The Studio Theater at the University of Texas at Arlington is a challenging environment for setting up microphones. The theater has an intimate design that brings the audience close to the actors on stage. Since musicals are a mainstay for them, there’s also a mix of dialogue, singing, and small cast sizes to contend with. On top of that, the students tend to be tough on equipment. That means they need mics that are rugged and easy to conceal without sacrificing sound quality.
Earmount Microphone Sets Standard
After experimenting with a range of mics to address these needs, including from several well-known brand names, the school’s lighting and sound specialist, Jared Land, settled on Point Source Audio EMBRACE earmount microphones. The program now is in the process of standardizing on Point Source Audio mics throughout the theater with 15 EMBRACE mics currently in use and more planned.
Low Visibility and High Audio Quality
“The Studio Theater is a proscenium space with a large apron, and more and more shows are focused down onto the apron while our band and orchestra are focused upstage,” said Land. “So the cast is relatively close to the audience, and visibility of the mics was a huge concern because of the layout.” Land and team initially experimented with lav mics, which addressed the visibility issue, but led to other problems.
“We don’t use lav mics anymore, period,” says Land. “We’ve had problems with students taping them on improperly and falling off during the show. So we started using headsets from several other manufacturers. The audio quality was okay, but it created a visibility problem.”
Land found that the EMBRACE mics offered the best of both worlds—superior audio quality and low visibility. “The EMBRACE mics allowed us to move the mic a lot further back, hiding it much closer to the hairline. So, from a reasonable distance, the mic is almost invisible so long as we match skin tone, which we’re able to do with the variety of colors offered in the EMBRACE line. The physical footprint on the face is a lot smaller, and it doesn’t feel like we’re sacrificing audio quality for that footprint.”
The low-profile design was not the only visibility benefit the EMBRACE offered over other mics. Land liked the range of camouflaging skin tones offered. “It was nice to see that several of the mics came in different skin tones.
That wasn’t always the case in other headsets that we bought, where the options were either beige or black. The standard black tone most companies offer doesn’t help with African-American or Hispanic students. It still stands out almost just as much as the beige does. I’ve had students comment that it was nice [that PSA] actually had a mic that matched their own skin tone with the EMBRACE mics.”
The low profile design of the EMBRACE headset not only solved the need for a less visible mic, it helped streamline the production flow and process by eliminating many troubleshooting conversations typical in theater productions. “Not having directors give me notes saying, ‘Is there anything we can do to hide the mic?’ is really nice,” said Land. “Since we’ve been using the EMBRACE mics, the directors don’t even talk about the visibility of the mic anymore. We used to have conversations after the first rehearsal where all we talked about was how to better hide the boom. And those conversations have completely gone away.”
Mics Tough Enough for Students
In addition to the requirements for low visibility, Land needed a mic that could stand up to the rigors of inexperienced student use/abuse and ongoing start-stop production schedules. “We deal with students who are untrained, both from the tech and casting side, or are in the process of being trained,” said Land. “And they can be particularly hard on equipment as they’re learning. So there was a certain need for durability as well, as we’ve had tried other mic brands that sometimes don’t last very long. We had issues with connections getting ripped or torn out of the headset or out of the junction of the belt pack. We haven’t had any of those problems with the EMBRACE mics, they’ve worked flawlessly for us consistently.”
No Looking Back
For the Studio Theater at the University of Texas at Arlington, standardizing on Point Source Audio EMBRACE mics solved two persistent production problems, mic visibility and durability, bringing welcome relief to the production team, staff and actors.
“To be honest, I haven’t come across a downside in using the Point Source Audio EMBRACE microphones,” he said. “The audio quality and durability are both great, and the low visibility profile is huge for us. We plan on purchasing a few more of the EMBRACE models and then we’ll be completely done with the other models we were using. They’re going to go back on a shelf or in the trash and we won’t look back.”
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I’ve had students comment that it was nice [that PSA] actually had a mic that matched their own skin tone with the EMBRACE mics.