I was recently on a live gig that required wireless microphones and a mobile Pro Tools rig. While on the job, I figured I'd write about connecting wireless mic systems to a computer to help those who have similar jobs!
So who do wireless microphones connect to a computer? Wireless mic systems have transmitters (connect to the microphone) and receivers (connect to the computer). Wireless receivers connect to a computer in the same way as a wired microphone: via an audio interface with an analog-to-digital converter.
In this article, we'll discuss the steps required to connect your wireless mics to your computer, as well as the recommended gear for doing so.
What Is A Wireless Microphone?
A wireless microphone is, technically, any microphone that has its audio signal transmitted wirelessly.
A Note On Bluetooth Microphones
By that definition, Bluetooth microphones are wireless, which is perfectly true.
Connecting Bluetooth microphones to your computer is relatively easy. Follow the step listed below to connect your Bluetooth mic:
Connecting a Bluetooth Microphone with Windows OS:
- Control Panel
- Network and Internet
- Bluetooth Devices
- Click on the microphone
Connecting a Bluetooth Microphone with Mac OS:
- System Preferences
- Click on the microphone under Devices
Typical Wireless Microphones
However, when most audio or film professionals think of wireless microphones, they are not thinking Bluetooth. Rather they are thinking about the high-quality analog lavalier, headset, and handheld microphones for use in live performance and video.
These wireless microphones act just like regular wired microphones, except instead of long cable runs, they use radio transmitters and receivers to transmit their signals through the air.
We've covered how to connect Bluetooth microphones to your computer. Now let's talk in detail about how to connect the other wireless microphones to your computer.
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Connecting A Wireless Microphone To A Computer
Connecting a wireless mic to a computer is very similar to connecting a wired microphone. The receiver of the wireless system connects to the computer in the same way a wired microphone would.
Basically, the wireless microphone produces an audio signal. The transmitter then embeds that signal into a radio signal and sends it wireless to the receiver, which turns the radio signal back into the audio signal. At this point, the receiver output acts the same as a wired microphone output.
The audio signal from the receiver is analog and requires an analog-to-digital converter to work with the (digital) computer. This ADC is typically found in a separate audio interface, though it could be built into the receiver or computer.
Once the mic signal is converted to digital audio, the wireless mic can effectively connect to the computer!
Let's discuss the signal path between the wireless microphone and the computer in a bit more detail:
- Microphone physically connects to the transmitter
- Transmitter wirelessly connects to the receiver
- Receiver Physically Connects To An Audio Interface
- Audio Interface Physically Connects To The Computer
Microphone Physically Connects To The Transmitter
For a microphone to be wireless, it needs to be physically connected to a wireless transmitter.
Many wireless handheld microphones have transmitters built into their handles.
Many lavaliers microphones connect to belt pack receivers.
There are many standalone receivers on the market that can effectively turn any microphone into a wireless microphone.
Transmitter Wirelessly Connects To The Receiver
A wireless microphone transmitter takes the mic signal from the connected microphone, embeds it within a radio signal (at a single specified radio frequency), and sends that radio signal wirelessly through the air.
There are two basic transmission types for microphone signals: analog and digital. These two types, however, both use radio signals for transmission.
Analog wireless mic systems send the audio signal as a modulated radio wave. The audio signal is actually added to the radio signal.
Digital wireless mic systems convert the analog audio signal to a digital audio signal (1's and 0's). The digital audio (most often sampled with pulse code modulation) is sent embedded and sent with the radio signal. The digital audio does not alter the wireless signal and is not affected by the transmission medium.
Receiver Physically Connects To An Audio Interface
The wireless microphone receiver is set up (tuned to the correct frequency) to receive the radio signal from the transmitter.
Whether analog or digital, the receiver decodes the audio signal from the radio signal and outputs that audio signal.
Note that most receivers will output analog audio signals. Do not confuse analog/digital wireless transmission with analog/digital output.
Audio Interface Physically Connects To The Computer
If the receiver outputs digital audio, then we can likely skip the audio interface.
However, if our wireless receiver outputs analog audio (most do), or if we want to connect multiple mics to our computer, an audio interface is our next step in the signal path.
An audio interface acts as a hub, connecting to the computer and allowing for as many audio inputs and output as it's designed for.
Audio interfaces that connect to a computer have analog-to-digital converters, which are critical in connecting [analog] microphones to [digital] computers.
Many audio interfaces are standalone devices. A popular example of a standalone audio interface is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2:
However, computer audio inputs (like the 3.5mm ports on many tower computers) have built-in analog-to-digital converters.
Additionally, some wireless microphone receivers will have ADCs built into their designs, which brings us to our next point.
Wireless USB Microphones
Like wired microphones, there are wireless systems with built-in ADCs and digital (USB) outputs.
One such example is the Samson SWXPD2 wireless USB microphone system, which has three microphone options:
Note that, like USB microphones, USB wireless mic systems are only beginning to emerge on the market and are most often “consumer-grade.”
The above-mentioned Samson SWXPD2 uses the 2.4 GHz band, which is, unfortunately, quite a busy band for radio activity.
Related article: How Do USB Microphones Work And How To Use Them
Connecting To The Computer
So we've got wireless microphone signal converted to digital audio and out interface (or receiver-interface) physically connected to the computer.
Many interfaces will require drivers in order to communicate with the computer properly. Oftentimes these drivers will download automatically, while other times, you will need to manually download these drivers (from the company's website).
How do I add a microphone to my computer? To use more than one microphone at a time on your computer, you need an audio interface. To use an external mic with your computer, ensure you have the proper connection and drivers, plug it in, and select it to be your audio input source in System Preferences (Mac) or Control Panel (Windows).
How does a wireless microphone system work? A wireless microphone system works by embedding the mic's audio signal into a radio signal (via a transmitter) and transmitting that radio signal through the air to a receiver, which then decodes the audio from the radio signal and then outputs the microphone audio signal.
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.