DPA d:fine Headset Microphone Review
Oct 1, 2012 12:26 PM, Reviewer: John McJunkin
A natural sounding modular capture system.
Headset microphones are indispensable devices that figure prominently into virtually every arena in which I work for a living, including broadcasting, podcast production, sound reinforcement, AV, and particularly houses of worship. I personally own a dozen headset mics, and I’m certain that I’ve professionally encountered every manufacturer model introduced in the last 10 years. I evaluate headset mics based on a handful of criteria: audio quality, consistency of capsule placement, comfort, stability of the attachment mechanism, durability, modularity, necessity for equalization, and price. Some of the mics I’ve encountered sound great but have a less-than-optimal attachment mechanism, rendering them uncomfortable at best, unusable at worst. Others have excellent attachment mechanisms, but leave much to be desired in terms of audio quality. When I was told that DPA would be introducing a new headset mic, I was excited to evaluate it. I have reviewed a few DPA mics over the years, and I own a couple of them myself. I will openly admit that I’m biased toward DPA, but with good reason—the company makes incredibly good microphones.
The d:fine (“define”) microphone is the latest headset from DPA, adding to its line that already includes the 4066 and 4088 headsets. DPA has a reputation for its tiny, extraordinarily high-quality mics that can be exactingly mounted. I have a little experience with the 4066 and 4088 and was very impressed, so I had high expectations for the d:fine. I unboxed the mic’s carrying case, which is a bit of a departure for the normally reserved and restrained DPA; it has bright lime green strips paralleling the zipper that wraps around and encloses the otherwise black case. One other peculiar but fun novelty is the availability of the actual mic in bright lime green. Traditionally, we have gone out of our way to make headset mics disappear for aesthetic reasons, but the bright green d:fine is very noticeable to say the least. Of course, the mic is available in the traditional black, beige, and brown as well. The carrying case is spacious, with pockets for the mic’s various accessories. The mic sent to me for evaluation was the beige omnidirectional single-ear version, but dual-ear, directional, and two shorter boom varieties are available as well.
Among the accessories included with the mic are windscreens; there were three beige foam windscreens with the mic I evaluated. DPA also includes color-coded cable steers, which serve two purposes: to guide the cable the way the user wants it to go, and to facilitate quick and easy identification of a mic by both front-of-house and monitor engineers. A clothing clip is included, which is attached to the cable and is absolutely necessary with the single-ear version of the mic. When I first attached the mic to my own ear, I experienced a tugging sensation until I attached this clip to my collar, which provided strain relief and eliminated the tugging. I appreciate the other unique accessory: a protection cap, which is a bright red plastic rectangular box-shaped sleeve that fits over the mic’s capsule during application of make-up or hairspray, or to protect the mic from moisture if an entertainer sips a beverage backstage prior to a performance. The sleeve terminates in a red ball roughly 3/16in. in diameter, which serves as a grip for removal of the cap. The bright red color is an obvious reminder to remove the cap prior to using the mic.
Something I truly welcome is the modular components that comprise the mic’s overall system. It’s vastly preferable to replace just a single component, rather than an entire unit. In the case of the d:fine, the earpiece, boom/mic, and cable are all discrete elements, each individually replaceable. In a critical application, spares could be kept on hand. The earpiece is essentially a latex-like curlicue that wraps around the user’s ear from underneath. Once wrapped around the ear, the tip of the surround is intended to actually then curve into the pinna of the ear, very securely attaching the mic. The curlicue attaches to what could be described as a rail, and indeed, the boom and cable slide along this rail, allowing for replacement as mentioned prior, and also adjustment of the location of the mic capsule in relation to the mouth. The rail allows the boom to be moved along the front-to-back axis, from the cheek at the rear to protruding out past the mouth all the way to the front. The boom, which features a tiny, transparent sweat stop, is flexible, so the capsule can be placed precisely. The mic I was sent to evaluate had an omnidirectional pattern, rendering placement slightly less important than would be with the cardioid version of the d:fine. But the totality of the ear grasp, rail, and flexible boom do facilitate precise placement and stable, consistent location once mounted.
