Audio quality for the spoken word should be of utmost importance when it comes to church sound.

It is common to address things like loudspeakers, acoustics, EQ, and compression when we think about manipulating the sound quality. And those things are very important.

However, it is extremely important to get things right at the source, and for the pastor, that means selecting the right microphone and putting it in the right spot.

There are three main variables that should inform your microphone selection:

  1. Type
  2. Proximity
  3. Pattern

Microphone Type

There are several microphone types to choose from. Handheld, clip-on lavaliere, headset, and lectern microphones are all commonly used for capturing the spoken word. PZMs (pressure zone microphones) can also be used on altars and lecterns for a discrete and low profile option.

The pastor should be involved in the microphone selection process, as the type of microphone selected will need to fit his/her speaking style, movement, and wardrobe requirements.

Handheld mics are great, but only if the pastor can maintain a consistent distance between the mic and the mouth so that the best sound quality is achieved. Some pastors will rest the mic on their chin to accomplish this.

Clip-on lavaliere microphones should be placed high on the chest and centered on the body if possible. It is recommended to place the mic 6-8 inches from the chin. Too close and you’ll get a throaty or bassy tone, too far away and you’ll get a thin or tinny sound.

Headset or ear worn mics are very popular due to their low profile and the ability to get the mic very close to the mouth. This can quickly reduce the risk of feedback and ensure that the sound quality doesn’t change whenever the pastor’s head turns. These mics should be positioned so that the capsule is just back from the corner of the mouth to minimize breath noise and pops.

Lectern or pulpit microphones are a good choice if the pastor is always behind a pulpit. These mics often use a 12-18” flexible gooseneck boom to position the mic and get it closer to the mouth. It is especially important to select the right pattern for this type of microphone, since the pastor could easily move out of the pickup pattern of the microphone capsule, lowering the overall volume of the voice.

PZM or altar mics are generally attached to a flat plate that captures the sound bouncing off the flat surface. PZMs are very low profile and can even be used to pick up sound from a rather wide coverage area. However, they can be more susceptible to causing feedback if they are near the main loudspeakers. Positioning and EQing these mics is very important.

Proximity

The number one tip for getting great sound from the pastor’s mic is to maintain a consistent distance from the mic – the closer the better, in most cases. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Keeping the mic close to the mouth will reduce the risk of feedback. It is important to have a strong signal at the mic so that any background noise from the stage or sound system is minimal when compared with the speaking volume at the mic.
  2. Every microphone will have a “proximity effect” associated with it. When placed properly, the voice should sound natural and tonally balanced. As the mic is moved closer, there will be more low-end muddiness. As the mic is moved farther away, the sound will thin out.

Pattern

Microphones are available with a number of different pickup patterns. The pickup pattern indicates the area around the mic where it is most sensitive.

Omni-directional mics pickup sound 360˚ around the capsule. This may be ok for headset mics where the mic is very close to the mouth, but it is not ideal for most other live sound purposes.

Cardioid pattern mics are probably the most popular and commonly available, and they feature a sort of hemispherical heart-shaped pickup pattern that has good sensitivity in front of the mic, with very low sensitivity to sound from the rear of the mic. This is a common pattern for handheld or lavaliere mics.

Super-cardioid mic pattern is even narrower than the standard cardioid pattern, allowing for very directional sensitivity in front of the mic combined with great rejection of noise from the sides of the mic. However, this type of mic will have a small rear lobe that is sensitive to sound directly behind the mic. This mic pattern is good for some clip-on lavaliere and lectern/pulpit mics if the pastor isn’t moving around a lot.

It is important to pay attention to the microphone pickup pattern so that the sound presented to the microphone is even and clear, while providing lower sensitivity to background noise behind or off to the sides of the mic.

Closely considering the three parameters of mic type, proximity, and pattern will help you choose the right microphone for the pastor and get the best sound possible at the source so that the spoken word is clear, articulate, and sounds natural.