DPA d:facto ii ReviewA solid handheld vocal microphone the delivers excellent clarity for the price tag. 8/21/2013 8:36 AM Eastern
DPA d:facto ii Review
Aug 21, 2013 12:36 PM, Reviewer: John McJunkin
A solid handheld vocal microphone the delivers excellent clarity for the price tag.
In recent years, a growing number of audio professionals have started to consider condenser mics when determining the right handheld mic for both vocal and speech applications. Many of the challenges that have traditionally pushed handheld condensers off the short list have been addressed and resolved by developers who recognized that condensers would be more beneficial if those complications were eliminated or at least ameliorated. At this point, it’s becoming difficult to isolate a manufacturer that doesn’t offer a handheld condenser. And, even in the rarefied market of high-end, pristine-quality-for-superior-vocalist microphones, the number of manufacturers grows. DPA is one manufacturer with a virtually impeccable reputation for high quality, and the introduction of the d:facto handheld condenser mic presents the world with another opportunity to judge whether DPA has upheld its reputation. . DPA has since announced an update – the d:facto ii, which introduces a new feature: the use of the capsule with the handheld transmitters of several other manufacturers. The mic offers wired functionality as well, with DPA’s new wired handle. The d:facto definitely has a higher price tag than most other handheld condenser mics, and based on manufacturer reputation alone, ought to be among the finest in the world. I evaluated one and discovered that it is, indeed, a fine piece of gear.
I am not a fan of condenser mics for live sound applications, and it’s not because I have been conditioned to grab a Shure SM58 for every vocal application that comes along (although I very frequently do just that; there’s a reason it’s become such a legend). For that matter, I prefer a condenser mic in the studio for both vocals and speech nearly every time. In the studio, the mic is typically mounted, hence eliminating handling noise. The studio also presents an acoustical environment that is much more controlled than the live sound stage, so bleed and other challenges associated with the additional sensitivity of condensers becomes a much smaller issue, if not eliminated altogether. And feedback is simply not an issue for me in the studio, at least the way I normally work. But all three of these concerns have pushed me toward dynamic mics, at least for vocals and speech, in the live domain. The DPA d:facto has converted me, and I will no longer shy away from high quality handheld condensers.
The d:facto is available in several different configurations, including capsule-only varieties intended for use with the handheld transmitters of several other manufacturers, including Lectrosonics, Sennheiser, Shure, Sony, and DPA’s wireless partner for the original d:facto, Wisycom. DPA offers a “handle”—the FAADPA2B adapter—which provides the capsule with phantom power, facilitates connection with a standard XLR cable for wired use, and provides the vocalist with the tapered cylinder hand-grip to which they have become accustomed. The one I evaluated was intended for use with Sennheiser’s 2000, 9000, and evolution transmitters. The mic is a supercardioid condenser transducer intended primarily for use on stage in live applications, and while the mic is unquestionably one of those that would be typically reserved for talented, hard-to-please vocalists with discerning tastes and a clear preference for the very finest technology, the mic is an appropriate choice for any vocalist, as well as for speech applications. The condenser’s capacity for capturing transients is superior to that of the dynamic mic, so they’re frequently chosen for speech applications because they offer better clarity. The d:facto is no exception; its condenser topology is preferable for speech applications for exactly this reason.
Since the transmitter or XLR handgrip will vary from user to user, discussion of the physical attributes of the mic are limited to the capsule. The exterior is a tight weave, flat black metal mesh. Within that protective exterior is found a layer of plosive-arresting foam, and then a very fine metal mesh. This external shell can be removed from the internal components, revealing a conical metal construct perched atop a rubber shock mount, which is in turn situated atop a metal cylinder located in a round, flat black metal tray. This entire structure is clearly precision-machined, and formed of high-quality metals. At the top of the structure is the familiar and immediately recognizable DPA capsule, roughly 3/4in. tall, and with a diameter of roughly 5/8in. It’s a satin black color, and its name, the 4018V, appears on the side. Numerous slots comprising the phase-shift network that results in the mic’s supercardioid pattern run vertically around the removable capsule. It is based on DPA’s legendary 4011 unit, which has been revised and refined over the years to provide the foundation for several newer mics in DPA’s line.
