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Where Are Those “Pops” Coming From?

Nobody mentioned it (other than praise team leader) but I know it didn’t go unnoticed. Sprinkled at almost predictable intervals throughout the pastor’s sermon last sunday were a symphony of snaps, crackles and pops. After running down the list of the usual suspect causes for such audio mayhem (a loose plug, damaged cable, or bowl of Rice Krispies left near an open mic), it occurred to me that this was not the first time this had happened. In fact, just a few weeks ago I had a similar situation…and, you know, it happened about this time last year as well.

A pattern emerged, and a pretty obvious one at that.

Given that two things happen in winter:

The temperature drops below freezing, causing moisture in the air to freeze, which results in very dry air.

The colder it gets, the more likely our pastor is to leave his sport coat on during the sermon.

Now, I don’t know what they teach these kids nowadays, but back in the day, one of things we learned in Science class is that if you rub a plastic rod against wool, it will pick up a charge of static electricity. Given that the wire that runs from the pastor’s head-worn wireless mic to the belt pack transmitter is plastic and, as the pastor confessed without hesitation, his sport coat is wool, the cause was apparent.

In the course of presenting his sermon, he moves about—a lot. So naturally, either the plastic cable or the plastic coated antenna was constantly rubbing on the wool. As it did, the static charge would build up until—“Snap”—it would discharge and find it’s way into the wireless belt pack transmitter.

So how do you deal with this?

Ask the pastor not to wear wool.
Run the cable from the belt pack to the mic under his jacket. The lining of the jacket may be just enough to insulate the cable from the wool to lessen the issue.

Aside from installing expensive humidification equipment, these are probably the only logical choices, but we’re always open to hear what you may have to add.

As far as it causing any permanent damage to the microphone, it’s unlikely but not impossible. It all depends on the severity of the “shock.” Some folks survive lightning strikes, and others do not. The tiny elements in head-worn mics are extremely sensitive, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and not subject the microphone, or the congregation, to this type of  audio abuse. — Bob

About the author

Bruce Bartlett

Audio Engineering Society member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com). His latest books are "Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition" and "Recording Music On Location."


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