This new super lightweight ‘gun’ is perfect for any boom operator’s arsenal.
Text: Alistair McGhee
The DPA is a short gun (or if you prefer, a shotgun) mic that’s aimed (so to speak) squarely at the film and TV sound market, while also remaining suitable for general-purpose use. The shotgun microphone market isn’t a crowded niche area by any means, but it does have some big players running around the field. Sennheiser’s 416 has been the staple here for over twenty years, while more recently Schoeps and Sanken have released models that compete with Sennheiser at the expensive end of the market. Meanwhile microphone manufacturers like Audio-Technica and Røde have successfully produced less expensive alternatives. DPA, of course, is all about quality – and as with most quality products, these microphones come at a price.
When you first take the 4017 out of its box the thing that immediately strikes you is its weight – at 71 grams it weighs effectively nothing! Now while this spec might seem irrelevant to a studio owner, for boom swingers the world over, weight is critical, so any release of a new super-light quality alternative to the known standards invariably piques the interest. As any boom operator will tell you, dangling a weighty shotgun on a long pole for hours every day is no fun at all, and anyone who has ever been afflicted by the shakes after gripping a boom for that sixth take of a very long scene, will appreciate the loss of a few ounces at the business end.
As I lifted the DPA 4017 from the foam surround, marveling at its lightness, the next thing I noticed was the beautiful make and finish. In what instinctively appears in stark contradiction to its weight, the 4017 looks and feels like a work of art – I confess I was overtaken by the paradox at first – but there it is: a professionally finished microphone that weighs a paltry 71 grams!
I started by listening to the DPA 4017 alongside my Neumann KM 185 hypercardiod and my initial impression was that, while the on-axis response of the midrange and top-end were quite close, at the bottom end, the 4017 brought a good deal more to the party. A quick look at the response curves showed that, at 100Hz, the DPA is a couple of dB better off than my Neumann – which is understandable given the KM 185 has a capsule tuned to roll off in the low end.
IN THE FIELD
My first foray into the real world with the DPA involved covering a concert at short notice. Grabbing a few mics as I rushed out the door, I quickly popped the 4017 into my bag. At the gig it was straight to work for the mic, and I soon discovered that it delivers a very smooth sound when pressed into service as a soloist’s mic for voice.
My next outing was at an outdoor rugby match. I remember the day clearly thanks to the torrential rain that fell during the course of the event. Rain belted down from the heavens in a determined effort to flatten every contour brave enough to stand proud of the horizontal. The adversity of this environment for an effects microphone could barely be overstated, and without question the 4017 was put to the test in no uncertain terms (if it wasn’t indeed a suicide mission). Using the mic in this circumstance (without a Rycote to hand) seemed to be tempting almost certain death (for the mic). Regardless, I put the 4017 in its supplied windshield and put it to work. A couple of hours later I rescued it from drowning – the windshield and mic had both received a thorough soaking but the 4017 had worked a treat throughout. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN A WARM STUDIO…
A colleague of mine who has a very high regard for the ubiquitous Sennheiser 416 was working on a radio feature during the time of the review, so I lent her the DPA as a point of comparison. The results were interesting – while the 416, with its longer interference tube has more ‘suck’ (it’s the joy of radio to be able to put your mics wherever you like – they’re never ‘in shot’) both mics delivered commendable results. I actually preferred the sound of the 4017 but it was a very close run thing; I’m not sure I could take a double blind test on it, in all honesty.
And finally to a film set where, to my surprise, the findings were not radically different from what we’d found in radio. Again, a 416 had more ‘suck’ than the 4017, confirming my suspicion that if you’re using a shotgun mic out on location and want more focus to aid in the rejection of noise from ambient surroundings, then a physically longer mic is probably the only answer. Meanwhile the 4017 sounds very sweet if you can get in close enough to enjoy it, but there’s the rub: in the ‘wide and tight’ world of modern TV production, it’s very hard to get close with a boom mic. And yet, at the other end of the scale, a tightish hypercardioid sometimes becomes too tight on set, and a more forgiving cardioid like the 4017 helps the hard pressed boom ops to capture the dialogue during fast moving scenes
The DPA 4017 is not easily summed up – it has some beguiling sonic and engineering qualities – but you need to try it in your rig to make sure it floats your boat. This is definitely a case of getting one on demo and giving it a shot.