DPA’s published specifications indicate a frequency range from 100Hz to 16kHz with a third order (18dB/octave) low-cut filter with a cutoff frequency of 80Hz, and a soft bump of 3dB centered around 12kHz. That boost is indeed soft, commencing gently just above 6kHz, and turning back downward from 12kHz to the end of the mic’s useful range at 16kHz. Otherwise, the response is as flat as it gets, an attribute for which DPA has become well known. And listening to the output of the mic with systems very familiar to my ear, I’ll pronounce the published specs and graph as completely honest. The d:facto can take astonishing sound pressure levels before clipping—160dB, per the specifications. I don’t own anything that can develop that kind of SPL (loudspeakers, jet engines, or volcanoes), so I could not evaluate that claim, but I was able to throw at least 130dB at it and it didn’t even flinch. I evaluated the mic’s performance with a pretty broad variety of human voices—male, female, powerful, soft, and in both vocal and speech applications. With all sources, I found the lows and low-mids to be round and full, and then a very flat transition up through the mids into the high-mids, and then that bit of additional brightness getting well into the highs. This gentle boost delivers “air,” which is great in particular for female voices, both singing and spoken, and also for male speech. It not only creates a pleasing sense of openness, but increases clarity by augmenting frequencies associated with the hard consonant sounds. Because the boost is gentle and subtle, it is not harsh or overly sibilant. I replaced the usual handheld mic in recurring situations that I engineer with the d:facto, and started with flat EQ and gentle compression. I discovered that the output of this mic brought the voices out from the mix without any EQ at all. The only tweaks I eventually made were to scoop mids just a touch—no more than 2dB—and centered around 600Hz, the nasal honk that is fine for some rock ‘n’ roll, but doesn’t feel quite right with a mic capable of capturing the subtleties that the d:facto does. I wound up treating this mic in the mix much like I would deal with a large-diaphragm condenser in a studio setting: leave it alone and let its magic shine through. And shine through it does, putting vocals front and center with virtually no adjustment on my part. For speech, the mic delivers excellent clarity, again owing to the openness in the high-mids, highs, and the 12kHz bump. And again, practically no EQ tweak to achieve this result. Non-professionals need to be made aware of the supercardioid pattern so as to not get too far off-axis, but proximity effect is not an issue, and the mic is forgiving in terms of the distance from the user’s mouth.
I have never met a DPA microphone I didn’t like. I hold DPA products to a higher standard because I have high expectations. The d:facto truly exceeded what I expected, and I would place it among the very finest handheld condenser mics available. It’s not inexpensive, but it delivers incredible results that justify the expenditure. If your budget permits, I recommend in the strongest terms that you take a listen.
Pros: Very high quality, compatible with numerous transmitters, takes massive SPL
Cons: Not for the budget conscious, super-cardioid a little unforgiving for users without a handle on proper mic technique
Applications: All live sound applications—vocals, speech, studio recording
Frequency Range (±2dB @ 12cm.): 100Hz to 16kHz (3dB soft boost @ 12kHz, permanent 3rd order low-cut filter, -3dB @ 80Hz)
Sensitivity (nominal ±2dB @ 1kHz): 5mV/Pa; -46dB re. 1V/Pa
Equivalent Noise Level (A-weighted): Typ. 19dB(A) re. 20µPa (max 21dB(A))
S/N Ratio (A-weighted), re. 1kHz @ 1Pa (94 dB SPL): Typ. 75 dB(A)
Dynamic Range: Typ. 120 dB
Maximum SPL Before Clipping (peak): 160dB
Power Supply (for full specifications): 48V phantom power (±4V)
John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz., and produces and co-hosts a top-rated morning radio talk show in Phoenix. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast and voice production services.