. The TX-M2 can be powered for up to 10 hours by the included lithium-ion battery, but you can replace this with two AAs if you prefer.
The RX-DESK receiver uses an encrypted 2.4GHz signal on two simultaneous channels, automatically favouring the one with the strongest signal. Maximum range is a very impressive 300ft, and pairing is as simple as pressing a soft-touch button. Once up and running, a small digital display keeps you up-to-date with signal status, peak warnings and remaining battery life.
This is a fairly simple kit that’s an absolute breeze to set up. It may appeal to those who want a one-touch solution for smaller productions, but should your needs grow, you can use up to eight kits simultaneously.
Best wireless microphones: Buying advice
Condenser vs dynamic
Condenser mics have a broad frequency response that captures a very detailed sound – often warm and rich with some top-end sparkle. Their pleasing character flatters most vocalists, which is why they are widely used on studio recordings. However, their ability to pick up every little noise is unwelcome on chaotic, loud stages. They are also comparatively fragile and expensive.
By comparison, dynamic mics are all about the mid-range. What they lack in detail, they make up for by delivering the very essence of a performance without any noisy distractions. They are also tough as nails and relatively inexpensive.
Generally speaking, more refined vocalists or those performing on quieter stages will love the dynamics and subtleties that a condenser mic can bring, while more exuberant performers are better suited to dynamic mics.
Some of the kits featured here have replaceable mic capsules that enable you to choose between condensers and dynamics on the fly. Likewise, polar patterns.
Microphones designed for live use commonly have one of three polar patterns – cardioid, supercardioid or hypercardioid. In layman’s terms, these restrict the pickup area in front of the mic to tight, very tight or tighter than a gnat’s... well, you get the picture.
Cardioid and supercardioid are popular for stage use because they reject any off-axis sounds such as other instruments or singers surrounding the vocalist. Hypercardioid mics are useful for rejecting almost all background noise, but they do rely on the vocalist singing directly into the mic from a close distance. Otherwise, they’ll be excluded too!
Get your freq on
Wireless microphones – like mobile phones, remote-controlled toys and Bluetooth devices – work using radio frequencies. Some frequencies are frankly awful for wireless mics to transmit and receive on, because they are susceptible to too much interference or they require huge antennas. In a nutshell, the VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) spectrums offer a sweet spot for wireless microphones.
Unfortunately, they’re a sweet spot for mobile phone companies and digital television broadcasters, too. In recent decades, governments around the world have lost no time in auctioning off great swathes of the radio frequency spectrum to the highest bidder. Other frequencies may also be off-limits because they’re used by the military or the emergency services.
There’s no single global body that governs which frequencies can legally be used for wireless microphones, which means it’s up to individual governments to decide. This has important implications for those looking to buy a wireless system, especially for touring.
Wireless systems are manufactured to transmit and receive on a limited number of frequencies, so you’ll find that brands will sell variants of the same kit for local markets. For example, a UK unit will be set up to operate on certain frequencies, while a US unit may use entirely different frequencies. In fact, it’s quite common to find multiple model variants operating on different frequencies, even within local markets, because governments may require licences to use some of the spectrum, while other parts are licence-free. And many users prefer some parts of the spectrum to other parts for operational reasons.
Broadly speaking, life could get very complicated very quickly if you tried touring from one country to another with one system, so we would advise against it. The only exception is units that operate on 2.4GHz.
Don’t be tempted to buy older units at prices that are ‘too good to be true’, either, unless you really know what you’re doing. Governments have a habit of selling off and reallocating the spectrum every now and again, rendering older units not just obsolete but illegal. Rest assured that all modern systems from reputable dealers should be legal for the foreseeable future.
Now that all the scary legal stuff is out of the way, let’s take a quick look at which parts of the available spectrum might be best for you.
VHF vs UHF vs 2.4GHz
The VHF range of frequencies falls between 49 and 216MHz, but we’re only really interested in the higher end – from 169MHz upwards – because this is where wireless microphone systems operate best. Audio quality is great, transmission losses are rare, antenna sizes are modest and interference is more than acceptable. Wireless systems using this bit of the spectrum will quite happily operate beyond ‘line of sight’, too.
If we up the frequency to 300MHz, we’re now into UHF territory, where dynamic range becomes even better. In many countries, this part of the spectrum is less crowded too, which means it’s possible to operate more systems simultaneously – very handy for large venues, concert halls and festivals. The downside is that the shorter UHF radio waves don’t penetrate walls, furniture, bodies, metal and even the air so well. Range is often compromised, and more often than not we’re back to line-of-sight transmission.
So, choose VHF if you need good quality over a decent range and don’t need to run multiple systems at once. Go for UHF if you need to hand multiple performers wireless mics, you need excellent quality and you’re not too ambitious with transmission distances.
What about 2.4GHz? First, the good news – and it’s a biggie. Wireless microphone systems that operate on 2.4GHz can be used legally in almost every country in the world. Phew!
But there are some downsides. If 2.4GHz sounds familiar to you, it’s because your Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi network operate on the same frequency. It’s often a very, very crowded space, so dropouts and noise can be an issue and it can be tricky to find enough available channels to set up multiple devices. It only works well over relatively short distances, too.
On the plus side, 2.4GHz systems are easy to set up, usually represent good value for money and will never suffer obsolescence at the hands of a greedy politician. If you want an easy-to-use system for small venues, or if you’re a touring band, then it’s the way to go.
Digital vs Analogue
Let’s cut to the chase – all other things being equal, digital gets our vote. But only just, and analogue still has a lot going for it.
What’s the difference? A wireless system works by using a microphone to pick up your voice and convert it into an electrical signal. Then a transmitter – either within the mic body or a body pack – converts this electrical signal into an RF signal and broadcasts it to a receiver. It’s the receiver’s job to convert the RF signal back into an electrical signal and route it to an amp, mixing desk or PA. That final conversion can be achieved via a digital or analogue process.
Analogue can produce excellent results, but the way in which the signal is compressed between transmitter and receiver risks introducing artifacts. Digital literally converts the signal into zeroes and ones, so, provided the sample rate and bit rate are high enough (typically 24-bit/48kHz and above), it will remain pristine. Just a few years ago, the delay introduced by the digital conversion process was unacceptably high, but these days a good-quality system will suffer negligible latency.
The bottom line is that both processes can provide excellent results but digital now has the edge.