Following his recent article on the rise of smartphones for newsgathering, Jerry Ibbotson was delighted to get his hands on a proper piece of equipment designed for this purpose by “legends of the microphone world”.
Oh the irony. A couple of months ago I wrote a piece for Audio Media International about the state of play in the world of mobile newsgathering. I talked about equipment that many in pro-audio would deem deeply ‘wrong’ – mobile phones and the like – and how it is now commonplace in both radio and television. The drive today is on collect and forward; not just recording audio but getting the material back to base. At the heart of this is the not-so-humble smartphone.
I’m flattered by the response the article received, particularly on social media. A few journalist friends of mine picked up on it and there was a general nod of approval that rippled outwards. The consensus was that this was the way forward. Then just this week I read about one major TV news operation piloting a ‘selfie stick’ project. This is not an April Fools’ joke, it’s the reality of broadcasting in 2015.
Contrast that with the zip-up case perched on my knee right now. It contains the DPA d:facto Interview Microphone, pretty much a state-of-the-art example of a newsgathering mic in 2015 – designed and built to the highest standards by legends of the microphone world, and it sells for more than the very best top-end smartphone.
It’s a handheld condenser mic (phantom power will be needed) with an omnidirectional pattern – making it easier for reporters to use without having to point it at the interviewees. It can be operated wired or wireless through an adaptor – I tested it in wired format. The frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz.
It’s a hefty wee beastie with an all-metal construction and a matt black finish. It comes with a metal grille/windshield, which unscrews. Taking this off reveals the capsule, which itself also unscrews. It also reveals the innards of the grille section, which demonstrates how much thought DPA has put into reducing wind noise with this mic, even before you slip on the included foam windshield. It’s lined with a material that looks like card and is much more than a simple piece of steel.
DPA claims that the d:facto has strong wind suppression and low handling noise. The latter is something that I loathe in ‘roving’ mics but the capsule in this mic seems well insulated from handling and general ‘moving about’.
The shaft of the mic has a smooth but still grippy surface and is contoured from the capsule down to the lead (or wireless unit). It certainly feels substantial and is easy to grip. My existing news/reporter mic is an AKG D230, which I bought 15 years ago but is still on sale today (at around a sixth of the price of the DPA). It feels decidedly ordinary in the hand compared to the d:facto.
I tested the DPA by simply recording voices – the very thing it’s designed for. I hooked it up to my Roland R25 portable recorder, which I’ve used for a wide range of interview recordings for radio stations from my local – BBC Radio York – to Radio 4. It’s been used everywhere from the pavements of York to the streets of Copenhagen, hooked up to either the AKG or my RØDE NTG3 shotgun. It would give me a solid benchmark as to whether the new boy is any good.
I had high hopes, having used a range of DPA gear in the past. I still have a pair of their instrument mics in my arsenal, which I’ve used to record anything from a Ferrari to a Bishop (the latter being a senior clergyman not an exotic sportscar). I know first-hand how brilliantly well-made they are and how this carries across to their sound quality.
The d:facto lives up to the high standards of its stablemates. The sound quality is superb and even when monitoring in headphones you can tell just how much better this mic is than some of its rivals. There’s a clarity to the recorded material – a level of detail in the voices – that really stands out. At the same time it’s also natural sounding and free from sibilance.
Interview recording (or eng work) is different to studio recording. The subject may well be moving about, so the mic has to follow. At the same time, it’s unlikely to be mounted on a boom (often hand held by a journalist) so needs qualities that other microphones don’t. The DPA showed few signs of handling noise, even when I was elaborately ducking and weaving to provoke a response. I’ve used mics that rattled and clicked even when I was holding them dead still, but the d:facto Interview Microphone gave me no problems whatsoever.
It’s a cracking microphone and severely puts to shame many other mics used in newsgathering and interview scenarios. The audio quality is pristine and the low level of handling noise is superb. But it comes at a price, literally. With budgets only heading in one direction, the question is not whether you sound pick the d:facto but whether you can afford it.
Jerry Ibbotson has worked in pro audio for more than 20 years, first as a BBC radio journalist and then as a sound designer in the games industry. He’s now a freelance audio producer and writer.