An Introduction to Radio Mic Hire and Technique, Part 1

by Graham Caplin – 17th May, 2021

Radio Microphone Types

I was recently asked to give a short online presentation to a group of around 100 teachers on the subject of Microphone Hire and Technique. This is the first part of that presentation, written from my experiences working with schools and colleges as well as hiring equipment to amateur and professional customers.

Part 1: What Type of Microphone Do I Need?

Before we look specifically at radio mics, here’s a brief outline of the differences between wired and radio microphones:

Wired Microphones

Wired microphones most commonly come in the form of handheld mics, and you’ll often use them in conjunction with a mic stand. They need to have a cable plugged into the rear, which trails across the stage or performance area.

The classic wired hand mic: the Shure SM58

The classic wired hand mic: the Shure SM58

You’ll also see shotgun or rifle mics which are generally wired. These are used to pick up a wide ‘cone’ of sound, and they’re typically spread across the front of the stage. In this configuration they’re also referred to as ‘float’ mics.

Audio Technica AT-897

Audio Technica AT-897

You can have wired lapel or headset mics, but this isn’t very common because it’s impractical to wear a mic with a trailing cable. In theatre wired mics are most commonly used for off-stage announcements, and for float mics.

Radio Microphones

Radio mics have no trailing wires, which makes them preferable for use on-stage. Instead of wires they use radio signals to transmit audio in superb quality, and with no noticeable time delay at all.

They’re lightweight and portable, allowing for greater freedom of movement and expression.

Sennheiser Beltpack Transmitter

Sennheiser Beltpack Transmitter

Radio mics can be discrete; you can hide them in a performer’s wig, or tape them to the cheek or temple, and then apply makeup over the tape. All of this makes radio mics the ideal choice for use on stage.

Why should you hire rather than buy?

Although it’s a side question, we get asked this so often that I think it’s worth briefly discussing it.

First, the cost: a single radio mic system is a complex piece of kit, with a transmitter, a receiver and depending on the type of mic there may also be a separate mic capsule. To buy one system costs around £850.

Note: you can buy cheaper systems, but in general they’re cheaply made, there’s less flexibility over capsule choices and interchangeability, the sound quality is inferior, and there’s a greater chance of interference with other mics as well as the building’s air conditioning units, large electric motors of the type you find in old fridges, etc.

Radio mics require set-up and expertise to make them work properly, and a hire company will provide this. When you hire radio mics you’re also hiring the expertise and experience that goes into setting up the equipment to get the best out of it and make your life easier.

Maintenance costs are high because the equipment is more delicate. Hiring equipment means that you don’t have to consider this.

To use more than four radio mics at the same time you need to use specific frequencies which require a licence. Hire companies usually provide the licence as part of the hire.

These are the different types of radio mic you can hire.

First, the ones that plug into a wearable beltpack: Headsets come in two main types, the close mic…

Sennheiser ME3 Headset Mic

Sennheiser ME3 Headset Mic

…and the discrete mic.

Stageline HSE150

Stageline HSE150

The choice between these two really comes down to form over function. The ME3 is perfect for picking up only the performer, with virtually no extraneous sounds. It’s also great at rejecting wind noise, so for performances outside it’s perfect. However, it is anything but discrete! On the other hand the HSE150 is small and discreet, but it does pick up sound all around the mic capsule. Both are excellent mics, and if you’re not sure which one you’ll need then we’ll be happy to advise you.

The head mic, or “tape-to-face” mic.

Tape-to-Face / head mic

Tape-to-Face / head mic

This is another great choice if discrete microphones are what you need. As the name implies you can tape it to the performer’s face – either the cheek or the temple, or you can hide it in the performer’s hair or wig. This is a common choice for use in professional theatre, and we supply surgical tape to secure the mic which you can then apply makeup over.

The lapel mic.

Sennheiser ME2 Lapel Mic

Sennheiser ME2 Lapel Mic

This is what many people think of when they consider radio mics. A lapel mic is a great choice for public speaking or filming interviews, but it’s not tolerant of movement. If you’re not careful you’ll pick up the rustle of clothing, and your speaker’s voice may get lost as he moves away from the microphone’s axis.

Lastly, the Handheld mic, which has the transmitter unit built-in.

Sennheiser Handheld Mic

Sennheiser Handheld Mic

The handheld radio mic is perfect for traditional vocal performances, on-stage presenting and for audience mics for Q&A sessions.

In the next part I’ll cover some of the most important tips and considerations for the proper use of radio mics.


We know that microphone types can be bewildering, as many of our customers have never used them for their stage performances before. For more information please call us on 020 3355 8188, or take a look at our radio mic page: radiofacilities.com/radio-mic-hire.