Choose the Blue, Battery

If you’ve been around ChurchTechArts for any length of time, you know I’m a big rechargeable battery fan. I placed my first order with Horizon Battery in July of 2006 for ten 250 mAh 9V batteries and a charger. I was a new, part-time TD and saw how much money we had in the budget for batteries. I knew there had to be a better way, and had seen their ad in Church Production. I figured, why not give it a shot. And I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve personally ordered hundreds of batteries and dozens of chargers. I’ve tested, and used them exclusively for wireless mic’s, flashlights, keyboards, mice and Magic Trackpads for the last seven years (long before Horizon was a sponsor). I say all that to make the point that I’m not just a shill for the company. And while they do spot me a few things here and there, I pay for 95% of all my batteries. 

With that out of the way, I wanted to update you on the state of rechargeable batteries. I’ve been receiving a few reports of late from people who have had trouble with the new batteries fitting in their mic’s, and even damaging battery trays. We ran into the same issue. A while back, Ansmann released these new batteries:

Stay away from these for Shure mic's. They fit OK in Sennheiser, and you'll have to test them in other brands. Or just get the Slimline versions (below)

Stay away from these for Shure mic's. They fit OK in Sennheiser, and you'll have to test them in other brands. Or just get the Slimline versions (below)

They are the same 2850 mAh capacity AA cells we’re used to, but for some reason, they are a little bigger around than the old blue or shiny silver ones we once got. I believe this has to do with new European regulations for rating the batteries, but we have seen issues with them fitting. They are very tight in a Shure UR2 handheld, and they really don’t work well at all in UR1 body packs or PSM wireless in ear packs. 

Unfortunately, like a lot of you, I didn’t notice this until I ordered a whole set of them. I also didn’t notice that the Slimline version has been re-issued. It looks like this:

For Shure mic's, body packs and PSM receivers, you'll want to use these.

For Shure mic's, body packs and PSM receivers, you'll want to use these.

I ordered a set of these and found they work perfectly in all the Shure products—including the PSM packs we had big problems with using the dull silver versions. So, if you’re going to be ordering new batteries anytime soon, make sure you get the Slimline version in the blue wrapping. The good news is that they are the same price, and the same rated capacity. Why not just offer these and not the other ones? As I said, it has to do with the way the batteries are rated, and apparently, the blue ones may not have quite the actual capacity of the new ones. But they do fit better, and the runtime is still far more than adequate (we got almost 14 hours in our test).

I did find that the “full-size” dull silver batteries work fine in Sennheiser G3 handhelds and body packs. So I’m re-deploying my dull silver cells throughout the church in our kids and student rooms where they will work just fine. 

So if you're a Shure house I recommend buying the blue, Slimline version if you’re ordering; that will ensure they will fit in whatever mic you need to use them for. If you just bought a bunch of new, silver ones, this might be frustrating, but keep in mind, if you were using alkaline batteries, you would buy them, use them and throw them away. At least you can use the dull silver ones in your mice, keyboards and other mic's. 

If you’re curious about rechargeable batteries and are new to the subject (or have a bad taste in your mouth from being burned with the bad ones of old…) you can see my comprehensive reporting of the subject here: Rechargeable Batteries

Oh, and if you happen to need any AAA cells, you should order up some of the new 1100 mAh versions. Again, due to the new ratings, we have found these to last far longer (in runtime) than the old 1000 mAh AAAs, at least in our UR-1M. Apparently, to be called an 1100 mAh, they actually have to be closer to that, whereas the old 1000 mAh versions were more like 750-800. So it's a big upgrade. And they fit fine.

Today's post is brought to you by GearTechs. Technology for Worship is what they do. Audio, video and lighting; if it's part of your worship service, and it has to do with technology, GearTechs can probably help. Great products, great advice, GearTechs.

Extending Rechargeable Battery Life

UPDATE 1-21-13: Having tried turning our chargers on and off out for about 6 months, I'm not convinced it helped us extend the life of our cells. In fact, it may have shortened them. I'll leave this post online for those interested in the process, and I still think rotating them is a good idea. The timer power strip, however has been put to another use. END UPDATE

Though I’ve been using rechargeable batteries for almost 6 years now, I’m still learning the best way to maximize their life and run time. I am a firm believer in continuing education, and we try to monitor the life of our batteries, look at the data and feed that information back into our systems that get tweaked for better performance. 

