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DPA goes small with new sub-miniature

The design of any audio product has always been a compromise between user demands and physics. Microphones are the prime example of this but Danish miniatures specialist DPA has taken on the challenge to go smaller, as PSNEurope’s Kevin Hilton reports...

A recurring technological theme of the 20th century was the quest for ever smaller components that could create more compact devices. Attitudes have changed slightly in the 21st century with big screen TVs and sizeable mobile phones but there is still a demand for greater miniaturisation. This is particularly true with microphones, and DPA is looking to set a new benchmark with what it’s calling a true 3mm sub- miniature mic.

The Danish manufacturer’s d:screet 4000 miniatures were developed for specific applications in live musical theatre and broadcast, where mics are preferred to be heard but not seen. The new 6000 Series takes the form factor down even more, with a diaphragm that is 30 per cent smaller than previous DPA mics.

The 6000 Series initially comprises three models: two versions of the lavalier, the d:screet 6060 and 6061; and a headset, the d:fine 6066, which features a specially designed construction and boom. These were officially launched on the first day of IBC 2018 – with DPA chief executive Kalle Hvidt Nielsen describing the release as the company’s biggest for 20 years – but PSNEurope was given a preview during a trip to DPA’s factory and R&D facilities in May.

Introducing the new range, product manager René Mørch outlined that the mics were aimed primarily at the broadcast, theatre and film markets, although they also apply to the presentation sector: “In theatre and film there is a need to hide the microphone; producers and camera operators in TV news do not like to see mics close to a presenter’s mouth, even though that is necessary to get good sound during coverage of big events or storms and similar extreme conditions.”

This and other customer feedback was discussed by DPA’s in-house innovation panel, the iTeam. This includes representatives from product management, marketing, R&D and global sales. Head of R&D Ole Moesmann is a member of the iTeam and says his background as a musician and sound engineer helps him interpret comments from working engineers.

“We went out to the theatres, broadcast centres and film studios around the world,” Moesmann comments. “Having dialogue with these professional engineers was easy for me because I know what they’re talking about.

My background in recording helps me on a daily basis but designing and building a new product comes from my master’s degree in engineering.”

Moesmann explains that this traditional grounding gave him the knowledge of acoustics and, specifically for the task of producing a good quality microphone in a much smaller package, key issues such as distortion and noise floors. But even with this scientific foundation, one wonders if he felt confident he could produce a 3mm mic. “I’m an optimistic guy and I have not doubted whether it could be possible,” he replies. “If somebody had told me to do half the size I would have said it would be very, very difficult. But we have the same noise floor as we do on the existing miniature. To do that was a huge challenge but I never doubted it.”

All three 6000 Series mics are omni-directional and have a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz. The 6060 lavalier has a sensitivity of 20mV/Pa; the 6061 version and the 6066 headset both offer 6mVPa, with readings nominal at ±3dB at 1kHz. The 6060/6061 can be concealed in a performer’s costume or hairline, as well as worn as a standard lavalier using an eight-way clip. Since May the 6000 Series has been awarded an IP58 waterproof rating, which DPA sees as necessary to deal with sweat and other moisture.

The surface of the 6066 headset is PVD (physical vapour deposition) treated. It was designed by DPA in conjunction with a specialist mechanism engineer and features a three-point spring construction, 3D pre- shaped ear grips and a matt finish. René Mørch says the two-way boom can be adjusted to suit the wearer’s head and requirements, with full tilt capability. “It is customisable and can be switched quickly and easily between ears,” he adds.

Nielsen has stated that the company now produces “microphone solutions, not just the microphone itself”. This, he says, was very much the thinking behind the 6000 Series, particularly in terms of the 6066 headset: “When we decided to do the sub-miniature we launched a new project to make the headband. We wanted to do something where we really had investigated all the problems that affect headsets in the market.”

Whether it will be possible for DPA – or anyone – to go smaller is still down to practicalities and science. “We haven’t tried yet,” says Ole Moesmann. “There are some trade-offs when trying to do that. If you ask me can I make a smaller mic, the answer is ‘yes’ but I cannot say where I would cut. When you reduce the capsule the noise floor goes up. That’s physics. But we’ve kept the specifications of the 4000 Series in a 60 per cent smaller package.”