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Various individuals and organisations claim to be the inventors of the Wireless Microphone.
Shure Incorporated claim that their "Vagabond" system from 1953 was the first.
In 1957 German audio equipment manufacturer Sennheiser, at that time called Lab W, working with the German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) exhibited a wireless microphone system. From 1958 the system was marketed through Telefunken under the name of Mikroport.
Another German equipment manufacturer, Beyerdynamic, claim that first wireless microphone, was invented by Hung C. Lin. Called the "transistophone", it went into production in 1962. It is claimed that the first time a wireless microphone was used to record sound during filming of a motion picture was on Rex Harrison in the 1964 film My Fair Lady.
There are many standards and frequencies in wireless microphones. They can transmit, for example, in radiowaves UHF, VHF, FM, AM, and some cheap models, in infrared light. The infrared microphones have the disadvantage that they require a line of sight between the microphone and the receiver, while more expensive radio frequency models don't.
Some models operate on a single fixed frequency, and the most advanced models are capable to operate under a user selectable frequency to avoid interference and allow the use of several microphones at the same time.
The advantages are:
The disadvantages are:
The professional models transmit in radio frequency and have diversity reception (2 antennas), which eliminates dead spots (caused by phase cancellation) and the effects caused by the reflection of the radiowaves on walls and surfaces in general. (See antenna diversity).
Another technique used to improve the sound quality (actually, to improve the dynamic range), is companding.
Some models have adjustable gain on the microphone itself, to be able to accommodate different level sources, such as loud instruments or quiet voices. The ability to adjust gain helps avoiding clipping.
Some models have adjustable squelch, which silences the output when the receiver does not get a strong enough (or good enough) signal from the microphone instead of reproducing noise. When squelch is adjusted, the threshold of the signal quality or level is adjusted.
Shure, Sennheiser, Samson, AKG Acoustics and Audio-Technica are all major manufacturers of wireless microphone systems. They have made significant advances in dealing with many of the disadvantages listed above. For example, while there is a limited band in which the microphones can operate, the new UHF-R series from Shure can have up to 108 different microphones operating simultaneously. However, to allow for more microphones to operate at the same time, you will pay more money. That is one reason for such large price differences between different series of wireless systems. The audio quality has also greatly improved as newer systems have come to the market.
Generally they are two wireless microphone types: handheld and bodypack:
The VHF band is located in the frequency range between 30 MHz and 300 MHz. This is the other common band used in wireless microphone systems but it is not used as much as UHF. VHF wireless microphones are typically those of the fixed frequency type, meaning that the user has no opportunity to switch frequencies if interference is encountered.
The UHF band is located in the frequency range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz and is the most common band used in wireless microphone systems. Depending on national regulations, which differ for every country, wireless microphones may operate in the various parts of the range between 470 MHz and 865 MHz. (e.g. 470 - 806MHz in the USA). These frequencies are shared with over-the-air TV broadcasts so when selecting a frequency, you must know what frequencies to stay away from to avoid interference.
In the UK, use of wireless microphone systems requires a licence, except for the licence free bands of 173.8MHz - 175.0MHz and 863MHz - 865MHz (N.B. This is emphatically NOT TV Channel 69. Channel 69 is from 854 - 862MHz. In the UK Channel 69 frequencies do require a licence from JFMG Ltd.:  ).
The UK communications regulator, Ofcom has said it will auction part of the spectrum currently reserved for wireless microphones, to which objections have been raised by Andrew Lloyd Webber .  
In many other countries wireless microphone use requires a licence. Some governments regard all radio frequencies as Military Assets and the use of un-licenced radio transmitters, even wireless microphones, may be severely punished.
Categories: Articles to be expanded since January 2007 | All articles to be expanded | Microphones