As I said in my previous post about batteries, I was a little disappointed in the life I got of my first set of AAs. I don’t blame the manufacturer; I suspect we didn’t use them in a way to maximize their life. So we’ve made a few changes. These changes are based on our usage patterns, so consider them as principles we’re trying, not absolutes to follow.


The first thing I did was to establish a rotation pattern for our batteries. We have 32 AAs in stock, and use 12-16 for a normal weekend. However, now that I have a team of volunteers who help set up on Saturday (and this includes getting batteries for the mic’s), I noticed that they would gravitate toward some of the chargers and leave the batteries on the other ones. I suspect this led to some of the batteries being used a lot more often than others. This would explain why I have 12 or so batteries from the original set that still work great, and others that are pretty much done for.

Based on our usage, I designated two chargers (they hold 8 batteries each) as Saturday and two as Sunday. That way, everyone always grabs the batteries out of the right chargers, and we don’t end up using the same ones for the whole weekend. To further randomize the rotation—and because we sometimes have to dip into the other set to accommodate all the mic’s, or because we don’t use them all—when I charge my AAAs for the stand lights, I pull all the AAs out, put them in a box, and randomly put them back in the chargers.

My theory is that this will average out the usage patterns for all the batteries to be roughly equal. While the Saturday on time is a little longer than Sunday, the fact that they get mixed up and put back in different day’s chargers should even that out.

Timing the Charging

My friend Dave Stagl pointed me in this direction; a timed power strip to turn on and off the chargers so they’re not sitting there trickling all week. A the time, it sounded like a good idea. As I’ve done more research, that is confirmed. It seems that NiMh batteries don’t like to be on a trickle charge all the time, as that can lead to over charging, or just lazy batteries. It is recommended to charge them, take them off the charger, then top them off before use. While I could do that, it’s a lot of work—and you know how much I like to automate things.

This power strip, made by GE and available at Amazon or your local home center, costs about $30. It can be programmed for seven days, which would be great if you had a mid-week service or rehearsal that you needed the batteries topped off for.

Enter the timed power strip. By setting the power strip to turn on at 5 PM on Friday and off at 5 PM Sunday, I have fully topped off batteries for the weekend, they fully top off on Sunday afternoon, then rest during the week. Of course it’s too soon to tell how this will extend the life, but based on my research, I’m hopeful.

Keep Refining

In the past, I recommended leaving the batteries on the charger all the time. I’m changing that stance based on new information and experience. This is not back-peddling or being wishy-washy; I’m simply committed to finding better ways to do everything. As new information becomes available, I update my position. I think that’s healthy.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about rechargeable batteries, I encourage you to check out Battery University. There is a wealth (and I mean a wealth) of information there about battery technology, chemistry, charging, discharging, etc. It’s pretty impressive, really. And a hat tip to reader, Frank Dengel for making me aware of this resource. 

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Rechargeable Batteries: Year 2


These were the results of the 1-year test.

OK, the title of this post might be a little misleading. I had actually indented to do multi-year tests to see how the rechargeable batteries in heavy rotation would hold up over the years. However, the answer is this; not quite as well as I had hoped. In fact, we got about 22 months out of the batteries before they were not performing to level that I was comfortable with. To be fair, some of the batteries are still going strong, but others have thrown in the towel. So I’ve replaced my entire stock.

And right away, all the naysayers will jump in and say, “Ha! I told you rechargeables were a bad idea!” Not so fast, cowboy. I’ll come back to that in a minute; first let me lay out the timeline. 

In January of 2010, I started buying chargers and batteries. By March, we had switched over completely to rechargeable batteries, which is also when I did my first round of tests. Those batteries were used every weekend and at mid-week, and as a group, performed exceptionally well. We did have one or two cells go bad, and those were replaced. Those cells got us through Easter, Christmas, and another Easter, not to mention outside events and other special services. 

Last fall, I started noticing that some of the cells began to drop off in capacity. I never had a mic die during a service, but I started seeing them drop down lower than I was comfortable with. Some batteries would end the second service on Sunday at 1 bar, which I didn’t like. I marked those batteries, tried re-conditioning them, but eventually decided that it was time to replace them. So in late November, I ordered a new set of 32 batteries and retired the old ones. 

