DPA Microphones has officially entered the large diaphragm high-end microphone arena with its 3541 studio microphone kit. Known primarily for its laser-accurate 4000 Series microphones, which reflect DPA’s test and measurement heritage, the company’s new offering shows a fresh new approach in design while remaining committed to the quality of its product line.
Product PointsApplications: Studio; live recording
Key Features: Separate tube and solid-state preamps; max SPL 144 dB; 7 to 10 dBA self-noise
Price: DPA 3541 package: $6,000; 4041-T (alone): $3,900; 4041-S (alone): $3,800
Contact: DPA Microphones at 519-745-1158
+ Great sound
+ Tube or solid-state operation
The Score: The 3541 is a world-class performer that achieves collector status from first use.
Based on the same capsule design of the limited edition 4040 hybrid condenser microphone, the 3541 mic introduces a new modular capsule and preamplifier system. This includes the MMC 4041 omnidirectional capsule, the MMP 4000-S solid-state preamplifier and the MMP 4000-T tube preamplifier. The preamps are housed in a sleek black anodized body and easily unscrew from the capsule to be exchanged as needed.
The MMC 4041 capsule contains a 24 mm (1″) diaphragm fitted on a stainless steel housing that makes it very tolerant of temperature variations. The backplate is supplied with 200 V by the HMA 4000 microphone amplifier (included with the kit), the same unit employed in powering the 4003, 4004 and 4012 mics in the DPA line.
The combination of the larger yet less compliant (stiff) diaphragm in conjunction with the high voltage transformerless design translates into impressive numbers for a microphone of this type. The mic has a frequency response from 10 Hz to 20 kHz, with a high sensitivity (85 ö 90 mV), max SPL of 144 dB and extremely low noise (between 7 and 10 dB A-weighted, depending which preamp is used).
The preamp module MMP 400-S design is identical to the discrete transistor output stage used in DPA’s series of high-voltage mics. The transparent nature of this design is well known by many engineers who use the series when a session requires a microphone with a large dynamic range and low distortion.
The model MMP 4000-T preamplifier has a pentode vacuum tube operated as a cathode follower in a Class A unity gain output stage. A quality subminiature vacuum tube is heated with 6.3 V that is also provided by the HMA 4000 high-voltage amplifier. Both the preamps output stages are driven as a Class A unity gain impedance amplifier.
The HMA 4000 amplifier not only provides polarization voltage to the capsule backplate and voltage to the heater in the 4041-T tube preamp, but also provides 130 V for both the microphone preamps. The gain of the two-channel unit can be independently boosted or attenuated in three stages (+20 dB, 0 dB or ö20 dB) and the amps provide a line level output capable of driving a balanced cable of up to 300 meters, invaluable in live recording situations.
I first opened the shipping container to find the 3541 package neatly enclosed in a sturdy Samsonite case with foam inserts custom cut to securely contain its valuable contents. The kit includes one capsule, solid state and tube versions of the microphone preamps, high-voltage amplifier, multipin cable (necessary to connect the mic to the amp), shock-mount, pop filter and windscreen.
The case cannot be opened unless you’ve chosen the correct side. It is impossible to open the briefcase upside down, dumping its contents onto the floor!
After checking out the manuals, I went to several studios in the L.A. area and put the unit through its paces. My first stop was the lovely Soundcastle Studios where I did some A-B comparisons in its newly remodeled studio B. To avoid (or create) confusion, I will henceforth refer to the solid state version of the mic as the 4041-S and the tube version as the 4041-T. These are the reference numbers used by DPA when ordering one microphone (one omni capsule and one of either preamp/bodies) independent of the complete 3541 studio kit.
The first test compared the 4041-S with a classic Neumann U47 in omni using spoken word. They were very similar, especially in the mid to lower frequencies. I then used a Telefunken 251 in omni and did the same comparison and found it also comparable – but this time being closer in the higher frequency range.
Finally, I did the famous jingling of the keys test, which I find is a good benchmark for high-end and transient response. This is where the DPA parted company with both the classics – it just seemed that the information was too complex for the old guys where the 4041-S had no problem with the details.
I then repeated the same tests after switching to the 4041-T. The results were virtually the same, with the tube version coming even closer to the meat of the 47.
Next stop was Westlake Audio, where I had a date with a singer/acoustic guitarist. It is always a challenge when the musician plays and sings simultaneously. Through the years I’ve found it easier to deal with this by using microphones in the omni mode. You get a little more spill from the guitar into a mic placed for the lead vocal, but the leakage seems to be more musical.
I put up a well-respected newcomer, the Neumann 149 in omni, virtually side-by-side with the DPA 4041-T – about 6″ from the artist’s mouth. Once again, the end result was very close but after several comparisons it was obvious to me and to the performer listening on headphones that the DPA offered more clarity.
Continuing my tour, I went to Studio 56, in the heart of Hollywood, for tests on their studio B soundstage, clearly a more ambient environment. By then I was virtually testing the 4041-T exclusively. It’s not that I didn’t care for the sound of the 4041-S (it is slightly more transparent than the T), but I found the prospect of a relatively cheap and reliable alternative to astronomically priced vintage tube mics exciting.
Starting with the vintage AKG C-12 vs. the DPA 4041-T, I continued testing with more spoken word and the jingling of keys. The DPA was obviously more open compared to the thickness of this particular C-12, but I also found an interesting trend in this ambient environment. Even though the C-12 and all others that followed were switched to omni, the DPA consistently sounded more “live.”
I imagine this is due to the fact that the DPA is more omnidirectional in the higher frequencies. For the most part, this effect was a good thing, with the DPA offering a more natural, open feeling. Such a feature in more inexperienced hands, however, as in a musician’s home/project studio, could be problematic.
My final stop was Alpha Studios in Burbank where I was doing a final overdub on the Boney James/Rick Braun duet album with Paul Brown producing. We were recording five female vocalists, one of whom was performing a rap/sing solo part. I tossed in the final challenger, a Telefunken 251 in beautiful condition. The 4041-T once again proved a worthy opponent, losing by a hair in the warmth department and exceeding by the same margin in transparency. Leaving the 251 for the main backgrounds, I moved the T to the soloist’s position with great results.
The 3541 studio microphone kit is a package DPA describes as a tool for the high-quality recording of soloists including vocalists, string and wind instruments. It is much more. It is obvious when comparing the frequency response of the 4041-S/T to other high-end mics (new and old) what DPA is trying to achieve.
Admirably, the company still maintained its philosophy of creating a high-quality product with tough noise and distortion standards. The complete DPA 3541 package lists at $6,000. The 4041-T lists separately at $3,900 and the 4041-S goes for $3,800. Not cheap, but not at all out of line considering the company it has been keeping while visiting the Southland. The DPA 3541 microphone kit is a serious tool that any professional should consider adding to his or her arsenal.
Special thanks to Thom Roy at Soundcastle, Jakob Nygaard at Studio 56 and Steve Burdich and Charity at Westlake Audio.