Every sound technician or worship leader out there who has suggested that your pastor wear a headset microphone, raise your right hand. OK, now how many got a positive response to that suggestion?
The age of the lavaliere microphone as a tool for live sound reinforcement may finally be coming to a close. The problems with getting a good sound out of a microphone that is pinned to a lapel 14 inches from the source, are well known by anyone who has spent any time in front of an audio mixing console in a live performance situation. Drawbacks to using lavaliere microphones include low gain before feedback, inconsistent placement by the user (usually after sound check), and lots of handling noise.
Enter the folks at Countryman, a manufacturer of several professional quality miniature microphones and one terrific FET direct box. They manufacture a headset microphone that has a well deserved reputation as an industry leading product. The E6i is an upgraded version of the E6, which has been in production since 2001. The E6i, available since January, incorporates a new alloy in the earpiece, which improves the earset flexibility and pliability.
For those of you who have not seen a Countryman E6i Earset Microphone, it is a distant cousin of the headset microphones that were common back in the Stone Age (take a look, if you can, at an early picture of Madonna onstage). The earset clips behind the ear, and is, according to Countryman, the smallest, lightest, and least visible headphone microphone out there. The microphone is available in four colors, light beige, tan, cocoa, or black, with cable colors available to mix or match. It weighs in at two grams (or .07 ounce, for the metrically challenged).
Wearing and positioning the E6i is straightforward, and the manufacturer includes a sheet with the microphone that gives some tips on positioning the mic. The microphone is attached to a stiff piece of wire with a clear covering that loops behind the ear (either one, for all you left-eared folks out there). The microphone is designed to be positioned at the side of the mouth, so there is no element directly in front of the user’s face. The freedom of movement for the user is greatly improved. With a lavaliere microphone, unless the microphone is placed in the hair (Broadway style), the user is usually coached to keep their head in line with the buttons on their shirt when speaking, to keep the source in the microphone’s pattern, especially if a hypercardioid capsule is being used. Not so with the E6i. Move left, move right, and shout up to the heavens, you are always in the sweet spot of the microphone. The age-old problem of where to put the lavaliere on female speakers and singers (especially the singers) is now moot. You are, however, still on your own when it comes to placing the transmitter.
For those folks who think that this microphone still presents a distraction to the audience during the sermon or song, I offer the following words of wisdom. If your congregation is focusing on this microphone, you need to work on your speaking or singing skills. A reasonably close match of the microphone color combined with the mic’s extremely small size render the earset virtually invisible to the audience, and imperceptible to the wearer. The microphone cable from the earset to the beltpack is available in two sizes, a standard, tiny, one millimeter diameter cable for most uses, and a two millimeter diameter Duramax cable for situations where the microphone may be subjected to rough handling (more on this later).
So, how does it sound? For the uses that we have been talking about, it sounds great. It will never replace a Neumann U47. That being said, when you are finally able to convince your speaker/singer/preacher/etc. to replace the lavaliere that they have become so attached to, you (and they) will immediately notice the difference. The frequency response of the microphone is basically flat from 20 to 20 kHz, unless you choose to add one of the included protective caps that can boost response at around 15 kHz from 4 dB (bright) to 8 dB (very bright). When speaking, the plosives (P’s, T’s, etc.) are significantly lower than if you use a cardioid or hypercardioid microphone capsule, and when singing, the response is smooth, with an open, airy sound. Despite the fact that this is an omnidirectional capsule, the rejection of unwanted stage noise is surprisingly good. You might even be able to put a usable amount of the E6i in a stage monitor, something that, when requested by a lavaliere wearer, usually elicits wailing and gnashing of teeth from the sound person (done out of sight, from behind the sound desk, naturally).
As you can probably tell, I’m a fan of the E6. I have used them with 80-year old Monsignors and praise team vocalists. There are some things that you should be aware of, though, before you go off and order this microphone from your friendly audio company. This is a high quality, professional microphone, and, as such, deserves to be treated with care. If you are in the habit of ripping a microphone off at the end of the service, setting it in a drawer, and slamming the drawer closed on the exposed microphone cable, this microphone is not for you. Get an assistant to put your new microphone away or use another microphone. Most of the failures of this microphone that I have seen have been related to the cable attachment point at the connector to the beltpack. The Duramax cable is a recommended option. It is also a good practice to assign one headset to one person. Even though the new alloy that is used in the E6i is able to take more reshaping than the old version, the less repetitive stress on the earpiece, the better. The omnidirectional capsule is available in three sensitivities, for general speaking, strong speaking and vocals, and powerful vocals. I have had clients who have ordered the least sensitive microphone and been dissatisfied with the microphone’s signal to noise ratio when the microphone was switched to a user with a less powerful voice. Generally, the middle sensitivity capsule is your best bet.
The E6i can be used with virtually any wireless transmitter on the market (over 100 are supported). You will need to specify which transmitter you plan to use when you order, as well as which wire size you require. An XLR terminated cable is available for non-wireless users.
List price on the Countryman E6i microphone ranges from $469.00 with tinned leads (no connector), to around $500 plus or minus $20.00, depending on the wireless beltpack that you have. The hardwired version is around $514.00. This compares favorably to the list price on a premium lavaliere microphone like the Countryman B6 or Sennheiser MKE-2. Current list pricing is available online at www.countryman.com