Now, let’s do some math. We used the original batteries for about 22 months. We used to go through approximately 36 ProCells a week between weekends and mid-week. So here’s how it breaks down:

22 Months = 95 Weekends/Mid-Week (weeks)

95 Weeks x 36 batteries/week = 3,420 Batteries (if we used ProCells)

3,420 batteries x $0.32/ea = $1,094.40

So, if we had stuck with ProCells, we would have used roughly $1,000 worth of disposable batteries in that time frame. When I bought new batteries in November, I spent about $120 including shipping. Now it’s true I do have a few hundred dollars in charger cost, plus the original set of batteries. But on the high side, I’ve spent less than $500 on everything including chargers in the last 2 years. And now that the chargers are paid for, I can plan on about $120 in new batteries every two budget years.

But wait, there’s more! We also use AAA powered LED music stand lights every week. We have about a dozen of them in rotation, and we typically use about 6 on any given weekend. Those take 3 AAAs apiece. I also switched those over to rechargeable batteries about the same time. Only with those, I use low self-discharge (Ansmann Max-E) batteries so they don’t need to live on the charger all week. Let’s do some more math.

6 Stand Lights/week x 3 AAAs x 95 weeks = 1,710 AAA batteries

1,710 AAAs x $0.39 = $666.90 (I knew disposables were evil!)

Now there’s another $550 or so in savings (I have about $100 in Max-E AAAs). And those batteries are still going strong. I found that I can get about 3 weekends worth of service from those batteries in those lights. So, every three weeks, I pull my AAs out of the chargers, and charge up the AAAs. It takes about 10 minutes of my time, and we save $500/year. Not too bad. 

And this doesn’t count the community room, which I’ve also switched to rechargeable batteries. There is an event using a wireless mic over there almost every day, and they are on the same set of batteries they’ve had for nearly two years. Because the event times are shorter, a decrease in run time hasn’t been as big of a deal. Still, I may have to drop another $25 and get a new set of 8 AAs over there in the next month or so.

Earlier I mentioned that the performance was dropping off past where I was comfortable. I’m often asked, “When do you replace the rechargeable batteries?” The answer for me is, when I’m not comfortable any more. If I start seeing the cells drop down below 2 bars regularly after a service (when they used to hold at 4), it’s time to swap them out. Basically I’m replacing my rechargeable batteries when their weekly performance drops just below the level of a ProCell. 

How long that takes for you will depend on how you use them. I know people who use them far more often than I do, who will have to replace them more often, but when you do the math, you still come out way ahead.

Remember, those ProCells were going in the trash when they got down to 2-3 bars. With a rechargeable, you throw it on the charger. So it still works out. 

If you’re still on the fence, I encourage you to do the math. Figure out what you are really using now, and what the payback is. I can almost guarantee you the result will be savings when you switch. And we already know that rechargeables in good condition will outlast ProCells anyway by 30-50% and at end of life they are still on par; so there is really nothing to loose.

Next week, I’ll share my current strategies for (hopefully) lengthening the life of my rechargeable batteries.

Have you made the switch yet? If so, what is your experience? If not, what are you waiting for?

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Rechargeable Batteries: The 1 Year Test

Last year, I wrote a series on rechargeable batteries. I’ve long been a proponent of them, having started using them in wireless mics in 2006. In that series of posts, I did some pretty extensive testing to see exactly how long two modern, NiMh AA batteries would run a Shure UHF-R mic with an SM58 capsule on it (with music played through a wedge to simulate the mic processing audio). I compared the run time to a brand new Duracell ProCell (considered the standard for alkaline–aka disposable–batteries). I expected the NiMh batteries to hold their own against the ProCell, as I’ve had good experience with them for years. What I did not expect is for the ProCells to be completely trounced by the rechargeable cells.

In that test, the best NiMh cells ran for 14 hours before the mic switched off. The ProCell only managed 9.75 hours before going dead. So not only do rechargeable batteries save you a bunch of money, they also run longer than a ProCell (by over 4 hours!). Faced with that clear and decisive victory, many people made the switch. However, some remained unconvinced. “Let’s see how they hold up in a year,” was a comment I heard often. So here we are, one year later. This time, I pulled three sets of NiMh batteries from our regular stock. These are batteries we’ve been using every week for a year. I have no idea how many cycles are on each one, because we have more stock than we actually need. I can tell you we don’t baby them, nor do we abuse them. They’ve always been charged at the soft charge setting (500 mah), and we always pull straight from the charger.

