Stanford student Nathaniel Baldwin invented the headset microphone in 1910; the mic went to war with pilots and the aviation industry in World War I, became the tool of choice for telephone switchboard operators and achieved legendary status in the ‘80s thanks to Madonna and her backup singers. The pro audio community still references “the Madonna mic.”
Headset microphones have to balance the elements of comfort, visibility, audio quality and durability. Theatre designers want smaller more discrete units that can be installed inside wigs or costume pieces, while houses of worship or the motivational speaker market favor audio quality and speech clarity over low profile. We got the chance to see how well the DPA d:fine single ear directional headset microphone met all these demands.
The d:fine gives a good first impression, thanks to a distinctive, road-worthy, zippered carrying case with room for additional batteries, wind guard and adaptors. Included with the microphone are a makeup and moisture filter mounted on the mic, five colored ID rings and four windscreens. The mics themselves are available in black, beige, brown or lime green and the single ear unit can be worn left or right hand side simply by rotating the mic boom. The DPA accessory line includes windscreens, power supplies and adapter cables with fixed connectors (MicroDot, 3-pin Lemo, TA4F mini XLR, Mini-jack). A service connector splits the cable from the microphone boom and allows for quick exchange of cable lengths/colors/connectors and is valuable for servicing broken cables.
We examined several key areas of the d:fine.
The version of the d:fine we tested is designed for corporate presentations, house of worship applications and musical theatre where there is no need for total concealment. Regardless of visibility, though, the user must have complete confidence that, once set, the microphone will not slip or drift out of the “sweet spot” for perfect speech replication. At no time should the user feel they have to adjust or even touch the unit once the initial fitting has been made. We found that the d:fine microphone slipped easily over the ear, and it was easy to adjust the thin wire of the boom in vertical and horizontal planes. Once set it remained at a constant distance from the mouth of the user. We put the ergonomics of the system to the test on a variety of face shapes and ear sizes with users that had different levels of experience. All of our test group reported positively on the overall fit and feel of the headset. Many remarked that they quickly became unaware of the presence of the microphone as they walked around the stage. As audio engineers are well aware, a well-fitted headset mic will make even novice users appear to have good “on mic” technique. As a bonus, this earset microphone will stand up to quite vigorous choreography without slippage.
Audio Quality – Selective Hearing
The d:fine uses the same microphone capsule as the pickups used in DPA mics that cover Stradivarius violins and concert grand pianos. Not surprisingly, its audio quality is excellent. The cardioid pattern achieves a high signal to noise ratio by rejecting side and background noise and we found the clarity of speech produced to be quite outstanding. We tested this microphone for speech only but have no doubts that its high SPL capabilities will make it a good choice for singing. The sensitivity is 6mV/Pa to match the level of the human voice to the general input sensitivity of most wireless transmitters. The noise floor of the d:fine is 26dB(A) re. 20 mV/Pa, and if powered correctly the microphone will be able to handle sound pressure levels up to 144dB SPL before clipping occurs. Its tiny-but-effective windscreen eliminated the plosives often associated with headset mics during our tests.
One of our testers, Makoto Araki, an audio engineer with Delicate Productions of Camarillo Calif., was blown away by the truly flat frequency response of the mic. “A loud ‘Full-body’ sound can be attained with no (or little) EQ.” He was also impressed by the mic’s pick-up pattern, which he found just wide enough to pick-up the smallest nuance from person’s voice, but directional enough to efficiently exclude unwanted surrounding noise. “Plus, the ‘Gain-Before-Feedback’ level is far greater than any ear-worn, head-worn or lav microphones I’ve ever known,” he reported. “Again, a loud and full sound can be reproduced in any live-sound situation without excessive EQ, which would make the sound thin and weak. With this microphone any sound engineer’s day will go by very smoothly.”
The DPA d:fine definitely matches its own advertising claims. For audio companies this little unit is a client pleaser. At $650 US (list) it is not inexpensive, but where speech clarity is essential, it is not a good idea to underplay the role of the headset mic in the audio signal path.