To hear what the mic sounded like, I initially connected directly via cable to avoid any coloration, distortion, or noise introduced by a wireless system. DPA makes adapters available for virtually every wireless system out there, integrated via Micro-Dot connectors. I attached and adjusted the mic, and was ready to hear it. I brought up the gain slowly, no equalization or dynamics processing applied, and as the signal came up in the speakers and I gradually began to understand what I was hearing: the sound of my own voice. I don’t mean this in the obvious sense. What I mean is that this is the first headset mic that truly captured my voice as it naturally sounds. And as a broadcast and voice professional, I’m aware of the effect of hearing my voice in my own head through my eustachian passages. Bearing this in mind, I was quite simply blown away by the fact that this microphone, with no processing of any kind, represented my voice as naturally as any large-diaphragm condenser or high-end ribbon mic I’d ever heard.
The two major things that struck me aside from the overall accuracy of this transducer were “punch” and “air.” The low-end response of this mic is flat, and it delivers a warm, full richness—not coloration, mind you, just warmth. The “air” is what you think it is—that open depth that comes from accurate capture of the very top end of our hearing range, which I define as 15kHz and above. The omnidirectional d:fine’s response curve is very, very flat from right at 20Hz up to about 4kHz, and then it very gently slopes up to a soft boost of about 4dB at around 10kHz. It remains there up to about 15kHz then begins to slope back down to the 0dB line right at 20kHz. This boost gives it this broad, airy openness that just sounds fantastic. This is the only coloration of any kind that this mic adds to the signal, but since it’s not right in the middle of the human vocal range, it’s unobtrusive and very pleasant.
I put this mic on several people, male and female, and covering solidly deep male to liltingly high female. It captured all of these voices naturally, both spoken and sung. The mic delivers on audio quality, consistency of capsule placement, comfort, stability of the attachment mechanism, durability, modularity, virtually no necessity for equalization, and doesn’t break the bank. I will go out on a limb and say that this is the finest headset microphone I’ve ever heard, and considering its reasonable price, represents the best value on the market available today. Do yourself a huge favor and give a listen to the DPA d:fine. It truly defines the state of the art in headset mics.
Pros: World-class microphone, exceptionally natural response
Cons: None to speak of
Applications: AV, corporate, boardroom, music, house-of-worship
Price: $590 (cardioid); $550 (omni)
Directional characteristics: Omnidirectional
Principle of operation: Pressure
Frequency range: 20Hz - 20kHz
Frequency range, ± 2 dB: 20Hz - 20kHz with 3dB soft boost at 8 - 15kHz
Sensitivity, nominal, ± 3 dB at 1 kHz: 6 mV/Pa; -44dB re. 1V/Pa
Equivalent noise level, A-weighted: Typ. 26dB(A) re. 20μPa (max. 28dB(A))
S/N ratio (A-weighted), re. 1 kHz at 1 Pa (94 dB SPL): Typ. 68dB(A)
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <1% up to 123dB SPL peak <1% up to 120dB SPL RMS sine
Dynamic range: Typ. 97dB
Max. SPL, peak before clipping: 144dB
Power supply (for full performance): Min. 5V - max. 50V through DPA adapter for wireless systems. 48V phantom power ± 4V with DAD6001-BC XLR adapter
Current consumption: Typ. 1.5 mA (microphone) 3.5 mA with DAD6001-BC XLR adapter
Microphone boom: 0.8 grams (0.03oz.)
Single-ear hook: 1.1 grams (0.04oz.)
Dual-ear hook: 3 grams (0.1oz.)
Cable: 6.6 grams (0.23oz.)
Total: 8.5 grams (0.30oz.)
Microphone head size (HxWxD): 9.5mmx5.3mmx2.9mm; 0.37 "x0.21" x0.11"
Capsule diameter: 5.4mm (0.2in.)
Cable length: 1.3 meters (4.3ft.)
Cable diameter: 1.6mm (0.06in.) Temperature range: -40 °C to 45 °C; -40 °F to 113 °F Relative Humidity (RH): Up to 90%
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.