Microphones 101

A brief explanation about a big topic… the different types of microphones in layman’s terms

In basic terms there are two main types of microphones, “Dynamic and Condenser” and 2 different types of mic plugs used in the bus or sightseeing world” 4 Pin XLR and 4 Pin Din”. The third variable is how those mics are connected to the different pins on the plug. Although there are some “standards” often you can’t mix and match mics with different PA systems. It’s kind of like saying Ford wheels don’t fit on GM vehicles and that’s okay.

This is why you need to use Ready2Talk mics on Ready2Talk PA systems, partly because of the different pin configuration allowing us to offer more options with a standard 4 pin plug. Like, not needing batteries for our Condenser headsets and a self powered wireless headset, but mainly because we designed all our PA’s to use Condenser mics, which (when used together) gives us better sound for less money.

Dynamic: Dynamic mics are generally larger and have been around for ages and basically are a speaker in reverse.  It has the ability to pick up movements of air with the diaphragm of the mic then sends electrical pulses up the mic cord (wire) to the preamp where the pulses are amplified and turned into sound.  Remember the old movies where the operators had to plug in wires for the phone calls to go through… those were dynamic headsets and those are still available today… believe it or not.

Condenser: Condenser mics are relatively new and have been in mass production for about 20 years.  As the name applies they are much smaller in size therefore they are a lot more popular in today’s small electronics.  They are used in things like telephone and computer headsets, cell phones, two way radios; you would recognize them as the little headsets that telephone operators wear on today’s TV shows, those are condenser mics.

The basic operation for both types of mics are the same but, condenser mics are so small they require a power source to make them work or phantom power.  That’s why you might remember seeing the ones with a little battery in the cord that annoyingly wears out when you need it most… for that big tour.  Also, generally condenser mics are more sensitive than Dynamic mics or should I say, condenser mics will be louder than the same type of mic using a Dynamic cartridge.  Now you know the difference.

(NOTE… all Ready2Talk PA systems send power up the microphone wire to the condenser mic so batteries are not required)

Headsets vs. handheld microphones: Headsets all the way!  They allow you to keep both hands on the wheel which adds another level of professionalism and quality showing that you care about your guests safety, not to mention it’s the law in some areas.  Also when the guides head moves, the microphone stays with them so all your guest hear the commentary.

Since you’re looking for info about PA systems let’s get right to it.  Most full sized and mini buses are being sold use dynamic mics.  I think the main reason they do is “they have always done it that way”.  There is nothing wrong with dynamic mics but the piece you talk into is usually a bit bigger and since the rest of the world has left them behind there are limited models available which makes dynamic mics more expensive when used in a headset.

Because of the condenser mics size advantage and popularity there are many more choices available.  Condenser mics are more plentiful and less expensive.  We sell both types! Condenser for our Ready2Talk PA’s and a Dynamic headset upgrade kits for mini buses with Jensen or REI in highway coaches.

A few more things about mics: The sensitivity of the mic is called the “gain”. The more sensitive, the more gain it has. This can be a big deal since if a mic doesn’t match the PA system it can be either way too loud or too soft or have feedback. All PA systems require an adjustment for different types of mics, since no manufacturer or model is the same. Our Ready2Talk PA systems are factory set to match our microphones but also have a gain control on the PC board in case you need a fine adjustment.

Let’s talk about mic plugs: A very popular type of mic plugs for condenser mics are 3.5 mm plug (they look like an ipod headphone plug) or a 1/4″ plug, popular, but not designed for commercial use and can soon become scratchy.  We use a more durable type of plug called a 4 Pin Din which is used for commercial two way radios and CB radios.  Lastly, full sized coaches use dynamic mics and will come with a 4 pin XLR plug. The pins are in a smile shaped configuration and come in both male and female types (pins or holes) depending on your make of coach.

How many mics do you need:  We have found that most fleets follow one of these two ways of thinking, and both work.

Buy one mic per Van/Bus.  The benefit is lower cost short term, but often there isn’t a lot of buy in from the drivers and the mics generally suffer a short life.

Buy one per driver.  This obviously cost more up front,  but long term the benefit here is less damage and people keep their germs to themselves which equals less sick days?

Most important… have at least one spare mic in your office, just in case!

Recapping is a good idea:  There isn’t really much of a performance advantage to one type of mic over the other, but what is important is the design as a package. If the PA is designed for a Condenser mic then use the appropriate mic, as it will sound better. This is how we get our improved sound and value, we build our PA around the mic performance parameters.

Remember, a Condenser mic doesn’t work on a Dynamic PA system and visa versa.  So unfortunately, if you have a full sized coach you can only use a Dynamic mic like our REI HK headset upgrade kit or for most Mini buses our Jensen HK headset upgrade kit, both include our HS 10 XLR Dynamic headset. The other option is to change your PA system… that might not be a bad idea?  Look at the cost before ordering expensive Dynamic headsets. It’s easy to install a Ready2Talk PA system into an old highway coach with the existing ceiling speakers and it sounds way better too.

Whether you have 2 vans/busses or 102, we feel THE most important point is… you want to work toward having ONE headset microphone standard for your fleet. That way it’s easier for staff training and you can swap headsets at a moments notice, because… your favourite headset will go missing when you need it most!  (Murphy’s law). We learned the hard way from over 20 years of our customers past troubles, feedback and panicked / rushed overnight shipments.

I hope this helps explain the mic uses and differences?  Got a question… drop us a note or give us a call, we’ll answer ANY question.