When I mention a shotgun microphone many of you will spontaneously think of a Sennheiser MKH 416 or perhaps a Schoeps CMIT 5. But if you’re really into quality and flexibility, a DPA Microphones d:dicate 4017 or – for smaller spaces and other recording types – a d:dicate 4018 could be a much better fit. These mics are available with three different preamps for different environments and come with DPA’s reputation as one of the top microphone suppliers for recording classical concerts, which is a very strong reference.
Knowing all that, I decided to ask my DPA Microphones’ contact if I could try out these two mics with two preamps, the MMP-B (with low cut and high boost filters) and MMP-C (no cuts or boosts whatsoever). DPA agreed to a generous loan period and I took to experimenting.
Just for completeness sake, I must mention there’s an MMP-G preamp as well, but for that to properly try out you got to have a wireless system and I still don’t have that available.
The d:dicate 4017 Shotgun Microphone has been made for use with camera systems, in fixed positions at sports facilities, for broadcast, ENG, film booming and even studio recording environments.
The d:dicate 4018, on the other hand, is a Supercardioid Microphone with a shape that is frequency-independent and that has an identical sound colour around the microphone. The usual rear lobe heard on most supercardioids is minimised to the bare minimum.
This makes this mic much more isolated without sudden frequency-dependent peaks and dips. It too has been designed for a broad range of long-distance broadcast, ENG and film miking applications, including booming, dialogue, interview and table or podium use and it has a big set of modular accessories.
Supercardioid mics are often used on a live stage, both during concerts and spoken-word events to capture the focused sound of an instrument or a voice. The narrow angle of sensitivity helps to minimise the bleed from other sounds on a busy stage.
However, supercardioid mics do suffer from the proximity effect, which causes an increase in bass response the closer the microphone is moved to the sound source. That proximity effect can be undone by using the MMP-B preamp and turning on the first-order low-cut filter at 120Hz in addition to the permanent third-order low-cut at 50Hz.
If you’re going to measure, you’re bound to find some loss of recording quality with the MMP-B preamp because of its filters. In real-world tests — by listening — you must have perfect pitch to hear any difference between the MMP-B and the MMP-C. To me, both sound, well, perfect.
Another thing that surprised me about these mics is the weight of the 4017 model. It’s much less heavy than any other shotgun mic I have tested. That is good news for boompole operators, especially so as the sound quality exceeds that of heavier kit…
Testing the d:dicate 4017 and 4018 with the MMP-C and MMP-B preamp
The d:dicate 4017 – with both the MMP-C and MMP-B preamps – sounds great and very, very accurate. It has transparency in the highs, extreme clarity overall, beautiful low tone representation and it picks up almost nothing off-axis. In fact, this was the first characteristic that struck me. I always thought the MKH 416 did a decent job of noise rejection, but its performance in this respect pales in comparison with the 4017. The 4018 is even yet a tad better at this.
What the d:dicate 4017 does pick up off-axis has the exact same sound colouration as what is dead ahead — there’s absolutely no colouration at all. I doubt if you can do better than this capsule with the MMP-C preamp, except for when you’re recording audio with much booming. In that case, I found you’ll be better off with an MMP-B with its permanent low-cut and two switchable filters. As I said before, I couldn’t hear a difference in the sound quality between the two preamps. That is kind of odd given that the B model comes with digital components that are bound to change the recorded sound at least somewhat.
The d:dicate 4018 is said to suffer from the proximity effect and it does, but not in a way that it becomes disturbing. It’s more a gentle booming that you hear and which you can get rid of completely by using the MMP-B preamp as I said before. An added benefit of the 4018 is its size. It’s so small – even with the MMP-B mounted – that you can place it without disturbing the view of an instrument, for example to pick up the sound from above a grand piano. More importantly, it doesn’t pick up sounds from behind it at all and the 90-degree rejection is yet a tad better than that of the 4017. Needless to say, colouration is a non-issue.
Here are three sound files with me reading the same text. When listening, please be mindful of the fact that I did not position the 4018 correctly, yet the quality of the sound still is quite satisfying in my opinion. Let me know your views in the comments section!
I decided to run a non-scientific but useful experiment that I worked out a couple of days before I started trying out the microphones in all kinds of settings. I thought it would be interesting to see what I would need to adjust in post to make the “industry standard” MKH 416 sound the same as the d:dicate 4017. To that effect, I recorded the same audio in the same noisy environment, using Logic Pro X set at 96 kHz and my Apogee Element 24.
I recorded a monologue with the 4017 at my left and the MKH 416 at the same distance and in a mirroring position at my right. I then recorded the same monologue reversing the position of the mics so I was sure that the positioning wouldn’t affect the results that I was bound to hear.
In Logic Pro X, I could now quickly switch between each mic to know where they differ and what to change using iZotope’s Nectar 3 and RX 7 Advanced plug-ins to make the MKH 416 sound the 4017 as closely as possible.
With the d:dicate 4017 sounding clearer, with less room reverb being picked up and a nice, non-booming bass tone that – I can’t put it another way – still sounded “open”, I couldn’t make the MKH 416 sound exactly the same. The Sennheiser picked up more room echos, sounded a bit less punchy, slightly more hollow and a bit muddled in the lows.
I could bring the MKH 416 closer to the d:dicate 4017 by using iZotope’s Nectar EQ with adjustments in the basses and at around 1200Hz, the RX 7 denoiser to reduce the off-axis noise and the RX 7 de-reverb to reduce the echos. None of these adjustments, however, gave me the clarity and the accuracy the d:dicate 4017 is capable of.
Even more important is that I could not ‘correct’ the MKH 416 recording to give the low tones the same “short” or “dry” sound that characterises the 4017; one of the main reasons why many a classical music “Ton Meister” grabs a DPA model instead of other mics to record a symphonic orchestra.
Why DPA Microphones’ mics are so good
The reason why DPA Microphones’ microphones are so good is that microphone abuse is part of their manufacturing process and that they go at great lengths to find a mic’s breaking point sound-wise.
How else can you describe a test they ran with their microphones recording a space shuttle launch only 175m from the rocket engine and exposed to flames and chemicals, or taking the microphones to the Arctic to record ambient sounds at -45°C. They have also taken their microphones into the rain to record raindrops and have demonstrated the omnidirectional microphones’ behaviour after being submerged in water.
All of this knocking about happens for one reason only: to find out how the materials in the capsule behave because it is essential to the stability of a microphone that the materials in the cartridge work well together. They must expand and contract together while exposed to heat or cold.
DPA must be the only company that publishes which materials they use and why. They have a treasure trove of information on this matter on their website. One of the things you learn there is that making microphones that capture sound as accurate as physics allow and which perform in all circumstances you would care to use them doesn’t stop at sputtering a bit of gold on a capsule. It involves an in-depth knowledge of sound and physics and an R&D department that goes to extremes to find the best combination for the most accurate sound capture.
The resulting products are pioneering and the best money can buy. The d:dicate 4017 and 4018 are no exception.