Last time around, I tested two low self-discharge chemistries, the Ansmann Max-E and the Sanyo Eneloop. Neither provided the runtime of the higher capacity NiMh batteries, but they both outlasted the ProCell. As I don’t see any compelling reason to use low self-discharge batteries in wireless mics, I’ve pulled them from our stock and didn’t re-test. I have the charger capacity to always fill mics from the charger and suggest that to everyone. I do use Eneloops at home, however, and they’re fantastic. But let’s get on to the results, shall we?

UPDATE 3/18/11:

It was pointed out that I did not include model numbers for the batteries in question. So here goes: Ansmann 2850 mAh, PowerEx 2700 mAh, Sanyo 2700 mAh. All are NiMh chemistry.


Battery Testing Graph

I think this speaks for itself. Click for a larger version


As you can see from the chart, the ProCells once again lost. Big time. This time, we got 8.5 hours out of a fresh set of ProCells, while the worst NiMh battery ran over 12.5 hours. Just as importantly, the “fall off the cliff” point (as indicate by the vertical red lines) is 7 hours for the ProCell and 11.25 hours for all three NiMh batteries. I define “fall off the cliff” as the point where you really should replace the battery as the life declines very rapidly after this point. Interestingly, last year, the Sanyo ran the longest at 14 hours (beating the Ansmann by 45 minutes); this year however, the tables turned and the Ansmann outlasted Sanyo by well over an hour.

It’s also interesting that all three NiMh batteries fall off the cliff at roughly the same point, however the Ansmann lands a little softer, giving you a little more time to get them changed. Now, with that said, quibbling over the last hour of run time in the scope of a total run time of 14 hours is rather academic. And I don’t recommend you push them this far anyway, you’re really asking for trouble after about 8-9 hours with any of them. Again, it’s interesting to note that the Ansmann indicated 3 bars far longer than the rest of them, which is consistent to what we observe each weekend.

In Use

In our use, we battery up the mics around 12:30 on Saturday, and power them off at 6:45 or so. Most of the time, the mics are reading 3 bars, though the Ansmanns tend to be reading 4 at that point. When we use them in our PSM900 IEMs, we rarely see them report less than 4 at the end of the day. Sundays are similar, though the runtime is shorter.

We’ve gotten pretty confident in the run time of these batteries; to the point where we really don’t spend much time thinking about it. Sure, I have Workbench open at FOH and glance over occasionally, but it’s more to make sure they’re all turned on; I rarely consider the battery gauge. For me, that’s a big benefit of using the rechargeable batteries; I just don’t think about them anymore. When I’m at FOH, I’d much rather spend my time thinking about the mix than wondering whether my batteries are going to hold out for one more song (and I've been in that boat far too many times with ProCells).

Other Observations

Last time around, I gave the nod to PowerEx batteries as the winner, though I acknowledged the other two as being so close that it really doesn’t matter. A year of use has changed my mind. We have a bunch of all three batteries, but we use the Ansmann more than the others most of the time. This is for a few reasons. First, the Sanyos are bigger than the others and don’t fit well in the UR2s. We have to pull them out, and that’s caused some degradation of the plastic wrap on the outside. Some of them are really coming apart. The PowerEx are also breaking down a little bit, and again are slightly bigger than the Ansmanns. They come out of the mics better than the Sanyos, but the smaller Ansmanns fit the best. Overall, the Ansmann cells are holding up very well, both in charge capacity and physically. We have had two Ansmann batteries short out internally, however. I’m not sure what caused this; the vocalist noticed the mic heating up, so we pulled the cells and found a clear dark line on the top of the cell. This happened twice in the first 6 months of operation, and hasn’t been repeated. We assume we got a few bad cells, because I’ve used at least 150 Ansmann batteries over the years and these are only two to ever go bad.

As I’ve said over and over, we’re saving a ton of money every year on batteries; at least $1,000 and probably more. Given that it cost us less than $300 to get into it, it’s a pretty fair bargain. I expect the batteries to last 5 years before we have to replace them, our savings is pretty significant. It’s also considerably more environmentally friendly to not dump thousands of used AAs in the trash every year. We use them and don’t think about it, which I really like.

I’m not sure how you could remain unconvinced about the effectiveness of rechargeable batteries at this point, but in case you are, we’ll revisit these same cells a year from now and see how they’re doing. Until then, I’m going to find something else to spend that $1,000 on. Maybe some new mics...