Surround Microphones: Available Choices

Considering how crucial surround audio has become for broadcast sports, the number of specialty surround microphones has remained relatively static in recent years. Some of the market is made up of freelance A1s who make the investment and then rent the equipment to their network clients when they’re hired for shows, which effectively puts more of these expensive but unique transducer arrays to work on sports shows than their relatively small numbers would suggest. Here’s what they have to choose from.

DPA Microphones
The 5100 mobile surround microphone requires no external signal processing and can be mounted on a camera or microphone stand, suspended, or simply handheld via a handgrip. The 5100 uses five miniature pressure transducers that exhibit extremely low sensitivity to wind and mechanical noise, low distortion, highly consistent low-frequency response, and large dynamic range. Appropriate channel separation and directionality are achieved through a combination of DPA’s proprietary DiPMic (Directional Pressure Microphone) technology, which mounts interference tubes on the L/C/R omni capsules, and the use of acoustic baffles to further preserve the accuracy of levels between the discrete analog output channels. The 5100’s three front microphones are time-coincident to eliminate comb filtering and ensure frequency consistency in downmixing to stereo or mono. The rear microphones, which feature standard omnidirectional patterns, are optimally spaced both from each other and from the front array to simulate the most natural time arrival differences. The LFE (.1) channel is composed of a L/R sum, which is then attenuated 10 dB in comparison with the signal from the main channels, in accordance with the 5.1 format. The 5.1 output of the 5100 runs through a multi-pin Lemo connector carrying all six channels electronically balanced, while an enclosed 5-m (16-ft.), six-pair Mogami cable breaks out to six Neutrik XLR-M connectors.

The H2-PRO 5.1 terminates in six XLR microphone cable-ends (Left, Right, Center, Low Frequency, Left Surround, Right Surround) that co-relate to the industry-standard 5.1 channels. Users have total control and flexibility over the incoming, discrete-surround-sound audio signals and may use as many or as few channels as any surround project requires, because channel assignments are discrete all the way from the recording and mixing process to final delivery.

The H2-PRO 7.1 is capable of recording up to 7.1 channels of discrete surround sound and terminates in eight XLR microphone cable-ends (Left, Right, Center, Low Frequency, Left Surround, Right Surround, Top, and Center Rear). These co-relate to the standard 5.1 channels and add a top channel for such formats as IMAX and a center rear channel for extended surround formats such as Dolby EX and DTS ES.

The cost-effective H3-D features five multidirectional, full-bandwidth microphone elements and a discrete LFE microphone in one integrated capsule. The unit offers LED verification of external phantom power and is compatible with all standard XLR mic inputs on recording consoles, external pre-amplifiers, and location recorders that provide phantom power.

The H4 SuperMINI features a Dolby ProLogic II encoded stereo output that can be used on any stereo recording device, from broadcast cameras to handheld recorders. In addition, it features three 3.5-mm stereo outputs for recording of the six individual microphones. The H4 also has built-in headphone monitoring, a zoom feature that will forward-bias the pickup pattern, a -12-dB pad, and an on-board center-channel microphone input that features phantom power supply. This allows the user to input any external microphone into the mix. Included with the H4 SuperMINI is a balanced TA-6–to–dual-XLR output for a robust balanced signal.

The PortaMic Pro is a lightweight portable solution for surround-sound recording and features the same quality as its big brother, the H4 SuperMINI, in a package that fits in the palm of a hand. The PortaMic Pro contains six individual microphones in the patented Holophone head design fed into a Dolby ProLogic II encoder, a -12-dB pad, and zoom feature, as well as a balanced TA-6–to–dual-XLR output.

The WMS-5 is a five-channel surround microphone with its matrix electronics housed in a single body. Based on extensive M-S stereo research conducted in conjunction with broadcaster NHK, the WMS-5 delivers realistic surround sound with minimal setup time and is easily mounted on the camera, boom pole, or pistol grip. The WMS-5 delivers reliable, phase-coherent, five-channel sound using five discrete output signals. The M capsule is used for both center (with shotgun directivity) and front-left and -right channels. The S signal is used for both front-left and -right and rear-left surround and -right surround channels. The rear M capsule is used for left surround and right surround. All capsules are aligned vertically on the same axis for precise phase coherence. The WMS-5 weighs 8.3 oz. and measures 9.25 in. long.

The  DSF-B Digital Broadcast Package provides everything required to capture audio in mono, stereo, and 5.1 and offers a high degree of control over a wide range of microphone parameters right from the audio-control room. It consists of the DSF-2 microphone system — a multicapsule microphone and a 1U digital microphone control unit — and a DSF-3 digital surround processor. The DSF-2 microphone captures wholly phase-coherent multichannel audio, which can be folded down without the creation of unpleasant phase artifacts; this suits it to surround-sound broadcast applications where all 5.1 audio needs to be 100% downmix-compatible all the time. The DSF-3 processor allows complete manipulation of the microphone signals directly from the listening position, ranging from microphone orientation — such as rotate and tilt — to control polar patterns and front/rear image width. This DSF-B package has been used to originate 5.1 ambience for coverage of a wide range of large-scale sports events in stadiums and arenas worldwide and is permanently installed in many of leading soccer stadiums, such as the UK’s Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea.