Microphones reviews

DPA 4060. These are omnidirectional miniature lavalier mics. I have a pair of them. I’m tempted to suggest that if you can only afford one pair of mics, these are the ones to get. Of course it depends what you’re doing. If you need directionality or a mono compatible pair then these are not the right tool.

They have superb sound quality, are very small and light, and very versatile. They’re designed for use as tie clip mics to record speech, but they also make superb binaural mics, and can be used as a spaced pair – Chris Watson’s ingenious technique is to attach them to a wire coathanger, which makes for a good spacing and is super lightweight. Being so small they lend themselves to experimentation. I’ve attached them to my boots to record walking for example, or lowered them into drain covers to record water flowing. They are very humidity resistant and being omnis they’re quite resistant to wind noise too. You still need to shield them, but once shielded they will tolerate more than other mics.

They are fairly expensive, but good mics don’t come cheap, and compared to some other options the price is OK. A bigger issue is how much all the accessories cost. Danish Pro Audio, Danish Pro Prices! Tie clips cost like £15 each or something, and XLR adapters are nearly £100.

I found it most economical to buy the stereo set, which comes with two XLR adapters and various other accessories. Unfortunately, the stereo set doesn’t come with tie clips or high boost grids, so budget for them if you need them. The grids are helpful when doing tie clip stuff, they boost high frequencies to make speech sound better when recording from the chest position, but they cost £60 for a set of five. If you do get them, for the love of Jesus please just carry two around with you and leave the others at home safe in a drawer. I made the mistake of carrying all five in a little plastic bag in my sound kit. Being tiny and light, one day it got blown away by a gust of Scottish wind at a train station. £60 straight down the drain!

The 4060 is the high sensitivity model, suited for quiet sounds. They will distort with very loud stuff. So if you’ll be recording mainly loud sources, such as gigs, consider the 4061 or even 4062 models, which are lower sensitivity.

If you really can’t afford these, I’m told that the Rode lavalier mics are similar in sound quality and cost a lot less. Haven’t used them myself though, so can’t make any definitive statements about that.

Pros: fantastic sound quality; light; small; versatile; weatherproof.

Cons: cost, especially cost of accessories; unlike most larger mics they have a captive cable, which could become damaged over time with repeated inserting into tie clips etc, although I’ve been careful and had no problems with that so far.

Rode NT4. This was my first ‘proper’ mic for field recording. It costs around £350 in the UK at the moment, or around £200 on eBay, which is pretty cheap for a good quality mic. I was always very happy with its sound quality. It gets slagged off a bit by audio engineers for having a brittleness in the high frequencies, but for field recordings I’ve never noticed that at all. Audio engineers who work in controlled studios every day can probably pick up on subtleties that I would never notice.

It’s a stereo mic, with a fixed 90 degree XY pattern, so very practical for soundscape recording. I find that XY 90 degrees isn’t the most exciting pattern – over headphones it can sound a little flat compared to spaced omnis or binaurals. But that’s quite a subtle thing. If you’re recording interesting stuff with it, it’ll still sound good, with a nice sense of space. And being co-incident it’s mono compatible, if that matters to you.

I used this mic for most of the recordings for my film about school spaces (below) and for some of my early recordings at Kilmahew, as well as for countless other field recordings over the years. But I’ve stopped using this mic in recent years since acquiring a pair of DPA 4060s and a Schoeps mid-side rig. These set ups are higher quality, more flexible and, crucially for my work, much lighter and more weather resistant. The Rode is heavy, has been known to crap out on me after a couple of hours in damp conditions, and is not the most wind resistant of mics, even with Rycote protection. If you can live with these limitations, it’s a good piece of kit for a good price.

<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/20931701″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/20931701″>Seven Primary School Spaces</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1775014″>Ben Ewart-Dean</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

Another issue is that increasingly I like to record speech within wider environments – mobile interviews on location – and with an XY pattern pointed at the speaker, neither capsule is on axis for their voice. Off axis frequency response for directional mics tends to be uneven, especially with relatively cheap mics like this one. I’d need to do some comparison tests to establish exactly what if any difference that makes versus a mid-side set up, where the speaker will be on axis for the mid mic. But logic suggests that mid-side will be better for such situations.

Pros: relatively cheap; good sound quality; easy to use; made in Australia, which means I’m not too worried about the labour conditions of the people who made it (I’m a human geographer, so global economics/labour politics matter to me).

Cons: heavy; not very resistant to dampness and wind; fixed pattern so not as flexible as other options.