Alistair McGhee gets his hands on a mic that’s simple enough for reality TV contestants to use, but still offers excellent sound quality.
In the topsy-turvy world of global capitalism you can never take anything for granted. Take personal mics, for instance. When I was a nipper Sony ruled the roost, the ECM was the Hoover or the Kodak of the market, synonymous with the very idea of a personal mic. I spent many a happy hour fiddling with ECMs, clips and ties back in the day, and I jokingly used to say: “I wish Sony would make a tie with a built in mic, make my life much easier.” Sadly, Sony wasn’t listening and the world was spared the literal ‘tie-mic’. However, many moons later, DPA, (which is now synonymous with high-quality personal mics) has come up with an idea not a million miles away from a ‘neck-worn’ microphone. The DPA d:screet Omni Necklace – yes, a microphone as a fashion accessory.
So what has driven this innovative new take on the personal microphone? Well, the rise of Big Brother-driven reality TV. The idea is that on some gigs you won’t have a tame SA2 to fit mics properly and your talent may not have enough experience (or indeed intelligence) to fit a mic with a clip or cage. And in reality TV there probably won’t even be a tie or handy lapel to fit it to. So you need a system that lets the talent fit their own microphones but in a way that is not as fiddly as a clip and still gets good sound, and just as important, repeatable sound.
With the necklace you have one thing to remember – the wire goes down your back. If the wire is down your front, like a tie, you have it on back to front. What could possibly go wrong?
So reality TV, or maybe radio roundtables, corporate workshops or churches spring to mind as possible markets. The concept is simple – a well-proven DPA capsule embedded in a necklace-style fitting, which is both robust, discrete, and easy to fit.
The model I tried is a nice Bauhaus black with a silver-coloured clip. The finish is smooth black plastic of good quality. I guess you want to be able to wipe this down easily, and white and brown versions are both available. The clip is magnetic, which helps middle-aged men fumbling behind themselves for a clasp – not something we are used to doing and an image I don’t recommend you hold on to. Once seated, a simple rotation locks it in. It’s pretty much fool proof, until a gorilla stands on it, but then rule number one, don’t put your mics on the floor. You know that, I know that, but the talent will never remember it. Keep the gorillas off your clips and, of course, your capsules.
And talking of gorillas, I have an 18in neck and the necklace was an easy fit with an inch or so to spare. I had the 47cm version, which is notionally about 18.5in. However if you are working on ‘The Munster front row reads the works of Louis MacNeice’, you may want to check out the 53cm version that will fit collar sizes up to about 21in. Beyond that I suppose they could always wear it as a bicep mic.
The sound quality is – as you would expect from a DPA – excellent. Mine came with the high boost grid, which helps cut through the natural muffliness of being fitted at the neck. There’s no doubt you’re getting top drawer audio quality when you buy a DPA miniature microphone and the necklace is no different. You don’t have a huge choice of capsules – I suppose there’s no point in a directional mic given where it is fitted so it is only available with low sensitivity versions of the 4061.
If your talent is wearing something open-necked I found no problems with physical noise, though you do have to watch it doesn’t ride around a bit under exertion. You might want to tape the ‘tail’ down to hold the capsule in the desired position (DPA also supplies a clothing clip with the product). I did try the Necklace under a buttoned-up shirt or high collar and in this position it will be prone to material rubbing and the usual compromise in sound quality depending on the fabric.
And now to the vexed question of interfacing the DPA to your radio system. You have a few choices. DPA supplies the mics with MicroDot connectors. They seem to be much more reliable than their small size would indicate and because they are teeny tiny they’re ideally suited for the wide range of adapters that enable you to fit a MicroDot connector into just about any radio system.
DPA has a bucket load of converters, and if you take advantage of that approach then you can have MicroDots on all your mics and converters to fit any radio system for maximum flexibility. As you might expect the converters are not cheap but they are very well made and there is one that enables the Necklace to be plugged into a standard XLR.
But what if you view tiny connectors with suspicion and consider converters as yet another connection to fail? I rang my local DPA supplier, Martyn at SoundKit, and he assured me that you can have your Necklace supplied with a custom connector hard wired if that is what you require. And the fact that connectors get a whole paragraph just underlines the fact that we should have at most two standard fittings for radio mics, big and small. The current profusion is a joke. Gets off hobby horse, slightly red in face.
So do you need one? Well the necklace is a one-trick pony, but it’s a good trick. You are getting the highest quality personal mic in a simple-to-fit package. If I was getting booked for 12 weeks of reality TV with eight radios and no provision for audio staff ‘on the floor’ for the whole shoot, I would be ordering mine now.